Home / PC & Laptops / Acer Swift 7 review: ultra-thin, ultra-light 14 inch laptop – Liliputing

Acer Swift 7 review: ultra-thin, ultra-light 14 inch laptop – Liliputing

Pick up the Acer Swift 7 (2019) laptop and you almost won’t believe that it is a laptop. It’s barely thicker than an iPhone, measuring just 9.95mm (0.4 inches thick). And weighing just 890 grams (a little under 2 pounds, it’s lighter than some hardcover books.

Acer’s laptop has a 14 inch display, but it’s more compact than many 12 or 13 inch notebooks thanks to extraordinarily slim bezels around the display. And it features a fanless design, which is part of the reason the notebook is so slim… and which also means that it runs completely silently.

Despite its compact size, the Acer Swift 7 feels like a real laptop when you’re using it. The computer’s Intel Core i7-8500Y processor may not be a speed demon, but it’s able to power the laptop through most basic computing tasks. And with a backlit keyboard, a Precision touchpad and a fingerprint sensor, the notebook feels like a premium device… which it is. The Acer Swift 7 sells for $1700.

That’s a lot of money to spend on a notebook with a 7 watt processor. But Acer isn’t positioning the Swift 7 as a mobile workstation for video editing, CAD design, or other resource-intensive tasks. Instead the company says it’s aimed at “road warriors, mobile professionals” and design enthusiasts who are looking for a compact, eye-catching computer for use on the go.

Unfortunately Acer made some compromises that make the Swift 7 hard to recommend even for folks that fit that description.

The laptop has very few ports. The webcam is awkwardly placed. And while the computer’s processor can keep up with basic tasks, it’s not really the best choice for power users… and Acer has intentionally crippled performance to reduce power consumption in a way that makes me wonder why the company didn’t just opt for a cheaper, less powerful chip in the first place.

I don’t love the laptop’s keyboard either, but probably the biggest issue is battery life.

Acer promises up to 13 hours of run time, but I was only able to get around 4 hours of battery life while using the laptop to work on the go. Your results may vary depending on how you use the laptop — I did manager to get 7 hours and 15 minutes of battery life during a video streaming test. But that’s still disappointing for a laptop aimed at “road warriors” and “mobile professionals.”

I’d be willing to give most of those issues a pass if this were a cheaper laptop. It’s an ultralight, ultrathin laptop that you can take nearly anywhere and I suspect some folks would be happy to pay a premium for those features alone. But $1700 is just a little too much money to spend on a laptop with mediocre performance and poor battery life, no matter how compact it is.

Still, it’s possible we could see price drops or hardware revisions in the future. So read on for more details.

Specs

Acer loaned me a demo unit for the purposes of this review. Aside from the fact that it has 8GB of RAM instead of 16GB, it’s identical to the retail version of the Acer Swift 7 that’s available in the United States.

 Display  14 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel glossy IPS
 CPU  Intel Core i7-8500Y
 RAM  8GB LPDDR3 (demo unit only, 16GB in retail version)
 Storage  512GB PCIe NVMe
 A/V  3.5mm audio jack
 USB  2 x Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports
 WiFi  802.11ac (Intel Wireless-AC 9260) 2×2 MIMO
 BT  Bluetooth 5.0
 Keyboard  5 rows, 68 keys, backlit
 Touch  Touchscreen + large Precision touchpad
 Biometrics  Fingerprint sensor in power button
 Camera  720p pop-up webcam + 2 mics with far-field detection
 Microphones  2 mics w/far-field voice detection
 Speakers  Stereo
 Battery  32 Wh, 2770 mAh
 Charger  45W USB-C power adapter
 Weight  2 pounds
 Dimensions  12.5″ x 7.5″ x 0.4″
 Price  $1700

Overview (design and usability)

Now that I’ve previewed some of the reasons you might not want to buy this laptop, let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might.

The Acer Swift 7 is almost as small as a 14 inch laptop could conceivably be. It easily slides into a laptop sleeve I bought years ago for an 11.6 inch laptop. (You don’t necessarily need to provide your own slip cover though, since the Swift 7 comes with a leather sleeve in the box).

And remember that trick where Steve Jobs pulled a 13.3 inch MacBook Air out of an envelope a decade ago? The Swift 7 has a bigger screen and a smaller footprint: it’s about half as thick as the original MacBook Air.

It’s made from magnesium-lithium and magnesium-aluminum alloys that weigh less than a standard aluminum notebook while offering what Acer says is better durability. The material has a “micro-arc oxidation finish” that Acer says gives the laptop a ceramic-like look and feel.

The upshot is that the notebook isn’t a fingerprint magnet. But after a few weeks of use, I started to see some smudge marks on the keyboard, touchpad, and palm rest where my hands and fingers have been hanging out.

Dell’s XPS 13 line of thin and light laptops have been the standard-bearers for thin bezels in recent years, but the Swift 7 gives those laptops a run for their money, with left and right bezels that are just 2.57mm thick and a top bezel that’s just 2.65mm. Acer says the notebook has a 92-percent screen-to-body ratio.

The display supports up to 300 nits of brightness, 100-percent sRGB color gamut, and 72 percent NTSC color gamut. It’s also a touchscreen covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 6 for protection.

The Acer Swift 7 isn’t a convertible tablet-style device, and it doesn’t support pen input, but you can push the screen back pretty far if you want to adjust the viewing angle so the laptop is comfortable to use on your lap, at a desk, or even when you’re standing over it when the Swift 7 is lying on a table.

Acer opted for a wide Precision touchpad with multitouch support that measures 140mm x 50.7mm (5.5″x 2″), and I have no complaints — although I’m personally more comfortable using a mouse, so I often plugged in a USB dongle for my wireless mouse.

Of course, the Swift 7 only has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, so I had to use a USB-A to USB-C adapter to connect my mouse. If I were going to use this laptop full time I’d probably invest in a Bluetooth mouse so I could keep both USB/Thunderbolt ports free.

As for the keyboard below that touchpad… it’s functional, but Acer made some surprising design decisions.

The keyboard features 68 backlit keys arranged in 5 rows. That means the keyboard is a little more squat than a typical 5-row keyboard, and there are a lot of keys that serve double or triple-duty when you press the Fn or Shift keys. For example, the same key is used for 7, & an F7.

The multi-purpose keys aren’t really a big problem, but a few things that do cause me issues while typing are the position of the Del and Backspace keys (the Del is a tiny key to the left of the Backspace and I often hit Backspace when I’m aiming for Del), the tiny Caps Lock and tilde/accent keys to the left of the A, and the half-height arrow/page up/page/down/home/end keys in the lower right corner.

Overall I can type reasonably quickly on this laptop, but I do find myself occasionally deleting the wrong chunks of text thanks to the close proximity of the Del and Backspace keys.

The keyboard also exhibits a considerably amount of flex — the center of the keyboard gives a little as you type. I don’t find this to be particularly uncomfortable, but if you’re sensitive to flexy keyboard, that could be an issue.

In fact, the whole laptop flexes a bit. Press any spot above or below the keyboard and you’ll see some give. Even the display bends a bit if you put pressure on the sides.

The Acer Swift 7 doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart. But it looks like Acer’s choice of materials means that the company sacrificed rigidity in order to keep the laptop slim and lightweight.

The power button is to the left of the keyboard, and a fingerprint sensor is built into the button. That means if the computer is sleeping, you can just hold your finger on the sensor to wake it up and login with one action.

If it’s in a deeper sleep mode and/or powered down, you may have to press the button and wait for the Windows login screen to appear before you can unlock the laptop with a fingerprint.

Above the keyboard is a small rectangle that looks like a power button at first glance… but it’s actually a pop-up camera.

Unlike Dell, Acer has yet to design a camera capable of fitting into the small bezel above this laptop’s display. So the company chose to go with a camera that hides away when you’re not using it, much like the one featured in the Huawei MateBook X Pro.

The good news is that this means the computer’s body acts as a sort of privacy shutter — when you’re not using the camera, nobody can use it to spy on you (they’d just see black). The bad news  is that the low position of the camera leads to unflattering angles when you snap a photo or make a video call.

And if you try typing or resting your hand on the keyboard, the person on the other end of the call will be able to count the hairs on your knuckles.

On the left side of the laptop there’s a 3.5mm audio jack and two status lights — one to let you know if the laptop is powered on, and another to show if it’s charging.

And on the right there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports. You can use them to connect displays, mice, external storage, or just about anything else. But since there are only two ports and they’re rather close to one another, you may want to invest in a hub or docking station if you need to connect multiple devices.

Acer does provide a dongle/adapter in the box. It features HDMI, USB-A, and USB-C ports on one end, and a USB-C connector on the other. Plug it into either Thunderbolt 3 port and you get a few extra connection options.

The laptop’s 45W power adapter can plug into either Thunderbolt 3 port… or you can use another power supply.

I had no problem using a ZeroLemon 45W power bank to charge the laptop on the go (which is one solution to the laptop’s limited battery life — but an imperfect one since the battery pack is half the weight of the laptop — and if you’re going to carry around 3 pounds of mobile gear, why not just get a heavier laptop with better battery life?

I also had no trouble charging the laptop using the 30W power supply that comes with the One Mix 3S Yoga.

When closed, the laptop is ridiculously thin. But it has a tapered design around the sides to make it look a little thinner at the front than the back.

There’s also a small lip on the lid that gives you something to grip when lifting the lid. And when you do open the laptop to look at the screen, the back of the lid extends downward to raise the back of the laptop, giving the keyboard a slight tilt. That’s why you’ll notice two small feet on the bottom/back of the lid.

Overall the laptop offers an interesting mix of svelte design and somewhat annoying compromises that come with that design, including keyboard layout and flexiness, limited port selection, and awkward camera placement.

I wouldn’t all any of those things dealbreakers. Performance and battery life might be though.

Performance

Writing for Liliputing is my day job, and so when I test a computer I do that by using it to research and write articles for this website. I’ve been doing that on and off with the Acer Swift 7 for the past few weeks, and it’s more than up to the task.

If that’s all I tried to do on this laptop, I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Swift 7 and a computer with a more powerful processor.

But the differences become more clear if you try to do more resource-intensive tasks like audio or video editing, gaming, or running serious number-crunching software like Prime95.

In order to get an apples-to-apples comparison, I ran some of the benchmarks I’ve used on other laptops — some with lower-power processors, and others with higher-performance chips.

Unsurprisingly, laptops with 15 watt Intel Core i5-8250U or Core i7-8550U processors tended to run circles around the Swift 7 with its 7 watt Core i7-8500Y chip. The Huawei Matebook X Pro also features NVIDIA’s entry-level GeForce MX150 GPU which gives it a big boost in some graphics tests.

But what was a little surprising was that some mobile computers with Intel Core m3-8100Y chips also scored higher in some benchmarks than the Acer Swift 7.

I think I have a pretty good explanation for why that’s the case. While the One Mix 3 Yoga and GPD P2 Max are both tiny computers with Intel Core m3 chips, they also both feature active cooling (meaning each little laptop has a fan under the hood). The Acer Swift 7 is fanless.

So while the Acer Swift 7 has a chip that can theoretically run at higher frequencies, Acer seems to have capped the performance in order to keep the computer from overheating — even under extreme load, the processor in this laptop never seems to exceed 7 watts.

The GPD P2 Max and One Mix 3 Yoga also have low-power processors, but they can both hit 15 watts for short periods of time to offer a performance boost when you need it. The GPD P2 Max is also configured to run at 8 watts instead of 7 watts, which gives it a bit of an edge over other systems with Amber Lake-Y processors.

Given the constraints that Acer put on the processor, I’m a little surprised the company bothered to go with a Core i7-8500Y processors at all. Then again, I think it would have been even harder to justify the laptop’s high price tag if it didn’t at least have the most expensive chip in Intel’s low-power Amber Lake-Y processor lineup.

I can say that Acer seems to have done a pretty good job with heat management. While the notebook is fanless, there’s a thin copper-graphite pipe that helps dissipate heat silently.

The notebook gets a little warm after periods of extended use, but overall it runs pretty cool and the sides and bottom of the laptop stay relatively comfortable to touch. Under heavy load, the area above the keyboard can get rather hot though.

As for the other benefit of a keeping energy consumption down? You’d think it would lead to long battery life. But you’d be wrong.

Acer equipped the laptop with a 32 Wh battery that measures just 2.6mm thick, making it thinner than a coin cell battery. While that’s certainly an impressive feat of design that helps contribute to the laptop’s slim proportions, it doesn’t give you a lot of juice and it doesn’t take long to deplete the battery.

In my Netflix run-down test, I was able to eke out 7 hours and 15 minutes of run time while streaming video with screen brightness set to 50 percent.

When I used the laptop rather lightly, (light web browsing, social media, and writing text-based documents), I was able to get around 5-6 hours of battery life.

And when I tried to use it for work, I was only able to use the laptop for about four hours at a time before the battery gave up on me.

You could measure that as half of a work day. But I found the rapid battery drain to be problematic because once the battery level dipped below 30 percent, I could never quite be sure if I’d have the 20-30 minutes I needed to research and write one more article for Liliputing.

It’s possible that you might be able to get longer battery life if your workload looks different than mine. But for the most part what I’ve been doing that seems to kill the battery in no time flat is opening 10-15 browser tabs at a time in Google Chrome, writing articles in a browser tab running WordPress, and doing some light image editing with Irfanview. That’s about it… although occasionally I pull up GIMP for more complex editing and maybe watch a YouTube video or two.

That said, while that doesn’t sound like a lot of work, Chrome can be a pretty resource-intensive application — here’s what Windows Task Manager showed in the performance tab while I was compiling bargains for a Liliputing Daily Deals article.

Speaking of multimedia, the Acer Swift 7 has stereo speakers… but they’re some of the quietest laptop speakers I’ve ever heard. Audio quality is fine, but even with the volume cranked all the way up, music and videos would be pretty tough to hear from across a room.

You’ll definitely want headphones or external speakers if you want to use this laptop for audio and video playback.

 

Advanced users

Want to upgrade the memory or storage? Tough. They’re both soldered to the motherboard.

You can use the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports to connect a USB flash drive, hard drive, SSD, or hub. But there’s no replacing the built-in storage. So I guess it’s good news that Acer outfits the laptop with 16GB of RAM and a relatively speedy 512GB SSD.

Want to add 4G LTE support? You’ll need a dongle or hotspot, because Acer doesn’t offer that option either — which is a little odd for a device targeted at mobile professionals. But I suspect that would sap the computer’s battery life even more quickly.

But there is at least one thing advanced users may want to try — running Linux instead of Windows 10. While I didn’t extensively test Linux performance, I did manage to run Ubuntu from a USB flash drive.

To do that you can press Fn+ F2 to get into the UEFI/BIOS boot menu. There’s no option to disable secure boot on this computer, but you can enable an option to hit F12 at boot in order to choose the device you want to boot from.

Once I did that I saved, exited, inserted a USB flash drive with Ubuntu installed on it, and was able to boot into the operating system.

WiFi, audio, video, and keyboard shortcuts all seemed to work out of the box, as did the laptop’s touchscreen (although I feel like the touchscreen calibration might need a little tweaking — it felt a little less precise in Ubuntu than in Windows).

I haven’t tried installing Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution to local storage, so I can’t comment on sleep, battery life, or other aspects of Linux performance.

Verdict

The Acer Swift 7 is a laptop with a strikingly compact design that you kind of have to feel to believe. And while it has a low-power processor, Intel’s Y-series chips have gotten pretty good in recent years and I could almost see this laptop being worth the steep asking price for folks that need a thin and light laptop more than they need a blazingly fast one.

But the lousy battery life alone should be enough to turn most folks in the target demographic away from this laptop.

Battery life isn’t everything… you’d be lucky to get four hours of run time from many gaming laptops, for example. But for a machine designed for mobility, four hours of work usage just doesn’t cut it… especially not for a premium device that sells for $1700.

Add a slightly awkward keyboard layout, unfortunate camera placement, and limited port selection, and I think you’ve got a few compromises too many.

And that’s a shame. Because the Acer Swift 7 really does have an excellent display, an attractive design, and an almost magically small profile for a laptop with a 14 inch display. I really wanted to love this laptop. And if it were maybe half the price, I think I would… poor battery life and all.


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