SOME THINGS IN LIFE ARE CERTAIN; death, taxes, and refreshed ultraportable laptops each year. At least that’s the case with Acer.
The firm’s latest ultraportable comes in the form of the Acer Swift 5, a slim, competitively priced laptop that’s got road warriors firmly in its sights with its featherweight body.
There’s a bucket load of very capable ultraportables around at the moment, so we’ll need to take a closer look at the Swift 5 to see if Acer has made a winning laptop or a machine that’s only worth a second glance when it comes to Black Friday or some other nonsense sale.
One would never describe the Acer Swift 5 as striking given it has a rather unassuming design; there’s no wedge-like aesthetics such as those on Dell’s XPS 13. Rather, it has the same gently tapered chassis and rounded edges pretty much every ultrabook has sported at some point.
Nevertheless, the Royal Blue livery of our review model looked pretty nice, with a pseudo-gold Asus logo on the lid and a rather swish semi-trapezoid hinge that runs nearly all the length of the laptop’s width, also clad in same gold colour.
Fitted into its 14.9mm thick body you’ll find one USB-C and two USB 3.0 ports, alongside an HDMI port on the laptop’s right-hand side and a 3.5mm headphone jack, Kensington lock and LED indicators on the left. That’s a pretty decent suite of ports for a 2018 ultraportable, though an SD card reader would have been nice.
But where the Acer Swift 5 really shines on the design front is with its weight. At a mere 970g, it’s one of the lightest laptops around, so much so if occasionally feels like Acer forgot to put the computery bits in it.
Acer has achieved this lack of heft in part by making use of superlight magnesium-lithium alloy. But while its lightweight, we can’t help but notice it gives the machine a slightly less than premium feel, and to the touch it almost seems like the chassis is plastic.
Despite this, it still feels pretty sturdy without much flex in the lid or any creakiness in other parts of its body.
Flip the Swift 5 over and you’ll find a brace of downward firing speakers. These sound decent but don’t *ahem* hit the high notes when it comes to aural pleasure.
All in all, the Swift 5 is a rather smart take on utilitarian design, and at under a kilogram it can be chucked into a bag and carried around all day without making its presence known.
The run-of-the-mill design continues with the 14in touchscreen IPS display. Unlike the MateBook X Pro, the Swift 5 doesn’t boast a bezel-free design, with its panel instead surrounded by the type of bezel one would expect from ultrabooks that sit around the £1,000 mark.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with such a bezel, but 2018 has seen even gaming laptops start squashing down screen borders, so we’d have liked the Swift 5 to have done the same. At least the bezel provides plenty of space to fit in a 720p webcam which is decent enough and positioned sensibly for video calls.
As for the display’s panel, it comes sporting a 1,920×1,080 resolution with a 16:9 aspect ratio; nothing surprising there.
Colours and contrast are pretty good if not quite up to scratch for professional photo and video editors, but for everyone else the screen’s colour gamut is more than accurate enough for perusing pictures and ogling YouTube videos.
We did feel like the brightness, at around the 200 nits mark, could be a little better, with it lacking the punch of say a Surface Pro’s PixelSense display, but it was still more than acceptable if not exceptional.
While its hinge design does not facilitate it, given the laptop’s weight and how far back the screen tilts, we’re a tad miffed as to why Acer simply didn’t make the Swift 5 a 2-in-1 machine.
It would have been fairly easy to use as a tablet or be propped up in a pseudo picture frame mode, but Acer’s engineers must have decided against such a move. And of course, Acer has plenty of other 2-in-1 devices up its sleeves.
Keyboard and touchpad
With the Swift 5 keyboard, you’re getting a fairly standard chiclet setup. And that’s no bad thing.
It’s not the best laptop keyboard we’ve ever tried – that accolade goes to the Google Pixelbook – but it’s decent and touch typists won’t take too long to get accustomed to skating their fingers across the keys.
Key travel could be improved and the action is a little on the soft side. Thankfully there’s very little flex in the keyboard deck meaning, if you’re so inclined, you can hammer away at the keys to your heart’s delight.
There is one problem though; if you don’t hit the spacebar in the middle it can sometimes fail to register the key press. It’s not the end of the world but can get a bit frustrating when trying to knock out text at speed. This is reportedly a problem with other Swift 5s, not just our review model, so that’s worth bearing in mind if the laptop has caught your fancy so far.
The touchpad is decent on the whole. Despite a plastic rather than glass surface it still feels smooth and reasonably accurate to use. But we did find the click action of the pad to be a bit stiff, which can make it feel a tad unresponsive until you get used to it.
While we’re around the mouse, to the right of it sits a fingerprint reader which should appeal to biometrics fans. The scanner integrates with Windows Hello, but it’s worth noting the webcam doesn’t, so your authentication is limited to fingering the laptop rather than gawping at it.
Performance and battery life
The Acer Swift 5 we had to review was packed Intel’s eight-generation Core i78550U processor paired with 8GB of RAM.
While we’d rather have seen Acer opt for Coffee Lake processors rather than a chip from the Kaby Lake R generation, we know the Core i7-8550U is a pretty decent laptop CPU with four cores and eight threads, and a base clock speed of 1.8GHz that spins up to 4GHz when pushed.
Throwing the Geekbench 4 test at it yielded a decent single-core score of 4,559, with it racking up 11,322 points on the multi-core side; that’s slightly less than the Asus ZenBook UX430UA which has the same processor, but that machine has a bit more space for cooling and therefore more processor performance headroom.
Speaking of cooling, the Swift 5 does seem to get a bit hot when its processor is pushed, with temperatures hitting 96 degrees Celsius when we threw a test that maxed out the CPU load at it.
Using the PowerMax test and the Core Temp monitoring tool, while throwing Geekbench and Cinebench R15 tests at the Swift 5, we found the Core i7-8550U failed to ramp up beyond is base clock speed, which would suggest there’s some throttling going on once all four cores have 100 per loads and temperatures get beyond 70 degrees.
With a couple of benchmarks running at the same time things get sluggish, with the Swift 5 achieving scores lower than normal, which suggests that something is stopping the Intel chip from stretching its legs when it gets pushed.
This throttling could be down to the processor not getting enough cooling, despite the fans kicking up a fuss, which is noticeable but not unbearable, when the chip is taxed, as it seems to quite happily ramp up its power draw when needed.
However, in everyday use, you’re unlikely to notice any throttling, which could be a symptom of our testing rather than the CPU’s day-to-day performance.
Carrying out everyday computing tasks is pretty slick and up to ultrabook standards. If you’re after a powerhouse laptop then it’s better to consider something a bit gutsier for video rendering or playing demanding games, but that’s pretty much stating the obvious
On the storage side, our model came with a 256GB solid-state drive, which is plenty for everyday use but not likely to appeal to people who want to hoard masses of hefty video files or photos in RAW format.
Oddly, the only model we saw on the Acer’s online store with the Core i7-8550U comes with a 512GB SSD with a £1,099 price tag, while the Core i5-8250U-equipped Swift 5 comes with the 256GB SSD.
Moving swiftly on, battery life is decent enough if not stellar. We reckon the Swift 5 delivers some six hours of general computing use before it starts crying out for a power socket.
That’s generally fine for relatively short bouts of away-from-power working, but don’t expect the Swift 5 to do a full working day on battery power alone unless you ramp down the brightness and use it for the lightest of tasks.
With devices like the Surface Laptop offering 10-plus-hours of juice, we’re not convinced six hours from an ultraportable is good enough. But we suspect the lack of long battery life is probably a symptom of Acer’s weight-saving efforts, opting for a less dense battery in order to keep the Swift 5’s lightweight credentials.
For daily commutes from home to office with a few meetings plonked in the middle, the Swift 5 should have enough juice to be practical.
To make an appealing ultraportable in 2018, a laptop maker either needs some innovative features, a slick display or make a well-priced machine with decent specs.
Acer’s Swift 5 appears to have gone for the latter and it mostly succeeds.
For around £1,000, the Swift 5 offers plenty of performance for everyday computing packaged into a chassis that won’t hurt your neck or shoulders if you’re out and about.
There’s nothing particularly exciting about it and its display and design are perfectly practical if not likely to get gadget porn fans excited.
The processor throttling does seem to be a problem for anyone who wants an ultraportable that can handle the odd demanding task and the keyboard’s dodgy space button doesn’t win the Swift 5 any brownie points.
Yet on the whole, the Swift 5 is a perfectly good ultraportable that’s fairly well priced. Its real problem is that there are plenty of other impressive ultraportables on the market that offer more performance for a couple of hundred quid more. As such, the Core i7-8550U equipped Swift 5 loses some of its appeal.
The cheaper Core i5 model is arguably a better bet, as it’s cheaper but for everyday computing, the benefits of a faster processor might not be noticeable.
With all this in mind, we can give the Swift 5 a cautious recommendation at its full-price; if you spot the Swift 5 with a hundred quid or two knocked off in a sale, then it’ll make a pretty decent purchase.
It’s definitely worth considering what you want out of an ultraportable before opting for the Swift 5 over similar machines from Asus or more expensive but flashier machines from HP or Dell; a good philosophy for pretty much any major tech purchase. µ
Super lightweight chassis, decent specs, solid display.
Less than premium feel, gets a bit warm, stiff touchpad click.
Odd CPU throttling, fan noise, dodgy spacebar.
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