NOTE: This is our review of the first Acer Swift 3, launched at the end of 2016 and still on sale in many retailers. We awarded this device 9/10. Navigate to Page 1 of this review to see our review of the new, 2017 model. The easiest way to tell whether you’re looking at the 2016 or 2017 model is the screen surround: if it’s black, it’s 2017, if it’s the colour of the chassis it’s 2016.
What is the Acer Swift 3?
Acer’s range of Swift laptops is available in four flavours: the range-topping Swift 7, the mid-tier Swift 5 the cheaper Swift 3 and the budget Swift 1. Don’t let the Acer Swift 3‘s standing against its siblings put you off, though. The Swift 3 includes plenty of the premium touches of its pricier family members. It has a slim and light all-metal body, an IPS display and dual-core Intel Kaby Lake processors – all for a starting price of just £500.
Certainly, there are smaller and lighter machines available, but if you’re looking for a laptop that comes close to having the premium feel of the MacBook or Dell XPS 13, for example, but don’t want to pay over £1000 then the Swift 3 is well worth a look.
Being low-cost, slim and light, it faces direct competition from the Lenovo IdeaPad 510S. I haven’t reviewed the refreshed version of the 510S, which has been updated with new 7th-gen Intel processors, but it shares many features with last year’s version so I’ll compare and contrast with this new Acer throughout the review.
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Acer Swift 3 – Design and Build
The fanciest feather in the Swift 3’s cap is down to its all-aluminium body. While it isn’t uncommon to see an aluminium lid or base at this price, it’s the first time I’ve encountered a latop with all the major panels – the lid, base, keyboard surround and display surround – all made from aluminium. This immediately gives the Swift 3 a premium look and feel that few machines of this price, or considerably more, can match.
The overall fit and finish is pretty good, too, even if you miss out on the super-solid feel of the unibody chassis of a MacBook.
There’s a greater level of flex in the base than you’d find in more premium models, and where the base panel meets the keyboard surround panel, there’s also a pronounced lip that you’d be unlikely to see on more expensive laptops. Apart from that, the Swift 3 wants for little. The lid is nice and ridged, the fold-flat hinge mechanism is smooth, and overall it feels reasonably well put together.
The Swift 3’s screen measures 14 inches from corner to corner, and the bezel isn’t particularly narrow, which results in a markedly larger machine than more typical Ultrabooks; it has a footprint of 343 x 237mm. It’s reasonably thin, however, at a consistent 17.95mm and weighs in at 1.5kg. This puts it 200g lighter and a smidge thinner than the Lenovo 510S, although both would fit the remit of a “take-anywhere” device.
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Connectivity is fairly impressive, too. You get one each of USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB Type-C as well as an HDMI, SD card reader and headphone/microphone combi jack. This means that the only thing you’ll regularly have to find a dongle for is connecting to a wired network. There’s built-in Wi-Fi, too, which is of the latest quad-stream 802.11ac variety (Qualcomm QCA61x4A).
Here the Lenovo has an intriguing ace up its sleeve: it includes an Ethernet port. However, it lacks the Type-C USB, so it’s swings and roundabouts.
Acer Swift 3 – Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard on this laptop wants for very little. The UK version has a proper UK configuration and the overall layout is spot on. I’d prefer the Home/End/PgUp/PgDn keys to be secondary functions of the cursor keys, rather than have four awkwardly positioned dedicated keys over on the right-hand side – but aside from that it’s great.
The key action is also surprisingly good. It’s light yet defined, and although there’s a little flex in the body of the laptop as you type, I didn’t find it enough to cause issues with speedy typing.
What’s more, the entire keyboard is backlit. You get only the one brightness option – on or off – but having backlighting at all is a bonus at this price.
Praise for this laptop continues when it comes to its trackpad. Sure, it can’t can’t compete with the best, but its aluminium finish allows fingers to glide easily, tracking is reasonably accurate and, although a little stiff, the click action is adequate. I’ve found far worse on far more expensive machines.
Acer Swift 3 – Screen
The screen is fine for the money, although as ever this is a back-handed compliment because there are many, many better laptop screens out there.
It has a Full HD resolution, so there’s been no scrimping when it comes to the number of pixels you get to play with. It’s also an IPS LCD panel, meaning viewing angles are very good. Plus, its matte finish keeps reflections at bay.
Its overall performance is good too. You get an excellent contrast ratio of 1360:1, thanks largely to an impressively low black level. However, maximum brightness is a touch low, at just 243 nits. That’s sufficient for the vast majority of uses – 150 nits is recommended for day-to-day indoor use – but in particularly bright lighting conditions this panel will struggle a little.
You can see from our pictures that when in a well-lit room (two 100W fluorescent photography lights) it can appear a little dim.
In terms of colour reproduction, for casual use it’s absolutely fine: its gamma rating of 2.15 proves it can properly produce the brightness curve that’s expected, so the display doesn’t look grey and washed out, or overly dark. However, its default colour temperature is 7008K, which is some way off the ideal of 6500K. It’s barely noticeable most of the time, but the display can look a touch colder/bluer when compared to the best, calibrated displays.
But it’s the sRGB colour space coverage rating of just 55.5% that’s its real Achilles heel. This results in a slightly muted colour palette that, although fine for general use, is insufficient for people who regularly edit pictures or video.
Much the same complaints can be levelled at the 510S, although it manages to squeeze out 30 more nits of brightness, making it a little better suited to use in bright environments.
Acer Swift 3 – Webcam and Audio
The Swift 3 has a 30fps, 720p webcam that’s absolutely fine for general video-chat duties. It delivers a fairly grainy picture, but the automatic exposure works well to keep your face visible in most lighting conditions.
As for audio, a couple of speakers fire down from the underside of the laptop and they create a reasonably powerful and satisfyingly stereo sound, with none of the irritating tininess of the worst laptop speakers. For long listening sessions you’ll want to plug in headphones, but for occasional use they get the job done.
Acer Swift 3 – Performance
The Swift 3 is available in a variety of configurations, ranging from the currently discounted £450, NX.GKBEK.003 to the £750 NX.GKBEK.009. The difference between the various options is the CPU, memory and SSD, with all models featuring the same metal frame, screen, keyboard, and so on.
The sweet spot of the range would appear to be the very model I’m reviewing, which is the NX.GKBEK.008, available for £650. It features an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The more expensive options go up to an i7-7500U processor, but you get no other extras and the boost in performance won’t be worth it for most users. If you really need more power, this isn’t the laptop for you. Related: Intel Core i explained
Performance-wise, this configuration provides a great all-round experience. The i5-7200U is plenty powerful enough to breeze through most day-to-day computing tasks, ably assisted by that 8GB of RAM. The SSD isn’t of the ultra-fast PCI-E variety, but it still delivers good overall performance, with read and write speeds measured by AS SSD of 484MB/sec and 469MB/sec respectively.
The above results in a PCMark 8 score of 3150, which is entirely in line with other laptops of this calibre. Likewise, a Geekbench 4 score of 6551 shows there’s plenty of power here.
Those regularly doing heavy computing tasks such as editing video will want more power – but again, this isn’t the calibre of machine you should be looking at for such tasks. Still, if you take a hop up to the Core i7 version you should be able to get some Full HD editing done.
The same goes for gaming. A 3DMark: Ice Storm score of 59,966 shows that there’s enough grunt here to get up and running in some games, but you’ll have to seriously dial back the resolution and detail settings to get a playable experience in all but the most basic titles.
Also, this is is one area in particular where the slower 7100U processor of the £450 configuration will likely suffer. Last year’s 6100U used in the Lenovo 510S could only score 31,259 in 3DMark, and the 7100U is only likely to be a few percentage points better.
There’s just one fly in the ointment when it comes to this laptop’s day-to-day performance, which is cooling. Not that it gets hot, but that its fan tends to spin up just a little more regularly than some. As soon as the CPU is under any sort of load – a couple of adverts on a web page, for instance – and the fan starts whirring away. It isn’t too loud, but relatively high pitched so will be noticeable in a quiet room. Thankfully, it doesn’t do this when watching just YouTube.
Acer Swift 3 – Battery Life
The Acer Swift 3 puts in a solid, if unspectacular, performance when it comes to battery life. In our standard Powermark test it lasted 7hrs 24mins, which is close enough to the eight-hour mark that we consider the benchmark for these sorts of laptops. It’s some way short of the 10 hours Acer claims, though, and there are other laptops out there that will push closer to double figures, most notably the Lenovo Ideapad 510S.
However, watching an hour of Netflix, the battery dropped by exactly 10%, suggesting it would in fact last closer to that 10-hour mark if all you’re doing is watching video.
Should I buy the Acer Swift 3?
The Acer Swift 3 is a seriously impressive laptop for its price. It delivers an absolutely fantastic combination of looks, features, performance and battery life that no other machine can match for the same money. There are a few laptops of similar price and spec – such as the Lenovo Ideapad 510S – that deliver most of the same features and performance, but they can’t match the Swift’s all-metal exterior.
It is worth nothing, though, that although aesthetically pleasing, the metal isn’t of all that much structural benefit. You’re still some distance away from that reassuring solidity and sense of longevity that you get with a MacBook. So although nice to have, it isn’t clear whether this machine will actually last any longer than other similarly priced machines with plastic exteriors.
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For that reason, and because of the modest screen quality, I’d recommend not opting for the top-end spec of this machine, since at £750, it’s encroaching on other machines that have better baseline quality. The £500 and £650 versions are well worth snapping up, however.
A price that starts at under £500, an all-metal chassis, IPS screen and good overall performance combine to make this laptop an astonishingly good buy.