Given the distinctly MacBook-like look and feel of many Windows ultraportables, we were pleased to see that Acer’s new Swift 5 manages to make a more individual design statement — while still keeping its prices attractively competitive.
Even better is the fact that the Swift 5 pulls off the difficult balancing act of delivering affordable ultrabook functionality — including good performance and portability — without making too many compromises.
Bigger on the inside
Acer’s boast is that the Swift 5 manages to squeeze a 14-inch screen into a 13-inch laptop, and it has certainly done a good job of streamlining the laptop’s design. Eschewing the tear-drop profile that manufacturers often borrow from Apple, the Swift 5 is a uniform 14.6mm thick from front to back, while its width of 330mm and depth of 228mm are virtually identical to my own 13-inch MacBook Air. The weight is similar too, at just 1.36kg, and it’s no trouble at all to pick up the Swift 5 in one hand and carry it around like a notepad.
Build quality is good for a laptop costing barely £700. Admittedly, the matte-black casing of our review unit was made of plastic, which simply doesn’t feel as classy as aluminium, but it’s still solid enough to cope with life in a briefcase or backpack. Our only minor complaint is that the screen panel — just 4mm thick — flexes a little more than we might have liked. Acer’s website actually states that the Swift 5 has ‘a stylish metal cover’ — but with sneaky small print that states ‘specifications may vary depending on region’, and it seems that the UK just gets the plastic version.
That’s our only criticism, though, and we found the keyboard firm and comfortable when typing, while the trackpad makes a nice, satisfying click when you press down on it. Low-cost laptops will often compromise on screen resolution and quality, but the 14-inch IPS screen of the Swift 5 provides full HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (157.35ppi), with a bright, clear image and good viewing angles that will work well if you need to give an impromptu presentation when you’re travelling. Some of the colours can appear a little harsh at times, suggesting that the contrast levels could be fine-tuned a bit, but the display is still very respectable for a laptop in this price range.
Connectivity is also good for an ultraportable, with two USB 3.0 ports, one USB-C, HDMI for an external display, a 3.5mm headphone socket and SD card slot. Acer’s website does contain a number of inaccuracies, though (or should we call them ‘alternative facts’?), so it’s worth double-checking the specification and pricing of the various models before buying.
Swift by name
Prices for the Swift 5 range start at just £699.99 (inc. VAT) for the model reviewed here (£583.32 ex. VAT, or $749.99 in the US), which includes a dual-core Core i5-7200U processor running at 2.5GHz (up to 3.1GHz with TurboBoost), along with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage. Acer doesn’t go out of its way to provide many build-to-order options, so the next step up is simply to pay an extra £100 for a 2.7GHz Core i7 processor, while a further £100 will double the storage to 512GB as well.
There is another model called the Swift 7 coming soon, but that’s a premium ultrabook with a 13-inch display and price tag closer to £1000 (inc. VAT; £833.33 ex. VAT, or $1,100). Alternatively, if you’re on a really tight budget, then Acer reverts back to Apple mode for the budget-price Swift 3, which is a Core i3-based MacBook Air clone starting at a very modest £450 (inc. VAT; £375 ex. VAT, or $550 in the US).
Performance for this Core i5 model is good though, and more than adequate for running Microsoft Office and other business applications. The Swift 5 achieved single and multi-processor scores of 3,760 and 7,200 when running the Geekbench 4 benchmark — just a few points adrift of the Core i7 processor used in the more expensive ASUS ZenBook UX330UA. In fact, the Swift 5 benefits from Intel’s integrated HD 620 graphics and actually outguns the HD 520 of the ZenBook on graphics performance, hitting a very respectable 43.6fps when running Cinebench R15, compared to 38.3fps for the ZenBook. It’ll certainly be able to handle simple graphics and video-editing for presentations, and maybe even a spot of casual, off-duty gaming too. The speakers sound rather thin and tinny, though, so a set of headphones or external speakers will come in handy for both presentations and entertainment.
If there’s a weak spot here it lies in the Swift’s solid-state drive, which is relatively modest by SSD standards, achieving read and write speeds of 559MB/s and 512MB/s when running the ATTO disk benchmarks. Even so, that’s still much faster than a conventional hard drive, and the Swift 5 boots into Windows 10 and is ready to start work in just 10 seconds.
You’ll have no trouble getting a full day’s work out of the Swift 5 either. Admittedly, Acer’s claim of ‘up to 13 hours’ for battery life is rather optimistic, but we still got a full 8.5 hours when streaming video from the BBC iPlayer, and less intensive use should allow to you ease past the nine-hour mark without too much trouble. That’s hardly record-breaking, but it’s good going for a laptop costing just £700.
And that pretty much sums up the Swift 5. There’s nothing eye-catching or outstanding about its design, but it provides a good all-round combination of performance, portability, and battery life at a very competitive price, and will make a good travelling laptop for business users who don’t want to pay premium ultrabook prices.
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