Powerful graphics and affordable price tags don’t usually go together. That can be a problem for students or creative professionals on a budget. Acer’s 2019 refresh of its Swift 3 14-inch laptop is a prime example – it’s right at the premium cutoff of $ 1,000 and it includes an Nvidia GeForce MX150 that’s good enough for light gaming and speeding up creative applications.
Acer sent us the high-end configuration that costs $ 1,000. It’s well-equipped, sporting an 8th-gen Whiskey Lake Core i7-8565U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 14-inch IPS Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display.
The previous version of the laptop — one of our favorite budget options — cost $ 680 for the same amount of RAM and storage but with a Core i5 — and it was limited to integrated Intel HD graphics. Does the uptick in processor and graphics power do enough to warrant the significantly higher price?
If you’ve seen one silver chassis…
Yes, that’s right: The Acer Swift 3 has a silver, all-aluminum chassis with chrome chamfered edges, black trim around the display, and a subtle chrome Acer logo on the lid. In other words, it’s just like every other clamshell laptop with a silver chassis and similar trimmings. It looks a lot like the Acer Swift 5, only smaller, while another 14-inch laptop, the Asus ZenBook 14 UX433, is far more striking and colorful.
Not every all-aluminum chassis is built the same, though. The lid and keyboard deck are just a bit too flexible, giving in to light pressure. There’s not enough give to make us doubt its durability, but we like the ZenBook 14 and Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 for their more solid chassis (and their MIL-STD-810g certification that promises durability). Again, the Swift 3 is fine, but it’s not the best we’ve tested — even at similar prices.
Another area where the Swift 3 loses out to the ZenBook 14 is in terms of its chassis size. Asus has fully embraced the tiny bezel movement, and the ZenBook’s 92 percent screen-to-body ratio is a class leader. That makes the Swift 3’s side bezels – though smaller than the previous generation – and rather large top and bottom bezels seem comically huge in comparison. Those bezels let the ZenBook 14 come in at just 12.56 inches wide by 7.83 inches deep, compared to the Swift 3 at 12.72 inches by 8.98 inches.
The Swift 3 resembles every other clamshell laptop with a silver chassis and subtle trimming.
The Swift 3 manages to be thinner than the ZenBook 14, at 0.59 inches versus 0.63 inches, and that’s a plus. It’s heavier, though, at 2.98 pounds compared to 2.62 pounds. The size of the Swift 3 is very close to the Huawei MateBook X Pro with its less common 3:2 aspect ratio 14-inch display is very close at 0.57 inches and 2.9 pounds. That makes the Acer 3 plenty thin and light for a 14-inch laptop.
Connectivity is decent for such a thin laptop, with a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port supporting display and power, two USB-A 3.0 ports, and a full-size HDMI port. There’s no SD card reader, which is a bummer, but there’s a Kensington Lock slot for the security-conscious. Wireless connectivity is state-of-the-art, with an Intel combo chip that provides gigabit Wi-Fi 802.11ac and the latest Bluetooth 5.0.
The Swift 3’s $ 1,000 price point is right at the edge of where you might expect Thunderbolt 3 support, and sadly, that’s lacking here. You won’t be able to connect an external GPU, and so the built-in graphics will have to suit you.
The keyboard is just a touch too firm
Getting just the right keyboard feel must be a challenge. Too loose or mushy or too tight and firm, and long typing sessions can be exhausting. The Swift 3’s rather typical island keyboard with black chiclet keys falls just inside that spectrum. It has sufficient travel and a nice click, making it precise, but the mechanism is just the slightest bit too firm. The ZenBook 14 and the Dell XPS 13 have snappy keyboards as well with a lighter touch, making them slightly more comfortable.
The Swift 3’s plastic touchpad is less enigmatic. It takes up the available space on the keyboard deck and allows for comfortable swiping, and its plastic texture provides just the right combination of smooth feedback. It’s a Microsoft Precision touchpad and so it supports the full range of Windows 10 multitouch gestures, and it’s quite precise. It’s the equal of the best Windows touchpads around.
The display isn’t touch-enabled, though, and that’s a bummer. Once you’ve gotten used to quickly tapping buttons and scrolling long web pages with a finger and a thumb, it feels odd when a display doesn’t respond. There are some minor weight and power savings, not to mention the cost, but at $ 1,000, the Swift 3 feels incomplete without a touchscreen.
Finally, the Swift 3 relies on a fingerprint scanner to the right of the keyboard for Windows 10 password-less login. We had some difficulty training it, and then it wasn’t always responsive in real-life use. Hopefully, that’s something Acer can improve with a software update.
Another average Full HD display neither adds or detracts
Acer offers the Swift 3 with just one display option: A glossy 14-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 157 PPI) screen. It’s sharp enough for most users, and as an IPS panel, it promises good viewing angles and a pleasant experience.
According to our colorimeter, that’s exactly what you’re getting. The display is right in line with other modern mainstream laptop panels. That means it’s a good display that most people will enjoy but it likely won’t meet the needs of creative types.
Brightness was below our preferred 300 nit threshold, at 260 nits. It will be bright enough for the typical office, but harsh overhead lighting and certainly sunlight will overwhelm things and make the display hard to read. The contrast was just okay at 710:1, which is right in the middle of our comparison group, ahead of the Lenovo Yoga C930 but behind the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and XPS 13.
Unless you’re a creative professional, the Swift 3’s display should satisfy.
The color gamut is also average, at 73 percent of AdobeRGB. All but budget displays fall in this range, and you’ll want to look at more premium options to get into the 90 percent range that promises the best colors for photo and video editing. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is slightly better while the ZenBook 14 and Yoga C930 are slightly worse. Color accuracy was 1.34, which is very good (less than 1.0 is considered excellent) and ahead of all the laptops in our comparison group.
Finally, gamma is a bit off at 2.1 (2.2 is perfect), meaning that Netflix videos will be a bit brighter than the should. Overall, though, we found the display quite pleasant to use. It doesn’t stand out, but unless you’re a creative type looking for a truly colorful display, then the Swift 3’s panel should satisfy.
The audio didn’t impress us one way or another. The dual downward-firing speakers on the bottom of the chassis provided plenty of volume without significant distortion, but the quality didn’t rise above the typical laptop experience. There’s no bass to speak of, and so you’ll want to pull out some headphones to really enjoy your tunes and Netflix binging.
Solid but not spectacular performance
The Swift 3 runs on the latest and greatest Intel CPU, the Whiskey Lake 8th-generation quad-core Core i7-8565U. In our experience, that typically means solid productivity performance and good efficiency.
We applied our usual benchmark tests and discovered that the Swift 3 makes good use of its components. In the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark, the Acer scored 5,231 in the single-core test and 15,116 in the multi-core test. That’s in line with the same CPU among our comparison group in the single-core benchmark, and right in the middle when using multiple cores.
In our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265, the Swift 3 finish in 269 seconds. That’s not as quick as the ZenBook 14 or Dell Inspiron 13 7386, but it matches the XPS 13. The Core i5-8250 in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon was much slower at 370 seconds.
The Kingston PCIe SSD, on the other hand, was slower than we like. It scored 857 megabytes per second (MB/s) in the CrystalDiskMark 5.x read test and 765 MB/s in the write test. Those scores aren’t great for PCIe drives, with the Swift 3 coming close to the ZenBook 14’s performance but falling well behind the rest of the field in read performance.
If you can step down in performance, then there’s a Core i5-8265U option that will save some cash. Oddly, you can upgrade to a 512GB SSD with the Core i5 but there’s no option for the larger capacity to go with the faster Core i7. The Swift 3 is not user-upgradeable.
Thermal performance was a real strength of the Swift 3. During our most aggressive testing, including encoding a video, running our gaming benchmarks, and running 3DMark stress tests, the chassis never got more than warm, and the fans were never too loud. The highest temperature we measured was on the bottom near the rear, and that only reached 101 degrees F.
Overall, you’re getting plenty of performance for the laptop’s $ 1,000 price – you could spend hundreds more and not see a meaningful difference. The laptop is plenty quick for whatever productivity task you throw at it, and then the discrete GPU means that creative applications can enjoy a real boost as well.
Entry-level gaming is in the cards
Nvidia’s GeForce MX150 graphics usually promise entry-level gaming performance that’s a real step up from Intel’s integrated GPUs. We were looking forward to seeing if the Swift 3 would make good use of that extra gaming performance.
First, we ran the 3DMark Fire Strike test, where the Swift 3 scored 2,607. That’s more than twice as fast as our comparison laptops with integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics, and slightly better than the MX150-equipped version of the ZenBook 14.
To gauge the Swift 3 in terms of its real-world performance, we ran a couple of gaming benchmarks that are in line with the level of CPU. In Civilization VI, the Acer managed a playable 37 frames per second (FPS) at 1080p and medium graphics, which dropped to 16 FPS at ultra graphics. In Fortnite, the Swift 3 hit 32 FPS at 1080p and high graphics and 28 FPS at ultra graphics. That makes the Acer slightly faster than the ZenBook 14 in Civilization VI and almost identical in Fortnite.
While the laptop can’t keep up with those running faster GeForce GTX or RTX GPUs, it’s good enough for esports titles and for some modern titles at 1080p and with the graphical quality turned down. More importantly, it’s significantly better than laptops that are limited to Intel’s integrated graphics.
Battery life is strong if you’re not pushing the CPU
The Swift 3 packs in 50 watt-hours of battery capacity, which is a little light for a 14-inch laptop that doesn’t try to be the smallest around. The Whiskey Lake 8th-gen CPU is efficient, and the Full HD resolution means the battery won’t be taxed by powering too many pixels.
In our benchmark tests, the Acer did well, but it didn’t break any records. In our most demanding Basemark web benchmark, for example, the Swift 3 managed just over three hours, which is lower than the ZenBook 14’s slightly more than four hours and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s six hours.
Unless you’re pushing the CPU, the Swift 3 will likely last you a full working day.
In our web browsing test, the Swift 3 was stronger at nine hours, beating out the ZenBook 14’s roughly eight hours and destroying the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s six and a half hours. And when looping our local test Avengers trailer, the Swift 3 was again very strong at over 15 hours. The ZenBook 14 barely lasted 11 hours, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon petered out after just eight hours.
The bottom line is that unless you’re pushing the CPU, the Swift 3 will likely last you a full working day and then some. It’s a particularly strong result given the relatively small battery capacity, and so Acer worked some real magic in squeezing out some longevity. Note that engaging the discrete GPU during gaming and while running creativity applications will suck down much more power.
At first glance, the Acer Swift 3 is underwhelming. It’s not great looking, its build quality is good but not great, and its price seems a little high. But then when you consider the discrete GPU, look at its strong performance, and then consider its very good battery life – suddenly, the Swift 3 becomes a more compelling choice.
Is there a better alternative?
If we look exclusively at 14-inch laptops, the Asus ZenBook 14 is the most direct comparison. It’s much smaller thanks to some tiny bezels, it provides similar performance, but its battery life can’t keep up. If you want to buy the MX150 version in the US, then you’ll have to buy it from Costco (for now) at $ 1,300 with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. If you can live with integrated graphics, then the ZenBook 14 is also $ 1,000 for a Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD.
You could also consider the Asus ZenBook 13 if you’re willing to drop down a bit in screen size. The latest UX333 version sports the same good looks as the ZenBook 13. You’ll lose the discrete GPU and you’ll step down in processor performance, but you’ll also pay only $ 850 for a Core i5-8265U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. And the ZenBook 13’s display has much better contrast and is a very pleasant panel overall.
If you’re willing to jump up in price, then the Huawei MateBook X Pro is a good option. It offers a lovely 3:2 display that’s great for productivity, fits into a small footprint thanks to thin bezels, and offers solid build quality. It’s significantly more expensive, though, at over $ 2,000 for similarly equipped device.
How long will it last?
The Acer Swift 3 isn’t the most robust build around, but it should still last you as long as the components can keep up. There’s a standard 1-year warranty that, as usual, is disappointing but an industry standard.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re in the market for a workhorse 14-inch laptop with some gaming and creative chops that keeps you working all day long and won’t break the bank, then the Swift 3 is a good choice.