The 2019 edition of Acer’s ultraportable flagship, the $1,699.99 Swift 7, is four one-hundredths of an inch thicker than last year’s model—at 0.39 inch, it’s almost as portly as the Dell XPS 13 (0.46 inch). But not only is the Swift 7 still way thinner than pretenders like the Razer Blade Stealth (0.58 inch) or Apple MacBook Air (0.61 inch), it’s lighter than all of them at 1.96 pounds despite flaunting a 14-inch instead of 13.3-inch screen. As for year-over-year improvements, the new model has a faster CPU, twice the memory and storage, and Thunderbolt 3-enabled instead of vanilla USB Type-C ports at the same price. It’s not the best value or the best performer in the ultraportable arena, but it’s the sleekest status symbol.
A Wisp of a Laptop
My $1,699.99 review unit, model SF714-52T-75R6, combines a 1.5GHz Core i7-8500Y processor with integrated Intel UHD Graphics 615, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive, and Windows 10 Home. (Don’t draw quick conclusions based on the “Core i7,” though; more on that in a bit.) There are several other Swift 7 models available, some with Windows 10 Pro, some with the lesser Core i7-7Y75 chip from the system we tested a year ago. All share a 14-inch touch screen with a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) native resolution.
The Swift 7 gets its ultralight bona fides from the use of magnesium-lithium and magnesium-aluminum alloys in the chassis, along with some pruning around the edges. Thanks to thin screen bezels, Acer boasts that the system has a smaller footprint (12.5 by 7.5 inches) than many 13.3-inch laptops. (The Apple MacBook Air measures 12 by 8.4 inches.)
The company says a special oxidation process gives the black beauty a ceramic-like surface. It’s one of the most striking notebooks you can buy, not only because of its lower-than-low profile and slim bezels (its screen-to-body ratio is 92 percent) but because of its five- instead of six-row keyboard and superwide touchpad. It’s also silent, with no cooling fan inside. (That said, I noticed its right front underside grew warm during our strenuous benchmark tests.)
You can count the Acer’s ports on three fingers: an audio jack on the left side, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right. The latter also double as USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C ports, DisplayPort video outputs, and the AC-adapter connections. The SIM slot for mobile broadband found in last year’s Swift 7 has gone away, and there’s no SD or microSD card slot.
In addition to a leather carrying sleeve, Acer supplies a USB-C dongle with USB-C, USB-A, and HDMI ports. Having to carry the dongle is a minor nuisance, but I appreciate its inclusion.
The Swift carries a one-year limited warranty, and the bloat load is mercifully light: just a handful of commercial links, such as eBay and Booking.com, that are easily nixed.
A Few Unique Features
The bezel above the Swift 7’s screen is so thin that there’s no room for a conventional webcam. Instead, the 720p camera fits flush with the deck forward of the keyboard and pops up when pressed, like the keyboard-mounted webcam of Huawei’s MateBook X Pro. This lens positioning tends to yield a statuesque, low-angle view of your shoulders, neck, and chin, largely blocked by your fingers if you’re typing, rather than of your face. Between that and its slightly dim, soft-focus images, the webcam is not quite up to snuff for professional videoconferences.
Sound from the minuscule, bottom-firing speakers is faint and hollow, even at max volume—some of the weakest I’ve heard from any laptop. Not only is there no bass, but you’ll also be straining to hear overlapping tracks.
The backlit keyboard suffers from a couple of layout quirks. The cursor-arrow keys are small and crowded together with the Page Up and Page Down keys, which team with the Fn key for Home and End. The Escape and Delete keys are tiny, as well. But while it can require some extra care or precision to hit the desired keys, the typing feel is decent—shallow, which isn’t surprising, but pliant and with good feedback. For actual data entry, if not navigating through documents, I got up to speed quickly.
The glass-topped touchpad, as mentioned, spans a vast swath of the palm rest—it’s 5.5 by 2 inches. Though buttonless, it can be pressed to click, unlike the 2018 model’s, and that makes clicking and dragging easier. It also glides and taps smoothly. The power button to the left of the Escape key doubles as a Windows Hello fingerprint reader, so you can switch on and sign into the system with one press.
While some of the Swift’s competitors offer 4K or other high-resolution displays, I was more than satisfied with its 1080p screen, especially given users’ likely focus on productivity rather than fancy image editing on a system like this. Its pixel count is an easy-on-the-eyes match for its size, and its viewing angles are broad. Fine details are plenty sharp, and the brightness and contrast are both high. Colors are clear and vivid, and the Gorilla Glass 6 touch overlay serves as a mirror when the laptop’s turned off but doesn’t collect glare during operation.
Light, Alas, on Performance Too
Before getting into benchmark comparisons, I must note that the Swift 7’s fanless design comes at a price: Its Core i7-8500Y is a dual-core, 5-watt processor, while most of its competitors use quad-core, 15-watt chips (the latter falling under Intel’s “U” series).
This doesn’t mean that the Swift 7 isn’t capable of keeping up with the daily productivity tasks that make up most ultraportable work, but it puts it at a huge disadvantage for anything more taxing, such as visual content creation or video editing. It also makes anything beyond web-based gaming simply out of the question, though that’s nothing new for systems with integrated as opposed to discrete graphics.
To show what I mean, I matched the Swift against two other 14-inch ultraportables, the VAIO SX14 and Asus ZenBook 14, as well as two 13.3-inch machines. One of the latter is our Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 13; the other, to keep the Acer company, is the HP Spectre Folio, which shares its Intel Y-series rather than U-series processor. You can see the contenders’ basic specs below.
Subjectively speaking, the Acer didn’t feel slow when doing any one thing, except perhaps when plodding through our Photoshop test. It just felt slower than you’d expect from anything with a CPU labeled “Core i7″—more like a Core i3, maybe. It’s fine for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, not to mention email and web work. Let’s quantify that.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the boot drive. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
We’re so used to systems scoring the 4,000 points that we consider excellent in PCMark 10 that the Swift 7 landing under 2,700 is sobering. But again, it’s not like it lags behind when I’m typing or switching among app windows. Multitasking and spreadsheet calculations are satisfyingly quick. And its solid-state drive aces PCMark 8’s Storage test.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
This lopsided result demonstrates the difference between Intel’s battery-thrifty Y-series and mainstream U-series processors. (The U-series “Whiskey Lake” chips here have four cores and support up to eight threads of concurrent processing, while the “Amber Lake” Y series are twin-core CPUs that support just four threads.) Realistically, no one’s going to use any ultraportable for workstation-style 3D rendering or dataset analysis, but that goes double for the HP and Acer.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
I knew the Swift was in trouble when the toughest filter in the test, which takes most laptops 60 to 70 seconds, took 118. It’s hard to sugarcoat its distant last-place finish here.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Even the faster Core i7-8565U systems here are far off the pace of real gaming rigs with dedicated graphics. Ultraportables are strictly for casual and browser-based games, not the latest titles, and the Swift 7 is no exception.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
You were expecting something different? At 1080p, 30 frames per second might as well be on the far side of the moon for these laptops on this test.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
The two Y-series systems get a measure of revenge in this event, with the HP Spectre Folio and Acer Swift 7 taking the gold and silver medals, respectively. The XPS 13 did pretty well considering its power-hungry 4K display, but the Acer is tailor-made for even the longest flight.
Earning Style Points
If you’d rather carry a sliver than a slab, the Acer Swift 7 is the ultraportable of your dreams. In a sense, it almost doesn’t compete with more conventional systems—it’s a fashion and engineering exercise that will be irresistible to some, impractical to others.
Sure, it’s expensive considering its tepid performance. But its screen’s not bad, it’s at least half a pound lighter than anything in its class, and its ultrathin design is simply stunning. If you want maximum portability with maximum eye candy, don’t miss this one.