Exclusive: How Acer Made the World’s Thinnest Laptop
It's a war of attrition where the casualties are scant millimeters. With an eye on mobile professionals, Acer found a way to create a laptop that's only 0.35 inches thick but still delivers solid performance with a stunning display, a fingerprint reader and even 4G LTE capability.
As I found out during a behind-the-scenes visit to its Taipei headquarters, Acer did need to make some calculated concessions to arrive at something so stunningly thin. Based on our full review of the Swift 7 and our time with a senior manager on Acer's design team, the company (mostly) made the right trade-offs. This is the story of how Acer reclaimed the title of world's slimmest laptop with the new Swift 7 laptop.
The reinvention of the Swift 7
Now, the Acer Swift 7 isn't brand new. Back in 2016, the original debuted to some fanfare for its svelte dimensions. And while slimness is the name of the game here, Acer is looking to position the Swift 7 as a prestige flagship product in the same way it's done with the Predator 21 X — a hulking beast of a gaming laptop whose 21-inch display was almost as big as its $8,999 price.
Priced at $1,699, the Swift 7 is definitely an aspirational device, but it's also Acer's statement on the evolution of the extreme-mobility market. It's not enough for the Swift 7 to be thin — it also has to be useful.
Choosing the right materials
This isn't Acer's first go-round with the title of world's slimmest notebook. When it debuted in 2012, the Acer Aspire S7 weighed 2.8 pounds and measured 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.46 inches, which was unheard of at the time. And while the unprecedented dimensions brought the tech geeks to the yard, it was the laptop's undeniable beauty that kept them there. Featuring an aluminum base and deck, the Aspire S7's claim to fame was the pristine white lid made from Corning Gorilla Glass.
Fast forward to 2018, and Acer has eschewed glass in favor of an all-aluminum unibody design. This helped shed additional thickness and weight.
Henry Huang, senior manager in Acer's Industrial Design and Mechanical Engineering Division, explained that all of this work had one specific goal in mind: "to be the thinnest, no matter if it's dimension-wise or visual-wise. So everything we are discussing is to make it thinner and thinner."
That's not to say that the company has washed its hands entirely of glass. On the contrary, the ultrawide Precision touchpad is made from Corning Gorilla Glass instead of the typical mylar, and the actual touch screen is made from a 0.02-inch thick panel of the stuff.
In order to get the look and feel of the Swift 7 just right, the design team went through several rounds of mock-ups. Depending on how detailed they need to be, these practice runs are made either in-house or in a partnering vendor's factory.
Over the course of my tour inside Acer's Taiwan headquarters, the evolution of the Swift 7 was laid out neatly before me, similar to the evolution charts mapping humanity's journey from hominids to homo sapiens.
It all started with rough 3D-printed, beige-colored blocks, and progressed to a model that looked so real, I searched for the power button to turn it on.
In the midst of executing a model with precise dimensions, Acer also sweated the small stuff, such as l whether or not to employ rounded corners and which colors will best appeal to the target audience. However, all these decisions aren't left totally to the design team.
"[W]e will do focus groups to check with the perception about color or texture that we make on the products," Huang said. "It depends on the project target. "
It turns out that the original concept of the Swift 7 did have all rounded corners. But after input from the focus groups,the design team then split the difference with the rear corner being square and the front corners rounded to further play up the overall thinness of the system.
Factoring in the business target audience (and its typically conservative color requests) is how the laptop went from a dark navy blue to Obsidian Black.
The pursuit of thinness
Obtaining the title of the world's thinnest laptop was more than shaving off a few tenths of an inch here and there. It took some serious planning and a whole lot of ingenuity. Take the Swift 7's processor, the Intel Core i7-7Y75. One of Intel's ultra-low-power chips, the CPU allows for a fanless design that makes for a thinner design.
Then there's the battery. Measuring only 0.13-inches thick, Acer said it's 23 percent thinner than the batteries on competing systems. Some decisions, like the elimination of USB Type-A ports in favor or USB Type-C, are no-brainers.
Something else the company had to consider, which might be a polarizing choice for consumers, was the touchpad. Instead of giving the Swift 7 a regular clickable touchpad, the decision was made to go clickless with a Microsoft Precision touchpad.
"Everything related to user experience we kept, with ... a focus on being the thinnest, of course," Huang said. "That [remaining] space inside is a very big deal for the battery."
That extra real estate normally used for the touchpad was allocated to squeezing in a thinner but larger battery. Some users might miss the click, but Acer's hoping that the wider touchpad will be a fair tradeoff.
The 4G challenge
One of the bigger challenges the Acer design team faced was where to place the 4G LTE antenna. Typically, companies place antennas somewhere in the lid, but Acer decided to put the antenna along the lower corners of the keyboard deck. This unusual positioning avoids potential signal interference from the display and the motherboard.
And to keep your 4G connection steady, the antennas are made from Nano Molding Technology (NMT) plastic, which easily fit within that ultraslim unibody design while amplifying signal quality.
The world's thinnest laptop wasn't made in a vacuum. It was developed with input from multiple teams of people within a company balancing innovation, performance and consumer desires to create what’s hopefully a game-changing device. Now it's up to shoppers to determine whether Acer has successfully walked that tightrope.
Credit: Laptop Mag