Acer Swift 5 (2019) Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Lightest 15-inch laptop ever; Vivid 1080p display; Decent battery life

The Cons

No Thunderbolt 3; Bloatware; Lacks discrete graphics

Verdict

The Acer Swift 5, the lightest 15.6-inch laptop in the world, offers a vivid display and solid battery life to go along with its groundbreaking portability.

Acer has already brought us the world's slimmest laptop, but that hasn't stopped it from setting a new record with the Swift 5, the lightest 15.6-inch laptop ever. You have to hold the Swift 5's 2.2-pound chassis in your hands to really appreciate its mind-boggling weight. Along with its groundbreaking portability, the Swift 5 has a vibrant 1080p display and solid battery life. Of course, the weightless design has some trade-offs; its magnesium-alloy frame feels almost hollow, and there is no option for a discrete GPU. Still, the Swift 5 is an excellent choice for those who want a large display in an extremely portable package.

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Acer Swift 5 Price and Configuration Options

Acer offers two 15.6-inch, 1080p versions of the Swift 5. Our review unit, the base model, costs $999 and comes with an Intel Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD. For $1,399, you can upgrade to a Core i7-8565U CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Acer also sells a 14-inch model in a Midnight Blue color.

Design

I was concerned when I first picked up the Swift 5. For a split second, I was convinced Acer had sent an empty chassis. It felt like a miracle when the laptop powered up, proving it wasn't a prop Ikea might use to decorate its showrooms. I still shake my head in amazement whenever I pick up the Swift 5, even though I've been using it for the past week.

The Swift 5's chassis, which is made from a magnesium-lithium, magnesium-aluminum blend, weighs only 2.2 pounds. To put that logic-defying statistic into perspective, LG's crazy-light Gram 14-inch 2-in-1 weighs 2.5 pounds; the 14-inch Asus ZenBook 14 UX433 weighs 2.6 pounds; and the 13.5-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 tips the scales at 2.7 pounds.

Already lighter than nearly every 13- and 14-inch laptop on the market, the Swift 5 is a paperweight compared with other sleek 15-inch laptops, like the 4-pound Apple MacBook Pro. In fact, the Swift 5 is the lightest 15-inch laptop ever.

That astonishing lightness did a good job diverting my attention away from the Swift 5's bland design. Acer appeared to take the race car approach with the Swift 5, stripping it of any extraneous features to reduce weight, leaving a bare-bones structure behind.

The chassis has an uninteresting silver finish with a chrome Acer logo centered on the lid. A black oblong fingerprint sensor graces the deck, while Swift branding is stamped on a contoured hinge.

That hinge rotates backward 180 degrees so you can lay the laptop flat to present content or shift the display into an obtuse angle when you're using it on your lap.

The Swift 5 is so light that for a split second I was convinced Acer had sent an empty chassis.

The Swift 5 may be an engineering marvel, but the chassis is so lightweight that some may think it doesn't feel like a premium product. To that point, a few of my co-workers assumed the Swift 5 was a Chromebook and were unimpressed when I revealed its actual price. That said, I didn't come across any major build-quality issues, apart from minimal lid flex and a faint creaking when I held the laptop on the corner of the deck with one hand.

Ports

You won't have problems connecting your peripherals to the Swift 5, but anyone needing a Thunderbolt 3 port for fast transfer speeds and connecting to an eGPU or multiple 4K monitors will be disappointed.

A USB Type-C port, two USB 3.0 inputs (with power-off charging support), an HDMI and a tiny DC-in jack are found on the left side of the laptop.

The right side is fairly barren, housing only a headphone/mic combo jack and a Noble lock slot. There are also LED indicators that display power and charging status.

Display

The 15.6-inch, 1080p touch screen on the Acer Swift 5 flaunts a crisp image that's rich with saturated colors, but the panel is extremely reflective and a tad dim.

The Swift 5's display is so detailed that I could make out individual strands of fur poofing out of an adorable lion's mane in a trailer for the upcoming film Mia and the White Lion. The animal's majestic white coat contrasted nicely against its owner's saturated, scarlet-red plaid pants and turquoise-blue down blanket, which burst off the screen.

Unfortunately, distracting reflections bounced off the Swift 5's excessively glossy screen, even in our dimly lit office. Under direct sunlight, the Swift 5 doubles as a mirror.

According to our colorimeter, the Swift 5's display covers 129 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making it a bit more colorful than the premium laptop average (118 percent) and the panels on the Gram 14 2-in-1 (128 percent) and ZenBook 14 UX433 (121 percent). Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 (176 percent), however, can reproduce a much wider range of colors.

MORE: Laptops with the Best Display Brightness

The Swift 5's display isn't dim, but I wish there were a few more brightness levels. With a peak luminance of 283 nits, the Swift 5's display is brighter than those on the Gram 14 2-in-1 (253 nits) and ZenBook 14 UX433 (217 nits), but, once again, the Surface Laptop 2 (321 nits) comes out on top. None of these laptops reached the premium laptop average (329 nits).

The Swift 5's touch screen is responsive, but the glossy finish feels sticky to the touch. I had trouble drawing smooth, straight lines in Paint because my fingers kept getting caught on the surface. That extra resistance made it feel more like I was moving my fingers across rubber than a glass surface.

Keyboard and Touchpad

I ordinarily criticize keyboards that don't meet our 1.5-millimeter threshold for key travel, but doing so would be a disservice to the Swift 5. After all, this laptop is more of an ultrabook than a multimedia machine.

With that in mind, the Swift 5's shallow 1.1 mm of key travel is decent. But what really saves the keyboard is the above-average 68 grams of actuation force, which provides a much-needed snappiness to the keys. However, I wish the backlit keys were larger, especially since there isn't a number pad on the Swift 5's wide frame.

I typed at a rate of 121 words per minute with an accuracy of 95 percent on the 10FastFingers.com typing test. That's slightly faster than my typical 119 wpm and matches my 5-percent error rate average.

The 4.1 x 2.5-inch touchpad on the Swift 5 feels a bit sticky, but I didn't have too much trouble swiping across multiple Google Chrome web pages. The surface also responded quickly to my Windows 10 gestures, like three-finger swipe to open all windows and pinch-to-zoom.

Audio

The bottom-firing speakers on the front edge of the Swift 5 struggled to fill our medium-size lab with Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" when I maxed out the volume. On a positive note, I didn't hear any distortion, and the folk/soul singer's distinctive, emotion-filled vocals were crisp. The speakers did well to capture the high notes of the acoustic guitar without sounding too sharp.

MORE: Help Me, Laptop: I Need a Laptop with Dual Audio Jacks

Things took a downward spiral when I played Thrice's more complicated track "In Exile." Cymbals and drums sounded frail, and the laptop failed to separate the overlapping instruments, which led to a cacophony of percussion tones.

Performance

Equipped with a Core i5-8265U CPU and 8GB of RAM, the Swift 5 didn't have any performance hiccups when I put it through my real-world testing gauntlet, which involved loading 20 web pages on Google Chrome. Of those tabs, four played 1080p YouTube videos, two streamed Twitch streams and another loaded a Major League Soccer game between Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union.

The Swift 5 did an excellent job on some of our synthetic benchmark tests but dropped the ball on others. First, the good: The Swift 5 topped the ZenBook 14 UX433 (11,804) and the Surface Laptop 2 (12,744) with a score of 14,066 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test. The Gram 14 2-in-1 got an even higher score (15,943), but the Acer still topped the category average (13,293).

This Acer machine dropped to the middle of the pack on our File Transfer Test. The Swift 5's 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD needed 17 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of mixed-media files, which equates to a transfer rate of 299.4 megabytes. That tops the Surface Laptop 2's sluggish hard drive (256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, 203 MBps) but is slower than the Gram 14 2-in-1 (512GB M.2 SATA SSD, 391 MBps), ZenBook 14 UX433 (PCIe NVMe SSD, 508 MBps) and the premium laptop average (544.95 MBps)

The Swift 5 sank further in the rankings on our Excel Macro Test, which involves matching 65,000 names with their corresponding addresses. The Acer machine took a pedestrian 1 minute and 38 seconds to complete the task, which is slower than the Gram 14 2-in-1 (1:25), ZenBook 14 (1:11), Surface Laptop 2 (1:15) and the premium laptop average (1:32).

MORE: How to Rip DVDs Using HandBrake

Our Handbrake video-transcoding test also proved difficult for the Swift 5, which needed 26 minutes and 24 seconds to convert a 4K video into 1080p resolution. Videographers might be better off with the Gram 14 2-in-1 (21:17), ZenBook 14 UX433 (24:46) or the Surface Laptop 2 (17:30), all of which completed the test faster than the Acer.

Graphics

Acer compromised on graphics performance to keep the Swift 5 so lightweight. Most 15-inch laptops pack discrete graphics, whereas the Swift 5 relies on an integrated Intel UHD 620 GPU. The Swift 5 is still perfectly capable of running apps and less-demanding games at low settings, but gamers who want to crank up graphics settings to Ultra should look elsewhere.

Acer compromised on graphics performance to keep the Swift 5 so lightweight.

The Swift 5 scored an 81,919 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, which determines overall graphics performance. That falls short of the premium laptop average (88,086) and the scores achieved by the ZenBook 14 (UHD Graphics 620, 87,446) and the Gram 14 2-in-1 (UHD Graphics 620, 87,220). The Surface Laptop 2 (UHD Graphics 620) underwhelmed with a 71,647.

MORE: The Best External GPUs for Your Laptop, Tested and Ranked

In our real-world test, the Swift 5 played the racing game Dirt 3 at 56 frames per second, offering a smoother gaming experience than the Gram 14 2-in-1 (51 fps) and the ZenBook 14 (45 fps). Still, the Acer couldn't reach the premium laptop average (76 fps), while the Surface Laptop 2 (76 fps) crushed the competition.

Battery Life

The Swift 5 lasted 8 hours and 37 minutes on our Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web browsing at 150 nits of display brightness. That narrowly tops the premium laptop average (8:29), which is an impressive victory, considering the laptop feels hollow.

The Swift 5 lasted 8 hours and 37 minutes on our Laptop Mag Battery Test, a score that narrowly tops the premium laptop average.

The ZenBook 14 UX433 (8:37) matched the Swift 5's runtime, while the Gram 14 2-in-1 (11:28) and Surface Laptop 2 (9:22) offer longer endurance.

Webcam

The Swift 5's 720p camera is a small step above your typical laptop webcam. A selfie I took in our dimly lit office was nicely exposed and the camera captured the blue and white streaks in the sweater I was wearing.There was also a decent amount of detail, and I was able to make out individual hairs in my beard. However, the photo was rather dark, and there was a lot of visual noise when I zoomed in.

Heat

The lightweight frame on the Swift 5 did a good job dispensing heat, except for on the left corner on the bottom of the laptop, which heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not just our equipment either; that corner was noticeably hotter than the rest of the laptop throughout my testing. Fortunately, everywhere else remained comfortably below our 95-degree threshold, including the touchpad (83 degrees), the center of the keyboard (92 degrees) and the underside (93 degrees).

Software and Warranty

A considerable chunk of the Swift 5 solid-state drive is taken up by preinstalled software. Less useful programs include Documents, which houses a user manual and safety information, and Jumpstart, which simply redirected me to Acer's website. Also installed on the Swift 5 are Acer Collection 5, an app that encourages you to download more apps, and App Explorer, a redundant inclusion that essentially does the same thing.

If there's one app worth keeping, its Acer Care Center, which houses system information and lets you update your PC and download the latest drivers. Photographers might give PhotoDirector for Acer a try for basic editing.

On top of all those apps are a bunch of programs Microsoft includes on Windows 10. They include Your Phone, Xbox, Amazon, LinkedIn and Norton Security Scan along with the games Spades, Simple Mahjong, Simple Solitaire and Candy Crush, among others.

The Swift 5 ships with a one-year warranty. See how Acer did on our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands ranking

Bottom Line

Despite a few flaws, the Swift 5 is one of the most impressive laptops I've ever tested. With its remarkably lightweight chassis, the Swift is, by far, the most portable 15-inch laptop on the market. Content creators who work on the go will also appreciate the machine's vivid 15.6-inch panel and above-average battery life.

However, in other ways, the Swift 5 doesn't feel like a premium 15-inch laptop. This featherweight machine looks a bit bland, and there's too much bloatware on board. You also don't get discrete graphics.

If you're intrigued by the Swift 5's lightweight design, then you should also consider the Gram 14 2-in-1. While it has a smaller, 14-inch display, the 2.5-pound Gram is tested to military-grade durability and lasts for more than 11 hours on a charge.

Still, if you want the largest display on the lightest chassis, then there is nothing else like the Swift 5.

Credit: Laptop Mag

CPU Intel Core i5-8265U
Operating System Windows 10 Home
RAM 8GB
RAM Upgradable to 16GB
Hard Drive Size 256GB
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type PCIe NVMe SSD
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 15.6
Highest Available Resolution 1920 x 1080
Native Resolution 1920x1080
Optical Drive None
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel UHD 620
Video Memory
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Wi-Fi Model Intel Wireless-AC 9560
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 4.1 x 2.5 inches
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.1
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0 Always On
Ports (excluding USB) Noble Lock
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI-out
Ports (excluding USB) Combo Headphone/Mic Jack
Ports (excluding USB) USB Type-C
USB Ports 3
Warranty/Support One-year warranty
Size 14.1 x 9.1 x 0.6 inches
Weight 2.2 pounds
Company Website https://www.acer.com/ac/en/US/content/home