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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Acer Swift 7 Review: World's Thinnest Laptop

Price when reviewed
  • $999
Technology companies love a bit of one-upmanship. The Acer Swift 7 is an ultra-thin laptop, a lot like the HP Spectre but with a price that's slightly easier to swallow. When closed, its thickest edge measures 9.98mm, which makes it the first laptop to be under 1cm thick. A fine achievement, but does it warrant buying one? Here's our our Acer Swift 7 review. 


Acer has traded off some processor power to get the Swift 7 this thin, but it only really affects gaming for the most part. Those who want a laptop with no obvious compromises made for design might want to consider the Dell XPS 13 instead, but this is a good choice if you simply want a laptop that’s thin, portable and easy to use.

Price
In 2016 we saw some scarily expensive laptops, the new MacBook Pro line in particular is pricey enough to suck many bank accounts dry. The Acer Swift 7 isn’t cheap, but it does at least slide in just under £1000.

At the time of writing you can find it online for £979 from Tesco Direct, making it a little more affordable than the HP Spectre and £100 cheaper than the closest Dell XPS 13 spec.

There’s also only one config of the Swift 7 at the time of review. It has an Intel Core i5-7Y54 CPU, 256GB SSD and a 1080p screen. You get a standard one-year warranty, so there’s no value added on that front.

Design
The Acer Swift 7’s top feature is 9.98mm thickness. That’s even slimmer than the 12-inch MacBook or the HP Spectre.

Take the Acer Swift 7 out of its box and it feels like a conventional laptop, though. It’s slim and light, but doesn’t try to reinvent the laptop in the way the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 did.

There’s nothing wrong with that, particularly if you want something familiar to use daily, but the Swift 7 also doesn’t have the ultra-compact style of the Dell XPS 13. There’s some space around the keyboard and ‘spare’ screen surround that makes its width and height conventional.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A solid footprint lets you use the Acer Swift 7 on your knees without it feeling precarious and that 10mm thickness makes the laptop easy to stash in a rucksack or bag. It weighs just 1.16kg too.

The Acer Swift 7 has an all-aluminium frame, with a black finish on the lid and underside and a much more striking gold inside. As the colour is relatively punchy we would have appreciated a more sober silver or black option, but it still appears tasteful. There are no brushed or textured touches to push it over the edge.

For a laptop this thin, the Swift 7 also feels reassuringly solid. The keyboard doesn’t flex when you press on it and there’s only a slight bending of the frame when you (inadvisedly) hold it by the very edge of the frame.

There are a few little touches that make the design seem slightly less immaculate than a MacBook, such as the way you can tilt the screen so far back the front starts to lift up. However, this may be preferable to the rather limited hinge movement of the HP Spectre.

Connectivity
The Acer Swift 7 is very HP Spectre-like in its connections, though. There are two USB-C ports and a headphone jack. Like many recent style laptops, there’s no memory card slot, no HDMI and no full-size USBs. One of these USB-Cs is also used by the power plug, leaving just the one free while charging.

We’re starting to see lots of USB-C connection hubs pop-up, so you might want to get hold of one for home use. Photographers and hardcore users should also check out the Dell XPS 13, though. It has an SD card slot and a full-size USB, meaning you won’t need to remember to take accessories around with you.

Keyboard and trackpad
One other Acer Swift 7 traits common to an increasing number of super-skinny laptops is a very shallow keyboard. There’s more travel than a MacBook, but less movement than an HP Spectre or Dell XPS 13.

While a sound reason to be put off, the Acer Swift 7 does still feel good for fairly long-form typing. It’s not clicky but there is a decent amount of resistance to the keys that stops typing from feeling vague.

It’s the kind of shallow keyboard we can get on with. However, it doesn’t have a backlight, unlike almost every other alternative at the price. At the same price the Razer Blade Stealth has one that can display any colour of the rainbow.

As laptop users who often end up working in dimly-lit convention halls, we’d find it hard to switch back to a non-lit keyboard. Make sure you won’t miss the feature before buying, as plenty of laptops at the price have a backlight.

There are no similar mis-steps in the trackpad, though. Like the keyboard, it has a light feel. It’s easy to click but with very definite feedback, making quick double clicks a cinch.

The Swift 7 pad is very large too, a rounded-off rectangle that gives you plenty of space for gestures. Its texture is also excellent, using textured glass just like a MacBook or other top-end Windows laptops.

Screen
Like the HP Spectre, there’s no ultra-high resolution option when buying an Acer Swift 7. It has a 1080p IPS LCD screen with a layer of Gorilla Glass 5 on top providing excellent scratch-resistance.  This is the same sort of glass you might see on an expensive phone.

Despite having a glossy, reflective screen, the Acer Swift 7 doesn’t have a touchscreen, though. This sort of finish looks flashy, but can become an annoyance when you use the laptop outdoors. However, with top brightness of 368cd/m2, the display can go bright enough to combat reflections.

Using the laptop as our main work machine, we did notice the fairly conservative resolution as soon as we booted-up the Acer Swift 7. Icon text looks a little pixellated, and so do smaller characters in websites. Many ultra-slim and stylish alternatives at a similar price use 1080p screens, though.

For example, higher-res Dell XPS 13 models start at £1249, and the cheapest MacBook Pro these days costs £1249. If you want a very high-res laptop and only have £1000 to spend, check out the ‘entry-level’ QHD Razer Blade Stealth or the slightly less fancy (but cheaper) Asus ZenBook UX330UA.

Display quality is otherwise very good, if not any better than we expect at the price. It covers 85 per cent of the sRGB colour standard, meaning colours appear very slightly undersaturated. Coverage of the deeper Adobe RGB and DCI P3 colour standards is unremarkable, at 59.2 and 64.2 per cent respectively, so if you’re a keen photographer or pro designer, you may want to look for a laptop with a higher-grade screen.

For more general use, the Acer Swift 7 display still looks good because of its very solid contrast. At 997:1 it’s more impressive than the colour performance, helping the screen appear punchy.

Performance
Acer has taken a rather unusual approach with the Swift 7’s processor. Instead of using a normal Core i5 processor, it has an Intel Core i5-7Y54. This is the latest take on Intel’s “Core M” style CPU series, processors designed to use as little energy and create as little heat as possible.

As well has enabling the super-slim design, this lets the Swift 7 get by using passive cooling: heat sinks only, no fans. As a result, it’s silent, although you will notice some heat in the space above the keyboard when charging or doing anything that gets close to maxing-out the CPU.

Using this sort of processor also means the Acer Swift 7 is less powerful than the much cheaper Acer S13, which uses a conventional Core i-series processor. You won’t notice the difference when doing day-to-day laptop tasks — light stuff like browsing, writing docs and watching videos. This is seen in some of our benchmark results too.

In the PCMark 8 Home test the Acer Swift 7 scores 2234 points, where a normal i5 might score around 2200-2400. We got a better result from the Acer S13, but they’re in the same class.

Similarly, in Geekbench 3 and 4 it scores 5430 and 5523 points respectively, again very similar to a normal Core i5 Skywell-generation laptop.

It’s when you start playing games you see the big difference between the Acer Swift 7 and something like an HP Spectre or Dell XPS 13. The i5-7Y54 has an Intel HD 615 CPU, which is worse than both the Intel HD 620 found in full Core i-series CPUs and the HD 520 of the last generation’s set.

Let’s compare the Swift 7 with the cheaper Acer S13 to make the difference clearer. Playing Thief at 720p, low detail, you’ll get an average of 20.4 fps from the S13 but just 14.3fps from the Swift 7. At 1080p, high detail, the S13 manages 5.1fps, the Swift 7 4.5fps.

Results are similarly poor in Alien: Isolation, at 20.5fps (720p) and 10.1 (1080p) where the S13 manages 27.6fps and 12.3fps.

No laptop with an integrated graphics chipset is going to be great for gaming, but the Acer Swift 7 is worse than most at £1000. Non-gamers who don’t need the extra productivity power of a Core i7-grade CPU needn’t worry too much, though, and the 256GB SSD — while not super-fast — keeps the system feeling nippy.

Battery Life
We’ve seen few of these Core M-style CPUs used in the last 12 months, but it is likely part of the reason why Acer was able to get the Swift 7 quite to thin. It also helps out with battery life.

Playing a 720p video on loop at 120cd/m brightness, the Acer Swift 7 lasts eight hours 40 minutes. While not a class-leading result, it’s a very good given the laptop only has a 2770mAh battery, which equates to around 41Wh in conventional laptop battery terms.

As with the connections, the Swift 7 is a machine made around its top feature, a super-slim frame. If that’s not too much of a draw, the Dell XPS 13 and cheaper Acer S13 last longer thanks to their larger battery units, despite using more power-hungry processors.

Sound Quality
Speaker quality is roughly similar to the better super-slim laptops. It’s fairly loud and there’s enough bulk to the sound to avoid sounding thin or weak.

The best manage to separate out bass notes and give them more weight, and have smoother-sounding treble. However, the Acer Swift 7 sounds good enough to make the speakers usable rather than a high-price embarrassment.

Specs
  • 13.3in (1920 x 1080) 165dpi LCD glossy with Gorilla Glass 5
  • 1.2 GHz, up to 3.2 GHz Turbo Intel Core i5-7Y54 , two cores four threads
  • Windows 10 Home
  • Intel HD 615 GPU
  • 8GB RAM DDR3
  • 256GB SSD
  • 802.11b/g/n/ac 2x2
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 2 USB-C 3.1 port
  • stereo speakers
  • HD webcam
  • Digital array mic
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • UK tiled keyboard
  • 41 Wh lithium-ion battery non-removable (2770mAh)
  • 325 x 228 x 10mm
  • 1.16 kg
  • 1 year limited warranty

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