Gears & Gadgets

Acer Swift 7 review: Thinness above all else demands many compromises

Acer Swift 7 review: Thinness above all else demands many compromises
Valentina Palladino

The tech industry is obsessed with making things thin, and Acer is no exception. The company bills the new Swift 7 as the world’s thinnest laptop, measuring 8.98mm thick at its widest point. Designed for professionals and frequent travelers, this year’s Swift 7 tries to beat its competition by being ultra-thin and by fixing some of the problems found in its older models, like the lack of touchscreen, keyboard backlight, and PCIe SSD storage.

But as devices get thinner, they often have to sacrifice performance, battery life, and other important features. It begs the question: what’s the optimum balance of extreme slimness and power? Ultimately, that’s up to each user and their individual needs. Acer’s Swift 7 makes some concessions that those who value performance won’t appreciate, but it’s all in the name of thinness—and there are some choices that prioritize that above all else.

Look and feel

The Acer Swift 7 may be incredibly thin, but it doesn’t feel fragile. Its 2.6-pound (1.18kg) weight almost betrays its thinness because I expected the device to be much lighter than it actually is. But it’s not too heavy, and its weight and dimensions should make it quite easy to carry around.

Specs at a glance: Acer Swift 7 2018 (as reviewed)
Screen 14-inch 1920×1080 IPS touchscreen
OS Windows 10 Home
CPU Intel Core i7-7Y54
RAM 8GB LPDDR3
GPU Intel HD Graphics 615
Storage 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD
Networking 4G LTE (nano SIM and eSIM), Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Ports 2 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1, nano SIM card slot
Size 12.91×9.33×0.35 inches (328×237×8.98 mm)
Weight 2.6 pounds (1.2kg)
Battery 35.2Wh 4580mAh 7.7 V 2-cell Li-ion battery pack
Warranty One year
Starting price $ 1,699
Price as reviewed $ 1,699
Other perks 720p webcam, fingerprint reader, Dolby Audio Premium

You must look at the device’s profile to truly appreciate how thin the Swift 7 actually is. It’s just wide enough to include its ports at the back corners: two USB-C 3.1 ports and a headphone jack sit on the left side while the nano SIM card slot and the power button sit on the right side.

I wish Acer had included one Thunderbolt 3 port at least—and unfortunately in a device this size, there’s no way Acer could have included a USB-A port. But its slim profile is striking, and it felt like a heavy clipboard when I carried the device around. I also like the obsidian black finish because it doesn’t hold onto many fingerprints or smudges.

But the Swift 7 is larger than I expect a device like this to be. Most OEMs champion their 13-inch notebooks as their best thin-and-light options, while 15-inch laptops are reserved for those who are willing to sacrifice size and weight for power. The Swift 7 lies in between those two sizes with its 14-inch FHD IPS touchscreen, so my brain took some extra time adjusting to the device’s larger footprint.

While the newly shrunken bezel creates a more immersive screen experience, I wish Acer had upped the quality of the display. This FHD panel is as bold and bright as any other 1920×1080-resolution screen, and it responds to touch well, but most competing devices in the same price range have QHD or UHD displays. Admittedly, most of us don’t need a 4K display, but the option has become ubiquitous on most ultrabooks and many have adopted QHD panels as standard. The Swift 7’s $ 1,699 price tag should have included a QHD panel at the very least.

The bottom bezel under the display is the widest, and it holds the device’s webcam. Yes, Acer pulled a Dell and stuck the webcam in a location that will give you the most unflattering up-nose angle when you’re video chatting. I didn’t like this webcam position on the XPS 13, and I don’t like it on the Swift 7 either. While I appreciate thin bezels, both for how they allow the screen to be the star of the show and for how they show off the OEM’s industrial design prowess, making the top bezel so thin that there’s no room for a webcam is a baffling decision to me.

There’s an argument for removing the webcam entirely—some people rarely use them on their laptops. While I wouldn’t nix it completely, I could see it being an optional feature that those who take a lot of video conference calls would want. But placing it below the screen defeats the purpose of having a webcam at all, especially on a laptop that’s not a flexible two-in-one.

Built-in LTE helps the Swift 7 stand out from the ultrabook crowd, although that may not last. LTE connectivity is more commonly found on detachables and tablets, but HP recently announced that it would offer an LTE version of its Spectre x360 13. With the slow adoption of eSIMs, we could see more ultrabooks offer optional LTE in the future.

In the case of the Swift 7, it comes with an embedded eSIM and a nano SIM card slot by default. Acer partnered with Transatel/Ubigi to provide service to the device’s eSIM, which offers daily, weekly, and monthly plans, depending on the region. Users can insert their own nano SIM cards into the Swift 7 to use service from other cellular providers.

I’m lucky enough to live in an area with (mostly) reliable public Wi-Fi at cafes, restaurants, libraries, public parks, and other places. If I’m working outside my home, I have numerous options to get online. However, not everyone has that luxury, and some find themselves working remotely more often, too. LTE lets those users connect almost anywhere, making it a great complementary feature for a device as portable as the Swift 7.

Keyboard and trackpad

Acer put a standard, full-sized keyboard on the Swift 7, so there’s not much of note here. The chiclet-style keys are clicky, comfortable, and not too noisy to type on, and there’s plenty of palm space on which to rest your hands while you type. Acer also added a backlight underneath the keyboard, something previous Swift 7 models didn’t have, and that will make working in low-light environments easier.

I wish Acer included a full Fn key row—all Function controls are present, but they’re combined with other keys. I like having dedicated brightness and volume control keys, but those aren’t included on the Swift 7. Instead, the arrow keys change brightness and volume when you press the Fn button.

On the left side of the keys, next to the left Tab key, lies the fingerprint reader that works with Windows Hello. Considering the placement of the webcam, Acer didn’t include an IR camera on this device. I’m used to seeing fingerprint readers either at the top of the keyboard or on one of the palm rests, so this placement struck me as odd. It works as expected, though, and I presume it’ll be especially convenient for left-handed users.

The glass Precision trackpad is smooth and fine for Windows gestures like pinch-to-zoom. However, this trackpad has no physical clicking abilities and only supports light taps as clicks. Even as my time with the Swift 7 came to an end, I still wasn’t used to its trackpad. I much prefer visible or hidden buttons that I can press that are either underneath the trackpad or positioned below the touch-sensitive pad on the chassis. Acer’s mechanism made it much harder to use the trackpad to select or copy text. I relied on the touchscreen to do such things most of the time, which also felt alien on a notebook that isn’t a convertible.

Performance

The Swift 7 runs on a 7th-gen Core i7-7Y54 processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. We compared the Swift 7 to devices with similar designs and processors, both 7th-generation and Y-series. The Y-series processor in this laptop allows it to be fanless, run on less power, and provide “on the go” performance in a slim frame. I didn’t run into any issues using the Swift 7 as my primary work laptop for a few days. However, I didn’t have to edit photos in Photoshop or do anything more laborious than Web-based work in Edge or Chrome.

While the Y-series processor has its benefits when an OEM targets form rather than function, the $ 1,699 price of the Swift 7 suggests it should be more powerful than it actually is. It was out-performed by most machines we compared it to in our benchmark charts, and it didn’t stand a chance when compared to ultrabooks like the HP Spectre 13 (our review unit ran on a Core i7-8850U CPU, Intel UHD Graphics 620, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and cost $ 1,399).

Battery life

Acer put a two-cell battery pack inside the Swift 7 that measures just 3.2mm thick, and it provides the notebook with a decent amount of juice. The Swift 7 lasted an average of 590 minutes, or just under 10 hours, on our Wi-Fi battery test. On our WebGL test, it lasted 530 minutes, or just under nine hours. That’s not bad considering the Swift 7’s size, but it probably could have lasted an hour or two more if Acer hadn’t gone for thinness above all else. While the Swift 7 beat out most of the competition on our graphics-intensive test, devices including the XPS 13 and the Spectre 13 lasted longer on our Wi-Fi test.

Too thin (and expensive) for its own good

The Acer Swift 7 has the potential to be a solid option for those who are constantly on the go. Acer achieved a lot in the notebook’s design, and its slim profile will inspire lust in many. Its dual LTE options will speak to those who need connectivity all the time but constantly find themselves in unfamiliar environments—it’s the feature that could convince some to buy the Swift 7. The company also fixed some of the big problems in the previous Swift 7 by adding a keyboard backlight, a touchscreen, and PCIe storage.

The new Swift 7 is certainly a better device than its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it stands up well to competing devices. This is where thinness betrays it: Acer sacrificed performance to reach this level of svelte, but that would be ok if the laptop wasn’t priced at $ 1,699. OEMs make performance trade-offs all the time when designing for portability rather than power, but the final price usually reflects that sacrifice. The Swift 7 is too expensive for what it is. Acer either needs to give the Swift 7 a newer, higher-powered processor (which would likely nix the “thinnest laptop in the world” title) or drop the price by $ 300-400.

Dual LTE connectivity makes the Swift 7 unique, and those who are most intrigued by that feature may want to consider the Swift 7 seriously. However, there are other devices that can be equipped with LTE, namely the forthcoming HP Spectre x360 13 that starts at $ 1,149, so the combination of thin-and-light and always connected can be found elsewhere. Others who don’t absolutely need the thinnest laptop ever should consider more affordable and more powerful options like the $ 999 XPS 13, the $ 1,299 Spectre 13, or the $ 1,299 Lenovo C930 two-in-one.

The Good

  • Attractive thin design.
  • LTE connectivity through nano SIM and eSIM support.
  • Fingerprint reader for Windows Hello.
  • Backlit keyboard.
  • Now includes PCIe storage.
  • Decent battery life.

The Bad

  • No Thunderbolt 3.
  • Only comes with an FHD screen.
  • Webcam positioned under the screen.
  • Trackpad doesn’t physically click.
  • Low-power Y-series processor.

The Ugly

  • Too pricey for what it is.

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Tech – Ars Technica

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