(Pocket-lint) - Shop for a laptop with a good budget to play with and you have to make one key choice pretty early on: do you want a very light laptop you can take anywhere, or one that'll moonwalk through pro-grade apps?
The Acer Swift 5 tries to get you the best of everything, with an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU and 14-inch screen, but almost confoundingly a low weight, too. At 970g it's almost 40 per cent lighter than most of its rivals.
That's quite a feat and, sure enough, there are no performance boogeymen to ruin the show. However, there are a few compromises. Don't buy the Acer Swift 5 if you need it to last through a full day's work, every time. Do buy it if you're a casual on-the-go worker and don't want a heavyweight bag to lug around.
- Two-tone design
- 327 x 228 x 14.8mm
- 970g magnesium frame
- Integrated fingerprint scanner
- Ports: 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB-C 3.1, 1x HDMI, 1x 3.5mm
The Acer Swift 5 is light. It's so light that you might wonder whether Acer left some vital component out. Sure enough, though, there's an SSD, a battery, a CPU and all the other computing goodness that you'll need inside.
Laptops have ducked below 1kg before, of course, but not often laptops with a 14in screen. We work all day on laptops of this size. Get down to 11-12in and that sort of slog can start to feel too cramped. Not so here.
Like a several other laptops that have tried to shift every possible excess gramme, the Acer Swift 5's secret weapon is magnesium. The frame is made of the stuff, instead of the staple aluminium. Magnesium is lighter than aluminium, and stronger at the same thickness, letting Acer whittle away the shell without it becoming flimsy.
You'll notice the different feel of magnesium shortly after marvelling at the Swift 5's low weight, though. It's not as immediately metallic feeling as aluminium: not as cold to the touch, and doesn't scream "expensive" like a glossy music video. But it's not plastic. The Swift 5's screen and base barely flex and magnesium is absolutely fit for the laptop A-listers - including models pricier than the (mid-ranged) Swift 5's £899 asking price.
Aside from the two-tone dark blue and gold look, the Swift 5's appearance is surprisingly conventional. It's a show-off's laptop on paper, but in person it simply isn't. At just under 15mm thick and with a slender but not aggressively skinny screen surround, the look is modern but sort-of vanilla.
If you want a laptop to impress people before they pick it up, check out the 10mm-thick Acer Swift 7. It's the attention-seeker in the family.
A couple of millimetres extra thickness allows the Swift 5 to fit in familiar connectors, though. Rather than just using USB-C and expecting us to carry around a half-dozen adapters and cables in case we ever need to plug something in. There are two full-size USB 3.0 sockets, alongside one trend-surfing USB-C 3.1 and a full-size HDMI. It doesn't have any form of memory card reader so, sorry photographers, you'll still have to remember to bring a USB card reader with you.
- 4670mAh / 36Wh cell
- Around six hours of light use
The battery doesn't get away without giving in to compromise, though. It has a 4670mAh battery, which isn't a great deal more capacious than some top-end smartphones.
In context: the Swift 5's 36Wh cell is a lot smaller than, say, the Lenovo IdeaPad, at 54Wh, or the Dell DXP 13, at 60Wh.
Therefore, it's no great surprise that the Swift 5 doesn't last all that long, giving you around six-and-a-half hours of use while you're using fairly low-demand apps.
Using a smaller battery is far from the only reason the Swift 5 is so light. But having just-passable stamina in a laptop that otherwise just begs to be taken anywhere and everywhere is a little disappointing.
- 14-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) display
- 180-degree tilt bracket
The other issue of the Swift 5 - and there really are only two biggies - is that it does not have the brightest screen. There's enough backlight power for indoors use, but if you take the laptop outside on a sunny day you'll struggle to see what's on screen. The display has a glossy finish too, offering no help to deal with reflections.
Other than this, though, the screen is great. Its 1080p resolution is right for the money (with several more expensive competitor models also sticking with Full HD), colour is rich and vivid, while contrast is excellent too.
With a touchscreen on board, prodding at the screen delivers more than fingerprints - although we rarely use such a feature on a laptop, but are sure that many will. There's a standard raised border rather than the full-flat glass surface you get with a MacBook Pro. There's no stylus support either.
The one hybrid-adjacent part of the Acer Swift 5 is the 180-degree hinge, letting you fold the screen flat. It's not a position we've had much reason to use, but maybe your imagination is better than ours.
Keyboard and trackpad
The Acer Swift 5 has a standard slim and light laptop keyboard. There's a couple of millimetres of travel to the keys, providing a more familiar feel than Apple's ultra-shallow style. And while the feel is soft rather than bright or clacky, we've spent hours typing away on it happily enough.
Having a larger surface to play around with means Acer hasn't had to make any drastic moves with the key layout. None that you can't get accustomed to within a couple of days, anyway.
There's a backlight under the keys, which shines through the yellow/gold lettering as well as around each key's perimeter. It's on or off, with no brightness gradations, but is otherwise good.
Like a lot of recent mid-price and higher-end laptops, the Swift 5 also has a fingerprint scanner. It's a thin reader to the right end of the keyboard plate. It works, but we find squarer pads tend to work better. This one can be a bit picky about the parts of your finger it'll "learn", as you need to cover the whole pad - and it's relatively wide.
Below the keyboard there's a standard rectangular trackpad, shunted just slightly left of centre. Unlike most slightly more expensive £1000-plus laptops, it's a plastic pad rather than one with a textured glass top. However, it's so close the only way we could tell the difference was by tapping it with a tooth (one in our mouth, we don't keep a box of the things in a desk drawer).
It's smooth, has a well-defined, not-too-loud click. Relatively high resistance means double clicks aren't super-fast, but this should only be of concern to gamers. And this is not a laptop for gamers.
- Top-end Core i7 Intel CPU
- No dedicated graphics hardware
- Can get noisy without much provocation
The Acer Swift 5 has an 8th generation Core i7 CPU with 8GB and a 256GB SSD in this mid-level guise. This makes it the most powerful sub-1kg laptop we've tested. There's an i5 model for £100 less, or an i7 model with a 512GB SSD for £100 more, if you prefer.
However, while the latest general of Intel laptop processors has made big steps forward on the CPU side, a Core i7 still isn't all that great for gaming. You'll be able to play older games like Skyrim (original edition) at 1080p well enough, and plenty of online games designed to work on just about anything. The sorts of AAA games that debuted on the current generation of consoles, like Deus Ex Mankind Divided, won't run well though. Even at 720p.
Productivity performance is a completely different story. Intel's latest chips for slim laptops like this now have four cores, up from two in the last generation, resulting in near-enough double the performance. We've got by with using pro-level music production, video and image editing software on a dual-core laptop. But something like the Swift 5 gets you much closer to the power of one of last year's chunkier performance laptops.
Before you get too excited, this will apply to any laptop with an 8th Gen Intel CPU. Even the Core i5 version has four cores. However, the novelty of getting this sort of performance in a laptop this light hasn't worn off yet.
Other slightly heavier alternatives are likely to be quieter, though. The Swift 5's fan seems to start spinning as soon as you do anything much more taxing than opening the calculator (you're safe watching a video or writing a document), and has quite a high-pitch whir to its sound.
At times you'll also hear some coil whine, which is what makes an SSD-equipped laptop like this sound as though it has a hard drive. Still, if you're going to be using the Swift 5 in Starbucks rather than a silent office or living room, you probably won't notice.
The Acer Swift 5's speakers will do the trick to drown out the fan too, although they're nothing too special. They use Dolby Audio processing to sound as loud and powerful as possible, but this also involves dynamic, and drastic, compressing of the sound. A lone piano intro to a song might sound fine, but the perceptual volume will actually decrease when the rest of the band comes in. Switch the Dolby processing off and you get a clearer view of the speaker's real abilities. They're fairly clear and not entirely thin-sounding, but aren't that loud or powerful. And at top volume certain frequencies can cause internal buzzing.
How excited does the prospect of a sub-1kg laptop get you? If the answer is "very", then the Swift 5 might be the perfect laptop for you.
Not only is it unnervingly light with no obvious power sacrifice as a result, it's substantially cheaper than something like the Dell XPS 13 (which costs £250 more for a laptop with a weaker Core i5 CPU).
Like Acer's best products, the value of the Swift 5 is almost undeniable. There are a few black spots that'll rule it out for some of you, though. It doesn't last through a full day's graft, the screen isn't really bright enough for comfortable outdoors use, and the fan doesn't half like to spin.
Alternatives to consider
Dell XPS 13
Feeling flush? The Dell XPS 13 is much more expensive than the Swift 5, and about 370g heavier too. However, the screen is brighter, battery life miles better and its footprint smaller. It also has an executive chic thing going on that some people love. But, yep, you will end up spending hundreds more unless you find a great deal online.
Read the full article: Dell XPS 13 initial review
HP Envy 13
If you have around £900 to spend and are a bit of a gamer, the Envy 13 is a great alternative. It comes with dedicated graphics hardware, getting you better frame rates in games even though (for now) the Envy 13 still uses 7th Gen Intel CPUs rather than the latest 8th generation kind.
Read the full article: HP Envy 13 review
Acer Swift 3
Think the fuss about a light frame is just so much fluff? Acer's own Swift 3 is another great option. You can save £400 but get roughly the same day-to-day performance, as well as better battery life. The screen doesn't look as rich, though, and while the casing is aluminium it's not nearly as smart or light as the Swift 5.
Read the full article: Acer Swift 3 review