(Pocket-lint) - The Acer Swift 3 series is one of the first places to head it you want a light laptop with most of the characteristics of one that costs a grand, but for less cash. It has been for years.

This latest version, the Swift 3 with the oh-so-catchy SF314-57-730G namesake, takes the family to new heights. It has masses of storage, a very powerful CPU and a magnesium alloy frame that Acer previously kept for its more expensive models.

The hardware per pound equation here makes many pricier options seem like a bad deal. So where's the catch? This laptop does not have a glass trackpad and is not quite as snazzy-looking as the excellent Lenovo Yoga S740, which costs a similar amount.

For style, pick the Lenovo. For low weight and comprehensive tech inside, get the 2020 Swift 3.

Design

  • Dimensions: 319.5 x 217 x 15.95mm / Weight: 1.19kg
  • Steel Grey magnesium alloy finish

First, let's deal with one of the few parts that might put you off the SF314-57-730G. It is not the prettiest laptop you can buy for the money.

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Sure, it is light and slim, and made of metal. But the raised plastic screen border, the contours of the hinge, and even the level of sparkle to the case material (slightly too much when it catches the light), all mean the Swift 3 isn't quite as good-looking in 2020 as a MacBook Air or that Lenovo Yoga S740.

However, in virtually every other sense the Swift 3's design is excellent. It weighs well below average for a 14-inch laptop. That and its 16mm thickness are a dream for portable use - especially where full-size ports are included.

Magnesium alloy allows for this low weight. It's tough and lighter than aluminium, but doesn't feel or look as distinctly metallic. At first touch you might guess the lid is plastic. But it's not.

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Laptop makers, Acer included, have gone a little too far with magnesium in the past, trying so hard to reduce weight you ended up with a flimsy feel and a keyboard that bends in the middle. Acer has balanced things perfectly here though.

There is virtually zero flex to the 2020 Swift 3's keyboard. This is one of the stiffest magnesium alloy laptops we've reviewed, and it gives you a lot of confidence in the general build quality. Acer may not be a master of style at every turn, but the attention to detail is clear.

Connections

  • 1x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C
  • 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1
  • 1x USB 2.0
  • HDMI

There are some other real nerd-pleasing parts to the highly practical Swift 3.

This is one of a few laptops under a grand with a Thunderbolt 3 port. This is a connection standard of the Swift 3's lone USB-C connector. It has max theoretical bandwidth of 40Gbps (5,000MB/s). That's up to eight times more than we usually see in laptops of this price.

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Most of you will probably never really need this kind of fat pipe, but it does offer scope for ultra-high refresh rate 4K monitors and tomorrow's ultra-fast external SSD drives.

You also get more connections than a MacBook, which is the biggest proponent of Thunderbolt 3. The Swift 3 has a plain old USB 2.0 port too, plus a faster USB 3.1 and a full-size HDMI. You don't always see these video connectors in thin laptops these days, but they are the easiest way to quickly plug a laptop into a TV or monitor.

An SD card slot is the only thing missing, which is a good result for a slim and light laptop. 

Keyboard and trackpad

  • Backlit keyboard
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • Plastic trackpad, integrated buttons

We are fans of the Acer Swift 3's keyboard. It has decent key travel and each key depress comes with a satisfying clonk of feedback.

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You also feel the benefit fo the Swift 3's ultra-firm keyboard backplate when you type. An almost complete absence of micro-flexing under finger pressure only adds to the crisp, well-defined feel of these keys.

There's a backlight too, although virtually every laptop at the price has this.

The Swift 3's keyboard feels light and fast. We find it a breeze to type on. The only part you have to learn to love are the arrow keys, which are shrunk to fit in Page Up/Page Down buttons.

The touchpad isn't quite as great as the keyboard, sadly, but this is down to a calculated decision on Acer's part, not a mistake. This is a plastic pad, not a glass one.

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We could tell it is plastic within seconds of using the Swift 3, as your finger doesn't glide across it with the same smoothness. It is common for laptops at the price to use plastic, but the Lenovo Yoga S740 and MacBook Air pads are both glass.

Still, apart from the difference in feel there are no major issues here. The pad driver does not misbehave, button zoning is great, the well-defined click matches the keyboard feel, and there's no wobbly slack to it.

Acer has to give you some reason to buy its higher-end laptops, and a glass pad is one of them. You do get a fingerprint scanner, though, and a 720p webcam (rather than an entirely stripped-back VGA one).

Screen

  • 14-inch LCD IPS display
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • ComfyView matte coat

The Swift 3 (SF314-57-730G)'s screen is geared towards real-world practicality, like several other parts of the laptop.

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It's a 14-inch Full HD resolution LCD with a matte finish. Most slim and light laptops have glossy screens because it makes the display look shiny and vivid. But a matte finish is always better for outdoors use.

We wrote part of this review in a park, the sun hitting the screen directly. Thanks to the matte coat, we could even get away with using 50 per cent screen brightness. The image was still clear enough because that finish scatters reflections.

You can even play games or watch video in direct sunlight at max brightness, just about, which would just seem silly with a glossy laptop unless it had brightness levels you don't usually see at this price point.

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There are few obvious downsides the matte finish here, as contrast is good and colour vibrant. It's just as at home indoors.

The Swift 3 SF314-57-730G does not have a touchscreen, but the display does flip around a full 180 degrees. And viewing angles are great, thanks to the IPS panel.

Performance

  • Intel Core i7-1065G7 quad-core CPU
  • 8GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • Iris Plus GPU
  • 512GB SSD

When we first saw this new Swift 3, we were a little surprised at its asking price - it had increased its price about 25 per cent over the earlier models. But a quick look at the specs shows Acer hasn't suddenly given up the value focus of this range.

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The Swift 3 SF314-57-730G has an Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU and a 512GB SSD. These are the kind of specs you might see in the very top-end versions of other models. For example, you'll pay almost double the money for a Dell XPS 13 with a 512GB SSD (it is arguably twice as good - but not if you can't afford to buy one in the first place).

The Acer Swift 3 is no gaming laptop, but the added juice of Intel's Iris Plus GPU means you can play games like Alien Isolation and Skyrim at 1080p pretty comfortably. Baked-in laptop graphics are not quite as bad as they once were.

However, our review model is not actually the version of the Swift 3 you should buy if you like to de-stress with games. Hunt down the cheaper Swift 3 with an Intel Core i5 processor and Nvidia MX350 graphics (model number: SF314-57G). Its CPU may be a less powerful - but Nvidia's graphics chips, even low-end ones, still easily beat Intel's.

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You'll see the difference when you try to play a slightly more challenging game like Shadow of the Tomb Raider. To make it playable in our Swift 3 we had to drop the resolution to 900p and use the lowest graphics setting. The Swift 3 with an Nvidia MX350 could handle it at 1080p with medium graphics settings just fine.

Battery life and audio

  • 3-cell 4200mAh battery
  • 10 hours per charge
  • 65W charger

Acer says the Swift 3's battery lasts up to 10 hours. Real-world results aren't as good, like almost all other makers' laptop battery claims.

Streaming a YouTube video at 50 per cent brightness the Swift 3 lasts around seven-and-a-half hours. It does not meet the eight hour standard we like to see for all-day working, which is a shame when this laptop is otherwise perfect for work out and about.

But at least it is not hours off. This is also the kind of longevity you'll see when writing documents with the odd bit of web browsing.  Start doing anything more processor-intensive and the battery will drain much more quickly.

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The Acer Swift 3's speakers are not strong either. The stereo drivers sit on the underside of the laptop, and use the surface below to help reflect the sound up to your ears.

That's fine, but the Swift 3 has zero bass and was drowned out by the OnePlus 8 Pro phone we used while testing this laptop. We like laptop speakers with high volume and at least a little bass to fill out the sound. You get neither here.

Verdict

Acer has classed-up the once ultra-budget Swift 3 line with a magnesium-aluminium alloy case and some higher-end insides. The result is a good alternative to more expensive options like the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Pro 13.

Acer's offering is very light but very rigid - which is great, and not a balance Acer has always nailed in the past - its matte screen is perfect for work outdoors work, while a Thunderbolt 3 port is a future-proofing touch that you won't always see at this price.

The bad bits if we had to nitpick? There are four. You'll find prettier laptops, the trackpad is plastic, the speakers are weak and the battery life is shorter than claimed.

Even with its foibles considered the 2020 Acer Swift 3 is one of the best value laptops in its class. Our top tip? Buy one of the models with an Nvidia MX350 if you have any interest in playing games - as the upgrade is well worth it.

This article was first published 6 January 2020 and has been updated (with additional pictures) to reflect its full review status

Also consider

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Lenovo Yoga S740

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This Lenovo is a couple of hundred grammes heavier than the Acer, and a tiny bit thicker too. However, we're big fans even if it doesn't have the usual Yoga features of a 360-degree hinge and touchscreen. The Acer edges it for portable use, but the Lenovo is a little better-looking and has a glossy screen, which some will prefer.

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Asus ZenBook 14

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ScreenPad 2.0 is this laptop's unique sell - a a display under the touchpad which can be used as a second screen or a shortcut pad. We don't think it's as revolutionary as Asus hopes, but it certainly is something different. Otherwise the ZenBook 14 is a little heavier and thicker than the Acer, and is slightly worse for gaming whether you pick the Acer with or without a dedicated GPU.

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MacBook Air

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Just buy a MacBook instead? You'll need to spend much more. Spec up the Air close to this Acer and you'll spend about 75 per cent more cash. It does have a much nicer trackpad and a far sharper screen, but there really is nothing in Apple's line-up that gets you close to the hardware on offer here for the money.

Writing by Andrew Williams and Mike Lowe.