The Acer Swift 5 is not only light but also fairly thin.
It offers good performance and a decent keyboard in that lightweight package.
The battery life is the only weak point here.
A laptop in 2018 should be the following things – lighter, thinner and powerful enough to handle most tasks. After using the new Acer Swift 5 for more than a month, I can say this laptop fits all those bills. At 970 grams, it is arguably the lightest laptop one can buy right now and it is convenient and understated at the same time. It does not attract eyeballs like Dell’s XPS 13 does nor does it have the mechanization of Lenovo Yoga 920 Vibes. It is all about one much more important thing – getting the basics right.
Since the launch of the Swift 7 as the lightest laptop in the world, I have been wondering about the merits and demerits of such design. With Swift 5, I came to realize that laptops were never meant to weigh over 2 kilograms and when they weigh less than a kilogram, they not only become super portable but also light on your shoulders. So, Acer seems to have struck the right note with this lightweight package. But does the Acer Swift 5 have anything more to it? Let’s find out.
In India, Acer is offering the Swift 5 in two different configurations. Our review unit is the base model with the 8th generation quad-core Core i5-8250U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage priced at Rs 79,999. There is another model powered by faster Core i7-8550U CPU coupled with 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD storage. I could not find the Core i7 model online at the time of writing this review. At Rs 79,999, the Core i5 variant might do better in terms of sales anyway.
Design and Display
As soon as I started writing about the Swift 5, I could not stop but keep thinking about my first laptop. While most homes get desktops as their first computer, my parents got me a laptop. It was an Acer Travelmate 650, bought more than a decade ago and the idea was anywhere computing and saving on space. It had a mere 1GB RAM and 64GB PATA hard disk drive. It was heavy, compared to today’s laptop design, but offered great performance. During the next few years, I tinkered with it by upgrading the RAM and hard drive.
When the time came for an upgrade, I spent hours looking at Apple’s MacBook Pro but eventually settled for the Acer TimelineX 5830TG. The reason was that my first Acer machine performed reliably well and most of the software I used ran on Windows. Now, when I moved to the Swift 5, everything felt at home for me. The magnesium-lithium cover of the Swift 5 is more premium than the aluminum chassis used on my older Aspire but the texture and feel of the material seemed consistent.
When the lid is closed, the Swift 5 is just 14.5mm in thickness but the edge has been brushed using CNC like it did on Aspire laptops. It is safe to say that the Swift 3 and Swift 5 are the new Aspire laptops that were aimed squarely at back-to-college students. If this design stands out in one area then it has to be in terms of weight. The Swift 5, as noted previously, weighs just 970 grams and it sets new benchmark for thin and lightweight laptops.
Acer has achieved that partially by using magnesium, which is 33 percent lighter than aluminum, and some smart design choices overall. The laptop is not exactly thin and at 14.5mm, it has more area to spread its components and address equal distribution of weight. The display is pushed onto a secondary panel that acts as a protective surface and offers support for the enclosure. This clever design also ensures that Acer Swift 5 does not miss out on ports but it is definitely not perfect. One of the noticeable issues is the flex observed when you press the area around the keyboard or the display itself.
I have noticed these issues with my Travelmate and TimelineX notebooks in the past and hence, it is easy to say that this laptop is not much different from its predecessor in terms of design. Is it bad? Well, no. But it is very much practical. That feeling when you put it in your backpack and then feel that you forgot to pack your laptop is priceless.
The Acer Swift 5 comes with two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI port and one USB Type-C port, but lacks an SD card slot. There seems to be enough space to pack an SD card slot and it is not clear why Acer decided to omit the slot. Our review unit came in black, which is much nicer to look at than its gold counterpart. However, the panel is prone to attracting fingerprints and oil stains, and it is better to wipe them off immediately using a microfiber cloth.
Keyboard and Trackpad
When Apple launched its MacBook Pro with USB Type-C ports in 2016, the Cupertino-based company took a huge leap of faith and showed what the future of laptops should be. However, it ended up crippling the overall experience and getting challenged for its poor keyboard. I believed that the Swift 5’s keyboard would be a disappointment but it turned out to be surprisingly convenient to type.
It is important to know right off the bat that the keyboard does not offer great travel and the typing experience is somewhat shallow but the keys have the right feel and everytime you feel like you’re hitting the right actuation point. This is really important. It is not always about travel but it is rather about how deep you need to press the key down to get that actuation point. In my experience, which involves typing a lot for work, I was pleasantly surprised by the feel and key travel offered by Swift 5’s keyboard. When it comes to laptops, Lenovo’s ThinkPad and Microsoft‘s Surface Book lineup offer the best typing experience and the keyboard on Swift 5 falls mid-way between being great and being mediocre.
The keyboard is also relatively silent but the backlighting does not seem ideal. The Swift 5 offers a single-stage backlit keyboard, which means you only have option for ON and OFF. I would have loved to see two stage backlighting experience with the current backlight setting acting as the first stage. The trackpad is equipped with Windows precision drivers and it plays nice with most Windows 10 gestures. But it is not as accurate as the glass trackpad found on other premium laptops in the market.
Performance and Battery Life
Despite the thin and lightweight design, the Acer Swift 5 offers great performance. In synthetic benchmarks, the laptop performed better than some other premium notebooks with faster Core i5 chipset. Our review unit is equipped with Core i5-8250U mobile CPU that has a base frequency of 1.8GHz and turbo boost up to 2.2GHz. The laptop is being aided by Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB of RAM and 256GB storage. One of the surprise here was that Swift 5 scored higher than Dell’s XPS 13 powered by a Core i7-8550U processor. It came really close to matching the scores of Lenovo Yoga 920 Vibes, which uses the same processor as that on Dell XPS 13.
On a regular work day, the Swift 5 was fast and snappy with most tasks like handling more than a dozen Chrome tabs, Facebook and Twitter apps running in the background, Slack constantly checking for new messages and Pocket Casts streaming podcasts via the web browser. I could not find any hiccup or slowdown with all of these processes running simultaneously. However, there were occasional situations where the CPU had to turbo-boost and fans start spinning at maximum speed to emit an unpleasant noise.
The lack of a dedicated graphics processor rules out serious video editing but I did try editing a bunch of RAW files from a Panasonic Lumix GH5S on Photoshop. While it does work, the rendering is slow especially when the 4K images were loaded to render multiple situations. If you need to do intensive photo edits then you should probably consider a more mainstream machine and not this lightweight notebook.
The Acer Swift 5 is extremely light but it is not necessarily the thinnest in the business. While it does perform to accepted standards, it fails to deliver optimum battery life. For the above mentioned task during a work day, the Swift 5 lasted me just around 4 hours on a single charge. This was with power mode set to better performance and with best performance, the battery life could drop further. I also observed that I could squeeze 45 minutes more runtime by switching from Chrome to Microsoft Edge.
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For me, the battery life is a real letdown. While the lightweight design makes it convenient to carry around, I am left with no choice but to also carry the charger, which brings us to another complain. The Acer Swift 5 charges via traditional power brick and does not support charging via USB Type-C port despite having one for connecting smartphones and other accessories. While going all in with USB Type-C port is a premature move, not supporting USB Type-C charging seems counterproductive.
The Acer Swift 5 runs 64-bit Windows 10 Home edition and it came running the Fall Creators Update. It received the April update within few days, which brings new features like Windows Timeline and Focus Assist. Acer has not pre-loaded Windows 10 with a bunch of bloatware like it has done in the past.
There is a Norton Security Manager with a free trial for 30 days which you can subscribe to after the end of the trial or uninstall altogether. There is also an Acer support tool that constantly scans the system for health and serves as a one-stop destination to update system files and BIOS. Acer is not going overboard to promote the device is compatible with Cortana or offering support for far-field microphones. Because, the Swift 5 does support Cortana and is even supports functions like voice dictations reliably. All basic Windows functions work really well here and the hardware would ensure Windows 10 to work seamlessly for at least new few years.
Verdict: Should you buy?
At Rs 79,999, the Acer Swift 5 is one expensive piece of laptop. It is easy to say that large part of the price is owing to that lightweight magnesium-lithium chassis while other components cover the rest of the price. The Swift 5 nails down all the basics of computing such as the keyboard, trackpad, display and software really well but it does not offer great battery life.
The pricing might seem justified for its credentials but spending a little extra will get you the Inspiron 15 from Dell or the Lenovo Ideapad 530S, which offer superior build quality and similar specifications. However, if you want a laptop that is extremely lightweight then look no further than the Swift 5.