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Acer Swift 3X Review 2021

An ambitious and powerful ultraportable laptop that stumbles on a few design elements, the Acer Swift 3X (starts at $899.99; $1,199.99 as tested) caters to the same market as Apple’s excellent MacBook Air but takes a different approach. Both of these midrange machines offer the latest computing components (in the Swift’s case, an uncommon, cutting-edge implementation of Intel’s new discrete graphics solution for laptops) and will last through a full day’s work without visiting a power outlet. The Acer’s standout, matte-finish screen is arguably better than the MacBook Air’s smaller, glossy Retina Display, while the Mac’s build quality and attention to detail far outclass the Swift 3X’s. Choose the Acer if you’re looking for comfortable viewing in a Windows ultraportable around $1,000. Otherwise, the MacBook Air is better. 


Beautiful Screen, Clumsy Inputs

We haven’t yet reviewed the latest version of our former Windows midrange ultraportable Editors’ Choice pick, the Dell Inspiron 14 7000, and the Swift 3X (model SF314-510G) has the ingredients on paper to be a new favorite—a potent 11th Generation Intel Core i7 paired with Intel Iris Xe Max discrete graphics, long battery life, and a full HD display that seems to have far more pixels than it actually does. So what keeps it short of the brass ring?

The Swift 3X has a clumsy keyboard and touchpad, as well as significant fan noise and unwanted preinstalled software (commonly called bloatware) that keep it from clinching an unequivocal recommendation. Instead, it’s best categorized as a niche alternative to the more mainstream Dell Inspiron, HP Envy, and MacBook Air models that crowd the $1,000-or-so ultraportable market. Still, it’s worth taking a closer look at the parts of the Swift 3X that do excel.

Let’s start with the screen. It measures 14 inches on the diagonal, a full inch larger than the MacBook Air’s display. The size feels about right for a machine that you’re going to be using as your daily driver. It looks roomy, but it isn’t big enough to require a chassis that strains the straps of your handbag or backpack. The Swift 3X and its midrange 14-inch competitors all come in at or under three pounds by trimming any unnecessary mass from their chassis. In this case, the display takes up 84% of the laptop’s 12.7-by-8.4-inch footprint. This is a prestige spec you might see referred to in marketing materials as “screen-to-body ratio.” While a few premium ultraportables reach closer to 90%, the MacBook Air has a far lower ratio, with large borders around its screen that seem a bit out of place.

The viewing experience is where the Swift 3X’s modern display really shines. Despite the panel’s unexceptional backlight (rated for 300 nits of brightness) and a pedestrian 1080p (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) resolution, colors are brilliant and text appears razor-sharp when viewed from an average distance of about three feet. There are many explanations for why the Swift’s 16:9 aspect ratio display looks so good compared with similarly sized 300-nit screens, but the most obvious is that Acer uses a matte finish exceptionally skilled at warding off glare from ambient light. 

Acer Swift 3X left angle

The display also uses in-plane switching (IPS) technology that promises no quality degradation at extreme off-center viewing angles up to 170 degrees. (As a reminder, that’s just 10 degrees shy of perpendicular.) Together, these features mean I’d classify the Swift 3X’s viewing experience as on par with some of the best glossy-finish, higher-resolution laptop screens I’ve seen, including the MacBook Air’s Retina Display and some Windows notebooks’ 4K panels. The only potential drawback I note with the Swift 3X’s screen is that Acer doesn’t currently offer a touch-capable version. 


Component Configurations

In the configuration reviewed here, the Swift 3X uses a quad-core Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor that runs at 2.8GHz, coupled with 16GB of LPDDR4X memory and a 1TB NVMe solid-state drive. It also features Intel’s new and rare Iris Xe Max dedicated graphics processor. The Iris Xe Max GPU is only better than Intel’s current Iris Xe integrated graphics under certain scenarios like AI-assisted photo editing. When it comes to gaming performance, it offers little to no benefit

Acer also offers a pared-down version of the Swift 3X with a Core i5 CPU, half the memory, and half the storage. It’s only $300 cheaper, though, so it’s hard to see why you’d select it over the flagship model unless you’re determined to keep your budget under $1,000. As you’ll see in the performance section below, our Core i7-equipped Swift 3X proved comfortably more powerful than most comparable machines in its price range. 

Acer Swift 3X palm rest

Besides its powerful silicon, another reason for the Swift 3X’s impressive performance could be its robust cooling capabilities. There are two copper heat pipes that work with a powerful fan to direct hot air away from the chassis using a large vent located in the display hinge. Unfortunately, the process creates a lot of noise. The exhaust was clearly audible during nearly my entire time testing the system, whether I was running strenuous benchmarks or just idling. The Apple M1-powered MacBook Air, by contrast, is always silent since it omits a cooling fan entirely. 

Acer notes that you can control fan speed by pressing Fn+F to cycle through Silent, Normal, and Performance modes. Even in Silent mode, however, the fan will still operate under certain workloads, and performance may be reduced. 


Too Much Keyboard Flex

In addition to the loud cooling fan, the Swift 3X’s keyboard and touchpad are sticking points. I saw noticeable flex in the middle of the keyboard when typing with normal pressure, something that’s forgivable in a $500 laptop but disappointing in a $1,200 unit. I also found the key labels hard to read, since they’re squished into the upper left corner of each key. The MacBook Air suffers from none of these issues, thanks to its recent keyboard redesign. The Lenovo Yoga 9i‘s keyboard is also superior, with bright white backlighting and a satisfying feel that’s great for long typing sessions. 

The Acer’s buttonless touchpad could use a reimagining, too. It feels cramped versus the MacBook Air’s oversize trackpad, and the clicking mechanism is baffling—it’s impossible to register a click anywhere in the top half of the pad without applying enough pressure to flex the keyboard deck. Meanwhile, the opposite is true when tapping in the bottom half, where the hinge is so loose that the entire pad bounces annoyingly without clicking as you track your finger along it. 

Acer Swift 3X touchpad

To the right of the touchpad, Acer has included a fingerprint reader to allow you to log into Windows 10 without typing a password. Some rival ultraportables supplement this with a face recognition webcam, but that feature isn’t a given in this price range; neither the Yoga 9i nor Acer’s own Swift 5 supports it. The Swift 3X’s webcam is a garden-variety affair; its 720p resolution is adequate, though its video quality was somewhat noisy in anything other than a brightly lit room.

Audio from the two stereo speakers is also average for the ultraportable class; there’s a lot of bass missing in audio tracks, but the volume is plenty loud enough to hear the person on the other end of your Zoom call. The Swift 3X also features dual microphones for better noise cancelling, which means that person may hear you more clearly than you hear them.


A Rare HDMI Port

On the Swift 3X’s left edge, you’ll find a full-size HDMI 2.0 port, great for connecting to external monitors or TVs. Few ultraportable laptops have this luxury, since they’re too slim to fit such a large port. At 0.71 inch thick, the Acer stands quite tall for an ultraportable laptop. The left edge also hosts a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port and a USB-C connector with support for Thunderbolt 4, DisplayPort video output using an adapter, and power delivery. While you can use this port to charge the Swift 3X, the provided AC adapter has an older barrel-style plug that fits into a dedicated port.

Acer Swift 3X left ports

Over on the right edge are a second USB-A port and a headphone/speaker jack. If you’ve got lots of USB-C peripherals you may lament that there’s only one USB-C port, though the inclusion of the HDMI port and two Type-A connectors will outweigh that omission for many users. Wireless connections include dual-band Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.1.

Acer Swift 3X right ports

The Acer Swift 3X comes with a significant amount of third-party software loaded, much of which you probably won’t need and will want to uninstall. Among the bloatware apps I noticed are annoying pop-ups that advertise the preinstalled Norton antivirus suite, as well as Amazon, Firefox, and Dropbox links on the Windows Taskbar. Acer supports the Swift 3X with a one-year warranty that covers replacement parts and labor costs. 


Testing the Acer Swift 3X: Powering Through Everyday Tasks

With a cutting-edge Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a speedy NVMe SSD, the Swift 3X makes short work of routine computing tasks. In the chart below, you’ll see how its specs compare with those of the MacBook Air, the Acer Swift 5, the Lenovo Yoga 9i, and another comparable ultraportable, the MSI Prestige 14.

Acer Swift 3X comparison chart

Everything I wanted to do during my time testing the Swift 3X was accomplished without any noticeable sluggishness or lag. Our benchmark tests confirm the laptop’s aptitude for everyday tasks. Take UL’s PCMark 10, which simulates real-world productivity and content-creation workflows to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. A score over 4,000 points is considered excellent, and the Swift 3X led the way in this group. (See more about how we test laptops.)

Acer Swift 3X PCMark

The Swift 3X and its peers also performed well in PCMark 8’s storage subtest, which is little challenge for today’s speedy SSDs.

When it comes to more-demanding content-creation workflows, the Swift 3X also shines. It fell just shy of the 1,000-point mark in the Cinebench R15 processing test, a fully threaded exercise that stresses the CPU rather than GPU to render a complex image.

Acer Swift 3X Cinebench

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video to a 1080p MP4 file. Here, the Swift 3X tied for first place.

Acer Swift 3X Handbrake

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image, timing each operation and adding up the total. (As with Handbrake, lower times are better.) The Swift 3X narrowly led the pack, with the MacBook Air trailing because its new M1 processor needs an emulation layer to run our older edition of Photoshop.

Acer Swift 3X Photoshop

While it may help a bit with photo editing, Intel’s Iris Xe Max isn’t designed to boost performance in graphics-intensive 3D games, as our two graphics benchmarks or gaming simulations showed. The Swift 3X did relatively well in 3DMark and Superposition, but none of the Windows ultraportables (the Apple wasn’t compatible) is built for serious gaming. Casual gaming and streaming media are their main entertainment options.

Acer Swift 3X 3DMarkAcer Swift 3X Superposition

A compact laptop like the Swift 3X is destined to accompany its owner on many travels once COVID-19 social distancing requirements ease, so battery life is important. Acer rates the notebook for more than 17 hours of typical usage, and our unplugged video playback result of 16 hours plus isn’t far from that claim (though our battery test is run at 50% screen brightness with Wi-Fi turned off, so it’s something of a best-case scenario). 

Acer Swift 3X battery life

Sixteen hours is certainly acceptable, but it’s well short of the stamina shown by the MacBook Air and a few other ultraportables that can last for 24 hours or more away from a wall outlet. 


A Competent, Reasonably Priced Pick

Touchpad discomfort and fan noise aside, the Acer Swift 3X is an excellent laptop. It should get you through a full day of work or play thanks to its cutting-edge Core i7 CPU and high-quality 14-inch screen. 

Acer Swift 3X

The Swift 3X is also a good value, offering many of the benefits of premium ultraportables like the Dell XPS 13 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon for several hundred dollars less. It doesn’t quite have the build quality to snare an Editors’ Choice award in this highly competitive category of laptops, but if you can abide its minor deficiencies, the Swift 3X could be your daily driver for years to come.

Acer Swift 3X Specs

Laptop Class Ultraportable
Processor Intel Core i7-1165G7
Processor Speed 2.8 GHz
RAM (as Tested) 16 GB
Boot Drive Type SSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested) 1 TB
Screen Size 14 inches
Native Display Resolution 1,920 by 1,080
Touch Screen No
Panel Technology IPS
Variable Refresh Support None
Screen Refresh Rate 60 Hz
Graphics Processor Intel Iris Xe Max
Wireless Networking 802.11ax, Bluetooth
Dimensions (HWD) 0.71 by 12.71 by 8.35 inches
Weight 3 lbs
Operating System Windows 10
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes) 16:21

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