Thanks to a cutting-edge 11th Generation Intel Core i7 processor, the refreshed Acer Swift 5 adds class-leading performance to what was already a feature-rich and extraordinarily lightweight 14-inch laptop. The design falls short in a few key areas, especially build quality, which makes it a tenuous value at the as-tested price of $1,299. But other configurations are available for less, starting at $999. Budget minders may want to seek those out, while people looking for a premium ultraportable should instead turn to the Dell XPS 13 or the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
Looking Great in (a Hint of) Green
Our top-of-the-line Swift 5 review unit (model SF514-55TA-74EC) comes with an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, 16GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD. It’s a common setup for premium laptops that are also thin and lightweight. Many competing Windows laptops in the $1,200-to-$1,500 price range feature the same component configuration. Meanwhile, the latest Swift 5 also comes in an entry-level configuration for $999 that offers an 11th Generation Core i5, 8GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD.
You can also find the previous Swift 5 generation still for sale at some retailers. It offers a 10th Generation Core i7, 16GB of memory, and either a 1TB or 512GB SSD. We found this model to be excellent when we reviewed it in February at a list price of $999. Note that Acer also offers a larger Swift 5 model with a 15.6-inch screen.
Besides the processor upgrade, the main physical change to the Swift 5 in the current generation is its new, unique green color scheme. Premium ultraportable laptops are almost never available in green, so it’s refreshing to see that Acer is offering the Swift 5 with a paint job that it calls Mist Green. Acer chose it because of its association with nature. The plant-based hue conveys a “restful, balanced lifestyle,” the company claims.
If that’s meant to be an antidote to the increasingly hectic home life brought on by the pandemic-related isolation, I’m all for it. Unfortunately for those who disagree, Mist Green is the only color option. Fortunately, however, the green hue is extremely subtle, and the Swift 5 doesn’t look out of place in a world of gray and silver ultraportables like the Apple MacBook Pro. Indeed, you’ll be just as pressed to detect the green hue in our pictures here as you be will in real life. It’s there, but again: extremely subtle.
Light for the Size, But Needs Keying Up
Other than the new color scheme, most of the Swift 5’s physical features have remained constant. This is an extraordinarily thin and light chassis for a laptop with a 14-inch display. It weighs just 2.31 pounds and measures 0.59 by 12.56 by 8.15 inches (HWD). The MacBook Pro, with a smaller 13-inch screen, weighs 3 pounds and measures 0.61 by 12 by 8.4 inches. The combination of a svelte chassis and a relatively large screen results in an impressive screen-to-body ratio for the Swift 5 of 90 percent.
You can find other thin-and-light 14-inchers out there, but they’re relatively uncommon. One of the best is the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which weighs 2.4 pounds. It’s more expensive than the Swift 5, and it’s geared more toward corporate IT customers, but it’s our current favorite in this category.
As it stands, the Swift 5’s main deficiency that holds it back from excellence is its rather unimpressive build quality and some lackluster design elements. As with the previous generation, the AC adapter design feels like an afterthought. It connects via an older, relatively kludgy barrel-style power port instead of the USB-C connector that many of its competitors now use.
During my time testing the Swift 5, I also noticed considerable flexing in the keyboard. The keys themselves have an unfortunate design, with small labels in the upper right-hand corner and extremely shallow travel distance. Key presses feel cheap, landing with a meek clacking noise instead of a more solid, satisfying thud like they do on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon or the MacBook Pro. At the $999 entry-level configuration, these deficiencies can be tolerated, but at a higher price point they’re a bit unfortunate.
Fortunately, Acer seems to have addressed our complaint about the considerable flex in the display lid of the previous Swift 5. I didn’t notice any unnecessary bounces when I tapped on the screen with my fingers.
The Swift 5’s Satisfying Display
The Swift 5 has a single display option, and it’s a high-quality one. The full-HD, touch-enabled panel measures 1,920 by 1,080 pixels and has a rated maximum brightness level of 340 nits. In casual testing in a brightly lit room, the screen appeared at least as vivid and clear as other full HD laptops with backlights that go as high as 400 or 500 nits, the highest we typically see. Part of the reason for this is likely robust color support—the panel is rated to display the entirety of the sRGB color spectrum, which helps content appear more vivid.
The Swift 5’s screen is also coated with an antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass finish. Using silver ions as the antimicrobial agent, it resists fingerprint stains and other detritus that may contain bacteria. The Gorilla Glass has a glossy finish that can more easily reflect distracting glare from ambient light, unlike the matte finish of the screen on the previous Swift 5.
The Swift 5 doesn’t offer a 4K option, which could disappoint a few potential customers. Many of its competitors offer 4K (3,840 by 2,160 pixels) or similar resolutions, including the MacBook Pro, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and the Dell XPS 13.
Also missing from the Swift 5 is a high-quality webcam. Laptop cameras with full HD (1080p) resolutions are still relatively rare, but they’re becoming a hot commodity in the work-from-home era as people spend more and more of their time videoconferencing. As it stands, the Swift 5 has a run-of-the mill 720p camera that offers average quality. Video is occasionally noisy and shows slight artifacts, but it works fine for informal Zoom sessions. The camera lacks IR sensors to allow you to log in to your PC account using Windows Hello face recognition.
You can avoid typing your Windows password by using the Swift 5’s built-in fingerprint reader, mounted below the keyboard.
I noticed a significant quantity of pre-installed apps on our Swift 5 review unit, reminiscent of the days when nearly every PC came with rampant bloatware. Offenders on the Swift 5 include preinstalled taskbar icons for Dropbox and Amazon, as well as a bevy of sponsored apps like Facebook Messenger and Evernote in the Start menu.
A Robust Mix of I/O Ports
One of the Swift 5’s key strengths is its robust connectivity, which is all the more impressive for a laptop that’s this thin and compact. In addition to the power port, there are a total of three USB ports, a headphone jack, and even a full-size HDMI 2.0 port for trouble-free connections to TVs or external monitors. Two of the USB ports are the older rectangular Type-A connectors, which support USB 3.2 Gen 1 speeds. The third is a USB Type-C port that supports Gen 2 speeds of up to 10Gbps, as well as Thunderbolt 4. If you’ve got a spare USB-C charger lying around, you can also charge the laptop using the USB-C port instead of the bundled power adapter. Just make sure your charger delivers at least 65 watts.
A second USB-C port and an SD card reader would have been nice, but as it stands, the Swift 5 is in the vanguard of ultraportable laptops when it comes to physical connectivity. Of course, many users will rely mostly on the Swift 5’s standard wireless connections instead, which include 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and Bluetooth 5.1.
The Swift 5’s audio setup remains the same as that of the previous generation. Two front-facing stereo speakers offer adequate volume, if unremarkable quality. You’ll need to turn up the volume to 50% or more to be heard comfortably in a medium-size room, and when you do, the sound tends to be slightly tinny and distorted. Most users will want to connect headphones instead.
Testing the Swift 5: Class-Leading Speed
Computing performance is a high point for the Swift 5. I compared its performance against its principal competitors—including the MacBook Pro, ThinkPad X1 Carbon, XPS 13, and Asus ZenBook 14—and discovered that it comes out at or near the top in a wide variety of scenarios. (Note that the ZenBook 14 we tested is just $899, $400 less than the Swift 5, but still includes a Core i7 processor.)
Take general productivity tasks, for instance. We measure performance on workflows like videoconferencing and web browsing with the PCMark 10 benchmark, which simulates the activities and generates a proprietary score. Any score above 4,000 on this test is excellent, and the Swift 5’s score of 5,008 stands out in particular. (See more about how we test laptops.)
We also use the PCMark 8 storage test to evaluate the performance of each laptop’s boot drive. Since all of the systems use speedy SSDs, they all offer near-equal performance on this test.
The Swift 5 is also adept when it comes to more advanced workflows. It achieved a score of 976 on the Cinebench 3D rendering test, which uses all available CPU cores to render a complex 3D image. This score is second only to the MacBook Pro’s, and indicates that the Swift 5 is a capable platform for people who occasionally need to perform CPU-intensive tasks.
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. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better. Here, the Swift 5 is tied with the XPS 13 for first place.
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. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The Swift 5’s time of just over two minutes to complete the Photoshop test is especially noteworthy, as it’s approximately 30 seconds quicker than the rest of the field.
Impressive Gaming Acumen and Battery Life
One of the key benefits of late-model Intel CPUs is dramatically improved graphics processing. Laptops equipped with Iris Plus and Iris Xe graphics approximate the performance you’d expect from an entry-level gaming GPU from Nvidia.
In this case, the Swift 5’s Iris Xe graphics performance shines on our 3DMark and Superposition gaming benchmarks. It’s slightly higher than the comparably equipped XPS 13, which comes with the same Iris Xe processor, and much higher than the Iris Plus-equipped ZenBook 14 and Intel UHD-equipped ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
Our final performance test involves testing battery life by playing a locally stored video file at 50 percent screen brightness with Wi-Fi turned off until the laptop’s battery is exhausted…
Consistent with its previous pattern, the Swift 5 also performed very well on this test, achieving a running time of more than 19 hours unplugged. This is second only to the MacBook Pro, and suggests that the Swift 5 will easily manage a workday full of basic computing tasks without visiting a power outlet.
The Swift 5 Gets the Basics Right
It’s difficult to find a jack-of-all trades ultraportable laptop that performs well, is pleasing to use, and doesn’t break the budget. The Swift 5 certainly performs well, and it has a lot of other value-added features that will appeal to some buyers. Chief among them are a full-size HDMI port and an exceptionally lightweight chassis relative to the 14-inch screen size.
But the Swift 5 does compromise a bit on the usability aspect. A flimsy typing experience and the inclusion of an anachronistic dedicated power adapter hurt the Swift 5’s value proposition, and relegate it to a niche of people who care about performance above most other things. As it stands, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the XPS 13 are better choices in the premium ultraportable laptop category, while the ZenBook 14 is a better option that won’t break the bank.
Acer Swift 5 (14-Inch, Late 2020)
The Bottom Line
The Acer Swift 5 is a remarkably lightweight 14-inch ultraportable laptop that gets the basics right—including excellent performance and robust connectivity options—but falls a bit short on build quality and price.
Acer Swift 5 (14-Inch, Late 2020) Specs
|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|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Intel Iris Xe|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.59 by 12.56 by 8.15 inches|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 10|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||19:15|