Acer Swift 7 (July 2019) review: The ultimate thin-and-light laptop's flaw is still performance

Unbelievably, Acer managed to shave off more than a half-pound from the earlier Swift 7.

Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG

Acer’s Swift 7 (July 2019) 14-inch laptop still represents the pinnacle of the thin-and-light PC movement. Amazingly, this breathtakingly slim notebook PC is significantly lighter than its predecessor, while solving many of the usability issues which detracted from Acer’s previous Swift 7.

That laptop was frankly unpleasant to work on, with an average keyboard, a touchpad without click capabilities, and an absence of Thunderbolt ports—though the latter is admittedly still more of a spec we expect rather than one many peripherals take advantage of. Our updated Swift 7 (July 2019) review reflects how Acer solved those problems, though others remain: a poor webcam, mediocre performance, and a somewhat worrying amount of heat. That won’t altogether dull the sheer gasp of amazement that occurs when you first lift this sliver of a laptop out of its box.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 outdoor 1 Mark Hachman / IDG

Acer Swift 7 (July 2019) basic specs

Think of Acer’s Swift 7 as a tablet with an embedded keyboard and an attached display, and you'll  better understand its strengths and weaknesses. The processor inside is a Y-series Intel Core processor for tablets, as opposed to the more traditional U-series chip. We like the addition of Thunderbolt 3 capabilities to the USB-C ports, compared to the previous Swift 7. Even better, the available SSD storage and memory have doubled.

It’s all wrapped up in a package that’s somehow more than a half-pound lighter than its predecessor, at 1.84 pounds. Even the device that kicked off the thin-and-light craze, Apple's 13.3-inch MacBook Air, looks bloated by comparison, at 2.75 pounds. Bravo!

  • Display: 14-inch IPS (1920x1080) touch, Gorilla Glass 6
  • Processor: Intel 1.5GHz Core i7-8500Y (“Amber Lake Y”)
  • Graphics: Intel UHD 615
  • Memory: 16GB LPDDR2 
  • Storage: 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD
  • Ports: 2 USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 (Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort, USB charging, DC in) 
  • Camera: 720p (1280 x 720) with SHDR
  • Battery: 32Wh (design); 30.8Wh (tested)
  • Wireless:  Gigabit Wi-Fi 2x2 802.11ac 160MHz; Bluetooth 5.0
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Dimensions: 7.51 x 12.52 x 0.39 in (9.95mm)
  • Weight: 1.84 pounds, 2.38 pounds with charger, 2.46 lb with hub (measured)
  • Color: Black (tested), white
  • Additional features: USB-C hub, sleeve included
  • Price: $1,699 (Amazon)  (Acer

The thin-and-light PC

Acer’s goal for the Swift 7—build the thinnest, lightest laptop you can—remains unchanged. It slips effortlessly into a backpack or the faux-leather sleeve that Acer ships with the laptop. At less than two pounds, its weight is barely noticeable, and the July 2019 edition shaved 0.7 pounds from its predecessor! Engineering this truly thin-and-light PC deserves applause, and its feathery weight is by far the top reason to consider buying it. 

As our recent review of the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 showed, however, such an aggressive design goal can influence many aspects. A case in point: Acer designed the Swift 7 (July 2019) without fans. Every bit of heat its components generate is conducted through heat pipes to the outside of the chassis, raising the external temperature to slightly alarming levels. We talk more about this in our performance evaluation.  

In general, we absolutely think a lighter laptop is a better laptop. We care far less about how thin it actually is, however, as it begs the question: Is a thin laptop a flimsy laptop? The Swift 7 (July 2019) responds: Yes and no.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 z height comparison Mark Hachman / IDG

The Acer Swift 7 (July 2019) is about as thin as the Google Pixel 3 smartphone (right).

Positioned correctly, with its four rubber feet flat against a desk, I noticed no flex in the Swift 7’s keyboard. Acer engineered the Swift 7 using a combination of magnesium-lithium and magnesium-aluminum alloys, which contributes to its lightness without detracting from its structural integrity. I sometimes work with a laptop perched on a keyboard drawer, however, which has a small ridge at the end. There, I noticed some flex when resting a hand on the palm rest. In general, however, I found nothing to complain about in the Swift 7’s construction.

Acer even slimmed down the display, which reclines to a comfortable 45 to 50 degrees off the horizontal.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 right side 2 portrait Mark Hachman / IDG

On the right side of the chassis are two Thunderbolt ports, new for the July 2019 edition of the Acer Swift 7. Notice how the chassis slims down further as it extends to the left.

Like other laptop makers, Acer has minimized the display bezel to maximize the available display, and the Swift 7 (July 2019) notably improves here. With just 2.57mm between the display and the side casing (or 4.27mm to the actual edge) and a top bezel of 2.65mm, the lovely 1080p IPS display covers 92 percent of the available space, with rich blacks complementing the display output. The Swift 7 display projects about 305 nits of light, well above our 250-nit threshold for comfortable indoor viewing. It’s all protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6.

Though Acer touts the display as a true 1920x1080 display, Windows did tend to hide the bottom of the display under the taskbar. Therefore, on occasion, certain elements of a webpage or app menu weren’t clickable unless the window was resized on the screen. (Auto-hiding the taskbar also solved the problem.)

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 left side close Mark Hachman / IDG

The left side of the Acer Swift 7 (July 2019) chassis doesn’t have much more than a headphone jack and power button. The webcam also pops up, above.

Unlike last year’s model, Acer’s latest Swift 7 does away with the WWAN slot. Instead, there are merely a pair of Thunderbolt-capable USB-C ports. While I think an always-connected PC represents the future of laptops, I’m willing to give Acer a pass—helped by the fact that the company includes a USB-C hub inside the box. The hub is nothing fancy—one USB Type-A port, HDMI, and a USB-C power pass-through—but it does allow legacy devices to be connected. 

usb c hub Acer Swift 7 July 2019 Mark Hachman / IDG

If you have an SD or microSD card you want to insert into the Swift 7, you’ll need another hub: What Acer supplies is pretty bare-bones.

An improved typing experience

Acer’s keyboard proves that the company may have learned a lesson. I really didn’t enjoy using the earlier Swift 7’s keyboard, though the experience was significantly colored by the awful touchpad. With the Swift 7 (July 2019) model, I found that I could type rather comfortably, though the keys still are slightly too small for my taste.  (Unfortunately, I didn’t have the earlier Swift 7 available for a side-by-side comparison.) As I normally do, I write my reviews upon the laptop’s keyboard. I can say that while I was heartily glad to be rid the earlier Swift 7, I didn’t mind using the July 2019 edition.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 keyboard Mark Hachman / IDG

Though the keyboard appears largely unchaged from the earlier Swift 7's, the July 2019 model is easier to type upon, and Acer solved its touchpad issues.

One of the few oddities about the keyboard, however, is that Acer reserves the function keys for the top row—and that’s all they do. Supplementary functions, like the ability to turn off the touchpad or turn the backlighting off and on, are reserved for the second row. (Off and on are the only two options for backlighting, unfortunately.) Note that the function underneath the “W” key, which looks like the letter “Z” raised to the Zth power, is actually the sleep function. Arrow keys are reserved for the small cross to the lower right, which also controls the screen brightness and volume.

The latest Swift 7 now includes a clickable precision touchpad, unlike the truly horrendous touchpad of a generation ago. Acer extended the trackpad across a sizeable portion of the keyboard—it’s nearly 6 inches wide! The touchpad is clickable up to just about a finger's-breadth of space on the top—average to even slightly better than the competition.

Just next to the keyboard rests the fingerprint scanner, embedded in the power button. More laptop makers are choosing this approach, which provides a convenient, natural landing pad for biometric logins. Though the quality of a fingerprint scanner usually degrades somewhat over time, as gunk builds up on the sensor, the relatively new Swift 7 worked just fine to log me in quickly and accurately over the week or so I tested it.

Speakers, camera suffer from the ‘thin is in’ approach

Speaker quality still suffers from the Swift 7’s ultraportability, however. Acer’s previous Swift suffered from woefully underpowered equipment, though the inclusion of Dolby Audio helped mitigate the overall experience. Dolby doesn’t appear on the latest Swift 7. With the current model, the volume has seemingly improved to merely average. Music still sounds flat and lacks punch, though the midrange-to-higher end is pleasant enough. Plug in headphones, though—and you should; don’t bother otherwise—and the sound builds in terms of volume and tone.

Acer doesn’t really try that hard with audio enhancement, as the bare-bones Acer TrueHarmony controls are buried within the Realtek Audio Console app in the Windows 10 Settings. TrueHarmony appears to perform some stereo widening and possibly some audio adjustments, but it’s truly wasted on the speakers. On headphones, the experience is pleasing enough.

Unfortunately, however, not all of the Swift 7’s changes were positive ones. The Swift 7 doesn’t include a Windows Hello-enabled webcam—honestly, it barely provides a webcam at all. For a design like the Swift 7, Acer clearly chose to bury the 720p, SHDR webcam inside a popup slot at the top left of the keyboard rather than embed it in the top display bezel, robbing the display of additional pixels. 

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 webcam placement Mark Hachman / IDG

Why did Acer have to offset the Swift 7’s pop-up webcam?

But why offset it in the top left of the keyboard, so that the only thing it captures accurately is your left hand and shoulder? Why not the center, and recline it beyond its rated 55 degrees, so that your face can be viewed, rather than a disembodied mouth and a closeup of what ever shirt you chose to wear that day? For all of the attention Acer paid to improving the Swift 7 elsewhere, it’s hard to believe its design team flubbed this aspect so badly.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 what the webcam sees Mark Hachman / IDG

This is what the Webcam sees: giant fingers, a mouth, and whatever you spilled on your shirt at lunch.

While it’s never totally clear which apps Microsoft includes as part of Windows, and which are placed there by the OEM, the Swift 7 likely offers more than you'd reasonably need: Amazon, Booking.com, the two Candy Crush games, eBay, Evernote, Firefox, Hearts Deluxe, and Spades, to name just a few. In total, I counted 23 additional apps that aren’t part of Windows proper, including two apps to download more apps (App Explorer and the Acer Collection S). Acer also includes basic versions of of CyberLink’s PhotoDirector, PowerDirector, and Stagelight, a music creator. All three have the very basic functions unlocked and require a subscription to access the rest.

Acer also includes GoTrust ID, an app that allows you to pair your phone and PC, and use a Bluetooth connection to your phone as verification. In my testing, GoTrust asked me to tap the space bar to track down my phone, then took several seconds to complete the process. I could have logged in several times over via the fingerprint reader instead.

Performance: This isn’t why you buy the Swift 7

Because the Swift 7 is fanless, you don’t have to worry about any fan noise interrupting your flow. Acer says a thermal pad with copper-graphite composite distributes heat from the motherboard throughout the chassis to improve temperature uniformity. I was somewhat surprised at how much heat it dissipates, though. While letting a video-on-demand briefing stew within Microsoft Edge, the Swift 7 grew quite hot on the underside, and unpleasantly hot on the top, especially the top right corner, as seen below.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 flir heat thermal Gordon Mah Ung / IDG

According to our thermal camera, the Swift 7’s heat pipe dumps out most of the heat into the upper right-hand corner, at about 122 degrees.

Under load, throttling kicks in pretty quickly. Using Intel’s XTU test, we watched the Core i7-8500Y CPU inside the Swift 7 struggle to break to 2GHz using our prolonged Handbrake stress test, settling down to about 1.79GHz over time. (The base clock speed is 1.5GHz, with a boost clock of 3.9GHz.)

To test laptops, tablets and individual CPUs, we run a number of different tests, some modeled on the real world, others synthetic. With a Y-series processor under the hood, we’re expecting tablet-class performance, so we compare the Acer Swift 7 (July 2019) to its predecessor, as well as a number of other tablets and laptops. (We’ve highlighted the Swift 7 (July 2019) in red, and the earlier Swift 7 in orange, to facilitiate generation-over-generation comparisons.) 

The message here is clear: Don't buy the Swift 7 for its application performance. While it never felt that slow in everyday use, it's among the slowest of the laptops we’ve tested. 

Our first test is the PCMark suite. Underwriter Labs publishes both the older PCMark 8 test suite (broken up into three tests: Work, Home, and Creative) as well as the more up-to-date PCMark 10 suite. We test using both benchmarks, though our database of PCMark 8 results is significantly larger.

pcmark 8 work Acer Swift 7 July 2019 IDG

The Acer Swift 7 (July 2019) improves over the earlier model, though not by that much.

PCMark 8’s Work test suite emphasizes office apps, such as word processing and spreadsheet work, while the Home and Creative tests push harder into applications like web browsing and photo editing. Light gaming is also tested, though the separate 3DMark test (discussed below) provides greater insight into how well the Swift 7 will perform.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 pcmark 8 home IDG
Acer Swift 7 July 2019 pcmark 8 creative IDG

In the PCMark tests, which lean more heavily into multimedia applications, the Swift 7 suffers. 

PCMark 10 reproduces some of the same tests within PCMark 8, though with a greater emphasis on performance. There’s only a single test, which measures video call performance, photo editing using GIMP, gaming, and even metrics like app startup times. At the end PCMark produces a single overall benchmark score, which we use to compare to similar machines: 2978, which is most directly comparable to the HP Spectre x2, a 2017 tablet.

From there, we move on to two simulated benchmarks: the venerable Cinebench, as well as the open-source HandBrake tool. Cinebench, developed by Maxon, renders a simulated image using all of the cores and threads available on the processor itself: just two cores and four threads, unfortunately. However, because the test is so widely used, there’s an enormous database of comparable scores. We test using Cinebench R15 and the newer R20, which introduces a more complex and lifelike image that requires longer to render. The message on both tests, though, is that the Swift 7 is not optimized for performance.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 cinebench IDG

The Y-series tablet processors used by the Acer Swift 7s simply can’t keep up.

HandBrake is a real-world video-conversion app, which can transcode a video file into a variety of formats and profiles. We use a .MOV test file of several gigabytes, transcoding the movie into a format that’s optimized for an Android tablet. Faster machines can convert the movie in a shorter time than is actually required to play back the film. In the case of the Swift 7, however, it simply can’t keep up with its faster competition. 

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 handbrake IDG

We didn’t expect that the latest Swift 7 would generate the worst result. But with the amount of heat that the Swift 7 pumps out, it’s possible that thermal throttling could hamstring the July 2019 edition further. Nevertheless, the message is a consistent one: This isn’t a performance machine.

From there, we move to 3DMark, which measures 3D performance. Granted, we don’t expect much here inside of a tablet. 

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 sky diver IDG

Yes, you can play games on a Swift 7, but they’ll be from long ago.

Intel optimized the Y-series Core chip inside the Swift 7 for low power, and not performance, so there’s no way you should expect to play the latest games on the Swift 7 (July 2019). In fact, using Systemrequirementslab as a guide, only 22.9 percent of games in its database are even playable. (The site uses a tool to match your system’s settings against a database of minimum and recommended settings for a detailed list of games.) Games where the Swift 7 meets the “recommended” requirements include Minecraft, Portal, Undertale, and Counter-Strike; and there’s just enough horsepower to play Fortnite and StarCraft at minimum settings.

Finally there’s battery life. The Swift 7 does decently here, considering there's hardly any space to cram battery cells. North of 9 hours of battery life isn’t bad.

Acer Swift 7 July 2019 battery life IDG

Achieving more than 9 hours of battery life is pretty good for such a thin and light machine as the Swift 7 (July 2019).

Conclusion: How much does a light PC matter?

The Swift 7 reigns supreme as the ultimate thin-and-light PC. Its performance may be modest, and its heat output slightly worrisome. The webcam is one of the worst we’ve used. The LG Gram, another ultralight PC, heartily outperforms it—but the Gram weighs 2.5 pounds, and the Swift 7 weighs just 1.84 pounds. 

Buying the Swift 7 requires buying into the Swift 7. Do you commute daily by foot, or simply prefer a laptop that can slip into a backpack or (maybe) a purse, without extra weight? Do you mind working wirelessly? We’d recommend the Swift 7, especially after it solved its shortcomings from a year ago. But if extreme thin-and-light isn't your goal, you can find less radical models that may be more satisfying overall.

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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