Acer Swift 7 (2018) review: This spectacularly thin and light PC is a pain to actually use

The good news is we've seen Acer's plans to improve upon the Acer Swift 7 (2018). Read on to discover the flaws that the Swift 7 (2019) should solve.

Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG

Acer’s Swift 7 (2018) is unquestionably one of the lightest, thinnest laptops around. But a genuinely frustrating keyboard and trackpad, plus poor performance—which the company appears to have solved in its 2019 edition—makes us advise passing this over for the upcoming model, instead.

Physically, the Swift 7 is awe-inspiring. It’s astonishing that the 0.35-inch thin notebook needs to widen to accommodate the minuscule USB-C connectors that run along the sides of the chassis. Acer nicely provides a leather sleeve to slide the Swift 7 into, and it’s thin and durable enough to slip easily into a messenger bag or backpack.

With a 7th-gen Core tablet-quality chip inside, however, performance lags the competition significantly, while the battery life is merely satisfactory. While I loved holding and carrying the Swift 7, the subpar performance and typing experience doesn’t make the Swift 7 worth buying.

Acer Swift 7 primary alt Mark Hachman / IDG

Acer Swift 7: Basic specs

  • Display: 14-inch (1920x1080) IPS touchscreen
  • Processor: 1.3GHz Core i7-7Y75 (Kaby Lake)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 615
  • Memory: 8GB LPDDR3 
  • Storage: 256GB NVMe SSD
  • Security: Fingerprint reader (Windows Hello)
  • Ports: 2 USB 3.0 Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 
  • Cameras: 720p HD camera (front-facing)
  • Battery: 45.8Wh
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Dimensions: 12.9 x 9.3 x 0.35 in. (8.98 mm)
  • Weight: 2.54 pounds (laptop); 3.10 lb with power brick; 3.56 lb with brick and sleeve
  • Colors: Black
  • Price: $1,699 MSRP

acer swift 7 and phone 2 edit Mark Hachman / IDG

Yes, the Acer Swift 7 is indeed thin—thinner than the author’s OnePlus 5 smartphone.

The build and design

Since Acer is marketing the Swift 7 as the thinnest ultrabook on the market, its measurements naturally attract the eye. The Swift 7 is pleasingly thin but in no way flimsy, as there’s nary a wobble either closed or open, even when fully reclined to perfectly flat. Nor does the display exhibit any flex. Still, when viewed from the side it’s apparent where the Swift 7’s thinness has limits, as even the thickest portion of the chassis is is unable to accommodate a USB Type A port.   

Amazingly Asus managed to cram the chassis with a 45 watt-hour battery, not to mention a CPU, motherboard, and SSD. And the design makes it one of the most aesthetically satisfying laptops on the market—until you power on the display, that is.

There’s nothing wrong with a 1080p display, per se—heck, that’s how Acer stretches out the battery life—but it’s surrounded by a sizable bezel and an absolutely massive chin. In part, that’s because of the rather basic 720p user-facing camera that’s mounted in the bezel beneath the display, but even that takes up just a fraction of the overall real estate. You’re left wondering what Acer actually did with the extra space.

Acer Swift 7 webcam Mark Hachman / IDG

That’s an awful lot of empty space for one tiny little webcam.

Besides that, we had just a couple minor quibbles with the display itself. Our review unit pumped out a maximum 275 nits of luminance, which is comfortable for indoor use but not optimum for bright outdoor environments. (We use 260 nits of luminance as a floor for an acceptable brightness level.) Also, the display leans a bit toward orange, but otherwise it’s bright and vivid.

The speakers, on the other hand, are woefully underpowered, enough that you might wonder if you somehow overlooked a setting. Fortunately, the Swift 7 ships with Dolby Audio, which dials up the volume a bit and evens out the sound. Headphones or an external speaker are virtually required though.

Acer Swift 7 usb c ports Mark Hachman / IDG

A pair of USB-C ports adorn the left side of the Swift 7 (2018). Though they don’t feature Thunderbolt capabilities, they can be used to power the laptop.

Count the Swift 7 among the new generation of laptops that’s made a wholesale shift to USB-C ports—again, partially driven by the thinness of the Swift 7’s chassis. Neither port is Thunderbolt enabled. There’s a headphone jack alongside these ports, as well.

On the other side of the chassis there’s something a bit more interesting: a SIM slot. The Swift 7 is a “connected” PC, with both Wi-Fi and an optional cellular connection to allow you to work on the road. You won’t find any microSD or even miniDisplayPort I/O here; if you want to connect to an external display, you’ll have to invest in a USB-C hub of some sort.

From a security standpoint, there’s a fingerprint reader that works with Windows Hello. It doesn’t rank among the best I’ve tried. While I could log in fairly consistently using the reader alone, I often had to tap once, twice, or even three times before it would identify my fingerprint. After setting it down for the holidays, I had to re-key my finger.

Acer Swift 7 sleeve Mark Hachman / IDG

Our review unit came with a protective pleather sleeve, which is unnecessary but can keep the Swift 7 free from dings and scratches.

From a software perspective, Acer doesn’t gum up the Swift 7 with too many unnecessary apps. The Acer Care Center provides the basic utility software that many laptop makers supply, with everything from a driver-update checker to a disk defragmenter unnecessary with the Swift 7’s SSD. An Acer Collections app serves as a referral to some of the better apps found in the Microsoft Store. There’s also Acer Quick Access, which provides shortcuts to managing the eSIM, dialing down the display’s blue-light output to manage insomnia, and “color intelligence” to adjust the color warmth of the screen in relation to the content it’s displaying. There’s still the usual Windows 10 crapware though, with unnecessary games like Candy Crush Soda Saga.

A connected PC

As noted, the Acer Swift 7 is a connected PC, meaning you’ll be able to use it at home or in the office using its built-in Wi-Fi connection, as well as on-the-go via cellular data. The Swift 7 includes both eSIM as well as an actual SIM card tray, and Acer includes a one-month, 1GB trial through a third-party wireless ISP, Ubigi. 

Acer Swift 7 sim slot Mark Hachman / IDG

One of the clever bits in the Acer Sweft 7 (2018) is the SIM slot, which can be slid out with a fingernail. Requiring the normal SIM tool might be a more secure option, but for convenience Acer’s solution can’t be beat.

While I wasn’t able to test the Ubigi service—this review was put on hold for the holidays, and the trial expired—setting up a physical SIM was simple enough. In fact, the SIM tray on the Swift 7 doesn’t use a typical SIM ejector pin, but includes a small indentation in which to hook a fingernail and pull out, which I found much, much easier to use. Windows was smart enough to recognize the new SIM and configure itself, and I was up and running within seconds.

Cellular performance will vary due to a variety of factors—the carrier, the proximity to a cellular tower, network congestion, and the like—but a quick speed-test comparison between my older OnePlus 5 and the Acer Swift 7 showed the Swift 7 recording download speeds a few times faster than my phone, using the same T-Mobile SIM swapped between devices in the same location. Obviously, an integrated SIM doesn’t preclude you from tethering your phone, either.

Typing experience: Bad to worse

Unfortunately, the typing experience on the Swift 7 is rather poor. As I wrote this review upon the Swift 7, I simply found that the landing areas of the keys were slightly too small to be comfortable or accurate over longer periods of time. Function keys are scattered over the first and second rows somewhat haphazardly. Though the keyboard is backlit, there’s a great deal of light bleed from underneath the Delete key on the top row, as well as from the directional arrow keys in the bottom right-hand corner. (Backlighting can be toggled only on and off, with no gradation.)

Acer Swift 7 keyboard Mark Hachman / IDG

A look at the Acer Swift 7’s keyboard.

A more egregious flaw, in my view, concerns the editing keys: The Delete key is just a fraction of the Backspace key next to it, and the Caps Lock key is even slightly smaller. (Granted, the latter key is rarely used.) But I found my fingers also tracked more naturally to the Delete key if and when I made a mistake—which, on an unfamiliar keyboard, I found myself doing more than I usually would. I also found the key travel slightly uncomfortable, perhaps not that surprising in a laptop designed specifically for thinness.

But it’s Swift 7’s precision touchpad that really disappointed. The touchpad is of sufficient size, and its glassy surface is the equal of competitors like the Surface devices. 

Acer Swift 7 touchpad Mark Hachman / IDG

This is the worst part of the Acer Swift 7 (2018) experience: the non-clickable touchpad.

But unlike the majority of touchpads, the Swift’s 7 is not clickable. I’ll freely confess that I had to search out a reminder on how to click and drag files with a non-clickable touchpad. (Double-tap the file or files, but leave your finger on the file and drag, instead of removing it.) But occasionally it wouldn’t register taps. I hurriedly plugged in a mouse instead.

Even after some use, I felt rather miserable typing on the Swift 7’s keyboard, making it one of the few review laptops I was anxious to be rid of, and return to...well, anything else. 

Acer Swift 7 keyboard bleed Mark Hachman / IDG

A fingerprint reader provides biometric authentication protection for logging in via Windows Hello. There’s a fair amount of light bleed from the backlit keyboard, which you can see here.

Performance: A tablet challenging a notebook

The Swift 7 faces a somewhat unique challenge: it’s a notebook, but powered by a processor designed for a tablet. Unfortunately, the 2-core, 4-thread 7th-generation Y-series Core chip inside the Acer Swift 7 (2018) is no match for the 4-core, 8-thread 8th-generation U-series Core chips used by most competing notebooks during 2018. The Swift 7’s challenge is also made worse by tablets like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6, which are powered by the same U-series chips most notebooks are. 

We noticed that the Swift 7 tended to power-throttle itself, too, restricting performance further. The Swift 7 (2018) also significantly warmed up during large file transfers, especially during a large Windows rollup update where the SSD was being stressed. But the laptop remained relatively cool during a computationally-intensive benchmark like Handbrake, and also when using it on a daily basis.  All of this is somewhat academic, as the Swift 7 still underperformed a mix of competing laptops, all priced somewhat north of $1,000. That includes the recent HP Spectre Folio, which is also powered by a Y-series processor.

Though we don’t always test using all three benchmarks of the older PCMark 8 suite—Work, Home, and Creative—they’re representative of the type of workloads that you’ll encounter on a near-daily basis. In each, though, the  Swift 7 (2018) finished at or near the bottom of the pack.

The Work benchmark tests word processing and spreadsheet use, with a little video chat and Web browsing mixed in. While the Acer Swift 7 felt fine for daily use, the numbers show it offers less performance than the competition.

Acer Swift 7 2018  pcmark work folio Mark Hachman / IDG

Only the recent Surface Laptop 2 fell short of the Swift 7.

Ditto for the Home and Creative tests, as well. While the Home and Creative tests both stress some light gaming and web browsing, the Creative test leans more heavily into photo editing and video. 

Acer Swift 7 2018 pcmark home IDG
Acer Swift 7 2018 pcmark creative IDG

Acer’s Swift 7 doesn’t fall too far, overall, but it’s still at the bottom.

Cinebench is probably the most commonly used benchmark across laptops and desktops, as it renders a 3D scene stressing all of the CPU cores in turn. Here, the 7th-gen Core compares very unfavorably.

Acer Swift 7 2018  cinebench folio Mark Hachman / IDG

An older chip plus power-limit throttling, and the Swift 7 suffers.

Handbrake, an open-source viceo conversion tool, is primarily used as a stress test of the laptop’s load over time. Unfortunately, the Swift 7 records an abysmal score, though the HP Spectre Folio’s is even worse.

Acer Swift 7 2018  handbrake folio Mark Hachman / IDG

We didn’t notice any thermal throttling as a result of overheating, and the Swift 7 cooled down quickly once this task completed. But from a performance standpoint, it still falls well short.

Don’t buy the Swift 7 to play games, either. We use the 3DMark “Sky Diver” test as an indicator of 3D performance, and again the Swift 7 finished well down the pack.

Acer Swift 7 2018 sky diver folio Mark Hachman / IDG

Unfortunately, the Swift 7’s thin chassis doesn’t allow much room for a battery, and the 33 watt-hours that it can generate on a full charge is well below the forty- and even fifty-odd watt-hours of the competition. Battery life therefore suffers, though in all fairness about eight hours or so suffices for close to an all-day work experience. Our rundown test loops a 4K video over and over until the battery expires, however, and doesn’t measure the ebb and flow of a day’s work.

Acer swift 7 battery life IDG

The Swift 7’s battery life is disappointing, too. 

It’s worth noting that turning on Dolby Audio—which, as we noted above, improves the sound quality—appeared to steal possibly 45 minutes of battery life. We tested, as we usually do, using a pair of earbuds with Dolby Audio turned off. There’s enough volume that Dolby isn’t necessary except to enhance the sound.

Conclusion: Thin may be in, but count the Swift 7 out

Because of a number of delays, our review of the Swift 7 (2018) arrives after we’ve already seen the Swift 7 (2019), thanks to Acer’s booth at CES. And we’re enthusiastic: not only is it lighter, but the bezel has nearly disappeared, the USB-C ports now include Thunderbolt capabilities, and—hallelujah!—the touchpad is now a true “clickpad”. There’s an 8th-generation Core processor, too, which hopefully should bring the performance of the Swift 7 up to par with its competition. In all, it sounds like a substantial improvement.

The updated 2019 version isn’t launching until May, though. Right now, it’s hard to recommend the current iteration of the Acer Swift 7. It’s certainly a joy to behold, and to carry from home to work. But then the problems set in. We’d lower its review score as a consequence of its poor performance, certainly. Its fatal flaw, however, is the poor keyboard and even worse trackpad.

Fortunately, it’s only a few months until Acer ships an improved version of the Swift 7.

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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