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Acer Swift 7 (2018) Review & Rating

Acer’s Swift 7 ultraportable is back, and with a profile just over a third of an inch thick, it’s holding on to its bragging rights as the world’s thinnest laptop. It’s no humble-brag, either: It’s going to be tough for any laptop maker to top this machine on thinness, seeing as the profile is barely thick enough to host any ports at all. With a spiffy, all-metal design, the Swift 7 is a real stunner, but it’s pricey at $1,699.99, and all that glamour demands concessions, including a low-wattage CPU, a 14-inch 1080p screen, and tight storage capacity. The Huawei MateBook X Pro remains our Editors’ Choice ultraportable pick, for its excellent feature set and price. But Acer’s ultra-slim machine is a success story if you need to go thin—at all costs.

The Most Portable Ultraportable

Putting aside the technicality of the “world’s thinnest” tag for a moment, the Swift 7 simply looks gorgeous. It’s a head-turner, drawing the praise of everyone I showed it off to. Made entirely of sleek black metal, the Swift 7 has that rare “it factor” that inspires product envy. It looks and feels high-quality, from the solid metal to the diamond-cut corners and silver trim.

Much of the appeal, though, does come back to its thinness. The Swift 7 measures just 0.35 inch thick, an almost absurdly slim measurement evident at just a glance. (The footprint is more pedestrian, at 12.91 inches wide by 9.33 inches deep.) The Swift 7 doesn’t just barely scrape into its “I’m thinnest” distinction, either, with several hundredths of an inch shaved off the thinnest competition we’ve tested. The HP Spectre 13, for example, measures 0.41 inch thick, while the Dell XPS 13 comes in at 0.46 inch and the Razer Blade Stealth at 0.54 inch. Sure, you’ll still need calipers to measure that, but the comparisons are not mere squeakers.

The Swift 7 is also fairly light, at 2.6 pounds, though it feels a little dense because of the preponderance of metal and the size. That’s lighter than the Dell XPS 13 and Razer Blade, with the HP Spectre 13 winning out at 2.4 pounds. (Remember, this is a 14-inch laptop, versus the 13-inch screens on the XPS 13 and Spectre 13.) Acer’s laptop owes its svelte profile to its fanless design, which also means it runs in silence. As I’ll get into later, though, that design decision mandates its pound of flesh in performance.

The Swift 7 isn’t a convertible laptop, but its 14-inch in-plane switching (IPS) display does support touch input. It bears a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) native resolution, though with its glossy finish and high brightness, it looked a bit sharper than 1080p to me, at first. That’s still an endorsement of its quality, and a Corning Gorilla Glass 2 coating makes it that much more durable.

I will say, though, that part of my initial thinking about the screen resolution was that I expected it to be higher than 1080p for the price. While a screen of this size doesn’t exactly need a super-high resolution, the competition generally offers at least one notch more. The Huawei MateBook X Pro boasts a 3,000-by-2,000-pixel native resolution, while the $1,499 Blade Stealth unit we reviewed offered a QHD+ panel (3,200 by 1,800 pixels). The Swift 7’s display may look pretty, but there’s no making up for physically packing fewer pixels.

The keyboard is pleasantly unaffected by the laptop’s thinness, for the most part, managing decent travel and a comfortable typing experience. It’s not one of the best notebook keyboards I’ve laid fingers on in recent memory, but it’s average in feel for a thin-laptop keyboard and completely usable. That is far from a given on a laptop in this class. You simply can’t expect much more comfort when there’s only so much distance that the keys can travel up and down, based on the chassis thickness.

The touchpad, meanwhile, feels very nice to pan and scroll with, though it lacks dedicated left and right click buttons, and you can’t physically depress the touchpad. That means tap-to-select only, and no clicking and holding to drag icons or move a scroll bar like I am used to, which took some adjusting.

Thin on Connectivity

One area where this laptop’s extreme thinness gets it into some trouble is, as you’d expect, with the ports.

The Swift 7 offers only USB Type-C ports, which are really the only kind of general connectors slim enough to fit into a frame like this. You get just two of these, and neither offers support for Thunderbolt 3, which provides lightning-fast data-transfer speeds useful to some professionals. The ports do include DisplayPort video-out support, however, and Acer includes a USB Type-C dongle with connections for HDMI, USB, and Ethernet.

Having to keep track of, carry, and use the dongle is a bit of an annoyance, but the Swift 7 is hardly the first laptop to go all USB-C, so I can’t fault it there. That said, the Razer Blade Stealth, Dell XPS 13, Huawei MateBook X Pro, and the 13-Inch Apple MacBook Pro all offer at least one USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3, if that’s an important feature for you.

Outside of these physical connections, the Swift 7 offers support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, and 4G LTE connectivity, the last being uncommon in this class of laptop. The laptop can accept physical nano SIM cards, but also has a built-in “eSIM,” which you can use to sign up for service plans provided by Ubigi. The US-based plans for Ubigi eSIM service are a $4.99-per-day option (limit: 500MB for the day), $29.99 for 3GB spread across 30 days, or $99.99 for 12GB across six months. The Swift 7 ships with a profile that gives you 1GB of free data for 30 days.

I tested the 4G performance in a few locations around our NYC office, browsing the web and running speed tests using Ookla’s Speedtest. (Ookla is owned by PCMag’s parent company, Ziff Davis.) The laptop scored 8.51Mbps downstream and 3.83Mbps up, roughly the same as smartphone performance in these areas and suitable to work needs on the go, delivering on one of this laptop’s selling points.

The onboard storage is swift but is limited to a single capacity and a single drive. Only a solid-state drive (SSD), and not a chunky hard drive, could fit in such a shaved-down chassis, so the Swift 7 offers a 256GB PCI Express NVMe SSD as its storage solution. Like the screen resolution, that’s a bit underwhelming for the price, though it’s true that adding more solid-state storage gets expensive. That said, the MateBook X Pro includes 512GB, and the Blade Stealth is configurable from 256GB all the way to 1TB. The XPS 13 unit we reviewed does match the 256GB capacity, and its base model comes with only 128GB.

Acer supports the Swift 7 with a one-year warranty, which is typical of its class.

Alas…Slimmed-Down Speed, Too

Given that the Swift 7’s super-slim form is made possible by a fanless design, Acer’s designers had to cut the heat output somewhere to make it all work.

Acer opted for the Intel Core i7-7Y75 processor, a dual-core CPU that’s one of Intel’s lowest-wattage options, in an effort to avoid thermal troubles in a laptop this thin. But there’s a lot more about that chip, underlying its Core i7 nomenclature, that you should realize.

While the Swift 7 performed decently for general use—puttering around the desktop, browsing the web in multiple tabs, and running a couple of programs at a time—the limitations of the CPU became evident in more strenuous tasks. The “Core i7” in the name is a tad misleading, in this instance, not living up to the speeds that this tag usually implies. This is one of Intel’s Y-series processors, which are exceeedingly low-power CPUs with much lower base clock rates than Intel’s U-series chips found in many ultraportables. Combine a low 1.3GHz base clock speed and 8GB of memory (DDR3, not DDR4), and the Swift 7 underwhelmed on the productivity and multimedia benchmark tests I ran.

Its PCMark 8 Work Conventional score was so-so, roughly matching my experience in general use, but Cinebench, Handbrake, and Photoshop all posted low or slow scores…

Acer Swift 7 (2018) BM

Only a handful of systems we’ve tested matched that long runtime on the Handbrake test, as the Swift 7 really struggled to encode the short (4-minute) test video file with much haste. The other machines here were roughly twice as fast or faster. In a pinch, the Swift 7 can churn through CPU-intensive tasks or media projects, but it’s far slower than other pricey ultraportables because of its design constraints. Tasks that hit the CPU hard for long periods show up this laptop’s limitations the most, since the passively cooled design cannot sustain high burst clock speeds for long. The Core i7-7Y75 CPU may have a lofty Turbo Boost speed, but it can’t maintain it long due to this laptop’s thermal limits.

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Likewise, the Core i7-7Y75’s integrated graphics silicon means the Swift 7 is not much of a performer in 3D applications, but that is the case with most laptops in this category…

Acer Swift 7 (2018) BM

The MateBook X Pro stands above this particular crowd thanks to its Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics—a low-end discrete chip, yes, but discrete graphics nonetheless. That provides modest capability for less-demanding 3D programs or games, unlike the Swift 7 and its compatriots, which simply don’t have much to offer in that regard.

Battery life, on the other hand, is an area in which the Swift 7 did very well. Despite the chassis not leaving much room for chunky cells, the Swift 7 ran for 12 hours and 52 minutes (12:52) on our video-playback rundown test. That just edges out the MateBook X Pro and Spectre 13, while comfortably beating the Blade Stealth and XPS 13 by hours.

In this general crowd, only the 2018 Apple MacBook Pro’s 16:26 time or Lenovo Yoga 920‘s 22-plus hours (neither charted above) makes the Swift 7 look anything less than great. Given the Swift 7’s extreme emphasis on being so thin and light, it would be disappointing if you couldn’t tote it for extended periods off the charger. Acer hit the mark on this front.

Can Your Laptop Be Too Thin?

The Swift 7 lives up to its billing as a razor-thin ultraportable, and it looks sharp while doing it. It is long lasting, travels light, and packs a nice display, all key elements for work or pleasure on the go. It makes some compromises to achieve its class-leading size, though, and I’m not sure they’re worth the thinness for many buyers.

Having to include a very low-wattage processor hampers performance, and the value of shaving off a few extra hundredths of an inch doesn’t outweigh that concession for me. The alternatives are already very thin and weigh roughly the same amount, so beyond bragging rights, being the absolute thinnest doesn’t gain you much else. (Plus, some of the Swift 7’s less-expensive competitors top it in performance, screen resolution, and storage, so you’re paying a premium for the design in both dollars and in concessions.)

That said, if maintaining the lowest possible profile is the most important decision point in your purchase, Acer’s Swift 7 is a laptop you’ll be proud to carry around. But the Huawei MateBook X Pro remains our Editors’ Choice pick in its class, while the Dell XPS 13 and Razer Blade Stealth are excellent alternatives.


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