Acer Swift 3 review: Great features outweigh disappointing performance

Acer’s Swift 3 poses one of the more difficult questions for a tech reviewer: How do you rate a 13.5-inch laptop that you really enjoyed using, yet whose performance is otherwise disappointingly weak? 

This Swift 3 ticks all the other boxes that make for a great laptop: a beautiful screen, outstanding keyboard, and superb battery life.That’s why we’re slightly puzzled at how both Acer and Intel (which provided engineering input to Acer as part of its “Project Athena” program, now called Evo), apparently let the Swift 3 go out the door with such poor performance. Keep reading to discover how we balanced the better and the worse.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them. 

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52) rear Mark Hachman / IDG

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52-78W6) basic features

The Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52-78W6) we reviewed is the Intel-based version of the superb $655 Acer Swift 3 (SF314-42-R9YN), built around the AMD Ryzen Mobile 4000 chip. As our feature list below reveals, the -R9YN is substantially cheaper; you can skip ahead to our performance section to see how it fares there. Besides the processor, there’s one key difference between the two: The Intel-based version adds a Thunderbolt 3 port.

If you’d like a cheaper alternative that tones down the graphics performance a bit, the Swift 3 (SF313-52-52VA) is available at Amazon for $799.99 at press time.

  • Display: 13.5-inch (2256×1504, IPS), maximum brightness of 400 nits
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-1065G7
  • Graphics: Iris Plus
  • Memory: 16GB dual-channel LPDDR4X
  • Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
  • Ports: 1 USB-C (Thunderbolt 3, 10Gbit/s); 2 USB-A (1 USB 3.1 Gen1, 1 USB 2.0), HDMI port, 3.5mm jack
  • Security: Fingerprint reader (Windows Hello), Kensington lock
  • Camera: 720p (user-facing, with SHDR)
  • Battery: 56Wh (reported), 45.6Wh (actual)
  • Wireless: WiFi 6 (Intel AX201 802.11ax Gig+, 2×2 MIMO) and Bluetooth 5.0
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Dimensions (inches): 11.91 x 9.21 x 0.63
  • Weight: 2.62 pounds
  • Color: Silver
  • Price:  $1,099 at Costco

Build quality, ports, and security

As noted above, the Acer Swift 3 is based upon Intel’s 10th-gen Ice Lake processor. It’s also part of Intel’s first-generation “Project Athena” coterie of laptops, which were co-engineered by both Acer and Intel engineers. While Intel has expanded upon the Athena vision over time, the original Athena blueprint calls for a laptop to be instantly responsive and connected, with great battery life. We’d agree that Acer has met those goals, even though its 3:2 display doesn’t offer touch capabilities.

The Athena capabilities are highlighted by the ‘Engineered for Mobile Performance’ sticker adorning the chassis, and if you’re a…stickler…for a clean look, you’ll be busy peeling off the various badges that adorn its silver keyboard deck. We wouldn’t quite put the Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52-78W6) in the “thin-and-light” category, though at less than three pounds, the aluminum and magnesium-aluminum chassis is easier to tote around than its bulk would suggest.

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52) left side Mark Hachman / IDG

Acer’s Swift 3 offers a nice port selection, with both USB-C, USB-A, and HDMI connections. Even better, the USB-C port is Thunderbolt-capable.

The Acer Swift 3 isn’t a 360-degree convertible, though it folds back flat. The squarish 3:2 2256×1504 IPS screen may seem strangely tall ti those who are used to a more traditional 16:9 ratio, but that extra height comes in handy if you work in large documents or spreadsheets. Acer rates the screen brightness at 450 nits, well above what you might expect in a typical laptop, even one that sells for a bit more than $1,000. The color fidelity appears to be very good. The screen bezels are approximately a quarter-inch on the side (6mm), three-eighths of an inch (4.5mm) on the top, and three-quarters of an inch (19mm) on the bottom—nice and compact.

Biometric login via Hello is left to a fingerprint strip sensor just below the keyboard, to the far right. Fingerprint sensors vary, but strip sensors aren’t as accommodating as those built into the power button. If you’ve accidentally left part of your finger off of the sensor to either side, the sensor won’t allow you to log in. That was true of the Acer Swift 3 as well: During the few times in which it failed to acknowledge my finger, I found that I hadn’t positioned it correctly.

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