There’s a big market for ultraportables with an affordable price tag, sleek looks, fast hardware and a decent screen, and the Acer Swift 3 (also known as the Aspire S14 Spirit in some regions) is one of the better devices that checks all these boxes.
We’ve spent time with it and we’re going to share our impressions with you in this review.
In few words, the Swift 3 is a portable computer that starts at $499 in the US and for that kind of money you’re getting a well-built device with a metallic case and a slim profile, a 14-inch FHD matte screen with an IPS panel, a backlit keyboard, Core U hardware with SSD storage and a 48 Wh battery. All these for $499 for the base Core i3 configuration, or around $650 for a Core i5 with more RAM and storage space. A few corners were caught in order to make this a real product, as you’ll see in the article, but at the same time there’s nothing utterly wrong with it, so those of you on a budget should definitely have it on your list.
Keep reading to find out all about the Aspire Swift 3, where it shines and what could have been done differently.
Update 1: Our test unit is built on Intel Skylake Core U processors, but there are also Kaby Lake variants available as of early 2017. There are minor differences between the Skylake and Kaby Lake platforms, so pretty much everything mentioned in this review also applies to the newer configuration as well.
Update 2: As of mid-2017 there’s an updated version of the Swift 3, model name SF314-52, with quad-core Intel processors (Core i5-8250U) and dedicated Nvidia MX150 graphics. Check out our full review available over here for more details.
Update 3: As of 2019 Acer offers a few other updates, all of them more compact, better built and with higher-quality screens. You can find all about the SF314-55 and 56 updates from our detailed review.
Update 4: Another year, another round of updates. For 2020 Acer offers no less than three different Swift 3 ultraportable variants, two 14-inchers based on either Intel IceLake or AMD Ryzen hardware, as well as a more premium 13-incher with a 3:2 screen and Intel IceLake hardware. You’ll find all about them from this detailed article and our recent reviews.
Specs as reviewed
|Acer Swift 3 (Aspire S14) SF314-51|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, matte|
|Processor||Intel Skylake Core i7-6500U CPU|
|Video||Intel HD 520|
|Memory||8 GB LPDDR3 1066 MHz (soldered)|
|Storage||512 M.2 SATA SSD (80 mm)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Qualcomm QCA6174), Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0 slots, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C gen 1, HDMI, card-reader, mic/headphone, Kensington lock|
|Size||340 mm or 13.38” (w) x 235 mm or 9.25” (d) x 18 mm or 0.70” (h)|
|Weight||3.36 lbs (1.525 kg)|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, VGA webcam, fingerprint reader, available in Gold or Silver|
As of mid 2017 there’s an updated version of the Swift 3, model name SF314-52, with quad-core Intel processors (Core i5-8250U) and dedicated Nvidia MX150 graphics. Check out our full review available over here for more details.
As of 2018 Acer offers a few other updates, all of them more compact, better built and with higher-quality screens. You can find all about the SF314-55 and 56 updates from our detailed review.
Design and first look
I have to admit I was surprised by how well this laptop is built, knowing this is the entry level in the Swift family and given Acer’s past on builds and choice in materials. It gets a sturdy case with little to no flex in the hood or chassis, and even the bezel around the screen is excellently built. It doesn’t cause any significant bleeding on the panel and you can even press on it without warping at all. Aluminum is used for the entire outer case, attached to a plastic inner chassis.
We got to test the Gold option, but the laptop is also available in a more subtle Silver. I’ve added a picture of the Swift next to my XPS 13 to see how the Gold and Silver shades compare. There are also some black elements: the hinge, the large frame around the webcam and the rubberized strip around the display, which I personally find rather ugly, but that’s entirely subjective.
Overall, I feel this laptop looks a lot like a Macbook Air, with a similarly wedged shape and black hinge, but it costs a lot less and doesn’t trail it by much in terms of build quality.
The Swift is at the same time fairly light and compact, albeit not as compact as some other 14-inchers out there, like the Asus Zenbook UX410 or UX430 lines. It weighs around 3.35 lbs and is .7″ thick, which combined with the matte finishing that doesn’t show smudges or scratches easily, make it a versatile road warrior.
This is also an ergonomic device. It gets blunt edges and round corners, perfect for grabbing and using it, but I did notice some sharp edges on the bottom, where the underbelly attaches to the inner-frame. The interior is also smooth and roomy, with a spacious palm-rest and a fingerprint-reader, useful for quickly logging into Windows.
The hinge seems to be well made and keeps the display well in place as set up, but at the same time allows to lift up the screen with a single hand and goes flat to 180 degrees on back. This particular aspect is a major selling point for those of us who use their computers on the lap or leaned on thighs while lying on the sofa or in bed.
One last aspect to mention here is the IO lined on the edges, which includes two USB 3.0 slots, an USB 3.1 port, HDMI video output and a card-reader. Some discrete status LEDs are also present on the left edge. The USB 3.1 port is not Thunderbolt 3 compatible and I don’t think Acer includes any adapters in the pack, but even so the IO is solid here and includes pretty much everything a regular user will need.
The Swift 3 gets a 14-inch screen with a matte finishing and an IPS panel. It’s not the best IPS panel out there, as it is really dim and you’ll struggle with it in well-lit environments, plus the color accuracy is rather mediocre, but it’s still miles better than an TN panel and as long as you’ll keep it indoors you should find it good enough.
I’ve added some stats and test results below for those of you interested in the technicalities, and you can also use our calibrated ICC profile if you want to get the most out of this screen in terms of color reproduction.
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN14C9 (N140HCA-EAB);
- Coverage: 69% sRGB, 50% NTSC, 52% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.1;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 202 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 580:1;
- White point: 6500 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.35 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 1.2 uncalibrated, 0.98 calibrated.
I did mention these before, but I’ll add them here once again. The hinge on this laptop is a top selling point, as it allows to easily lift the screen with a single hand and also allows it to lean back flat to 180 degrees, features that make a huge difference in daily use and are usually reserved for higher-end business-oriented laptops.
Keyboard and trackpad
The Swift 3 gets the keyboard we’ve seen on many Acer ultraportables before, with a rather peculiar layout that includes an extra row on keys towards the right. It’s nice to have dedicated keys for Home, End, PgUp and PgDw, but at the same time this layout will take some time to get used to and might cause some missed strokes when searching for Enter or Backspace.
The Swift 3 gets a good keyboard with backlit keys and an unusual layout, that will take some time to get used to
That aside, this is a pretty good keyboard. The keys have a soft finishing and a slightly concave shape, they feel great to touch and they also have a pretty good feedback. I’d prefer they were a little firmer and require a little more force to actuate, as they feel a little shallow. At the same time they could have been quieter, but given this laptop’s price range, I’d say it gets a really good keyboard for its class.
The keys are backlit and you can turn the illumination On or Off by hitting Fn+F9. You don’t get to choose between multiple brightness levels and the illumination is only activated by hitting a key and not by swiping your fingers over the touchpad like on the more premium options.
A large plastic trackpad sits beneath the keyboard and its surface is a little rougher and not as glidy as the glass trackpads out there. Still, it felt alright in my tests and actually performed really well both with standard swipes and taps, but also with gestures. I didn’t notice any jumpiness or stuttering, which plagues many other Windows notebooks these days. Well done.
On the other hand, if I were to find a nit with the trackpad that would be the physical clicks that have a very short travel, but at least they are quiet.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
We got to test the beefiest Swift 3 configuration available to date, with a Core i7-6500U processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 512 GB M.2 SSD, but retail configurations also include Core i3 or i5 processors, 4-8 GB of RAM and 128, 256 of 512 GB of SSD storage.
The CPU and the RAM are soldered on the motherboard, but the storage is upgradeable. Accessing the internals is a fairly easy job, as you’ll have to get past the back-panel which is a matter of unscrewing the handful of Philips screws around its edges.
Once inside you’ll find the M.2 SSD placed beneath the two fans, with a thermal protection on top. Acer went with a standard 80 mm M.2 SSD here and from what I can tell, only SATA solutions are supported, but even these are fast enough for daily use.
While inside you’ll notice a lot of duct-tape used to hold the various cables in place, but that’s probably because our sample is a pre-production model and not the final retail unit. On the other hand, you’ll also notice there’s a fair amount of unused space, especially around the battery, which means Acer could have went with a larger one and instead chose to pick the standard 48 Wh battery to save costs.
Performance wise, the Swift 3 is just as snappy as you can expect from a Core U configuration with SSD storage and enough RAM. It handles everyday tasks smoothly and doesn’t struggle with multitasking either. It can also run simpler games that the Intel HD 520 GPU can handle, as well as other demanding software like Photoshop, Premiere or maybe Mathlab, as the hardware doesn’t overheat or throttle in continuous loads.
In other words, this is a good computer for work, multimedia content and fun, and its lightweight and reduced price also make it a great option for students.
I’ve added some benchmark results below.
- 3DMark 11: P1638;
- 3DMark 13: Cloud gate – 5927, Sky Driver – 3831, Fire Strike – 847;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2918;
- Cinebench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 3193, Multi-core: 6708;
- Cinebench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 3920, Multi-core: 7327, Computer score: 48419;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 41.33 fps, CPU 3.60 pts, CPU Single Core 1.27 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 43.24 fps, CPU 316 cb, CPU Single Core 123 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 111.56 fps, Pass 2 – 20.71 fps.
I do have to mention there’s a fair amount of bloatware that comes preinstalled on the Sift 3 and you should get rid of it, or better yet, do a clean Windows install once you get this out of the box.These programs aren’t that taxing on the Core i7 configuration we tested here, but they take a significant toll on the Core i3 models with only 4 GB of RAM, in case you decide to go for one of those.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
As you might have noticed in the previous section, Acer put two small fans on this laptop. I can’t tell for sure if they are controlled individually by the CPU and GPU, but I believe they are not. Both are quite aggressive, spinning more often than they should. Launching a browser or a movie is enough to kick them on, but they will switch off when the computer sits idle or when you’ll use it for some basic tasks like reading and editing documents.
The fans do get a fairly high pitch hum, so you’ll hear them even at low speeds, but what’s more annoying is the constant electrical whining I noticed on our sample. Hopefully retail units won’t be plagued by this issue, but it’s something to be aware of and test on your unit once you get it. Just lower your ear on top of the keyboard and if it’s there, you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about.
On the thermal side, the Swift 3 runs cool with daily use and gets moderately warm in demanding loads. The outershell temperatures it reaches are pretty much standard for Skylake ultraportables with similar profiles.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
Connectivity wise there’s Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.1 on the Acer Swift 3. A Qualcomm QCA6174 module is used with 2×2 MU-Mimo antennae and the results are good both near the router and at 30 feet with 2 walls in between, where the speeds drop, but to still usable levels.
For audio Acer went with two speakers placed on the underbelly. They are moderately loud (88 dB at head level) and they sound alright, albeit rather tiny and with little base. I did notice that their placement on the bottom causes the sound to bounce of the desk and distort quite badly, and in fact that laptop sounds a lot better when it’s not placed on a flat surface or rather used on the lap or in any other case that doesn’t block the speakers.
Last but not least there’s the camera, placed on top of the screen, with that ugly black framing around the lens. It’s pretty mediocre, but should do for occasional Skype calls, and the microphones works decently as well, although I did find Acer’s take on them a little peculiar, as one sits at the top of the screen and another to the left of the keyboard, in a effort to isolate typing noise from voices.
Acer puts a 48 Wh battery on the Swift 3, but they could have gone with a larger one, as there’s plenty of spare room inside to accommodate it. Still, let’s not forget this is a budget laptop and a 48 Wh battery in its class is not bad, especially since the laptop runs really efficient.
We’ve added some results below (screen’s brightness set at 50%, which is around 120 nits), and don’t forget we got to test the Core i7 configuration, the Core i5 and especially the Core i3 models will run a little more efficient with video playing or light browsing.
- 6.5 W (~7 h 20 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 4.8 W (~10 of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 3.6 W (~13 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 4.8 W (~4 h 10 min of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 11.5 W (~3 h 10 min of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON.
- 25 W (~1 h 50 min of use) – gaming at FHD low details, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON.
A 45 W charger is included and a full-recharge takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The Swift 3 packs a 48 Wh battery and is able to squeeze 4 to 13 hours of use from it
Price and availability
The acer Aspire Swift 3 is available in three different configurations and I’ve also added their prices at the time of this post.
- base model with a Core i3-6100U / i3-7100U processor, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSD for $499 in the US and around 600 EUR in Europe;
- mid model with a Core i5-6200U/ i5-7200U processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD for $649 in the US and around 750 EUR in Europe;
- top model with a Core i7-6500U / i7-7500U processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD for $799 in the US and around 850 EUR in Europe.
Configurations with 512 GB of SSD storage are also available, and the prices are subject to change in the months to come, so you should follow this link for up-to-date configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article.
Looks like Acer are going the same route as Asus and seriously discount their products in the US, while keeping prices 10-20% higher in Europe. The base model is a good buy at $499, but not that much at 600 EUR, as those 4 GB of RAM are rather limiting, especially if you aim to keep this computer for a longer time, so the mid level configuration is the one I’d recommend buying.
The Swift 3 starts at $499 in the US
Acer did a really good job with their Swift 3 and I expect this to be popular in the months to come, especially in the US where it’s priced aggressively.
Update: As of 2018 Acer offers a few updated version of the 14-inch Swift 3 line, all of them more compact, better built and with higher-quality screens. You can find all about the SF314-55 and 56 updates from our detailed review.
Of course, you have to fall within its niche to consider it, and that means being someone who’s looking for a well-priced mid-sized laptop with a matte non-touch screen, the power to handle everyday activities and a big enough battery to run for 5-7 hours unplugged. On top of those, the Swift 3 is also a well built device with beautiful aesthetics and a good keyboard/trackpad, all in a $650 package at launch and probably cheaper down the road. On the other hand, you’ll have to live with the dim screen and rather mediocre speakers, but this aside there’s not that much to complain about here.
The Aspire Swift 3 is a surprisingly good ultraportable with an excellent price and very few flaws
At the same time the Swift 3 is both more affordable and an overall better device than its direct competitors, like the Lenovo IdeaPad 320s and 510s, the HP ProBook 440 or the more premium Zenbook UX410 and UX430 series. It’s also an excellent alternative for the mid-level 13-inchers like the Acer Aspire S13, Lenovo ThinkPad 13, HP Envy 13 or the Asus Zenbook UX305UA, all built on similar hardware. Hidden quality control issue might have an impact on how well this product will be received. I haven’t noticed any with our test sample, but that doesn’t mean they might not by there.
On the other hand, I feel the Swift 3 doesn’t give European buyers the same value for their
buck euro, but even if it’s more expensive over here it still remains a really good ultraportable and an option to consider.
In conclusion, the Acer Swift 3 scores a 4.25 out of 5 in this review, its price bumping up the score by .25 of a point.
With that in mind we’ll wrap this up here, but please let us know what you think about the Acer Swift 3 in the comments section below and get in touch if you have any questions or anything to add to the article.
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