The Swift 5 is Acer’s classic “ultrabook”: a compact clamshell laptop with a compact and light construction, modern hardware, a non-touch IPS screen, a backlit keyboard and overall no major compromises.
As of late 2017 Acer updated the series with the SF514-52T model, a follow-up of the SF514-51 launched early into 2017, and this new variant improves on its predecessor on some levels, but also loses on a few aspects.
It has a few aces down its sleeve, like the design, unusually light weight and very quiet fans. But is it good enough to stand out in this highly competitive niche of modern ultraportables? That you’ll find out from our article below, where we’ve gathered our impressions after spending the last two weeks with this devices, with all its strong points and its quirks.
Specs as reviewed
|Acer Swift 5 SF514-52T|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, 60 Hz, IPS, touch, glossy|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake-R Core i7-8550U|
|Video||Intel UHD 620|
|Memory||8 GB LPDDR3 (soldered)|
|Storage||512 GB SSD (M.2 SATA 80 mm) + 1 extra M.2 80 mm slot|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Intel Dual-Band 7265), Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||2x USB-A 3.0, 1x USB-C 3.1 gen 1, HDMI, mic/headphone, Kensington Lock|
|Battery||36 Wh, 45 W power brick|
|Size||329 mm or 12.95” (w) x 228 mm or 8.98” (d) x 14.9 mm or 0.59” (h)|
|Weight||0.93 kg / 2.05 lbs and .16 kg/ .36 lbs for the charger|
|Extras||white backlit keyboard, HD camera, stereo speakers|
This laptop is available with either a Core i5-8250U or an i7-8550U processor, 8 or 16 GB of RAM, and 256 or 512 GB of SSD storage space. Follow this link for the latest configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article.
Design and first look
The one thing you’ll notice as soon as you take this laptop out of the box is its incredibly light weight. Acer says it weighs 2.1 lbs, but my scales actually measured just 2.05 lbs, which is unmatched by other fully bread ultraportables with a 14-inch screen and latest generation hardware (as of November 2017). The LG Gram 14 is the only one that comes close at 2.16 lbs, while other similar devices are heavier, like the Asus Zenbook UX430UA (2.75 lbs), Asus Pro B9440 (2.38 lbs) or the Lenovo IdeaPad 720s (3.25 lbs).
Two aspects made this possible: an entirely magnesium alloy build and a small battery, which we’ll address in a further section.
As far as the build goes, the outer-shell and inner-chassis are made out of different magnesium alloys (magnesium-lithium for the outer-shell and magnesium-aluminum for the inner deck), so the Swift 5 doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy in any way. There’s very little flex in the lid and the main-deck, but you’ll barely notice it in the keyboard area with everyday use and typing, which I can’t say about all the metal made alternatives out there. Acer went with these materials in order to save weight, as they are 30-40% lighter than standard aluminum.
The finishing is also quite nice: it feels soft to the touch, but with a slightly rougher texture that does a surprisingly good job at fending away smudges and fingerprints. I’m not sure how well these magnesium surfaces will age though, but out of the box this Swift 5 looks great and is built well.
Our version comes in a dark blue color that reminds me of the Asus Zenbook Primes. The Swift 5 even gets some yellow accents that make the resemblance even greater: the bar that includes the hinges and the yellow writing on the keys. The design is clean though, with just some Acer logos on the lid and underneath the screen. The status LEDs are tucked on the sides and out of view, but you’ll want to peel those ugly stickers that come attached to the palm-rest and the screen.
This new Swift 5 is also fairly practical. It sits firmly on on the desk, gets a roomy interior and fairly blunt edges, which corroborated with a low front profile means they won’t bite into your wrists with most use cases. You’ll need however two hands to open the screen and there’s no notch for the fingers to grab it from either. The hinge is otherwise sturdy and keeps the screen nicely in place. It also allows it to go flat to 180 degrees on the back, a feature I greatly appreciate on most of the Acer clamshell notebooks and sure wish would be implemented by all the older OEMs, as it makes couch and bed use more comfortable.
The underbelly is simple and fairly standard, with proper intake grills towards the top, the rubber feet and speaker cuts on the sides. The exhaust grill is placed behind the hinge, as on most other laptops with similar designs, and there’s enough room between the shell and the hinge for the air to properly flow though.
As far as the IO goes, it’s a little lacking. On one hand you do get two full-size USB-A slots, and USB-C port (gen 1) and HDMI, but on the other there’s no Thunderbolt 3 and not even a card-reader. As a side note, all the existing connectors, as well as the PSU, are placed on the right edge, which can make it difficult to use a mouse on a smaller desk.
In a nutshell, the Swift 5 is not like most other modern clamshell laptops. Acer went with a nice magnesium construction that helps keep the computer very light. It’s also compact and well built, but the IO is not on par with today’s expectations.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard is standard for an Acer laptop and if you’ve tried one of the previous Swifts and even the Aspire devices in the last year or so, you’ll know what to expect in terms of layout and feedback.
The layout is mostly fine, with proper sized and spaced keys, but the Power Button is integrated as the top right-key and the arrows are small and cramped in by the dedicated PgUp and PgDn buttons.
As far as the typing experience goes, the keys have a soft smooth finishing and feel nice to the touch. They’re also rigid, which corroborated with the overall firmness of the main deck should lead to a solid experience, but as the same I also found them a little tacky and hard to press, which for me translated in a lower than average typing speed, but good accuracy. This keyboard is also fairly noisy, in case you plan to use it in a very quiet place.
It’s of course backlit as well with white LEDs, but the writing on the keys is yellow as I mentioned earlier. There’s no brightness selection, you only get to opt between activating and completely deactivating the backlightning.
The trackpad is wide and aligned a little to the left of the laptop. It’s perhaps not as tall as on other laptops, as the keyboard sits fairly low onto the main-deck, but its size shouldn’t be a concern for the average users.
It’s a clickpad made by Synpatics, with Precision drivers, so it works well with everyday activities, swipes, taps and gestures. The surface is made out of plastic (as far as I can tell), but has a nice finishing with the right balance of smoothness and friction. It also works well with one finger on the click areas. The clicks are stiff and fairly loud though.
Acer also integrates a fingerprint sensor on this laptop, beneath the arrow keys, which is properly sized and works well with Windows Hello.
For some reason Acer skimmed on the panel quality on this laptop and went with the same AU Optronics 14-inch panel they use on the lower end Swift 3 series, which is just not good enough for a laptop in the $1000 price-range.
It’s still and IPS panel, so the viewing angles and contrast are decent and even the color-gamut is fairly alright (for a 6bit panel), but the brightness is definitely subpar at only up to 200 nits in the middle, as you can see below:
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUD213D (B140HAN02.1);
- Coverage: 100% sRGB, 86% NTSC, 79% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.1;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 213 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 640:1;
- White point: 6300 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.33 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 3.27default, 1.81 calibrated.
You can use our calibrated profile to address some of the issues, but there’s no way to fix the dimness, which corroborated with the screen’s glossy coating, makes the Swift 5 unusable in any sort of bright environments, both indoors or outdoors.
It will do if you plan to keep in inside all the time though, and if that’s the case you’ll probably like that the brightness distribution is fairly good, the panel doesn’t use PWM for modulation and I didn’t notice any obvious screen bleeding around the edges. This is also a touchscreen, although it’s weird that the glass doesn’t cover the bezels as well, as with most other touch laptops.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Hardware wise the Swift 5 is built on the latest platform available at this point, with a KabyLake-R Core i7-8550U processor, but only 8 GB of RAM and SATA M.2 storage. I didn’t get to try PCIe SSDs and can’t say for sure if they’re compatible, but judging on the implemented M.2 connector, they should be.
This laptop actually gets two M.2 slots inside, so you can even connect two SSDs in RAID for extra speed or redundance. Accesing the internals is a simple task, you’ll just ahve to unscrew the Torx T5 screws that are easily noticeable on the back, as there are no other screws hidden anywhere, and then just pop out the back panel with a plastic tool.
Inside you’ll notice that the RAM is soldered, so the only components that are replaceable are the storage sticks, the Wi-Fi module and the battery. You’ll also notice there’s a fair amount of unused space in here, especially around that small-capacity battery and the cooler, so there was plenty of room for a larger battery.
As far as performance goes, the i7-8550U is a quad-core 15 W processor and a significant upgrade from the dual-core Kaby Lake CPUs that motorizes most of the laptops released earlier this year. It’s only paired with 8 GB of RAM on our version, but the retail models come with 16 GB of memory for the i7 configuration and 8 GB for the i5. The i5-8250U variant is the right choice for everyday use though, as it’s cheaper and a little more efficient than the i7, while fast enough for daily chores and even some of the more demanding loads, as you can see in this dedicated article.
Our sample performed well with movies and browsing and other daily activities, as you can see below.
It’s a pre-production model though and for some reason it didn’t do that well with high-performance loads like games and benchmarks, with the CPU being down-clocked more aggressively than on other laptops built on the same platform.
As a result I’m not going to add benchmarks results here, but will show you the logs recorded when running Cinebench and games. You’ll notice that while this i7 should run on average at 15W, it only ran at about 9W in continuous loads on this implementation, which translated in low temperatures and quiet fans, but also lower test scores. However, i’t impossible to tell whether the final retail units are going to perform the same or closer to the true potential of this KabyLake-R platform (but also hotter), so you should read a few other reviews as well before drawing conclusions.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
Acer went with a very basic cooling implementation on this Swift 5, with one fan and one heatpipe. Cool air is sucked from the generous intakes on the bottom and blown our though the cut behind the hinge.
The fan stays off with most everyday use and even general multitasking, which is greatly appreciated and hardly something most other laptops offer. It does occasionally kick in with heavier multitasking, but it’s barely audible (about 37 dB at head-level) and switched off quickly once the demand drops. So for the most part, you can say this laptop runs fanless with daily use. I also didn’t notice any sort of coil whining or electric noise.
The fan is active with games and benchmarks, but even at this point it never gets past 40 dB at head-level, making it one of the quietest I’ve ever came in touch with on any ultraportable. This however might differ on the final retail versions, because as I mentioned above, our implementation does not run at the best of the platform’s abilities and thus is cooler and easier to keep at bay by a slow-revving fan.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing NFS: Most Wanted for 30 minutes
For connectivity Acer went with an Intel dual-band AC 7265 wireless module that also includes Bluetooth 4.1. The drivers, the 2×2 MIMO system of antennae and perhaps the magnesium case all join forces and make this Swift 5 one of the fastest performing notebooks with my test setup, especially while near the router. The speeds drop at 30 feet with a wall in between on 5 GHz, but you can always switch to a 2.4 GHz connection to get better performance in this case.
As far as the speakers go, there are two of them implemented on the sides and firing down into the desk. These are averagely loud (78-80 dB at head-level), but the sound quality isn’t that good and they distort at high volumes. Normally distortions occur with low-end sounds on this kind of small laptop speakers, but in this case the lows are decent (noticeable from 85 Hz) and the highs are problematic. Again, take this with a grain of salt and read a few other opinions from other reviews or preferably some final buyers who got the retail units.
I’ll also mention the camera and mics in this section, which are actually decent in a well lit room and should do fine for some occasional calls. They’re all placed on top of the screen, where they should be.
There’s merely a 36 Wh battery inside this late-2017 Swift 5 and personally I’d just fire the person who thought this was a good idea.
While the older Swift 5 got a 54 Wh battery and pretty much all the other laptops that matter get a 50-60 Wh battery these days, it’s impossible to understand why you’d want to sacrifice battery size, no matter the gains (which in this case translate in just a lower weight). That’s also perhaps the reason Acer also went with that dim panel, in order to keep power-use as low as possible, but even if this laptop runs more efficient than other i7-8550U implementations we’ve seen, the results are poor for a modern ultrabook launched in late 2017. Here’s what to expect (we set the screen’s brightness at 60%, which equals roughly 120 nits):
- 8.2 W (~4 h 20 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.3 W (~6 h 30 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 3.1 W (~11 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 4.1 W (~8 h 30 min of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 9.0 W (~4 h of use) – everyday browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
In other words, as long as you’re watching movies you should be mostly fine, but don’t expect more than 4 hours of life with everyday multitasking and any activity that involves browsing.
The Swift 5 comes with a compact and light 45 Wh power adapter, but there’s no quick-charging implemented and a full charge is going to take about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Price and availability
The Swift 5 SF512-52T is listed in some regions of the world as of late November 2017, mostly in two variants:
- Core i5-8250U, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SATA SSD – $999 in the US, 1099 EUR in Germany;
- Core i7-8550U, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SATA SSD – $1399 in the US, 1399 EUR in Germany.
Is it worth that kind of money? To put in bluntly, no, but I’d expect it will get much cheaper down the line, so you should follow this link for updated configurations and prices down the line.
While I initially liked this laptop and considered it one of the nicest offers in its class, two weeks later a I have at least three main nits with it: the small battery, the dim and glossy display and the price. The first two are deal-breakers for me, as I get my laptop along when traveling and need to use it in all sorts of conditions for as long as possible, which this Swift 5 just can’t do, so I just have to look elsewhere and ignore the aspects that I like about the computer, like the build and design, the keyboard and the fact that it runs cool and quiet.
If you can live with these, then perhaps this Swift 5 might be for you, at least until the other interesting options in the niche get upgraded to the KabyLake-R quad-cores. But even so I advise you to at least check those out before taking the plunge on this one.
The competition includes devices like the:
- LG Gram 14 – around $1100 for an i5-7200U, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, but a nicer matte screen, 60 Wh battery and 2.16 lbs case;
- Acer Swift 3 – starts at $700 for an i5-8250U with Nvidia MX150 graphics, 8 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD, similar screen, 48 Wh battery and much heavier 3.8 lbs case;
- Asus Zenbook UX430UA – under $1000 these days for an i7-8550U, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB NVMe SSD, 50 Wh batery and 2.75 metallic case – it also gets a nicer screen, but with potential PWM problems, look it up on Youtube for details;
- Asus Pro B9440 – around $950 for the i5-7200U, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, but a nicer matte screen, 48 Wh battery and 2.38 lbs case;
- Lenovo IdeaPad 720s – under $800 for the i5-8250U, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, again a nicer screen(glossy, non-touch), 56 Wh battery, but a heavier 3.25 lbs case.
In other words, you can get similar configurations for less, but in heavier laptops, or you can opt for other light options with nicer screens and larger batteries, but with older dual-core processors (which are slower than these modern quad-cores, but still good enough for everyday use).
Anyway, that’s the Acer Swift 5 SF514-52T in a nutshell. It could have been great, but it’s in fact one of the worst updates Acer released this year, and hopefully they’ll do things better next time. Let me know what you think about it in the comments section below, or get in touch if you have any feedback or comments.