There aren’t many Windows laptops with 3:2 displays out there, and this is the niche Acer aims-for with their 2020 Swift 3 SF313-52 model.
Most notebooks get wider 16:9 screens, with some moving to 16:10 displays lately, such as the Dell XPS 13 or the LG Gram 17. 16:9 displays are ideal for watching movies, but 16:10 or 3:2 options offer more vertical space and are more productive for work and even regular use. To put it simply, you can see more content on a taller screen.
Back to our Acer Swift 3, it gets a 13-inch 3:2 high-resolution display, without touch. This is implemented in a mid-range product, announced at $699 MSRP at launch. That kind of money will get you a sturdy magnesium build and lightweight chassis, excellent IO considering the current miniaturization trends, a full-size backlit keyboard, an Intel IceLake hardware platform with LPDDR4 memory and SSD storage, as well as a pretty big 56 Wh battery.
All these make the 2020 Swift 3 SF313-52 a competitive mid-range ultrabook and one of the best-priced options to meet Intel’s Project Athena requirements. It’s not without quirks, though, as you’ll find from this detailed review that gathers our impressions after spending the last week with the 13-inch Swift 3 as our daily driver.
Specs as reviewed – Acer Swift 3 SF313-52/G
||Acer Swift 3 SF313-52/G
||13.5 inch, 2256 x 1504 px, 3:2, IPS, glossy, non-touch, BOE NE135FBM-N41 panel
||Intel Ice Lake Core i5-1035G4 CPU, quad-core
||Intel Iris Pro G4, Gen11 with 48 EUs (optional Nvidia MX350 graphics)
||8 GB LPDDR4x (soldered, dual-channel)
||512 GB SSD (Intel HFM512GDJTNI-82A0A – M.2 2280 PCIe x4)
||WiFi 6 Gig+ (Intel AX201), Bluetooth 5.0
||1x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-A 2.0, 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, mic/headphone, Lock
||56 Wh, 45W charger (barrel-plug)
||302 mm or 11.91” (w) x 234 mm or 9.21” (d) x 16 mm or 0.63” (h)
||2.53 lbs (1.15 kg)+ .53 lbs (.24 kg) charger, EU version
||white backlit keyboard, HD webcam, stereo speakers, finger sensor
Our model is a mid-tier configuration, with the Intel Core i5-1035G4 processor, 8 GB of LPDDR4x RAM and a 512 GB PCIe SSD, well suited for an everyday ultrabook and portable school/work laptop. Higher tier configurations get the Core i7-1065G7 processor with the faster Iris Pro G7 graphics and 16 GB of RAM, and there’s also the option for the Nvidia MX350 dGPU, most likely a direct followup of the MX250 implemented on current ultraportables. I wouldn’t pair that with an IceLake i7 configuration, as it would negate the improved iGPU in the 10nm Intel hardware.
Design and construction
For this lineup, Acer went with the same magnesium-alloys build they’ve also implemented in the 14-inch 2020 Swift 3 update. It’s sturdy and feels alright to the touch, yet not as premium as the materials you’ll get in higher-tier devices.
What it does is allows the Swift 3s to be some of the lightest products in their classes, with the Swift 3 SF313-52 weighing around 2.5 lbs even though it’s a larger product in order to accommodate the taller 3:2 display. The magnesium shell also does a very good job at hiding smudges and even scratches on this lighter-color scheme, but keep in mind it still scuffs and scratches fairly easily, so I’d recommend using a protective sleeve when carrying this in your backpack.
As far as practicality goes, you’ll need both hands to lift the screen, but there’s very little else to complain about. The laptop is fairly compact for what it is, but still offers a full-size keyboard and large-enough arm-rest, plus a solid set of ports on the sides. You’re getting USB-A and USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 support, HDMI and an audio jack, so the only thing missing is an SD card reader.
Acer also implemented grippy rubber feet on the bottom and made sure there’s enough space between the exhausts (hidden behind the hinge) and the screen, so hot air won’t heat-up the panel. That’s especially the case for the iGPU only versions, which run very cool and quiet.
Finally, I appreciate the blunt front-lip and rounded corners, as well as the fact that the screen leans back flat to 180-degrees, excellent for those who use their computers on the lap or the thighs while laying on the sofa.
In conclusion, Acer did a great job with this product, setting it a step in front of the very few other 3:2 Windows laptops, such as the Huawei MateBook 13, from the get-go.
Keyboard and trackpad
The typing experience is not, however, one of its strongest assets, at least based on my experience with this test unit.
This is not the same keyboard from the 14-inch Swift 3s or the previous 13-inch SF313-51 variant, but a slightly more compact layout. Nonetheless, that’s not an issue, you don’t have to accept miniaturized keys or any of that crap, so the only complaints remain the standard ones for Acer keyboards: cramped arrow keys, a power button in the top-right corner and linked Enter and \ keys.
My issues are with the feedback and color-scheme. First, this is a very unforgiving typer that leaves no room for mistakes, due to its soft keys and very quick actuation. I’ve given it time, and several thousands of words later I still couldn’t significantly improve my speed or accuracy.
That aside, Acer went with silver keys and white backlighting, which makes the writing on the keys almost undistinguishable in most conditions. It’s difficult to read even with the illumination switched off, as you can tell from some of the pictures. The lighting is otherwise bright and fairly uniform, but with light creep noticeable from the normal use angle and with a very short standby time. The keys turn off quickly and don’t come up by swiping your fingers over the clickpad, as on the higher-tier laptops, but only by hitting a key.
As far as the clickpad goes, the design allowed Acer to implement a spacious surface, made of plastic and with Precision drivers. It works well with daily use and gestures, and the clicks are fairly smooth, yet clunky. However, just like on the 14-inch Swift 3, the surface rattles loudly with even the simpler of taps on this sample. Not sure if they’re going to address it on the final products, but it’s something to test for on your unit.
Finally, Acer also implements a finger-sensor on this laptop, pretty much similar to what they put on all their other Swifts and Spins. It’s placed towards the right side of the palm-rest and works fine with Windows Hello.
The screen, on the other hand, is a major step forward from what Acer implements in their 14-inch Swift 3 update.
For the SF313-52 they went with a higher-quality panel, with improved brightness, contrast and color coverage, as well as higher-resolution.
This is also a 3:2 panel, as mentioned already, so offers more space for content than a regular 16:9 screen.
However, it’s important to mention that this panel gets a glossy coating, without supporting touch. Some of you prefer glossy screens for their reduced graininess effect and punchier impact over perceived colors, but at the same time, glossy screens come with glare and reflections in bright environments, which is not an issue on matte panels.
I would have preferred a matte screen since there’s no touch, but it’s up to you to decide on this aspect based on your preference and needs.
16:9 screen vs 3:2 screen
Here’s what to expect from the panel, data collected with our Spyder4 sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: BOE BOE08BC (NE135FBM-N41);
- Coverage: 99% sRGB, 72% AdobeRGB, 76% DCI P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.33;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 398 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1006:1;
- White point: 7960 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.39 cd/m2.
Calibration is going to address the skewed white point and gamma imbalances, but once that’s done, this is going to be an excellent screen: sharp, punchy and without significant uniformity issues.
One aspect you should further look into is flickering, though. We don’t have the exact tools to measure for PWM, but we did notice flickering with our camera test even on higher brightness levels. Update: Flickering is going to be a problem here, as the screen uses PWM at 200 MHz for <90% of the brightness coverage (source), so the only flicker-free setting is at 100% brightness. However, that’s way too bright for regular use in most conditions.
Hardware and performance
Our sample is a mid-tier configuration of the Swift 3 SF313-52 model, with an Intel Ice Lake Core i5-1035G4 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of PCIe x4 SSD storage.
The i5-1035G4 is the mid-range IceLake CPU, a quad-core eight-thread processor, much as the Whiskey Lake i5-8265U it replaces, but built on Intel’s 10nm processor and running at lower default and turbo speeds. That aside, a bigger part of the design is reserved for the integrated GPU. The G4 is a Gen11 Intel Iris Plus UHD chip with 48 EUs (execution units), a 100% increase from the 24 EUs in the Intel UHD 620 embedded with the i5-8265U and 33% increase from the Intel UHD G1 embedded in the i5-1035G1 option.
The processor is paired with fast and efficient LPDDR4 memory and PCIe SSD storage. Our unit came with an Intel QLC drive, but you can add faster options instead.
Acer also offers the SF313-52 with the higher-tier i7-1065G7 Intel IceLake processor and optional Nvidia MX graphics. Opting for the dGPU makes very little sense on the i7 model, as it would negate its primary strength, the G7 Iris Pro graphics. Pairing it with the i5 might be worth-while, though, if you’re looking for increased performance in GPU-dependant workloads and games. Keep in mind though that the thermal design might struggle with such a configuration, so look for reviews that carefully go over the performance, temperatures, and acoustics of those Nvidia dGPU variants.
Back to our unit, getting inside is fairly easy and requires you to remove the back panel, hold in place by a handful of Torx screws. Here you’ll find the upgradeable M.2 2280 SSD and M.2 WiFi chip, as well as the basic thermal module, the tiny speakers and 56Wh battery.
Our mid-range Core i5-1035U configuration is primarily designed for casual use, for browsing, text-editing, and movies, which it handles smoothly while keeping thermals and noise at excellent levels.
We also tested our sample in more demanding loads. The Cinebench loop test runs Cinebench R15 for 10+ loops, with 2-3 sec delay between each run, to test for performance in taxing longer-term scenarios. The i5-1035G4 did well out of the box on the Best Performance Windows power mode, settling for its designed 15W TDP, frequencies of 1.9 GHz and temperatures of around 77-79 degrees Celsius. The 15W TDP allocation is the limiting factor here, and better performance could be obtained if Acer would allow the i5 to run at higher power.
Since that’s not an option, we further looked to improve the performance by undervolting the CPU, possible with the latest versions of Throttlestop. Our test unit ran stably at -100 mV, which translates in 10% improved frequency and scores within the same 15W envelope, with similar 77-79 C temperatures. We also got the same results with the laptop unplugged.
Furthermore, to test the performance in combined CPU+GPU loads that would simulate tasks like video encoding or data processing, we ran our 3DMark and Luxmark 3.1 stress tests. The system didn’t pass the 3DMark stress test, but did very well in Luxmark, constantly running at its 15W power allowance for the entire duration of the test. Of course, the CPU drops in frequency in comparison to the Cinebench test, as it has to split its allowance with the iGPU.
Most of these findings are in line with what we got on the 14-inch Swift 3, although the i5-1035G1 performed 10% better in the Cinebench loop test on that implementation and passed the 3Dmark stress test as well. That’s most likely due early-software on our test unit and perhaps some degree of silicon lottery, but overall I expect final i5-1035G4 configurations of this Sfit3 SF313-52 to perform slightly better than our sample.
Keep that in mind when going through the benchmarks results below. Here’s what we got on stock settings:
- 3DMark 11: P3346 (Graphics – 3178, Physics – 6104);
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: dnf;
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 674 (Graphics – 596, CPU – 2660);
- Uniengine Superposition – 720p Low: 3423;
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 5341, Multi-core: 16163;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1217, Multi-core: 3508;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 491 cb, CPU Single Core 162 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1148 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 135.25 fps, Pass 2 –28.64 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 110.18 s.
We also reran some of them on the -100 mV undervolted CPU profile:
- 3DMark 11: P3379 (Graphics – 3131, Physics – 6990);
- Uniengine Superposition – 720p Low: 3339;
- PCMark 10: 2419 (Essentials – 5713 , Productivity – 3021 , Digital Content Creation – 2228);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 540692, Multi-core: 16232;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1219, Multi-core: 3793;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 569 cb, CPU Single Core 164 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1262 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 151.12 fps, Pass 2 –32.22 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 101.25 s.
Undervolting helps improve CPU performance across the board. However, the system is still limited by the 15W power allowance, and there’s room for improvement if Acer decides to raise the limit towards 25W, which is an option for IceLake platforms.
The power limit is perhaps not that much of an issue for the i5-1035G4 version, but the i7-1065G7 would surely benefit from a higher TDP threshold in combined loads and games.
Speaking of games, we ran a few titles on our sample. The G4 is the mid-level Intel UHD Gen11 option for Ice Lake chips. For comparison, Intel also offers an i5-1035G1 version, with 33% less EUs (32, vs 48 on the G4), as well as the i7-1065G7 with 64 EUs, 50% extra of what the G4 offers.
Here’s what to expect in terms of gaming on the i5-1035G4 powered Swift 3 SF313-52. We’ve added our results of the i5-1035G1 powered 14-inch Swift 3 SF314-57, results of a Ryzen 3500U platform (from our review of the Lenovo IdeaPad S540) and an Intel i7 WhiskeyLake + dedicated MX250 graphics configuration (from our review of the Asus ZenBook 14), for comparison.
You should also remember that the Swift 3 SF313-52 offers a high-resolution screen, with roughly 60% more pixels than the standard FHD resolution on the other options. That means gaming on the native resolution is pretty much impossible with this sort of graphics, and overall a tough job even for the G7 Iris Pro on Nvidia MX configurations. You can, of course, lower the resolution in-game. Even so, keep in mind as well that most of the older titles that this hardware would be capable of dealing-with struggle with 3:2 aspect ratios.
||Swift 3 13- native
||Swift 3 13- FHD
||Swift 3 14- FHD
||IdeaPad S540- FHD
||ZenBook UX434FL- FHD
|Bioshock Infinite (DX 11, Low Preset)
|Far Cry 5 (DX 11, Low Preset, TAA)
|NFS: Most Wanted (DX 11, Lowest Preset)
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (DX 11, Lowest Preset)
|Rise of Tomb Raider (DX 12, Low Preset, FXAA)
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (DX 11, Low Preset, Hairworks Off)
- The Witcher 3, NFS – recorded with Fraps in campaign mode
- Bioshock, Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Tomb Raider games – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities
The logs below also show you what to expect in terms of hardware temperatures and CPU/GPU performance while playing games, on the undervolted CPU profile and native resolution.
And here’s what happens when playing games at FHD. I wasn’t expecting a difference, but there is one: the CPU runs at slightly higher clocks, and thus the GPU runs at lower.
Overall, while our i5 variant of the SF313-52 performed OK in daily use and tests, and final retail models will most likely perform even better, I think it’s very important to understand that this notebook is not meant for gaming, not even as much as other Intel IceLake or Nvidia MX models are. And that’s due to the unusual 3:2 high-resolution screen, a format that older titles will struggle with, paired with a resolution that will take a major toll on performance in the more modern games that support it.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
This 2020 Swift 3 SF313-52 gets a very basic thermal module, with a single fan and a thin heatpipe between the CPU and radiator, something it has in common with the 14-inch 2020 Swift 3 update.
Unlike on the 14-inch model, the fan inside this 13-inch version was active all the time, even with basic use. It remained quiet, barely noticeable even in a perfectly silent room, and we haven’t noticed any coil whining or electronic noises on our sample.
The fan kicks up with demanding loads and games, and while it remains quiet (at 37-38 dB max volume, at head-level), we did notice a rather annoying high-pitch tonality that bothered us when running demanding loads in a quiet room. The speakers cover it, so that shouldn’t be a problem as long as you’re listening to music or when playing a game, but will be in a quiet environment.
At the same time, the Swift 3 in this i5-1035G4 configuration barely passes 40 degrees Celsius on the underbelly with games, so thermals are never going to be a concern. However, i7 variants (if allowed to run above 15W) and especially the MX dGPU variants will run hotter and most likely noisier as well.
*Load – playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted for 30 minutes, fans 37-38 dB
For connectivity, there’s latest-gen WiFi 6 with an Intel AX200 module on this laptop. It did well with our setup and the signal and performance remained strong at 30-feet, with obstacles in between.
On the other hand, much like on the 14-inch Swift 3 update, for audio Acer went with some of the smallest speakers I’ve seen in a while. They are placed on the front lip on this 13-inch model, and still fire downwards, through grills on the belly. These are not completely awful, but it’s surely no surprise they sound mediocre, with nearly no bass and volumes of up to 70 dB.
Finally, there’s an HD camera at the top of this laptop’s screen, flanked by 2 microphones. These are fine for occasional calls, but the camera quality is still muddy and washed out.
There’s a 56 Wh battery inside the Swift 3 SF313-52, a bit larger than what’s normally included in mid-range ultraportables of this size. The Intel Icelake implementation proved, however, less efficient than the Whiskey Lake build on the previous Swift 3, which paired with the toll taken by the higher-resolution screen, translated in only average runtimes with multitasking, but good results with video and basic use.
Keep in mind that our unit is pre-production and the behavior might improve on final variants with a better-tuned CPU profile. However, the IceLake hardware also proved less efficient than Whiskey Lake on the retail version of the 14-inch Swift 3 we’ve reviewed recently, so I wouldn’t expect major differences.
Here’s what we got on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~60 brightness).
- 8.7 W (~6+ h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.7 W (~8+ h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5 W (~10 h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 18 W (~3 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
The laptop comes with a 45W charger (in this configuration) that plugs-in via a classic barrel plug. It’s a two-piece design with a small brick, and a full charge takes about 2 hours, but quick charging fills-up a big chunk of the capacity in under one hour. I didn’t have a USB-C charger around to test it, but USB-C charging should also be possible, based on our experience with other 2020 Acer products.
Price and availability
The Acer Swift 3 SF313-52 is not widely available in stores at the time of this article and is scheduled for early-Spring 2020, with a starting price of $699.
We’ll keep updating this section once we know more about final configurations and prices. In the meantime, follow this link for more details.
Update1: Top-tier configurations with the Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor, 16 GB of RAM and 1 TB of SSD storage are listed in Germany/France for 1099 EUR. No word on the lower-specced versions yet, though.
While not without quirks, I feel that this Swift 3 SF313-52 is one of the most interesting mid-range ultraportables you’ll find in stores during 2020. Hear me out.
The 3:2 screen is its major selling point, an excellent option for productivity in general or for a computer you’re using for school/work. Furthermore, the format is backed out by the bright and punchy panel.
Screen aside, this Swift is well built and light-weight, even lighter than some of the higher-tier options out there, thanks to its magnesium chassis. It’s also a practical computer with a 180-degree screen, full-size ports, and no sharp edges. Finally, with IceLake hardware on board, it’s snappy and capable enough for everyday multitasking, runs cool and quiet, and the 56 Wh battery ensures fair battery life, even with the toll taken by the higher-resolution display.
On the other hand, the screen flickering is a significant issue here, and inputs are not amazing on this laptop, as I wasn’t happy with the typing experience or the clunky clickpad. Furthermore, audio is tinny and the screen is glossy, although it doesn’t support touch. For some, these could also be deal-breakers.
Finally, the excellent pricing further adds to this product’s overall value, and I feel many will be able to look at the greater picture and get past its quirks, which is why the Swift 3 SF313-52 gets our recommendation and a high-score in this review. I wouldn’t necessarily go with an Nvidia MX variant, though, those might struggle with this sort of design and thermal module, so at least look for more detailed reviews before deciding if the gains in gaming performance would be worth it this product.
At the end of the day, though, I’m left craving for a higher-quality 3:2 ultraportable which would check all my required boxes. This Acer Swift 3 came close, but the unforgiving keyboard and glossy/flickering screen kill it for me, while the Huawei Matebook 13 reviewed last year lost points in the specs, IO and battery life department. Of course, there are also 3:2 Chromebooks to consider, but I just need a Windows computer as my work-companion and a Chromebook won’t do it for that purpose.
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