Acer Swift 7 (2017)

This review is of the 2017 Acer Swift 7 model. To see our impressions of the latest version, check out our new hands-on review of the 2018 Acer Swift 7.

Since the arrival of the 12-inch MacBook, Apple’s rivals have responded in kind with enough super thin laptops to practically create a new subcategory. It’s one that we like to call ultra-thin, ultra-luxurious Ultrabooks, and the Acer Swift 7 wants to bring that experience to more people.

Acer largely nails the attempt, with a 13-inch gorgeous device wrapped in black and gold aluminum that’s not much thicker than an iPad with a sharp, colorful screen and extra USB-C port. But, corners cut in battery life and other premium niceties stand to hold the Swift 7 back from dominating any “best-of” lists.

Price and availability

There is only one version of the Swift 7 that’s available right now online through Amazon and other retailers for $1,099 or £999 (about AU$1,449). That premium nets you one of the latest Intel Core i5 processors paired with 8GB of memory and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) behind a 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display.

In some ways, what you’re getting here is well worth the cost, what with the Swift being an absolutely gorgeous device. In others, like the omission of keyboard backlighting and less-than-stellar battery life, it’s a less attractive proposition.

Design

The Acer Swift 7 embodies the idea of “sleekness” to the enth degree. Its black, anodized aluminum screen lid could almost disappear on a coffee table. 

Measuring just 0.4 inches or a mere 10.16mm, the Swift 7 is thinner than even Apple’s latest MacBook by a full tenth of an inch – the ultra-thin comes in one-hundredth of an inch thicker.

It’s just too bad it’s heavier than both of them at 2.48 pounds or 1.12kg.

The impressively slim Swift 7 offers a color scheme Acer hopes will appeal to a crowd both understated and ostentatious at the same time: a black lid paired with a golden, anodized aluminum keyboard deck and base. Always cool to the touch at the palm rest, the keyboard feels a bit squishier than we like, but has enough force feedback to help compensate.

Unfortunately, the keyboard here is not backlit. For over a grand, we’ve come to expect keyboard backlighting to come standard. And, considering Acer managed to get away with a smartphone-sized, 2,770mAh battery inside, we think it could’ve been included.

One check in the “pro” category here is the oversized trackpad, which makes navigating via gestures much more comfortable and easy. Also, since this trackpad uses Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad software, palm rejection is on point and controllable right within the operating system’s mouse settings.

Regardless, the Swift’s chassis is gorgeous and sharp – both literally and figuratively. (We feel as if you could cut food with those edges.) Plus, to make up for the down-firing speakers, the included Dolby Audio works to enhance sound to great effect, especially during meetings.

Acer Swift 7

Meet the anti-MacBook

While it’s not the only one, Acer can’t seem to resist butting heads with its ultimate rival, Apple, head on. Look at even how the Swift 7 is specced out at just one option. The low-frequency, 1.2GHz Intel Core i5 processor is just a smidge above that of the 1.1GHz Intel Core m-series processors inside the MacBook. 

To further the point, the Swift 7’s starting RAM and storage are identical to the MacBook’s and, while the resolution isn’t as sharp nor does it offer keyboard backlighting, Acer serves up a second USB-C port. If you look at the MacBook and think you don’t quite need that sharp of a screen or you need more ports, who is there waiting for you?

We’ve made our point, but how does that angle shake out for Acer?

First reviewed February 2017

When considering the Acer Swift 7 from a value perspective, you’re frankly left with a conundrum. That’s in part due to the components on offer for the price, but also thanks to how the system performs in a key area: battery life.

Coming back to the MacBook comparison, the Swift 7 goes for a flat fee of $1,099 (£999, about AU$1,449), which gets you a 13.3-inch, 1080p IPS display, a dual-core, 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-7Y54 (Kaby Lake 7th generation) processor, 8GB of memory and 256GB of SATA solid-state storage in an all-aluminum laptop without keyboard backlighting.

Now, take the stock, $1,299 (£1,249, AU$1,999) 12-inch MacBook. A 2,304 x 1,440-resolution Retina display, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe flash drive accompany a dual-core Intel Core m3 (Skylake 6th generation) processor. However, where the MacBook offers expectedly snazzy keyboard lighting, it houses just one USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port to the Swift 7’s two USB-C (3.1) ports.

One final difference here is the storage on offer. The Swift 7’s SATA-based SSD is a bit slower than the MacBook’s PCIe-based flash drive, despite being equal in capacity. This means somewhat slower read and write speeds from the Swift 7 against the MacBook.

So, with such heavy pros and cons in either direction, which is the better value depends entirely upon your individual needs and what you want out of a laptop. And, this isn’t even getting into the performance end of the equation.

While everyday performance with the Swift 7 was practically flawless, the use of a low-power Kaby Lake Core i-series processor helps keep it in league with close rivals in benchmarks – both of which employ last-generation Core m chips – not ahead of them.

This is a good example of Kaby Lake’s more incremental upgrades aimed at efficiency. So, it’s not rare to see the MacBook with a Core m5 oust the Swift 7 in Geekbench 3, for instance.

That said, again, everyday tasks on the Swift are performed without issue and, frankly, with joy in the face of the IPS display. Video meetings are even a delight, thanks to voice enhancements the included Dolby Audio software provides and the sharp webcam.

However, for the price, what we do take a bit of issue with is the battery life.

Battery life

The Swift 7’s smartphone-sized, 2,770mAh battery lasted for just 4 hours and 19 minutes in the typically brutal PCMark 8 battery test, and just another hour and 22 minutes in our local video playback test. Compare that 5 hours and 41 minutes to the 7 hours and 10 minutes boasted by Apple’s MacBook in a similar test.

In this subcategory of ultra-thin luxury Ultrabooks that has emerged over the past year or so – not coincidentally following the first 12-inch MacBook – few, if any, have been able to match the MacBook’s battery life. It’s funny how this exact same dynamic occurred with the MacBook Air’s early rivals…

All in all, the Swift 7 is an impressively-designed little laptop that, admittedly, cuts some serious corners to present a cheaper, comparable alternative to the, frankly, exuberant MacBook. If you crave that experience for less cash, just know what deal you’re getting into.

We liked

The Swift 7 is one of the best-designed Windows laptops of this year, but cuts a few too many corners to offer itself up as the foil to an ultimate rival. That said, we thoroughly enjoyed our time using the Swift 7 with its snappy inputs and excellent feel – so much so as to make up for those shortcomings somewhat. Using the Swift 7 simply feels good.

We disliked

That said, we wish we could actually use the Swift 7 for longer than around five to six hours, two hours fewer than Acer’s promise. Plus, the lack of keyboard lighting might seem superficial, but it’s a nicety we’ve come to expect on laptops costing more than a grand.

Final verdict

Like we said, the Acer Swift 7 is one of the most gorgeous laptops of the year already, but it cuts a few too many corners to offer up a more affordable laptop in vein of the 12-inch MacBook. Some might be inclined to think that, with a better screen, battery, keyboard and storage, that the MacBook is actually worth the $1,299 in comparison, and it’s tough to argue with them.

But, for the right user seeking a MacBook-like experience without paying the hefty premium, they might be able to overlook the warts and enjoy this otherwise beautiful device. Besides, five to six hours battery life is longer than most flights in the US at least.

Joe Osborne
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