Acer Swift 1

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Tech Advisor - - Contents -

Acer’s Swift 1 is one of the cheap­est lap­top you can buy that looks a lit­tle like a MacBook. It’s slim, and has a metal frame with plenty of bright alu­minium on show.

Whereas MacBooks start at £949 for the ar­guably out of date Air 13, the Swift 1 costs £349 in the vari­ant we’re us­ing. Let that sink in: just over a third the price of Ap­ple’s cheap­est al­ter­na­tive.

Low CPU power and min­i­mal stor­age make the Acer Swift 1 suit­able for only light jobs like writ­ing doc­u­ments, surf­ing the web and stream­ing video.

How­ever, given the price, its im­per­son­ation of a £700to £1,000 slim and light lap­top is al­most con­vinc­ing.

Price

Our re­view unit, priced £329, has an In­tel Pen­tium CPU, 4GB RAM and 64GB stor­age. Shop around and you’ll also find a ver­sion with a much bet­ter 128GB SSD, for around £415. Rarer still is a Core i3 model (£580) with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. A £250 hike may seem steep, but in the jump up to an i3 CPU, the Swift 1 be­comes a very dif­fer­ent lap­top on the in­side.

De­sign

If a lap­top costs £350 or less, we nor­mally ex­pect to see a some­what thick plas­tic shell. The aim should be a solid, prac­ti­cal lap­top, not a flashy one, right?

The Acer Swift 1 is noth­ing like that. It’s af­ford­able, but still has a full alu­minium shell. Its lid, the key­board sur­round and the un­der­side all use plates of real

alu­minium. This is the sort of look that makes you ex­pect a £650-plus price tag, not a £350 one.

Acer has a his­tory of pro­vid­ing that ex­pen­sive alu­minium look and feel at a low price, hav­ing used the same tac­tic (and a sim­i­lar shell) in its 13in Chrome­book.

For the price, the Swift 1 looks and feels lovely, and there’s no ob­vi­ous sign Acer has done the job on the cheap. The pan­els don’t flex like card­board at the first sign of pres­sure and the alu­minium has an an­odized fin­ish just like sev­eral of the pop­u­lar ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tives. It’s a brighter, shinier fin­ish than some, but still looks great.

Let’s not just gush, though. There are a few signs the Swift 1 isn’t re­ally an ex­pen­sive lap­top. The dis­play has a black border around it, which isn’t the pret­ti­est look. And the dis­play sur­round is that of a clas­sic lap­top. Many new mod­els (in­clud­ing some cheaper ones) only have a few mil­lime­tres of re­dun­dant border around them. This one has – shock, hor­ror – about an inch to the left and right.

Its thick­ness and weight let it eas­ily slide into the ‘thin and light’ cat­e­gory, though. The Swift 1 weighs 1.3kg and is just un­der 15mm thick.

Con­nec­tiv­ity

The Swift 1 also has all the main con­nec­tions we like to see in a lap­top, in­clud­ing some you’ll miss by choos­ing a much more ex­pen­sive model. There are two USB 3.0 ports – great for the price – and one USB 2.0 socket. A USB-C port com­ple­ments these, although it’s pre­dictably only spec­i­fied to the 3.1 stan­dard, not the much faster Thun­der­bolt 3.0. A full-size HDMI and

full-size SD card slot fin­ish off what is a con­nec­tions ar­ray fit for a more pow­er­ful lap­top than the Swift 1.

Key­board and track­pad

There are also no nasty sur­prises in the key­board and track­pad ei­ther. Some su­per-af­ford­able lap­tops have keys that feel cheap, of­ten with hol­low-feel­ing feed­back or too much wob­ble. There’s none of this in the Swift 1. This is a rock-solid semi-shal­low chi­clet de­sign. Buy­ing this en­try-level model, you ben­e­fit from the fact there are sig­nif­i­cantly pricier mod­els with the same shell and key­board. Acer couldn’t af­ford to cheap out too much.

We used the Swift 1 as our main work com­puter for a while, and came across no is­sues. There is, and this came as no sur­prise, no key­board back­light. While some sur­pris­ingly af­ford­able lap­tops have back­lit key­boards, we don’t ex­pect one in a £350 lap­top that al­ready has bud­get si­phoned off to ac­com­mo­date an alu­minium shell.

The track­pad is sim­i­lar: not high-end but great for the price. Its sur­face is plas­tic rather than tex­tured glass, but then some lap­tops twice the price still use plas­tic. Swipes are rel­a­tively smooth and the click ac­tion is solid. It’s not too stiff, not too deep, not too loud and not bro­ken. As in so many other as­pects, the Swift 1 track­pad doesn’t seem like a melted Madame Tus­sauds mock-up even when stacked up against ‘real deal’ £1,000 lap­tops.

Acer has – although we’re not en­tirely sure why – also crammed in a fin­ger­print scan­ner to the right of the track­pad. This is a lit­tle mad in a £350 lap­top. It’s a lit­tle fid­dly com­pared to that of high-end lap­tops, but

does let you lo­gin with your fin­ger as promised. It just may take a cou­ple of at­tempts.

Dis­play

If the scan­ner is a case of Acer show­ing off un­nec­es­sar­ily, the screen is the sort of grand­stand­ing we’re a sucker for. The Swift 1 may be cheap, but it still packs in a per­fectly re­spectable 1080p IPS LCD dis­play, one 13.3in across.

At first it might seem the ‘1080p’ part is most im­por­tant, but ‘IPS’ is. Plenty of cheap lap­tops still use ‘TN’ screens that look bad from even a slight an­gle, while even an en­try-level IPS panel like this looks good from al­most any an­gle.

Not ev­ery as­pect of the Swift 1 is amaz­ing, of course. Colour is vis­i­bly a lit­tle un­der­sat­u­rated, cov­er­ing just 61.2 per­cent of the sRGB colour gamut. Tones don’t pop off the screen as they might in a £350 tablet,

but this is un­doubt­edly among the best lap­top dis­plays at the price. Solid con­trast of 985:1 also helps makes the most of this colour ca­pa­bil­ity. For a £350 lap­top, the dis­play looks very good to us.

It’s a matte screen too, which is bet­ter if you’re go­ing to use the Swift 1 out in day­light, or on a train with light stream­ing right through a win­dow onto your Ex­cel spread­sheet. How­ever, bright­ness is only just good enough to reach an ac­cept­able level for any sort of out­door use. The Swift 1’s max­i­mum bright­ness is 266cd/m2. You’ll re­ally want to see 350cd/m2 or above for best re­sults on a sunny day. But just by say­ing that we’re (once again) com­par­ing the Swift 1 to lap­tops twice the price.

This isn’t a touch­screen, but the dis­play folds back al­most 180 de­grees, rather than the usual 130. It’s not use­ful in that many sit­u­a­tions, but does make shar­ing what’s on screen eas­ier.

Per­for­mance

If you’re wait­ing for the rea­son why the Swift 1 is so cheap when we keep com­par­ing it to mod­els twice the price, the best an­swer is the CPU. Our ver­sion of the lap­top has an In­tel Pen­tium N4200 pro­ces­sor. This is a quad-core CPU with a clock speed of 1.1GHz and a ‘burst’ of 2.5GHz. How­ever, com­pared to Core series pro­ces­sors, even the Core i3, this is a bit of a weak­ling.

Us­ing the Swift 1 as we would any other lap­top, we found in­stalling and load­ing apps took sig­nif­i­cantly longer than with a Core-pow­ered sys­tem. And any in­tense ap­pli­ca­tions like video edit­ing or high-level 3D gam­ing are off the cards. How­ever, with this gen­er­a­tion of Pen­tium CPU, we’re fi­nally past what has put off rec­om­mend­ing most bud­get Win­dows lap­tops in re­cent years. Un­til this gen­er­a­tion, Atom and Pen­tiumpow­ered lap­tops could be bor­der­line painful to use at times even with light du­ties.

The Swift 1 and its Pen­tium N4200 feel just fine, with min­i­mal lag when you’re just coast­ing across the sur­face of Win­dows 10 and, say, us­ing the browser or WordPad. This is the level at which the lap­top is com­fort­able. But it’s im­por­tant as it wres­tles away some of the ap­peal of ‘pre­mium’ Chrome­books, which we’ve of­ten rec­om­mended over rock-bot­tom lap­tops.

You’ll need a lit­tle pa­tience, but not any­thing like some older en­try-level lap­tops re­quire.

The Swift 1’s bench­mark re­sults are, of course, pretty poor, though. It scores 1134 points in PC Mark 10, where a Core i5 will push 2700.

There’s a more telling com­par­i­son, though. The In­tel Pen­tium 4450U Len­ovo used in its IdeaPad 320S

scores 2295, mak­ing it much more like a lower-power al­ter­na­tive to a Core-series com­puter. Of course, the 320S is more ex­pen­sive, made of plas­tic and has a much, much worse screen. Com­par­ing the two on per­for­mance is just one side of the story.

Gam­ing per­for­mance is poor, again worse than the IdeaPad 320S, but no worse than we ex­pect from a Pen­tium CPU, which has a low-end In­tel HD 505 GPU. Alien: Iso­la­tion runs at an av­er­age 9.8fps at 720p, min­i­mum graph­ics. At 1080p with the set­tings maxed you’re look­ing at 3.3fps. We’re miles away from playable speeds.

We couldn’t even try our usual Deus Ex: Mankind Di­vided as there’s no enough room on the Swift 1’s pal­try 64GB solid state stor­age. But we’d be look­ing at sin­gle fig­ure frame rates no mat­ter the set­ting.

Gam­ing is not a to­tal bust, though. The Swift 1 can play Skyrim at 720p res­o­lu­tion, Low set­tings well.

One ben­e­fit of us­ing such a low-end CPU is the Swift 1 doesn’t need fans. It uses pas­sive cool­ing, like a tablet. It’ll be silent (or near silent) no mat­ter what you do. Putting an ear up to the ports, we can hear a slight al­most HDD-like noise from the Swift’s in­sides. It’s likely to be noise from the power sup­ply or an­other com­po­nent. Your Swift 1 may not suf­fer from it, and in ours it’s only au­di­ble if you go lis­ten­ing for it.

Bat­tery life

A CPU that barely uses any power makes you ex­pect a bat­tery that lasts for­ever. Acer says the 42Wh bat­tery lasts 10 hours, but in our ex­pe­ri­ence it’s not quite as long-last­ing.

Play­ing a 90-minute video on loop at 120cd/m2 bright­ness, the Swift 1 lasts seven hours 49 min­utes. While not a mind-blow­ing re­sult, it’s very close to what we tend to look for: a full day of work.

The speak­ers too are suf­fi­cient, but not spe­cial. While clear and largely undis­torted at higher out­put, they don’t have the vol­ume, mid-range bulk or bass of the best lap­top speak­ers.

Ver­dict

The Acer Swift 1 is per­haps the most ex­pen­sive-look­ing and feel­ing lap­top Win­dows 10 lap­top you can get for £350. A metal shell, solid key­board and track­pad, and a dis­play that sim­ply flat­tens more at the price in terms of per­cep­tual im­age qual­ity are all to be cel­e­brated.

There’s only one worry: per­for­mance. While the Pen­tium pro­ces­sor used here is sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than that of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, it’s a low-end chipset that will make more de­mand­ing tasks seem a real chore.

How­ever, for light use – emails, brows­ing, some ca­sual gam­ing – the Swift 1 per­forms fine. It’s also a great choice for hu­man­i­ties stu­dents, as the sort of es­say-mak­ing ma­chine you can com­fort­ably carry around all day, ev­ery day.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 13.3in (1920x1080) 1080p IPS LCD matt anti-glare dis­play

• 1.1GHz In­tel Pen­tium N4200 (2.5GHz boost) four cores, four threads

• Win­dows 10 Home (64-bit)

• In­tel HD 505 GPU

• 4GB DDR3 RAM

• 64GB solid state mem­ory

• 802.11b/g/n/ac sin­gle-band 2x2 MIMO

• Blue­tooth 4.1

• 1x USB-C 3.1

• 2x USB 3.0

• 1x USB 2.0

• HDMI

• SDXC card slot

• Stereo speak­ers

• HD we­b­cam

• Sin­gle mic

• 3.5mm head­set jack

• UK tiled key­board with num­ber­pad

• Two-but­ton track­pad

• 57Wh lithium-ion bat­tery, re­mov­able

• 319x225x14.9mm

• 1.3kg

• 1-year carry-in war­ranty

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