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Acer Swift 3 review: A Ryzen laptop that packs a performance punch

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Although the Swift 3 is the second­-lowest-ranking member of Acer’s clamshell lineup – a range that includes the luxuriously slim Swift 7 – this latest version is no plasticky entry-level laptop: it has a 1080p, 15.6in IPS display, an attractive and durable aluminium build, and even an integrated fingerprint reader.

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There are numerous Intel-based Swift 3 variants, but the model we’ve tested is of particular interest. That’s because it’s part of the very first wave of laptops to use one of AMD’s mobile Ryzen chips, which have finally launched almost a year after their transformative desktop counterparts. It’s another attack on Intel’s dominance, this time in the laptop and 2-in-1 space, and the Swift 3 is in the vanguard.

Acer Swift 3 review: Design

Being a sub-£1,000, 15in notebook, the Swift 3 was never going to be very slim or light. Indeed, it’s a full 18.9mm thick when closed and it weighs 2.1kg. To be fair, that’s light enough that we could lug it to and from the office without too much discomfort, but we wouldn’t want to do so on a daily basis.

Otherwise, this is a commendably well-designed laptop for the money. Both the lid and the base are finished with a tasteful brushed aluminium, and that’s not just an effect: it’s a proper all-metal chassis that makes for a reassuringly sturdy base. The screen is also topped with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass NBT for even more durability.

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Heat-wise, there’s some mild warming of the top of the keyboard under heavy CPU loads, but nowhere near enough for it to be worrying or distracting while typing. The only real misstep is the downward-firing speakers, the positioning of which doesn’t help their already tinny sound – best to leave these for occasional voice call duties and pack some headphones for everything else.

One of the upsides of the Swift 3’s considerable size is that there’s room for a keypad, perfect for number-­crunching work. The keyboard, in general, isn’t too cramped as a result, either. In fact, at first glance, we thought there might be a little too much empty space between the keys. However, that fear was never realised, as we instantly got to typing quickly and accurately.

Acer Swift 3 review

This was, it should be said, in spite of some rather shallow travel depth and a lack of tactile feedback from each stroke, both common issues with scissor-switch keyboards such as this one. Still, at least it has white backlighting, which comes in handy for typing in less well-lit rooms, even if you can’t manually adjust the brightness.

We’ve no complaints about the trackpad: it’s generously proportioned, responsive to gestures, and smooth to the touch without feeling too glassy.

Sadly, the Swift 3’s screen is by far its greatest weakness. It gets off to a good start: the 1080p resolution is plenty crisp enough, the IPS panel provides wide viewing angles and there doesn’t immediately appear to be anything wrong with its vibrancy.

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However, continued use and our display benchmarks tell a different story. We recorded the Swift 3 covering just 57% of the sRGB colour gamut, and with a startlingly high average Delta E of 5.47, the colours it can show aren’t even accurate. Brightness also peaked at only 233cd/m², which means it will struggle with direct sunlight – a problem compounded by the panel’s glossy finish.

That’s not to say that the screen is a total bust. It managed a very respectable contrast ratio of 1,199:1, and together with a nice, low black level of 0.19cd/m², dark scenes in videos and even black-heavy web pages look pretty good.

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Acer Swift 3 review: Processor

Along with a middling yet adequate 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, this laptop gives us our first look at AMD’s Ryzen 5 2500U in action. It’s a quad-core, eight-thread chip, running at a base clock speed of 2GHz with a 3.6GHz boost, and packs integrated Radeon Vega 8 graphics.

The desktop Ryzen chips succeeded by beating Intel on heavily multithreaded tasks, and it looks like it might be a similar story for laptops as well: the Swift 3 managed an extremely impressive score of 62 in our 4K multitasking benchmark and 74 overall. That’s much higher than what a lot of premium, Intel-based ultrabooks have scored in the same tests, including the Dell XPS 13 and the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe. The latter costs around twice as much as the Swift 3, so this is an outstanding coup for this comparatively unassuming notebook.

Acer Swift 3 review

The Vega 8 graphics processor also appears to beat Intel’s most recent equivalents, HD Graphics 630 and UHD Graphics 630, and by some margin. Running Dirt: Showdown at 1,280 x 720 with High settings, the Swift 3 produced a handsomely smooth 67fps; on Intel’s integrated graphics, you’d more likely land in the 40-50fps range. It couldn’t quite handle 1,920 x 1,080 with Very High settings, at which it sagged to 23fps, but for basic gaming we’d much sooner opt for a Ryzen laptop over a Coffee Lake model.

Acer Swift 3 review: Battery life

Battery life, however, is awfully short. We measured it lasting a scant 3hrs 16mins in our video-playback test, so even with less taxing use, you’ll need to keep the charging cable to hand. We’ll need to run the same test on other Ryzen 5 2500U devices to see if this is the cost of higher processing power, or if the Swift 3 specifically just hasn’t been given a very heavy-duty battery. We’re leaning towards the latter, considering the chip’s fairly frugal 15W TDP.

As for that 256GB SSD, we recorded a sequential read speed of 466MB/sec and sequential write speed of 251MB/sec. We’d have preferred the latter to be a little better, but it’s all fine in practice, with Windows consistently feeling sharp and responsive. Since you’re probably not going to be dealing with massive video files or AAA games, that capacity should suffice as well.

Acer Swift 3 review

Another benefit of forgoing ultra-slimness is that you’re not limited to USB Type-C for physical connectivity. Here, Acer has stayed contemporary by including a (non­-Thunderbolt 3) Type-C port, but it’s joined by one full-sized USB 2 and two USB 3 ports, so juggling peripherals and removable storage is seldom a worry. Just as convenient is the SD card slot located on the right edge, and on the other side, an HDMI socket can handle video output duties even if the Type-C port can’t.

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Credit is also due to the fingerprint reader, a tiny pad positioned just below the bottom-right corner of the keyboard. Other than a couple of misfires, we found it generally reliable for logging in biometrically, and it works quickly, too.

Acer Swift 3 review: Verdict

It’s a shame that the Swift 3’s display can’t handle colours that well, as with so much multithreading power for the cash, it could have made a decent budget option for basic video and media editing.

However, there are lots of ways to harness that power, and you’d be doing so on a laptop that’s both well built and well equipped for connectivity and features. If you value performance over portability (and battery life), it deserves your attention, and as an example of Ryzen laptops, it’s a promising start.

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