Today, we're going to look at Acer's new Swift 3 (Ryzen model), a general-purpose budget laptop aimed at anybody looking for a general-purpose laptop. It doesn't cost a ton of money, it has most of the devices and features most people will look for in a laptop, and it's equally appropriate for teens who need a school laptop or adults who need an inexpensive work laptop.
We got our first look at a Ryzen 4000-powered laptop back in April, with the Asus Zephyrus G14 gaming laptop. The Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU in that gaming laptop was phenomenal, even if the rest of the laptop didn't quite live up to its promise. The Swift 3 in many ways continues that story—one of a laptop that's built cheaply to hit lower price points within its general class, but has a lot more power under the hood than you'd typically expect at that price point.
Acer Swift 3
$680 at Amazon (Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.) At 2.7 pounds and 16mm thick, the Swift 3 is surprisingly sleek and lightweight for a 14-inch laptop—Dell's Latitude 14 3410 series, for example, is 2mm thicker and 0.8 pounds heavier. The Swift 3 doesn't look particularly stylish—nobody's going to mistake it for a MacBook Air, XPS 13, or Dragonfly Elite—but its no-nonsense silver chassis and black display bezels aren't going to embarrass anybody, either. For the most part, the only thing this laptop says about itself is "I am a modern laptop," and that's not a bad thing.
We wouldn't recommend the Swift 3 for especially young or careless children; its light weight and inexpensive design comes at the cost of a little increased flexibility in places where you'd probably rather not have it. We don't see that being an issue for anyone who's relatively respectful of their electronics, though, and wouldn't hesitate to throw a Swift 3 in a laptop backpack with a bunch of other gear; it would travel fine.
The Swift 3's cooling system is respectable without particularly standing out. It's never entirely quiet, but in most normal use, it's pretty innocuous—you likely won't hear it at all from a few feet away unless you're in a completely silent room. When the fans spin up to maximum, such is in all-core Cinebench R20 testing, they're easily audible from a few feet away, with a hint of whistle to the fan noise—but even at maximum flow, they're not really obnoxious.
|Specs at a glance: Acer Swift 3 SF314-42, as tested|
|OS||Windows 10 Home|
|CPU||2.0GHz 8-core AMD Ryzen 7 4700U (4.1GHz boost)|
|RAM||8GB LPDDR4 (not upgradable)|
|GPU||AMD Radeon 7 core|
|SSD||Samsung 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD|
|Battery||48Wh 3-cell LiOn|
|Wi-Fi||Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6|
|Display||14-inch 1080p IPS|
|Camera||720p, top bezel mounted|
|Price as tested||$650|
The built-in speakers on the Swift 3 are mediocre but—are you detecting a pattern yet?—best described as "fine." They're perfectly functional for conference calls or watching a show on YouTube but won't impress anyone hoping to jam to something bassy. The 720p webcam follows suit, with image quality that's not up to snuff with a higher-end Logitech standalone but is about on par with the reasonably good off-brand standalones.
The keyboard is, in our opinion, unusually good for a budget laptop. There's nothing weird in the layout; all of the keys are where they're supposed to be, about the right size, with a nice amount of dead space in between them and a decent travel distance. Given that we're talking about a laptop, typing on the Swift 3 felt quite good indeed. The keyboard backlight is smooth, even, and bright—anyone relying on it for less-than-touch night typing will be pleased with it.
The touchpad is unremarkable—it tracks well, offers push-to-click on both left and right bottom corners appropriately, and we had no problems with accurate response to multi-touch tapping gestures. Just beneath the touchpad, there's a shallow indentation that provides purchase for the user's fingertips when opening the laptop—a nice touch we wish more laptops shared.
Some reviews have called out the Swift 3's display in particularly harsh terms, calling it unusable in even moderately lit spaces. Our Spyder 5 colorimeter reads the Swift 3's display at full brightness at 160 nits—which is, as other outlets have reported, less bright than average for laptop displays. By comparison, a 2019 HP Elite Dragonfly's display read 350 nits—but also by comparison, the desktop monitor next to our open-air test rig read in at only 105.
We found the Swift 3's display crisp, readable, and easily bright enough even under very harsh light. To demonstrate, we took shots of the Swift 3 running the BBC's relatively dim and soft Relaxing Oceanscapes video, with one of our photo floods aimed directly at it—you can see the results above. We don't think Swift 3 users are likely to have any genuine trouble with the display's brightness levels.
The one most obvious way the Swift 3 screamed "budget laptop" to us was the volume of shovelware pre-loaded on it. None of it is really bad, in the way Lenovo's Superfish debacle was. But if you just sit down and start using the Swift 3 right out of the box without taking a few minutes to uninstall all the garbage, you'll be bombarded with notifications and pop-ups every five or ten minutes for quite some time.
Somewhat to our surprise, even open source giant Mozilla apparently did some kind of shovelware marketing deal with Acer—we wouldn't normally call the Firefox browser "shovelware," but we did not appreciate the intrusive, Internet Explorer-style pop-up that jumped in our face while checking PCMark 10 benchmark results in the default Edge browser, either.
The notification spam isn't the end of the world—we didn't spot anything actually malicious, and we suspect it would all stop on its own after a week or two of intermittent user-bothering. To be fair, the XPS 13 had more shovelware spam than we cared for, too—so given the Swift's low price tag, we find it difficult to be too mad about it. But if you're a technically proficient Arsian considering buying the Swift 3 as a gift for a less-proficient friend or relative, you might want to think about spending 10 minutes clearing out the crud before handing it over.
We don't yet have a good library of budget conscious laptops to compare the Swift 3 to, so we had to make a choice when it came to showcasing it side by side with other laptops we've tested—we could either pit it agaRead More – Source