Acer Swift 5 Intel EVO Thin & Light Laptop
"The Swift 5 is light and fast, making it a comfortable 14-inch workhorse to take with you."
A performance that fulfills Tiger Lake's promise
Very thin and light
Solid build quality
Good keyboard and touchpad
Below average battery life
A bit expensive
I haven't evaluated many Intel Tiger Lake systems, but I've seen enough to know that there are kinks that need fixing. So far, there hasn't been a Tiger Lake laptop (officially reviewed or just benchmarked) that performed as I expected. Now Acer has released its latest Swift 5 based on the Tiger Lake platform – this isn't the only update to this premium microlight – and there is one more example that needs to be evaluated.
Acer sent me a well-configured machine with an 11th generation quad-core Intel Core i7-1165G7, 16 GB of RAM, a 1 TB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) and a Full HD 14 Inch IPS display. This Swift 5 configuration costs $ 1,300 on Amazon and includes some features that stand out from the crowd of premium laptops. My biggest question, however, is: has a Tiger Lake laptop finally got the performance of the chipset?
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Don't waste time answering this question: so far, the Acer Swift 5 is the fastest Tiger Lake system that I have personally reviewed or rated, and in Digital Trends' experience, it is only (barely) the only Tiger Lake reference machine surpassed that Intel sent us to see (which uses the faster Core i7-1185G7).
Geekbench 5 tells part of the story. The Swift 5 achieved 1,580 points in the single-core test and 5,836 points in the multi-core test. The higher-clocked reference laptop scored 1,563 and 5,995 points, which means the Swift 5 could more than keep up. Compared to the Asus ZenBook Flip S, which managed 1535 and 4913, the Swift 5 was significantly faster in the multi-core test. In some contexts, consider that the Microsoft Surface Book 3 13 with a 10th generation Core i7-1065G7 only scored 1,316 and 4,825 points.
However, in our more realistic tests, the Swift 5 performed well. First off, in our handbrake test, which encodes a 420MB video as H.265, the Swift 5 took a little over three minutes to complete. The Intel reference machine was only 17 seconds faster. The Asus ZenBook 14 UX425EA with the Core i7-1165G7 lasted four minutes in normal mode and 27 seconds longer than the Swift 5 in performance mode. The ZenBook Flip S also lasted almost exactly four minutes. The Microsoft Surface Book 3 13 also took four minutes, which shows that Tiger Lake is not yet consistently impressive in the performance department.
Next, I tested the Swift 5 in Cinebench 20. He scored 2,091 in multi-core and 542 in single-core mode. The ZenBook 14 was slower in both normal (1,746 and 497) and performance modes (1,766 and 498), and the ZenBook Flip S fell behind at 1,264 and 482, respectively. The Surface Book 3 13 managed 1433 and 429, which means that only one of these other Tiger Lake laptops was slightly faster than the Ivy Lake Surface Book 3, the Swift 5 was a lot faster. Then consider that the Intel reference laptop scored 2092 and 570 in Cinebench 20, which means the Swift 5 managed to stay close to the higher-clocked Tiger Lake machine again.
It's also educational to compare the Swift 5 to AMD Ryzen 4000 laptops. In Handbrake, the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 with the Ryzen 7 4800U finished the test in about two minutes, a full minute faster than the Swift 5. The Cinebench scores were 3,255 and 482, much faster in multi-core mode, even though the Swift 5 managed to improve it in single core mode. While Tiger Lake has the potential to beat its 10th generation predecessors, it can't compete with AMD's latest Ryzen chips on many tasks.
However, there is one area where Tiger Lake competes well with AMD's chips – Adobe applications. I ran our Premiere Pro test encoding a two minute 4K video on the Swift 5 and it took 11 minutes and 52 seconds. That's not fast compared to Intel's 45-watt parts, which can get the job done in under three minutes in some cases, but it's a lot faster than the Ryzen 7 CPU in the IdeaPad Slim 7, which is more than one Hour needed. The Intel Tiger Lake reference system lasted 11 minutes and 13 seconds, so the Swift 5 was competitive again. If you're an Adobe user, don't assume that an AMD system will better meet your performance needs.
If you're expecting enhanced gaming from the Swift 5 thanks to Tiger Lake and Intel's Iris Xe graphics, you're in luck. You get better performance than Intel's previous Iris Plus graphics and almost as fast performance as a discrete GPU like the Nvidia GeForce MX350. I saw 53 frames per second in Civilization VI at 1080p and medium graphics and 27 fps on ultra graphics. This exceeds the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 (Intel version) with the MX350 with medium graphics by 2 fps. In Fortnite, the only other game I tested, the Swift 5 managed 31 fps at 1080p and high graphics that dropped to 22 fps for epic graphics. The IdeaPad Slim 7 achieved 37 fps with high graphics and 24 fps with epic graphics. The bottom line is that you can play some modern titles at 1080p if you keep the graphical details in check – a serious improvement over the previous generation from Intel.
In short, the Swift 5 shows what Tiger Lake can do, at least when compared to the previous version of Intel CPUs. It's very quick in practice and I certainly didn't notice any slowdowns no matter what I threw at it during my review. As more Tiger Lake systems continue to be released and the inevitable initial issues with the chipset are fixed, this will be a significant upgrade for Intel users. And the Swift 5 will be hunting right there.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
The Swift 5 was updated with 10th generation CPUs in early 2020, but was otherwise identical to the 2019 version. The latest model of the Swift 5 brings more changes than just an update for Tiger Lake.
First, it's a little heavier at 2.31 pounds compared to last time versus 2.18 pounds. That said, it's still a remarkably light 14-inch laptop, just not quite as much as the last version. However, it's still 0.59 inches thick, which makes it a very thin laptop too. That's comparable to the ZenBook 14 at 2.58 pounds and 0.54 inches. In the thin-and-light category, 14-inch laptops have clearly proven their worth. The latest Swift 5 also benefits from smaller bezels all around (the chin is only slightly larger than some laptops with tiny bezels, but not by much), resulting in a 90% screen-to-body ratio. This is competitive with the latest Dell XPS 13, which weighs 2.65 pounds and is 0.58 inches thick, and is better than the 84.5% of the previous Swift 5.
The low weight of the Swift 5 is due to its construction from magnesium-lithium and magnesium-aluminum alloys. According to Acer, these materials are two to four times stronger than aluminum, but weigh 20-35% less. Certainly the Swift 5 feels sturdy, with a lid that won't bend if you don't apply too much pressure, a keyboard deck that is as stiff as any other, and a lower case that is just as stiff as any Has compliance. So the Swift 5 feels light, but it doesn't feel cheap. This is what you get when you use plastic to cut the pounds. I would love to see the hinge redesigned so that it can be opened with one hand, but it stays nicely in place.
The laptop's durability extends to the case surface, where Acer used a micro-arc oxidation process to create a finish that is hard as ceramic and resists scratching and corrosion. That's a good thing, because my test device has the optional mist green color (gold is the other option), which is quite subtle and elegant and deserves protection. The case itself is relatively simple in the gem-cut design compared to extremes like HP's Specter x360 line, but the color – including the yellow accents and keyboard lettering – and angles make the laptop look good overall.
The surface of the housing is not only more durable, but also more resistant to microbes. Acer created the first complete antimicrobial laptop solution that includes two main features that I have never seen on any other computer. First, there is a silver ion antimicrobial agent in a coating on the surface of the case, keyboard, hinge, fingerprint reader, and even the labels attached to the laptop. Even the rubber feet are made from an antimicrobial silver ion material. Second, the screen uses Corning's Gorilla Antimicrobial Glass, the world's first to bake silver ions for antimicrobial properties.
I won't go into all the details here – you can visit this page to learn more – but the overall solution promises a reduction rate of greater than 99.9% that involves a "broad spectrum of bacteria". Note that this does not say anything about viruses, so to my knowledge the solution does not protect against the coronavirus that is causing COVID-19. Even so, Acer is the first to take you seriously if you want your laptop to be bacteria-free.
Note that the Swift 5 is Intel Evo certified. That promises a few things, including an 11th generation CPU (Natch), Thunderbolt 4 support, constant battery responsiveness, waking up from hibernation in less than a second, nine or more hours of battery life, and four hours with just 30 Minutes charging time. As we'll see later, I'm not sure if the laptop lives up to the promise of actual battery life, but it does seem to meet the rest of the Evo certification requirements.
Finally, connectivity with the thin and light Swift 5 is a strong point. On the left is a proprietary power port (but the laptop charges via USB-C), a full-size HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP support, a USB-A 3.2 port, and a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4 -Support. On the right side there is a Kensington lock port, a USB-A 3.2 port and a 3.5 mm audio jack. Unfortunately, there is no SD card reader, which is disappointing.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
We have reached a point where most premium laptops (and many budget computers) have very good displays that fall within a relatively narrow range on most objective criteria. According to my colorimeter, this is almost exactly where the Swift 5 is rated – it's "average," but today's average makes a nice display for everyone but creatives who need the widest, most accurate colors.
First, the Swift 5's 14-inch touch-enabled display exceeded our preferred brightness threshold of 300 nits at 327 nits, and its contrast ratio barely missed our preferred 1000: 1 brightness at 950: 1. This is a great indicator for productivity work unless you are working outdoors in direct sunlight. An example of a similar laptop with a slightly better display in these metrics is the Asus ZenBook 14 UX425 with its 352 nits and a contrast ratio of 1060: 1. The Lenovo ThinkPad X13 Yoga is an example of that with just 274 nits and 720: 1 Opposite.
Next, the Swift 5's colors are good, but not great, just like most premium laptops. The coverage of the sRGB color gamut is 96% and 73% of the AdobeRGB color gamut. Most premium laptops are similar to the ZenBook 14 with 94% sRGB and 72% AdobeRGB. You have to jump to something like the Dell XPS 15's 4K display, with 100% coverage of both color gamuts, to get a display that creatives crave. The Swift 5 achieved a spot color accuracy of DeltaE of 1.27, with anything below 1.0 indistinguishable to the human eye and considered excellent. Note that the Dell XPS display had a DeltaE of just 0.73%, while the ZenBook 14 was slightly higher than the Swift 5 at 1.42%.
In real use, the Swift 5's display was a pleasure, with lots of brightness for my needs and black text that jumped off the side thanks to the (almost) excellent contrast ratio. Binging Netflix was pleasant enough thanks to a perfect gamma of 2.2 that nothing was too light or too dark. I have no complaints about the display.
The audio quality wasn't quite up to standard. First, the two speakers couldn't produce much volume even though they were 100% undistorted. The mids and highs were fine, but (as usual) the bass was missing. The audio system works well for occasional viewing of YouTube videos. However, if you want to watch TV shows, movies, or listen to music, consider using headphones or external speakers.
Keyboard and touchpad
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
The standard island keyboard is well spaced and has keycaps that were a little too small for my taste. The mechanism had a nice click but was a little loose, so I didn't find it quite as precise as my favorite keyboards, HP's Specter keyboard and the Magic keyboard on Apple's latest MacBooks. As a writer, I'm particularly sensitive to this aspect of laptop design, and while I wasn't thrilled with the Swift 5, it will likely make most users happy.
I like the color scheme with pale yellow letters and backlighting (only on and off unfortunately) that works in both light and dark environments. This is an improvement over some keyboards, like that of the latest Dell XPS 13, which has a backlight that makes it almost impossible to read the letters when they are on and with ambient lighting.
The touchpad is medium in size and uses Microsoft's Precision touchpad drivers. As such, it was able to swipe and use Windows 10's multi-touch gestures – something that can be said about most touchpads lately. The touch display was accurate, responsive, and very welcome.
Windows 10 Hello support was provided by a fingerprint reader on the top right of the touchpad. It was quick and accurate during my tests.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
The Swift 5 packs 56 watt hours of battery capacity into its thin frame, an average amount for a laptop with a 14-inch full HD display. We don't have that much experience with Tiger Lake efficiency so I wasn't sure what to expect.
We usually use the Basemark web benchmark to test a laptop's battery life when the CPU and GPU are under stress. So far, however, every Tiger Lake laptop I've tested, including the Swift 5, won't complete this review. So I can't tell how long the laptop will last if you work hard.
In our web benchmark, which runs through a number of complex websites and is the best indicator of battery life in our tests, the Swift 5 lasted just under eight hours. This is an average score topped by the Dell XPS 13 with its 10th Gen Core i7 that lasted over 11 hours and the Tiger Lake Asus ZenBook 14 UX425EA that lasted almost 10 hours. It is debatable whether the Swift 5 meets the Evo requirement of nine hours of productivity life – that depends entirely on your workflow.
Finally, the Swift 5 lasted 11.5 hours in our video test grinding a Full HD Avengers trailer. The XPS 13 lasted 14.5 hours and the ZenBook 14 12.25 hours, which means the Swift 5 also fell behind in this test.
Ultimately, the battery life was a little disappointing, but not terrible. If you don't put that heavy load on the CPU and GPU, you might be able to do it for a full day. However, if your tasks are demanding, you need to keep your power adapter with you.
The Swift 5 is better than the previous generation in everything but weight and isn't exactly heavy. It makes extensive use of Intel's Tiger Lake platform and uses some innovative techniques to make the case surface more robust and more resistant to microbes.
It's also a nice looking laptop and has some weaknesses. When it comes to 14-inch laptops, the Swift 5 is one of the best on the market today.
Are there alternatives?
The Asus ZenBook 14 UX425EA is an obvious competitor to the Swift 5. It's almost as fast if you hold it in Performance mode, but then the fans spin louder and more frequently than the Swift 5. It's just as well built and looks just as good and also offers excellent input options.
If you want the flexibility of a 2-in-1 device, the HP Specter x360 13 is a great alternative. It uses Intel's latest generation of chips, so it's not as fast, but it has a more eye-catching appearance, stunning OLED display, and the morphing nature of a 2-in-1 device.
Finally, you can consider the Dell XPS 13, one of the best laptops out there. It was recently updated to Tiger Lake and features one of the best laptop designs out there. It's a bit more expensive and has a slightly smaller screen, but those may be tradeoffs worth making.
How long it will take?
The Swift 5 is well built and robust, with modern components that will meet your productivity needs for years to come. The one-year warranty is disappointing on a premium laptop, but it is industry standard.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Swift 5 is thin, light and powerful. It is the first Tiger Lake notebook we tested that lives up to the chip's performance promise.