If you simply look at Acer’s Swift 5 laptop sitting on a desk, you’re not going to get it. Its design is terribly dull. The screen is glossy and might not get as bright as you’d like. This laptop wouldn’t strike you as particularly thin or svelte.
But then you pick it up.
The $999 Swift 5 weighs just 2.2 pounds (0.998kg), making it the lightest 15-inch laptop in the world. You’ll immediately question whether you’re holding an actual functioning laptop or some empty design mock-up. It’s very real, as you’ll immediately discover once you hit the power button and see the vivid 1080p display light up.
The classic struggle between 15-inch laptops and those with smaller screens has always been about weight and portability. My 15-inch MacBook Pro rarely leaves the house, whereas Google’s Pixelbook and my 13-inch MacBook Pro at the office are far easier to carry around without my back crying for mercy. But the Swift 5 completely blows up that way of thinking.
You get a large canvas for doing work, browsing the web, or watching movies without the traditional heft you’d expect. This machine is not a burden. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2 weighs 2.76 pounds and has a 13.5-inch screen. Dell’s XPS 13 is 2.7 pounds. Let that sink in for a minute. This 15-inch laptop weighs less than two of the best 13-inch laptops on the market. Meanwhile, the 15-inch MacBook Pro weighs in at 4.02 pounds. That’s not exactly a fair comparison; the MacBook is obviously a far more powerful tool. But it’s a useful reference for just how airy the Swift 5 feels compared to what you might be using right now.
So, how did Acer make this thing so light? Through materials and efficient engineering. The top and bottom shells of the Swift 5 are constructed from a magnesium-lithium alloy, and the keyboard casing is a magnesium-aluminum blend. The laptop feels sturdy enough in regular use, if a bit hollow. But the display will flex pretty easily if you grab it with both hands and push inward toward yourself. I’m not going to lie: you could probably easily break it if you wanted to, but I’ve seen no cause for concern. The Swift 5 survived a cross-country flight in an overpacked bag without any issues.
As I mentioned at the top, the design here is very play-it-safe and bland. Acer’s logo is on the silver lid, and the very PC-looking bottom has two downward-firing speakers, cooling vents, and a bunch of Torx screws. (You can remove the bottom plate rather easily, but all of the Swift 5’s core hardware components are unsurprisingly soldered to the motherboard and non-replaceable.) The Swift 5’s outer design is incredibly plain, and it doesn’t hold a candle to something like HP’s Spectre x360. Perhaps this bare-bones style is necessary to hit that 2.2-pound mark.
On the laptop’s left side is all of your connectivity: power, HDMI out, two USB 3.0 ports, and a single USB 3.1 Type-C port to round things out. (Acer offers power-off USB charging, so you can juice up your phone or other accessories even when the laptop is shut off.) Note that the Swift 5’s power adapter doesn’t use USB-C to charge by default, so you’ll have to carry around the included barrel plug charger unless you’ve got a wall / phone charger capable of some decent USB-C Power Delivery. If there were an SD card reader next to all of those, I’d have very few complaints about port selection. As it stands, there’s just one other: the Swift 5 doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, so external GPUs are out of the question. You’d be right in assuming that this super-light laptop lacks discrete graphics, so it’s a far cry from any kind of gaming machine. Don’t bother with anything but the most casual titles. The right side is where you’ll find the headphone jack, security lock, and battery indicator lights.
Opening the Swift 5’s lid is a little more annoying than it should be; there’s no indentation on the keyboard deck, so it can be difficult to pull up the screen one-handed. Once you do, you’ll see the 15.6-inch IPS display surrounded by a black, soft-touch bezel. The screen is extremely glossy and has a sticky texture. I actually like the friction this creates when using the touchscreen, but I can see how others might prefer a smoother glide. The display can lay flat on a table, but it won’t flip back behind the keyboard. The Swift 5’s 1080p display is very detailed and colorful, though it doesn’t offer quite as wide of a color gamut as something like the Surface Laptop 2 or other high-end machines. It gets decently bright, but the screen’s reflectivity had me wishing I could crank things up a little higher — especially outdoors or in a sunny coffee shop. I’m nitpicky about displays and didn’t notice any unsightly backlight bleed or other quality control warning signs.
The keyboard might seem very par for the course, but remember that you’re getting a very spacious one in a fantastically light package. The black chiclet keys offer good travel and satisfying clacky feedback. The arrow keys have half-size up and down buttons and the backlighting is non-adjustable, but those are really the only downsides I’ve noticed. As for the touchpad, I didn’t have any issues with gestures or swipes, but it is loud and requires a firm press to actuate. So I mostly stuck with taps.
The laptop’s front-facing camera isn’t capable of Windows Hello face recognition, so Acer built in a fingerprint reader to the right of the keyboard as a quick way of bypassing the lock screen. Unfortunately, I’ve found it to be inconsistent, especially if you’re accustomed to the near-instant fingerprint scanners on modern smartphones. I often had to enter a PIN after a few failed attempts on the Swift 5. Retraining it with my index finger a second time seemed to help, but I much prefer the camera-powered login feature of the Surface and other PCs.
As for power, the Swift 5 has a quad-core Core i5-8265U 1.6Ghz processor from Intel’s Whiskey Lake lineup. That’s the $999 base model I tested with a 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM; you can also buy an upgraded i7 version with 16GB of RAM. But I found the i5 was plenty good at handling my day-to-day workload of Slack and dozens of Chrome tabs open at once. It also nailed media consumption in YouTube, Spotify, and other apps without showing any signs of slowing down. There’s a Dolby Audio emblem near the upper right of the keyboard, but don’t let that influence your sound expectations, as the Swift 5’s speakers are very average.
This is far from the best in Intel’s processor family, so you’ll be met with some extended waits if you’re working with video or a massive RAW photo library. But for most common productivity tasks, you shouldn’t run into any trouble or performance issues.
Out of the box, the Swift 5 has an alarming, truly obnoxious amount of bloatware. Microsoft’s decision to stuff up Windows 10 Home with Candy Crush and the like is frustrating in its own right, but that’s compounded here by McAfee, a suite of games from WildTangent (over 20 by my count), and other throwaways like eBay and Booking.com. You’ll even see ads from time to time in the notification sidebar from Acer’s JumpStart app.
I don’t understand why manufacturers think that selling an inexpensive laptop gives them free rein to annoy customers with tacky spam and unwelcome distractions, but they seem hell-bent on maintaining that status quo. You’ll have to spend a fair bit of time uninstalling junk if you don’t want it wasting space on your PC.
Battery life on the Swift 5 is very strong, averaging between eight and nine hours in my time with the laptop so far. That’s on the cusp of a full workday, and it should be enough, especially if you can plug in for even an hour at some point.
Acer’s Swift 5 has a strong claim to stake its name on. As the lightest 15-inch laptop on the market today, it’s a machine that will do what you need from it without weighing you down when you carry it around. There are better and more powerful laptop choices out there: it’s easy to argue that the XPS 15 is a smarter buy if you don’t mind lugging around the extra weight. And if you don’t need a screen this big, there’s a strong selection of 13-inch laptops in the Windows ecosystem.
But the Swift 5 stands alone in putting a big display that’s perfect for getting work done into a laptop this unfathomably light. It might look boring, be filled to the brim with bloat, and lack Thunderbolt 3, but those quibbles aren’t enough to completely sink what’s ultimately an endearingly portable laptop.
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