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Acer Swift 5 SF514-55T (2021) review: Slim, sleek, chic

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
999
inc VAT

A great laptop at a very reasonable price; Acer's 2021 Swift 5 is a winner

Pros 
Light and compact but solid
Colourful, vibrant display
Good battery life
Cons 
Keyboard layout has some minor issues
Webcam is not the best
RAM is soldered in place
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Acer’s latest generation Swift 5 competes in one of the most cutthroat segments of the laptop market: the £1,000 ultra-compact notebook.

That pitches it against the likes of Microsoft's Surface 3 13.5 Laptop, the M1 Apple MacBook Air, the Huawei MateBook 13 and Samsung's Galaxy Book Ion to name but four. That is a gunfight that you don’t want to turn up to with a knife.

READ NEXT: The best laptops to buy today

Acer Swift 5 (2021) review: What you need to know

I had mixed feelings when the office emailed and said the 2021 Acer Swift 5 was on the way. Previous versions that have crossed my path had left me more than a little disappointed.

The new model, which includes the new 11th gen Intel chips and Iris Xe graphics, however, is different. It may look similar to previous models and, indeed, its vital statistics look the same, but it’s a far better laptop than it was before, with a more sensible selection of ports and sockets and far better battery life.

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The new Swift 5 is available from most popular tech vendors for around £900 to £1,000. That gets you the entry-level 11th gen Core i5 machine with 8GB of RAM, integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics and a 512GB SSD. This is the model I am testing here.

Strangely, the range-topping £1,299 Core i7 model with 16GB of RAM and Nvidia GeForce 350 graphics is the only model currently available direct from Acer in the UK. There are also 8GB Core i7 models with 512GB and 1TB SSDs – both with integrated Intel graphics – available from Amazon at £999 and £1,099 respectively.

Acer Swift 5 (early 2021) review: Competition

Before we get into the long grass, let's take a quick shufti at the opposition. 

Currently priced at £942, the Microsoft Surface 3 13.5 is a compelling alternative although you have to make do with 10th rather than 11th generation Intel chippery and only 128GB of SSD storage. The screen is smaller and squarer (3:2) but of a higher resolution and keyboard is superb.

The new M1-powered Apple MacBook Air is an outstanding laptop. Again you get less screen and less storage for your money and you don't get a touchscreen, either. But you do get the game-changing performance and epic battery life, which is why our review was subtitled “Why buy anything else?”

The Huawei Huawei MateBook 13 is another strong competitor. Fast, slim and very stylish and with a 10th gen Core i7 processor and discrete Nvidia graphics it has a lot going for it at the price. The limited connectivity thanks to the absence of any Type-A USB ports and a rather average keyboard do take some of the shine off, however.  The lesser Core i5 version is currently available from Amazon for an appealing £739.

Finally, the Samsung Samsung Galaxy Book Ion brings a stunning QLED screen, reverse wireless charging and very strong battery life to the party.  Like the MateBook you only get a 13.3in rather than a 14in display and, again, like the MateBook, the keyboard is a rather shallow affair without quite enough damping. At less than 1kg, it is one of the lightest notebooks on the market, however. 

If you want more options – I told you this was a crowded field – check out our reviews of the Asus ZenBook 14 and the LG Gram 14. I wouldn’t take either over the machines listed about but if the price is right they could be worth considering.

Acer Swift 5 (early 2021) review: Design and key features

Acer deserves plaudits for making a 14-inch notebook that, at only 1.05kg, weighs almost a quarter of a kilogram less than Apple’s new MacBook Air. Did I say 1.05kg? That's Acer's quoted approximate weight. Popping the Swift 5 on my digital scales it showed 950g. That's even more impressive. Even Samsung's featherweight Galaxy Book Ion weighs 970g.

At 207mm the Swift 5 is not as deep as the MacBook although it is a little wider at 319mm (vs 304mm) thanks to the larger display. Both machines are only a little over 15mm thick at their chunkiest end. Make no mistake, for a 14in laptop, the Swift 5 is impressively light and compact.

That lightness hasn’t come at the expense of strength or solidity. The chassis and body are made from a magnesium alloy that, according to Acer, offers far greater strength for less weight than the usual aluminium alloys. The olive-green (“Mist Green” in Acer-speak) and gold paint scheme looks very swish and certainly makes the Swift stand out from the crowd aesthetically. 

After some odd port choices and spacing on previous Swift 5 models, sanity has now been fully restored at Acer HQ. On the left there is a power jack along with USB Type-A 3.2, HDMI 2.0 and Type-C Thunderbolt 4 ports while, on the right, there is another Type-A 3.2, a 3.5mm audio jack, Kensington lock slot and a brace of blue status LEDs.  There's no memory card reader but as I can't recall the last time I used the SD slot on my laptop I'm not going to mark the Swift down for this. If you need one, buy a Type-C dock.

Wireless communications are handled by the ubiquitous and capable Intel AX201  Wi-Fi 6 card and, of course, there is also Bluetooth 5.

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The trackpad and keyboard are well up to snuff. The keyboard itself is solid and the keys are responsive with just the right amount of travel. I like that Acer has separated the power button and the fingerprint scanner. The latter sits below the cursor keys, an ideal place.

There is however an issue with those cursor keys. They are too small and too close together making it rather too easy to hit the page up/down buttons by mistake. Familiarity will doubtless mitigate this but it’s still a design flaw.

The keyboard backlight is a simple on/off affair but the level of luminescence is well-judged, and the gold lettering makes the keys easy to read in most lighting conditions. The trackpad, meanwhile, has an excellent click action and a pleasant tactile surface.

The bottom panel of the Swift 5 is held in place by eleven Torx screws but even after removing them, I couldn't get the panel off. Not wanting to break a press sample I quit while I was ahead. Not that there would be much to see: with RAM that’s soldered in place there isn’t much reason for rummaging around in the Swift's innards anyway.

READ NEXT: The best laptops to buy today

Acer Swift 5 (early 2021) review: Display, webcam and Audio

There are only positive things to say about the Acer Swift 5’s 1,920 x 1,080 Gorilla Glass-covered touchscreen. The maximum brightness of 283cd/m2 may only be class average but the Delta E figure of 0.33 is good, as is the contrast ratio of 1,711:1 and the sRGB Gamut coverage of 98.3%. The bezels are reasonably narrow, too: 8mm at the top and bottom and 4mm at the side.

Subjectively it looks lovely: Watching Wonder Woman 1984, the detail was truly impressive for what is only a 157dpi panel and the colours really popped.

Although this isn’t a convertible – the screen only tilts back to around 135 degrees, elevating the back of the keyboard deck by around 10mm as it does so – the touchscreen is still a feature worth having in my opinion. The Swift’s display has a gloss finish but it isn't excessively reflective and, judging by the lack of fingerprints, must have an oleophobic coating as well.

Less impressive is the 720p webcam, which is squeezed into the top bezel above the display. Images look noisy in anything other than bright ambient light, there’s no support for Windows Hello face recognition and no privacy shutter either. 

The downward-firing stereo speakers buried under the palm wrest, however, aren’t terrible. There’s not much in the way of bass, as you might expect, but go reasonably loud and there’s no distortion. As I type this, I’m listening to the new London Grammar single at maximum volume and I’m not hating what I’m hearing. 

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Acer Swift 5 (early 2021) review: Performance

The Swift conforms to Intel's new Evo platform standard. A rebrand of its previous Athena programme, Evo dictates that machines must support a host of features, including at least nine hours of battery life, the ability to wake from sleep in less than one second, the ability to recharge the battery to at least four hours of runtime in under 30 minutes and offer Wi-Fi 6 and Thunderbolt 4 connectivity. It must also be built around Intel's latest Tiger Lake chips.

The Acer Swift 5 is the first laptop I’ve used carrying an Evo sticker and to be honest, I wouldn't get too excited by it. As a guarantee of a base specification, it may prove useful to some buyers but most of the features it mandates I would expect to find in a notebook costing this sort of money.

Like the new Dell Inspiron 7000 I reviewed recently, the Acer Swift 5 is powered by a Core i5-1135G7 processor and Iris Xe integrated graphics.  The new eleventh generation Tiger Lake chips are a big step forward in both performance and efficiency over previous generations.

Coupled with 8GB of DDR4X memory the Acer Swift 5 trotted through our benchmarks without breaking a sweat or getting more than slightly warm to the touch.  Even when under stress the core temperature seldom rose above 70-degrees Celcius. Even when running at full chat – which it doesn't often do –  the fan noise is far from obtrusive.

The Swift 5 impressed in the Geekbench 5 performance test, too, with a multi-core score of 5388; well ahead of the Samsung Galaxy Book Ion (3555) and better than the 10th generation i7 processor in the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (4865). The 7656 score of the new MacBook Air underlines the game-changing leap that is Apple’s new M1 silicon.

I tried running Doom on the Swift and easily managed an average 42fps once I’d knocked the resolution back to 1,280 x 720. You can’t realistically expect for more from a compact ultrabook.

Storage takes the form of a mid-range 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD made by Korean outfit SK Hynix, the company that is in the process of taking over Intel's NAND business. Looking at the transfer speeds, it seems a decent enough example of the breed with sequential read speeds of 1,845MB/sec and write speeds of 1,005MB/sec as measured by the AS SSD benchmark tool.

Subjected to the usual Expert Reviews video rundown battery test, the Acer's 56Wh powerpack managed a respectable 11hrs 15 minutes. That’s more than three hours shy of the MacBook Air but still a solid result for an Intel/Windows machine. Only the Samsung Galaxy Book Ion of the comparators has the Acer beaten with a rundown time of just over 13 hours.

READ NEXT: The best laptops to buy today

Acer Swift 5 (early 2021) review: Verdict

Acer has banished all the significant gremlins from its previous generation Swift 5 machines and that makes the new machine a clear recommendation. The keyboard layout still presents some issues but you will probably get used to them in time.

Otherwise, it is small, light, powerful and stylish, has ports aplenty and very solid battery life – and for the price, it’s pretty good value. It's not better than the new MacBook Air but it does offer Windows users an alternative for which no excuses need to be made.


Acer Swift 5 (SF514-55T) specifications

ProcessorIntel Core i5-1135G7
RAM8GB
Additional memory slotsNo
Max. memory16GB
Graphics adapterIntel Iris Xe
Graphics memoryShared
Storage512GB
Screen size (in)14
Screen resolution1,920 x 1,080
Pixel density (PPI)157
Screen typeIPS
TouchscreenYes
Pointing devicesTouchpad
Optical driveNo
Memory card slotNo
3.5mm audio jackYes
Graphics outputsHDMI 2.0 / USB-C (Thunderbolt 4)
Other portsUSB Type-A 3.2 x 2
Web Cam720p
SpeakersStereo
Wi-FiWi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)
BluetoothBluetooth 5
NFCNo
Dimensions, mm (WDH)319 x 207 x 15mm
Weight (kg) - with keyboard where applicable0.95
Battery size (Wh)56
Operating systemWindows 10 Home

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