I like Acer’s Swift 3 line because it really has its finger on the features that students need. The Swift 3 doesn’t look fancy and doesn’t come with any cutting-edge bells and whistles. But it’s sturdy and portable with good performance and solid battery life — and best of all, it’s affordable.
I’ve spent a bit of time checking out Acer’s Swift 3X, a slightly scaled-up version of the Acer Swift 3. It looks, feels, and is built like a Swift 3, with a notable exception: it has a discrete GPU.
The Swift 3X contains Intel’s Iris Xe Max, Intel’s new discrete GPU (the laptop variant of the DG1). With its slim and portable build (three pounds and 0.7 inches thick) this Swift looks to be targeting a slightly different niche from its predecessors: amateur creators, students who need photo and video editing for class, or professionals who are looking to get media work done on the go. Since this is a preview unit that’s not finalized, I wasn’t able to run any graphics benchmarks — we can look forward to those results when the full product hits shelves in December.
My test configuration includes a quad-core Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage, and costs $1,199 — that’s getting into premium territory. An intriguing midrange option is the base model, which gives you a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage for $899.99. (Acer made sure to note that “Prices are approximate until finalized.”)
My first impressions are that this is a Swift 3 through and through. It looks nice but unexciting. You can choose between “steam blue” and “safari gold.” The screen bezels aren’t tiny, but they’re certainly still small enough to give the display a sophisticated look (and a fold-under hinge hides a chunk of the bottom one). Acer claims an 84 percent screen-to-body ratio, a slight improvement from the Swift 3 I reviewed earlier this year (82.73 percent). The whole thing is a bit thicker and a bit heavier than Swift 3s usually are, but that’s understandable since it includes discrete graphics. I’d still have no problem carrying it around in a backpack or briefcase.
I’m a fan of the fingerprint reader, which is reliable and in a convenient location below the keyboard. I also like the port selection, which has just about everything you need: one headphone jack, one HDMI, one USB-C with Thunderbolt 4, two USB-A, and a Kensington lock slot.
On the other hand, the keyboard and touchpad both aren’t my favorites. They’re a bit shallow and a bit stiff, respectively, and the material feels a bit plasticky. That’s all absolutely forgivable at the $600-700 price point where many Swift 3 models live — at $1,199, it feels a bit out of place.
There are a few questions I’m eager to answer with the final model. First: cooling. I put the preview unit through some daily office tasks (writing, emailing, spreadsheeting, copying files, downloading stuff, etc.) and did notice that the fans seemed to be working very hard — they were loud enough while I was multitasking that it was actually a bit disruptive. Acer says there will be multiple fan modes — those weren’t enabled on this model, but I hope there’s a Silent profile that can help calm things down.
The fans seemed to be working very hard
Second: the screen, because that was a significant weakness of the Acer Swift 3 I reviewed earlier this year. That panel only reproduced 65 percent of the sRGB spectrum and hit 218 nits of brightness. That’s just fine for a user like me, but it wouldn’t be recommended for creative work, which this model is supposed to be targeting.
This model, like my Swift 3 review unit, has a matte screen, which minimizes the glare you’ll see while working in bright settings, but it can also make colors look flatter than they might on a glossy panel. Anecdotally, the 3X actually looked pretty good and seems to be an improvement from the Swift 3. It got decently bright during my use and reproduced colors well. Until I can measure the brightness and gamut coverage, though, I can’t confidently tell you whether it’ll work for creators.
(It’s also a 16:9 aspect ratio, which I’m not a fan of — I had to zoom out from the recommended DPI to comfortably work in multiple windows.)
Acer claims you’ll get 17.5 hours of battery life
Thirdly, battery life — a really important consideration for on-the-go workers and students of all ages. Acer claims you’ll get 17.5 hours of video playback on one charge — I’d be shocked if this lasts that long in real-world use, but I couldn’t test that claim. The 3X has a bigger battery than the 3 — 58.7Wh to 48Wh. The AMD-powered Swift 3 lasted around seven hours in my testing, so it’ll be interesting to see whether this brick can keep up that life span with a discrete GPU in tow.
But finally and most importantly, whether these systems are worth buying will depend pretty heavily on how good the GPU is. If the Swift 3X ends up delivering performance similar to the lower-level MX models on the market, it may have trouble distinguishing itself from systems like the $899 MSI Modern 14 or the $899 Asus Zenbook 14. (And as integrated graphics get better with each CPU generation, those cards are making less and less sense to buy.) If Intel’s card ends up on the level of cards like the GTX 1650 Ti (which powers the $1,799 Razer Blade Stealth 13), then both of those 3X configurations will be great value.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge