The last Acer Swift 3 I reviewed was an affordable, AMD-powered student laptop. It was respectable all around but not a standout in any particular area.
The new Acer Swift 3 is not that. This latest Swift 3 has two very notable features: an OLED screen and one of the most powerful mobile processors Alder Lake has to offer. Currently listed at $1,199, it’s an interesting combination of OLED and power at a surprisingly reasonable price point. It’s potentially a top contender for folks who might be interested in the M2 MacBook Air but who want to stick with Windows.
The poor battery life, unfortunately, limits its audience significantly.
OLED displays have become more affordable over the past few years, and I’m happy to see them become more and more accessible. But I hope that as manufacturers continue to work them into devices at lower price points, they’ll keep power efficiency in mind. Not everyone needs all-day battery life — but that doesn’t mean it should be a luxury.
I am hesitant to call the Swift 3 OLED a workstation because it has a more compact build than that category implies. It’s 0.7 inches thick and weighs 3.09 pounds. That’s not nothing — it’s the same thickness as the traditionally clunky Aspire 5, and if my backpack were quite full (as student backpacks often are), I’d rather have something thinner with me. But it is fairly light as 14-inch devices go and lives in something of a liminal space between hefty, premium devices like the four-pound Razer Blade 14 and razor-thin portable fare like the 2.6-pound Swift 5.
Most of the chassis is fairly unobtrusive, with a standard silver color and bezels that are plasticky but thin. The lid is lustrous, nicely reflecting the light above it. The biggest compromise with this chassis is the build: there’s a certain plasticky feel to the palm rests, and there’s quite a bit of flex all over the chassis that actually made me nervous to put things on top of it. In other words, it’s one of those classic midrange Acer products that offers a somewhat creaky chassis for a very attractive price.
The touchpad was another slight pain point: the force required to depress it is quite firm, and I wish it was closer to the touchpad on the Swift 5, which I loved.
But the highlight of the Swift 3’s chassis is the display. With a 16:10 aspect ratio, a brightness of 400 nits, and a 2880 x 1800 resolution, it’s an absolute delight. There’s quite a bit of room for multitasking, there’s more than enough brightness for any setting, and the picture you get is sharp and vivid. This is undoubtedly one of the best displays you can get on a Windows laptop at this price — and it actually has a higher native resolution than the M2 MacBook Air, which would cost at least $600 more in a comparable configuration. There is not a touchscreen — which is fair since it’s a clamshell laptop but may make it less attractive for students who need to draw graphs and such.
The keyboard is another standout feature. Not only is it fairly rigid, but it has an incredibly springy click to it that makes me feel like I’m typing lightning fast. This is undoubtedly one of my favorite keyboards that I’ve typed on this past year, and I blew through my regular typing speeds. It’s got a satisfying click and a snappy feel. The silver keys and grayish lettering may not be the best option for visually impaired folks, as it doesn’t provide a ton of contrast, especially when the backlight is low. There’s also quite a bit of backlight bleed if you’re someone who cares a lot about that (I am not such a person myself).
The fingerprint sensor, which lived under the arrow keys on the previous model, is now integrated into the power button in the top right corner of the keyboard. I think this gives the deck a more uniform aesthetic overall, though the flatter shape makes it a bit harder to miss if you’re not looking, and it didn’t quite get my fingerprint 100 percent of the time.
Looking to the inside, I don’t imagine that you’ll have any performance issues with this laptop if you’re realistic about what to expect from a 14-inch Intel device and the thermal limitations that come with it. My test configuration, currently going for $1,199.99, includes a Core i7-12700H with Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of SSD storage. There is also a Core i5-12500H model listed for $899, which may be better value for people who don’t need every last ounce of performance. That model also only has 8GB of RAM, though, and I generally recommend that anyone interested in gaming or professional work go for at least 16. It also has 512GB of storage instead of 1TB.
The Swift OLED is the kind of device that I would expect to have a P-series processor. That chip powers devices like the Swift 5 and the Dell XPS 13 Plus; it draws less power than the H-series, making it (on paper, at least) better suited to ultraportable machines. But the Swift 3 OLED, interestingly, has an H-series chip instead, which is the sort of power-guzzling CPU that you commonly see in gaming laptops and workstations.
Performance was certainly zippy, with applications loading quickly. I was able to retouch photos with heaps of Chrome tabs open and songs streaming in the background with no trouble. You can expect quite a bit of fan noise if working with a load like this, but there is a Silent Mode buried in Acer’s preinstalled programs that you can switch on if you want to shut it up.
(Speaking of those preinstalled programs: in typical Acer fashion, this device came with a bunch of junk on it. Dropbox, antivirus, stuff like that. I went through and uninstalled it all, and it wasn’t the end of the world, but please register this as my official grumble.)
The downside of such a hefty processor, of course, is that it’s not at all efficient. I averaged between 3.5 to four hours of continuous use out of this device with brightness around 200 nits. This was with my own fairly light workload of Chrome tabs, Google Meet calls, and the like — if you’re working in Premiere, for example, you’ll get an even more negligible lifespan.
Now, nobody is expecting an all-day lifespan from an H-series processor with a high-resolution screen, but this is also not a ginormous gaming laptop we’re talking about — it’s a portable device, and part of its appeal is supposed to be the fact that you can bring it places. If you’re buying a workstation just to leave it on your desk all day, is a 14-incher really the best choice for you?
The case for the Acer Swift 3 is: It is one of the most powerful laptops, with one of the best screens you can get, available in the $1,200 range. With a portable build, it can be a great choice for both multimedia viewing and demanding work on the go. This has the potential to be a very unique and effective device. It’s just a shame how much the short battery life weakens that case, because there’s absolutely an audience for a powerful 14-inch laptop with a great screen.
I understand that some shoppers — even those shopping in the 14-inch category — don’t care about battery life. That, to me, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for companies to ask such large compromises of their buyers. I don’t completely blame Acer for this, as it’s been a consistent issue with Intel devices over the past year. But this is a poor result even among those products, and the corresponding extra power the H-series chip brings over the P-series (which is identical in architecture) is not as valuable for an ultraportable as it would be for a bigger workstation. And media creators who are wed to Windows can expect a much longer lifespan out of all kinds of portable OLED devices — the Dell XPS 13 Plus, for example, and various members of Asus’ Zenbook line — without a massive compromise on performance.