Acer Swift 3 SF314-41 review: Cheap but hardly cheerful

An underwhelming device that looks the part but struggles to perform beyond the very basics

Price
£415
  • Inexpensive; Sturdy build; Appealing finish
  • Uninspired display; Sluggish performance; Bulkier than its rivals

The 14in bracket offers a happy medium between the versatility of 13.3in ultraportables and 15.6in powerhouses, with a plethora of options available for businesses. Acer's Swift series offers good range in terms of size and price, with the budget-friendly Swift 3 SF314-41 hoping to corner the lower end of the market.

The likes of the Asus ZenBook 14 and Vaio SFX14 are enticing options for those willing to spend a bit more cash. Acer's own 14in machines, too, vary in cost and quality, with the Swift 7 and Chromebook 14 each at opposite ends of the spectrum.

What sets this configuration of the Acer Swift 3 apart is its lower price point, as well as the inclusion of an AMD processor and graphics chip, aiming to put up a fight against Intel's dominance.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-41 review: Design

The Swift 3's silver exterior shimmers with a premium metallic finish, with contours that lightly resemble a wooden surface. It's a great look and the sort we're more accustomed to seeing on high-end machines. This shiny aesthetic underlines what is a fairly well-built notebook. Its chassis boasts an elegance underlined by its rounded edges and a flat surface that dips in the middle to house its keyboard.

The matte display is wrapped into a lid with narrow bezels, with a handy clip that rests atop the screen to open the device. The build quality is strong, and the Swift 3 exudes a sense of resilience while retaining a lightweight feel. At 1.19kg, there's barely a feather between the Swift 3 and a number of alternatives in the 14in bracket, although the 890g Swift 7 stands aside from the pack as by far the lightest.

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There's barely any variation in terms of dimensions, too, with the Swift 3 roughly the same size as a handful of other devices; its chassis measuring 323 x 228mm compared to, for example, the 319 x 199mm Asus ZenBook 14 and 324 x 217mm Lenovo Thinkpad x1 Carbon. The Swift 3 is thicker than most at 18mm, however, and is exactly twice as thick as the 9mm Swift 7.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-41 review: Display

To the untrained eye the Swift 3's 14in Full HD IPS display is crisp and bright, but further examination unearths severe shortcomings. We'd strongly recommend against using this device for any image or film work.

The 1,920 x 1,080 screen is both dim and inaccurate, with a lacklustre 57.8% coverage of the sRGB spectrum underlining one of the Swift 3's key fallibilities. This is alongside a poor maximum brightness of 293cd/m2, which is a recurring issue with Acer machines.

The 15.6in Swift 3 and 14in Acer Chromebook, for example, were docked marks for subpar displays, while the 14in Swift 7 gives a much better showing on the colour accuracy front with 92%, but still only manages to hit a maximum brightness of 311.8cd/m2.

The Swift 3's display isn't too offensive for general day-to-day tasks in moderately-lit conditions, mainly due to some very heavy lifting from the IPS technology. An impressive contrast ratio of 1,306:1 adds a sense of clarity, and when combined with narrow bezels does appear acceptable. Reality sinks in when viewing images and video, however, and its minor positives simply aren't enough to make up for a display unsuited to graphics-based tasks.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-41 review: Keyboard and touchpad

The Swift 3's scissor-switch keyboard offers a mixed experience; its satisfying keystrokes contrast with a handful of placement and spacing issues.

While the keys are generally spaced well, the Pg Up and Pg Down buttons are nestled far too close to the Left and Right directional keys. This leads to far too many accidental taps for our liking, and it's a problem we've encountered before; the XPS 13 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga were also guilty of the same offence. It's difficult to reckon this against what's otherwise a generally satisfying typing experience.

The travel distance is quite shallow, but force feedback is strong, and there's still a firm click' for those who find this a satisfying aspect of the typing experience. The backlighting can be set to either on or off through F8, while there are sadly no light indicators for toggles such as Caps Lock.

The Swift 3's glass-coated touchpad, on the other hand, is delightful, and consumes the full distance between the keyboard and the edge of the device. There aren't any complaints to register on this front, with your fingers gliding smoothly across its surface.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-41 review: Specs and performance

The Swift 3 can be purchased in a variety of configurations, and is predominantly available with Intel chips. AMD configurations are also available, though, such as our review model which was fitted with a dual-core AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor, running on a base clock speed of 2.6Ghz, as well as a paltry 4GB RAM. These are fairly basic specs by any standards, and it's lowest-end configuration of the Swift 3 available for purchase. This was very much reflected in our performance testing.

An overall score of 32 is abysmal, and pales against most other devices on the market across the spectrum. It could be seen as reflective of the Swift 3's low price, but AMD CPUs generally offer comparable performance to Intel chips at a lower cost anyway. We'd have expected the AMD-fitted Swift 3 to compete with devices in the 700 ballpark, so this has come as a bit of a surprise.

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Breaking this down further, the results show disappointment all round, with the machine sluggish in terms of both single and multi-threaded performance, also reflected in its very weak Geekbench 4 results. These results are very much mirrored in issues that occur in general use, such as a small delay for web pages to render when cycling between tabs. There are no suggestions this could be due to thermal throttling as temperature readings taken via Core Temp remained well within the acceptable boundaries.

It's difficult to compare like-for-like, given the general lack of AMD CPUs in notebooks, but last year's version of this machine, by contrast, produced an impressive overall score of 74 in our benchmarks. This machine featured a superior quad-core Ryzen 5 2500U CPU as well as 8GB RAM, which gave it far more scope to perform in our testing.

Other machines in the 14in bracket outperformed the Swift 3 quite comfortably when tested, including the Asus Zenbook 14 with 89 and the Vaio SX14 scoring a blistering 97. This isn't surprising, however, given they're considerably more expensive. The Acer Swift 7 SF714-51T, however, only marginally bested this device with 37, thanks to its low-power Y-series CPU.

The machine's battery fares better, running at a maximum of 7hrs 23mins. This is a decent result considering some 14in devices to barely make it beyond 4hrs, albeit not commonly. The Vaio SX14, for instance, only lasts 3hrs 32mins. The Acer, however, is only marginally bested by the Asus Zenbook 14's 7hrs 51mins lifespan, which is fairly impressive considering the Zenbook's much higher price tag. This result, on the other hand, is blown out of the water by the 10hrs 20mins maximum boasted by the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon.

The Swift 3's fast-charge feature, which has made its way into a number of machines on the market now, is also a handy addition. Also worth noting is a modestly-sized charging brick, which somewhat makes up for its bulkiness.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-41 review: Ports and features

There are a solid handful of ports fitted into this notebook, including one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port, an SD card reader, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and, finally, an HDMI port.

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This latter option is now a rarity in modern portable notebooks, presumably at the expense of a thinner chassis. It proves a handy inclusion for those looking to hook up their laptop to a monitor, given we were unable to connect an external monitor through the Swift 3's USB-C port. This is because of the port's distinction as USB 3.1 Gen 1, which means it does not allow for charging via USB-C or for display. The Swift 3 also lacks Thunderbolt 3 support.

Meanwhile, the Swift 3 supports biometric sign-in options with Windows Hello, including facial recognition and fingerprint scanning. This is enabled through a small fingerprint reader based on an inch or so below the device's directional keys, which works effectively and without much fuss.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-41 review: Verdict

The Acer Swift 3 is machine that incites frustration. There are a few redeeming features, namely its design, build and the wood-esque silver finish, but it's an otherwise disappointing device that falls short of the standards expected from a machine that can be used reliably across an organisation.

The general performance in our review model was poor and sluggish, as was the dim and inaccurate display. The Swift 3's battery life fared better, on the other hand, but no more so than many other 14in notebooks on the market. Using this machine for basic web browsing and word processing is fine, but any tasks that demand more power, like image or video editing, doesn't compute.

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The Acer Swift 3 SF314-41 is a cheap but hardly cheerful device that looks the part but underwhelms when put to the test. While the low price point may appeal, you're better off forking up the cash for a notebook that's more reliable.

Verdict

The Acer Swift 3 may seem a decent choice if you’re running on a tight budget, but it fails to impress on several fronts. Its performance is middling at best for most day-to-day tasks but far too easily breaks a sweat when pushed, while its unimpressive display leaves a lot to be desired.

ProcessorDual-core 2.6GHz AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
RAM4GB
Dimensions323x223x18mm
Weight1.19kg
Screen size14in
Screen resolution1,920x1,080
Graphics adaptorAMD Radeon Vega 3 Graphics
Total storage256GB SSD
Ports2x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, 1x USB-A 2.0, 1x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1, 1x HDMI port, 1x SD card reader, 1x 3.5mm jack
Operating systemWindows 10
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