Acer Swift 3 Ryzen review: Big, basic but amazingly brawny
This mid-range notebook is imperfect yet surprisingly potent
Although the Swift 3 is the second-lowest ranking member of Acer's clamshell lineup - a range which includes the luxuriously slim Swift 7 - this latest version is no plasticky entry-level laptop: it has a 1080p, 15.6in IPS display, an attractive and durable aluminium build and even an integrated fingerprint reader.
There are numerous Intel-based Swift 3 variants, but this model we've tested is of particular interest. That's because it's part of the very first wave of laptops to use one of AMD's mobile Ryzen chips, which have finally launched almost a year after their transformative desktop counterparts. It's another attack on Intel's dominance, this time in the laptop and 2-in-1 space, and the Swift 3 is at the vanguard.
Acer Swift 3 Ryzen review: Design
Being a sub-1,000, 15in notebook, the Swift 3 was never going to be very slim or light. Indeed, it's almost a full 19mm thick when closed, and it weighs 2.1kg - to be fair, that's light enough that we could lug it to and from the office without much too much discomfort, but we wouldn't want to do so on a daily basis.
Otherwise, though, this is a commendably well-designed laptop for the money. Both the lid and the base are finished with a tasteful brushed aluminium look, and that's not just an effect: it's a proper all-metal chassis that makes for a reassuringly sturdy base. The screen is also topped with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass NBT, for even more durability.
Heat-wise, there's some mild warming of the top of the keyboard under heavy CPU loads, but nowhere near enough for it to be worrying or distracting while typing. The only real misstep is the downward-firing speakers, the positioning of which doesn't help their already-tinny sound; best to leave this for occasional voice call duties and pack some headphones for everything else.
Acer Swift 3 Ryzen review: Keyboard and trackpad
One of the upsides of the Swift 3's considerable size is that there's room for a numeric keypad, perfect for number-crunching work. The keyboard in general isn't too cramped as a result, either - in fact, on first glance we thought there might be a little too much empty between the keys. Nonetheless, that fear was never realised - we instantly got to typing quickly and accurately.
This was, it should be said, in spite of some rather shallow travel depth and a lack of tactile feedback from each stroke, both common issues with scissor-switch keyboards like this one. Still, at least it has white backlighting, which comes in handy for typing in less well-lit rooms even if you can't manually adjust the brightness.
We've no complaints about the trackpad: it's generously proportioned, responsive to gestures, and smooth to the touch without feeling too glassy.
Acer Swift 3 Ryzen review: Display
Sadly, the Swift 3's screen is by far its greatest weakness. It does get off to a good start: the 1080p resolution is plenty crisp enough, the IPS panel provides wide viewing angles and there doesn't immediately appear to be anything wrong with its vibrancy.
However, continued use (and our display benchmarks) tells a different story. We recorded the Swift 3 covering just 57% of the sRGB colour gamut, and with a startlingly high average delta E of 5.47, the colours it can show aren't even accurate. Brightness also only peaked at 233cd/m2, which means it will struggle with direct sunlight - a problem compounded by the panel's glossy finish.
That's not to say that the screen is a total bust. It managed a very respectable contrast ratio of 1199:1, and together with a nice, low black level of 0.19cd/m2, dark scenes in videos and even black-heavy web pages look pretty good.
Acer Swift 3 Ryzen review: Specs and performance
Along with a middling-yet-adequate 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, this laptop gives us our first look at AMD's Ryzen 5 2500U in action. It's a quad-core, eight-thread chip, running at a base clock speed of 2GHz with a 3.6GHz boost, and packs integrated Radeon Vega 8 graphics.
The desktop Ryzen chips succeeded by besting Intel on heavily multi-threaded tasks, and it looks like it might be a similar story for laptops as well: the Swift 3 scored an extremely impressive 62 in our multitasking benchmark, and 74 overall. That's much higher than what a lot of premium, Intel-based ultrabooks have scored in the same tests, including the Dell XPS 13 and the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe. The latter costs around twice as much as the Swift 3 after VAT, an outstanding coup for this comparatively unassuming notebook.
Battery life, conversely, is awfully shot. We measured it lasting a scant 3 hours 16 minutes in our video playback test, so even with less taxing use you'll need to keep the charging cable to hand.
Acer Swift 3 Ryzen review: Ports and features
Another benefit of forgoing ultra-slimness is that you're not limited to USB-C for physical connectivity. Here, Acer has included a (non-Thunderbolt 3) USB-C port, but it's joined by one full-size USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, so juggling peripherals and removable storage is seldom a worry. Just as convenient is the SD card slot located on the right edge, and on the other side, an HDMI socket can handle video output duties even if the USB-C port can't.
Credit is also due to the fingerprint reader, a tiny pad positioned just below the bottom-right corner of the keyboard. Other than a couple of misfires, we found it generally reliable for logging in biometrically, and it works quickly too.
Acer Swift 3 Ryzen review: Verdict
It's a shame that the Swift 3's display can't handle colours that well, as with so much multi-threading power for the cash, it could have made a decent budget option for basic video and media editing.
Nevertheless, there are loads of other ways to harness that power, and you'd be doing so on a notebook that's both well-built and well-equipped for connectivity and features. If you value performance over portability (and, frankly, battery life), it deserves your attention, and as a demonstration of Ryzen laptops it's a promising start.
Quad-core 2GHz AMD Ryzen 5 2500U
AMD Radeon Vega 8
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