The last Acer Swift 3 I reviewed was an affordable, AMD-powered student laptop. It was respectable all round, but not outstanding in any particular area.
The new Acer Swift 3 is not. 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 performance at a surprisingly affordable price. It’s potentially a top contender for people who are interested in the M2 MacBook Air but want to stick with Windows.
Unfortunately, the poor battery life severely limits its audience.
OLED displays have become more affordable in recent years, and I’m happy to see them becoming more accessible. But I hope that as manufacturers continue to incorporate them into devices at lower prices, they keep energy efficiency in mind. Not everyone needs all-day battery life — but that doesn’t mean it should be a luxury.
I’m hesitant to call the Swift 3 OLED a workstation because it’s more compact than that category might suggest. It’s 0.7 inches thick and weighs 3.09 pounds. That’s not nothing – it’s the same thickness as the traditionally chunky striving 5, and if my backpack was quite full (as student backpacks often are), I’d rather have something thinner with me. But it’s fairly light for a 14-inch device, living in a kind of borderland between beefy premium devices like the 4-pound Razer Blade 14 and razor-thin portable fare like the 2.6-pound Swift 5.
Most of the case is fairly unremarkable, with a standard silver color and bezels that are plasticky but thin. The lid is glossy and beautifully reflects the light above it. The biggest compromise with this case is the build: the palm rests feel a bit plasticky, and the entire case is quite flexible, which actually made me nervous about putting things on it. In other words, it’s one of those classic Acer mid-range products that offers a slightly creaky chassis at a very attractive price point.
The touchpad was another minor pain point: the force required to press it is fairly firm, and I wish it was closer to the Swift 5’s touchpad, which I loved.
However, the highlight of the Swift 3’s body is the display. With a 16:10 aspect ratio, 400 nits of brightness, and 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 every setting and the image you get is sharp and vibrant. This is hands down 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 that would cost at least $600 more in a similar configuration. There’s no touchscreen – which is fair given it’s a clamshell laptop, but might make it less appealing for students who need to draw graphics and the like.
The keyboard is another standout feature. Not only is it fairly rigid, but it also has an incredibly springy click that makes me feel like I’m typing at lightning speed. This is hands down one of my favorite keyboards I’ve typed on over the past year, and I’ve surpassed my normal typing speed. It has a satisfying click and snappy feel. The silver keys and greyish lettering might not be the best option for the visually impaired as they don’t offer much contrast, especially when the backlight is dim. There’s also quite a bit of backlight bleeding if you’re someone who cares a lot (I’m not that kind of person myself).
The fingerprint sensor, which lived under the arrow keys on the previous model, is now integrated into the power button in the upper right corner of the keyboard. I think this gives the deck a more unified aesthetic overall, although the flatter shape makes it a bit harder to miss when you’re not looking, and it didn’t get my fingerprint 100 percent of the time.
Looking inside, I can’t imagine you’ll have any performance issues with this laptop given what to expect from a 14-inch Intel machine and the thermal limitations that come with it. My test configuration, currently priced at $1,199.99, includes a Core i7-12700H with Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of SSD storage. There’s one too Core i5-12500H model listed for $899, which may offer better value for people who don’t need every last ounce of performance. However, this model also only has 8GB of RAM, and I generally recommend anyone interested in gaming or professional work to go for at least 16. It also has 512GB of storage instead of 1TB.
The Swift OLED is the kind of device I would expect to have a P-series processor. This chip powers devices like the Swift 5 and Dell XPS 13 Plus; It draws less power than the H-series, making it better suited (on paper, at least) for ultraportable machines. But the Swift 3 OLED interestingly has an H-series chip instead, the sort of power-hungry CPU commonly seen in gaming laptops and workstations.
Performance was certainly brisk as applications loaded quickly. I was able to easily touch up photos with tons of open Chrome tabs and songs streaming in the background. You can expect quite a bit of fan noise when working with such a load, but Acer has a silent mode buried in the preinstalled programs that you can turn on if you want to turn it off.
(Speaking of preinstalled programs, in typical Acer fashion, this device came with a bunch of junk. Dropbox, antivirus, stuff like that. I went through and uninstalled everything and it wasn’t the end of the world, but please register this as my official one grumbling.)
Of course, the downside of such a powerful processor is that it’s not efficient at all. I used this device between 3.5 and four hours continuously with a brightness of around 200 nits. This was done with my own relatively light workload of Chrome tabs, Google Meet calls and the like – if you’re working in Premiere, for example, you’ll get even more negligible lifespan.
Now, nobody’s expecting all-day life from an H-series processor with a high-resolution screen, but this isn’t the gargantuan gaming laptop we’re talking about either – it’s a portable device and part of its appeal is suppose to be that 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-inch really the best choice for you?
The case for the Acer Swift 3 is: It’s one of the most powerful laptops with one of the best screens you can get, available in the $1,200 range. With its portable build, it can be a good choice for both multimedia playback and demanding work on the go. This has the potential to be a very unique and effective device. It’s a shame how short battery life detracts from this case, because there’s an audience for a powerful 14-inch laptop with a great screen.
I understand that some buyers – even those shopping in the 14-inch category – don’t care about battery life. That doesn’t mean to me that it’s acceptable for companies to demand such big compromises from their buyers. I don’t blame Acer entirely for this, as it’s been a consistent problem with Intel devices for the past year. But that’s a poor result even among these products, and the corresponding extra performance that the H-series chip brings over the P-series (which is architecturally identical) isn’t as valuable for an ultraportable as it is for a larger one workstation. And media professionals married to Windows can expect much longer lifespans from all sorts of portable OLED devices — for example, the Dell XPS 13 Plus and various members of Asus’ Zenbook lineup — without making massive compromises in performance must.
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