We reviewed Acer's Swift 7 ultrabook back in May, and although we found the overall design truly wonderful, it couldn't escape the limitations that made such a sleek frame possible. This time we're looking at the bulkier sibling in the series, the Acer Swift 5, which essentially delivers the same experience, only with the power that you would expect from a high-end laptop.
As the middle child in the Acer Swift range, you'd be forgiven for assuming the Swift 7 was the better, more refined experience, yet the Swift 5 manages to deliver such exceptional value for money that it's difficult to justify forking out the extra cash. It's just a shame that Acer was so incohesive with its design.
While the Swift 5 has a decent build quality, feeling reassuringly solid when held, the material choices for its various surfaces feels incoherent at best. The highlight is undoubtedly the keyboard surround, which is coated in black anodised aluminium with a pleasant brushed finish. However, the lid uses black metal with a ridged effect, which seems to be trying its best to look like plastic, and the screen bezels and underside use a soft-touch plastic. This is rounded off with a silver hinge with the word 'SWIFT' across the middle, which in our opinion looks a little dated.
It looks as if Acer cobbled together bits from different machines while making the Swift 5, and while it's nice to see something other than the single cut metal frame that's become a standard for ultrabooks, the lack of aesthetic consistency will put off some customers.
Looks aside, the Swift 5 is pleasingly light and thin for an ultrabook that is on the cheaper side of the market. At 1.3kg, it is only marginally heavier than the excellent Asus ZenBook UX330UA, and at just under 15mm thick you're essentially getting the same portability offered by the new MacBook Pro, all at a budget price. For those keeping track of the Acer range, the Swift 5 unsurprisingly sits bang in the middle of its Swift 3 and Swift 7 siblings in terms of weight and size.
Ultimately, our gripes are with its looks. Otherwise, it's a well-made and highly portable machine.
Keyboard, trackpad and connectivity
Typing on the Swift 5 is largely a comfortable experience, but it is hindered by a few odd design choices. The left shift key in particular is half the size you'd expect, with the backstroke key awkwardly squashed up against it, and likewise the hash key is squashed up against the enter key. This means if your typing is slightly off, you're almost guaranteed to hit the wrong key.
While the rest of the keys are nicely spaced, typing feels a little too squishy for our tastes, and provides little in the way of feedback. Although the keyboard is backlit, which is always great to see given how many high-end ultrabooks overlook this feature, we did notice that the backlighting looks uneven. At certain angles the lighting disappears entirely, and some areas of the board are noticeably darker - it's a small niggle but suggests a lack of attention to detail on a fairly basic feature.
The good news is that the keyboard surround is excellent. Coated in anodised aluminium as we mentioned earlier, it provides a truly gorgeous palm rest that is smooth and cool to the touch. That brushed effect also means it hides a lot of the smudges and fingerprints you get with glossy surfaces.
The trackpad is similarly great, and while not as large as the Swift 7's, it offers ample room to comfortably perform gestures. It's framed with chamfered aluminium, which means there are none of those jagged edges you find on other models when you move your fingers to the sides of the pad. It also features a raised finger print reader, which works well with Windows Hello and for logging in without a password.
In terms of ports, the Swift 5 is fairly generous despite its slender frame, covering most of what you would expect from an ultrabook. It features one USB-C port, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI slot, headphone port, and a full sized SD card slot. You essentially get a bit of everything.