Acer Swift 5 2020 review

14in screen, all-metal and weighs under 1kg

Acer Swift 5 2020 (SF514-54T) review

The Acer Swift 5 has for years now been a reliable lower cost alternative to the really expensive thin and light, metal-clad laptops such as the Macbook Air and Dell XPS 13. But, with an asking price of £900, this latest version is now fairly costly itself, so is it still the best bargain option?

Acer Swift 5 2020 (SF514-54T) specs

  • Screen size: 14inch
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080
  • Panel type: IPS
  • Maximum refresh rate: 60Hz
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-1035G1
  • Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics shared memory
  • Memory: 8GB, LPDDR4
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Buy now via Amazon: https://locally.link/BiUj

Acer Swift 5 2020 video review

Well, the positive stuff starts with the design. This laptop is incredibly light, weighing in at under a kilogram, which is less than the latest Dell XPS 13, for instance, despite having a larger 14in screen. You also get an all metal exterior that’s available in either a blue or white finish. This blue version looks great with its contrasting gold key legends and the rose gold hue of the hinge.

Some might prefer a more raw aluminium look but this is still a very smart, premium looking laptop. For the most part. You see, as with Swift 5s of the past, the metal used here isn’t thick slabs that have been machined down to fit all the parts in but rather they’re far thinner sheets of metal that are pressed into shape.

As a result, the whole laptop feels much less stiff and solid. Go to move the screen with one hand and you can really notice it flex. Likewise the keyboard has a lot of give to it.

What’s more, that pressed metal manufacturing means you lack that final precision in the finish. Where the XPS 13 has a perfectly flushed edge, here there’s a lip where the two parts of the chassis meet. That may seem an inconsequential thing, but you feel it every time you pick up the laptop.

But, such are the compromises of aiming for a really light and still relatively affordabkle laptop rather than one that’s purely focused on high-end industrial design.

Meanwhile, a major advantage of this machine over smaller rivals is its connectivity. Not only do you get a full-size USB 3.1 port on either side of the laptop but you get a full-size HDMI too. I’m mostly a convert to just carrying around a USB Type C adapter now but if the only connectivity you regularly need is a single USB A port for a mouse or USB stick, it’s annoying when laptops don’t at least have one.

Here you also get a Thunderbolt 3 / USB Type C port but unlike many ultra-thin, modern laptops, this isn’t used for charging. Instead, there’s a conventional barrel connection for that. The power supply is a fairly conventional, relatively chunky device, compared to some sleek modern ones.

Back to the connectivity, on the right hand edge of the laptop you also get the obligatory headset jack and Kensington lock slot. All told, it’s a fairly typical and nicely balanced selection for this size of laptop, even if I’d personally still want an SD card slot.

One of the most impressive aspects of this laptop is its screen. It has a perfectly adequate 1920 x 1080 resolution that looks sharp and provides all the desktop space you’d realistically hope for on a display this size. What’s more, it produces excellent image quality.

Based on IPS LCD technology, it has superb viewing angles and produces rich colours and surprisingly deep black levels for an IPS panel. I measured a contrast ratio of 1278:1, which is just about as good as IPS displays get and colour balance, accuracy and sRGB colour space coverage are all excellent too, despite it being a 6-bit panel. You could easily use this for most image and video editing work right out the box, at least based on this example. Maximum brightness is also an adequate 322nits, so the screen will cope in all but the brightest direct sunshine.

Although phone screens are rapidly moving to 120Hz, that isn’t the case with laptops other than gaming models, so 60Hz is all you get here. What you do get, though, is a touchscreen. Yes, despite lacking the reflective, chunky glass covers of most touchscreen laptops, this one has that functionality. It’s actually quite a clever compromise as you get the thinness and non reflective finish of a normal screen but still have touch for the odd occasion you might need it. Just don’t leave this laptop with your children and expect that screen to survive. Not least because the hinge is far from fold flat.

As for the keyboard and touchpad. The latter is another area where you immediately notice the step down from the most expensive machines. It’s a reasonable size, has a smooth easy glide finish and is accurate and responsive but the surface isn’t the tough and tactile etched glass of more expensive machines. The integrated buttons aren’t quite as snappy and responsive as the best either.

Then there’s the keyboard. It’s ok. The 14in size of the laptop means you get a little more space than 13in machines, so you get a full size enter key and no half width keys. However, the power button being integrated into the keyboard and right next to the delete key is annoying.

Also, the overall typing experience leaves something to be desired. The key action is reasonably defined and not mushy, but it’s very light and might take some getting used to. It’s also quite loud. What’s more, while it’s ok for typing on a flat surface, the lightweight, flexible nature of this laptop means the whole laptop and particularly the screen wobbles very noticeably when used on a lap.

When it comes to performance, this laptop’s largely in line with the competition. There are a few processor options, with this model using the most basic Intel Core i5 1035G1 processor, or there are models with Intel’s more capable Iris graphics and even a version with Nvidia graphics. That model won’t really bring playability to modern AAA games at high settings, but it should let you play some esports titles.

As for this low spec version, the quad core processor is entirely adequate for general desktop use with plenty of multi-tasking capability. However, the CPU never peaked higher than 3.2GHz in my testing, and it drops quite quickly to just 1.7GHz with sustained workloads. In comparison the 2019 Dell XPS 13 can hit over 4GHz at the start of the same test and can maintain over 3GHz throughout.

The upside to this low CPU frequency is low temperatues and noise. This laptop only ever gets slightly warm to the touch and its fan is barely audible.

This is also reflected in battery life, where this machine impresses. I measured 7h19m in PCMark’s demanding modern office battery test, which compares to just 5h 31mins for the Dell XPS 13.

In terms of upgrades, no stickers cover the screws, and the screws are just standard torx head. The SSD and WiFI cards are the only easy upgrades, though.

All told, then, this is a good if not quite great laptop. It’s screen is great, battery life is good, performance is fine, it looks smart, the keyboard and trackpad are ok and it’s incredibly light.  However, that very lightweight design does leave the laptop feeling a little less premium than you might hope for its £900 asking price. Especially as you can buy last year’s escellent Dell XPS 13 for the same price right now.

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