You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was only one OS in the budget laptop space these days, that being Chrome OS. Acer, a manufacturer of some quality Chromebooks itself, offers up a genuine alternative in the form of the Swift 1, packing a full Windows 10 Home experience into a machine that still manages to roll in at a tempting entry-level price.
To be fair to the plethora of Chromebooks available, the price being asked for this machine can net you a 15-inch Chromebook, such as the Acer Chromebook 15, but the full OS offered here makes for a reasonable counter argument to the added screen real estate. Being able to run the likes of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and indeed the full range of PC software on it should certainly appeal to the more business oriented.
The Acer Swift 1 isn’t just about offering a budget platform for Windows 10 Home though, and Acer is keen to push how stylish this machine is. Not only is it thin and light (something that was very much seen as a premium for a long time), but the overall build quality belies the asking price.
Price and availability
It’s worth pointing out from the outset that there are several members of the Swift 1 family, with the most sought after models boasting a 1080p IPS screen. That is not the machine we have here though, instead we’re looking at its more affordable sibling that makes do with a more mundane display.
The version we’re looking at here ostensibly has a list price of £349, although we have seen it listed as low as £299. The same model can be picked up in the US for $329, although again, availability of specific models can be patchy. Similar models are available in Australia, for around AU$655, although they don’t quite match the unit we are looking at here.
This does cause a bit of a problem for the Acer Swift 1, because there are plenty of sexy displays to be had at this price, such as the Android spin of the Lenovo Yoga Book (£409, $499, AU$655) and the Windows-based Asus Transformer Mini T102HA (£349, $430, AU$699).
As stated, the model we’ve been supplied here uses a 1366 x 768 TN display, but does boast the larger 128GB flash drive and the faster quad-core Pentium processor compared to some of its siblings. Pricing doesn’t vary too much across the family though, so it’s a case of weighing up what’s currently available against your desired specification.
Value-wise we see the Acer Swift 1 as offering up a good compromise between size, base specification and operating system. The aforementioned Asus Transformer boasts a smaller 10.1-inch screen, while the cheaper version of the Lenovo Yoga Book ships with Android 6, and you’ll need to spend closer to £450 for the Windows equivalent. In that respect the Acer Swift 1 has something to offer.
Acer makes a big deal of the design of the Swift 1, and rightly so. For a long time those eyeing up the budget end of the laptop market had to put up with a generic bulky machines, using poor materials, with little thought to actual style. This isn’t the case here, and the use of a brushed metal keyboard surround lends a dependable air to the system.
While there is still plenty of plastic on show, careful thought has been given to the overall look and feel of the laptop, and Acer hasn’t sidestepped the issue by making it garishly bright, instead settling for a more sober approach. It’s being positioned as a stylish, budget workhorse and hits that brief well.
One word of warning though: we did find that it was something of a magnet for fingerprints. It quickly replaced it’s sleek appearance with a grubbier patina, something that is particularly apparent in bright light.
The Acer Swift 1 has a good heft to it, and feel solid enough to withstand the knocks and bangs of daily use. At 3.52 pounds it isn’t the lightest 14-inch laptop you can lay your hands on, but it isn’t so heavy that it’s a problem lugging it around.
In use the Acer Swift 1 is fine for web browsing, simple office work and media playback, although the fact it’s rocking a sub-1080p screen does undermine that last point somewhat. The speakers aren’t much to get excited about either, but there’s always the headphone jack if you want to enjoy a real audio experience.
There is a problem here of course, and it’s that those kind of activities are completely within the remit of all Chromebooks. So how does the Acer Swift 1 cope with more demanding Windows tasks? Not amazingly well, as can be seen from our suite of benchmarks – nothing here stands out as being particularly positive.
The fact that it employs a quad-core processor, means that its got a bit more grunt than the swathe of Atom-based machines out there (including the Lenovo Yoga and Transformer Mini), but don’t let yourself think that this means it’s a powerhouse. You’ll soon find yourself staring at wait animations, as you twiddle your fingers waiting for tasks to finish.
The keyboard is comfortable to type on, with plenty of room around the keys. We did find the touchpad frustrating to use though, with right-clicks particularly hard to register, and misclicks commonplace. We soon reached for a trusty mouse, and never turned back.
One particular bugbear we have is with the main storage. The 128GB of eMMC flash storage cowers next to the latest M.2 drives, and suffers comparisons with even the cheapest SATA drives. File copies and installs can be painfully slow, and we witnessed several copy errors as well.
The overall performance of the Acer Swift 1 is somewhat underwhelming then, but there is a silver lining to this cloud, and that is the battery life. Rolling in at just shy of 10 hours in PCMark 8, and over 12 hours in our video test, this really does live up to Acer’s promise of being able to handle a full day’s work.
As you’d imagine, given the price, this isn’t a laptop for gaming. Even casual gaming is going to stretch the capabilities of the Intel 405 HD Graphics that can be found fluttering away at the heart of the Pentium chip. You’re going to need to spend considerably more to be able to flex anything approaching a 3D muscle, as the 3DMark scores attest to.
The overall design and styling of this machine is impressive for the price tag, provided that you carry a cloth to keep on top of those fingermarks.
The battery life is impressive, and means it will last a full working day without needing to be plugged in. The fact that you get a full install of the 64-bit spin of Windows 10 Home for your money means that it can potentially turn it’s hand to whatever you want – far more than your average Chromebook can.
The screen is probably the Acer Swift 1’s weakest aspect. The resolution is workable, although can feel cramped even just in Windows.
The viewing angles aren’t great, which when combined with the weak speakers leave us hard pushed to recommend this for watching movies, or presenting to a group for that matter.
The Acer Swift 1 is an important laptop in so far as it improves the perception of budget laptops in many areas, not least of which being styling. You could carry this into plenty of meetings and no one would know how little you’ve paid for it.
We do feel that anything less than a 1080p screen is a bit short sighted though, and it’s hard to recommend the display used here even at this price point. The fact that it’s a TN panel, with poor viewing angles, does give the budget game away a little, and when it comes to media playback it simply falls too short to be enjoyable.
The underlying hardware isn’t particular powerful either, which means that it’s biggest strength – that it can run all your Windows applications – is ultimately undermined . Still, if you’re patient, it’s potentially a better solution than any Chromebook for that factor alone.
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