Acer Swift 3 OLED review: A great package with one thing missing

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The last Acer Swift 3 I tested was an affordable AMD-powered student laptop. It was respectable all round, but not a standout in any one area.

That’s not the new Acer Swift 3. This latest Swift 3 has two very standout 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 power for a surprisingly reasonable price. It’s potentially a contender for people who might be interested in the M2 MacBook Air but want to stick with Windows.

The poor battery life, unfortunately, limits its audience considerably.

OLED screens have become more affordable in recent years and I’m glad they’re becoming more and more accessible. But I hope that as manufacturers continue to incorporate them into devices at lower prices, they will consider energy efficiency. Not everyone needs all-day battery life, but that doesn’t mean it should be a luxury.

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I’m hesitant to call the Swift 3 OLED a workstation because it’s built more compactly than the category suggests. It is 0.7 inches thick and weighs 3.09 pounds. That’s no small feat – it’s the same thickness as the traditionally clumsy Aspire 5, and if my backpack were to be quite full (as student backpacks often are), I’d rather carry something thinner. But it’s fairly light as 14-inch devices go and lives in a kind of liminal space between hefty, premium devices like the four-pound Razer Blade 14 and wafer-thin portables like the 2.6-pound Swift 5.

The Acer Swift 3 OLED half-closed viewed from above.

Teensy logo, not the worst.

Most of the chassis is fairly unremarkable, with a standard silver color and bezels that are tacky but thin. The lid is glossy and beautifully reflects the light above it. The biggest compromise with this chassis is the construction: the palm rests feel a bit plasticky and there’s quite a bit of flex all over the chassis that actually made me nervous about putting things on them. In other words, it’s one of those classic mid-range Acer products that offers a slightly creaky chassis at a very attractive price.

The touchpad was another minor pain point: the force it takes to press it is pretty firm, and I wish it was closer to the touchpad on the Swift 5, which I loved.

Ports on the left side of the Acer Swift 3 OLED.

Two USB-C, HDMI and USB-A on the left.

But the highlight of the Swift 3’s chassis is its display. With a 16:10 aspect ratio, 400 nits 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 any setting, and the image you get is sharp and vibrant. This is undoubtedly one of the best displays you can get on a Windows laptop for this price – and it even has a higher native resolution than the M2 MacBook Air, which would cost at least $600 more in a similar configuration. There’s no touchscreen – which is fair considering it’s a clamshell laptop, but could make it less appealing to students who need to draw graphs and such.

The keyboard of the Acer Swift 3 OLED seen from above.

I’m going to miss typing on this thing.

The keyboard is another notable feature. Not only is it fairly stiff, but it also has an incredibly springy click that makes me feel like I’m typing lightning fast. This is undoubtedly one of my favorite keyboards I’ve typed on in the last year, blowing through my normal typing speeds. It has a satisfying click and snappy feel. The silver keys and grayish lettering may not be the best option for visually impaired people, as it doesn’t offer much contrast, especially when the backlight is low. There’s also quite a bit of backlight bleeding if you’re someone who cares a lot about that (I’m not that kind of person myself).

The fingerprint sensor, which lived below the arrow keys on the previous model, is now integrated into the power button in the top-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 if you’re not looking, and it didn’t get my fingerprint 100 percent of the time.

The ports on the left side of the Acer Swift 3 OLED.

Slot lock, USB-A, headphone jack on the right side.

Looking at the inside, I can’t imagine you’ll have any performance issues with this laptop if you’re realistic about what to expect from a 14-inch Intel device and the thermal constraints that come with it. My test setup, currently at $1,199.99, includes a Core i7-12700H with Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of SSD storage. There’s also a Core i5-12500H model listed for $899, which might be a better price for people who don’t need every last ounce of performance. However, that model also only has 8 GB of RAM, and in general I recommend that anyone interested in gaming or professional work go for at least 16. It also has 512 GB of storage instead of 1 TB.

The Swift OLED is the kind of device I would expect to have a P-series processor. That chip powers devices like the Swift 5 and the Dell XPS 13 Plus; it draws less power than the H-series, making it (at least on paper) better suited for ultraportable machines. But interestingly enough, the Swift 3 OLED has an H-series chip instead, the kind of power hungry CPU you often see in gaming laptops and workstations.

Performance was certainly snappy, with applications loading quickly. I was able to retouch photos with heaps of Chrome tabs open and songs streaming in the background without any issues. You can expect quite a bit of fan noise when working with such a load, but there’s a silent mode buried in Acer’s preinstalled programs that you can enable if you want to shut it down.

(Speaking of those pre-installed programs, in typical Acer fashion, this device came with a bunch of junk. Dropbox, antivirus, stuff like that. I went ahead and uninstalled it all, and it wasn’t the end of the world, but please register this as my official grumble.)

The Acer Swift 3 OLED opens from the left side.

It’s thin, but not the thinnest.

The downside of such a hefty processor, of course, is that it’s not efficient at all. I average between 3.5 and four hours of continuous use from this device at around 200 nits of brightness. This was with my own fairly light workload of Chrome tabs, Google Meet calls and the like – if you’re working in Premiere, for example, you get even negligible longevity.

Now, no one expects all-day life from an H-series processor with a high-res display, but this isn’t a giant gaming laptop we’re talking about either – it’s a portable device and part of its appeal is supposed to be the fact that you can bring the places. If you’re buying a workstation to leave on your desk all day, is a 14-incher really the best choice for you?

The argument 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 a portable build, it can be a great choice for both multimedia viewing and demanding work on the go. This has the potential to become a very unique and effective device. It’s just a shame how much the short battery life weakens that case, because there’s definitely an audience for a powerful 14-inch laptop with a great screen.

I understand that some customers, even those who shop in the 14-inch category, aren’t concerned about battery life. To me, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for companies to demand such big compromises from their buyers. I don’t entirely blame Acer for this, as it’s been a consistent issue with Intel devices for the past year. But even with those products, this is a poor result, and the corresponding extra power the H-series chip brings over the P-series (which is architecturally identical) isn’t as valuable for an ultraportable device as it is for a larger workstation. And media makers married to Windows can expect much longer life from all types of portable OLED devices – the Dell XPS 13 Plus, for example, and several members of the Asus Zenbook line – without a huge performance compromise.

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