Acer Swift Edge
For my next laptop I wanted a travel friendly machine that was good for image, video editing & 3D etc. Thus I wanted a nice big screen and decent amount of power in a lightweight machine. Here's what my research led me to:
Surface Laptop 15:
Galaxy Book2 Pro:
Asus ExpertBook B5:
LG Gram 16:
Acer Swift Edge:
15" | 1.56kg - Pricey
15" | 1.05kg - FHD / 16:9
16" | 1.55kg - Pricey
16" | 1.20kg - Not sold in Sweden
16" | 1.17kg - No SD reader
When I read through the specs for all the light laptops I could find the Acer stood out to me. It was one of the only laptops I could actually buy with 32GB of RAM. That combined with its decent performance, low weight, huge screen and reasonable price won me over. However, after living with the laptop for a few weeks, did I make the right choice? Here are some specs and quick opinions, before I get into the details...
Some of the the cons list (below) are kind of subjective. Some can be worked around or are subtle / nit-picky, so to clarify this I coloured the worst ones red (top), the rest are orange.
16" 4k+ (16:10 - 3840 x 2400)
OLED (60hz / 0.2ms)
100% DCI-P3 / 100% A-RGB (10bit)
Ryzen 7 Pro 6850u (8c / 16t)
680M (12 core / 2200mhz)
32GB DDR5 (quad ch. / 6400mhz)
1TB (PCI-E gen 4*)
Yes (PCI-E gen 4*)
Windows 11 Pro
Two USB 3.2 gen 2x1
Two USB 3.2 gen 2x1
USB-C (65w PD)
16" 4K+ OLED (Bright & colour accurate)
Reasonably Priced (for specification)
Extremely Thin & Light
Decent Graphics (casual gaming)
Good Amount Of Fast RAM
CPU Power & Efficiency
Upgradable SSD (plus 2nd slot)
2nd SSD Slot (PCI-E Gen 4)*
Great USB Port Selection
One-Handed Lid Opening
Nice Big Track Pad
Not Much Flex In Screen or Keyboard
HDMI 2.1 (for 4k/24fps movie playback)
65w USB-C Charging
Centred Keyboard (a-la Macbook)
Audio Jack Still Exists (3.5mm)
All Metal Chassis (easy access)
Easy disassembly (10 Torx screws)
Poor Cooling (hot and loud under light use)
No SD Card Slot (WTF, why?)
Sound is lacking (tinny AF)
Slow To Boot Up!
USB4? (Acer isn't sure, but probably NOT)
Full SSD Speeds Locked Out
USB-C Ports Both On Same Side
RAM Not Upgradable
No Privacy Shutter On Camera
Substantial Pre-installed Bloatware
60hz Screen (90hz would be better)
Resolution Overly High (3k is plenty)
Meh Battery Life (lots of space inside chassis)
No Model Options (other regions different)
Charger Cable Not Removable
Getting a huge 16", high resolution OLED in a decently powerful thin & light chassis is not a common combination of features at the moment! A travel friendly photo editing machine was my main goal, so the Swift Edge is on top of a pretty short list. I do think a 3k 90hz OLED would probably a better balance, even one with a large screen like this. It would take more power @ 90hz, but as long as 60hz was still an option you could either have a longer battery life, or have a more fluid experience. It's a minor nit-pick for me as super sharp photos on this 4k screen are still phenomenal, but in 99% of instances 3k would be plenty of detail for the size.
This laptop uses its space so well that it fits in most cases built for 14" laptops. The chassis is a full 5mm thinner than the LG Gram (see comparison with my phone below). Although not the most important aspect to me, some will appreciate that. The 13mm height is not including the feet, but that's true of any other laptop's metrics also. The LG gram is quite a bit chonkier than this, but there is probably a very good reason for that (see next paragraph).
Unlike thickness, the low weight of the Swift Edge is a more meaningful metric to me. To put this into perspective; The 16" Swift Edge is lighter than the 13" Macbook Air M2, which also costs more than the Acer while having much less RAM and storage! This screen is arguably even better than the one on the Macbook Pro 16, which costs and weighs almost twice as much!
Heck, the Swift Edge is even lighter than the 13" iPad Pro, if you include its keyboard, but I do think Acer has gone a little too far with the weight saving here. It feels like they cut every corner to beat the LG Gram on paper, but I rather wish they hadn't done that. Although the Acer is still my personal choice (not that I can choose in Sweden), I think for most people the Gram's better balance will win them over.
The performance and efficiency of the AMD processor (6850u) is really impressive and puts in line with the latest Intel versions that take slightly more power. That helps battery life here too, which is great because it's not a huge one (54WH). The on-board GPU is also really impressive, capable of playing most games at lower quality and decent frame rates in full HD. That will be useful for other apps that can utilize the GPU also. The RAM is a really impressive 32GB of quad channel DDR5 running @ 6400mhz. This decent amount of it should alleviate most concerns about it not being removable, but I noticed this is not available in some countries so that could be annoying. For me it was the only option, so if you don't need or want 32GB then that's also tough luck.
The main down side here is the cooling. Set to best "Best Performance" (in the power settings) the fan is annoying with an empty Chrome tab open. That is just bonkers! I have only been able to live with this machine set to "Best Power Efficiency" mode, which hampers performance significantly and even then moderate use of the performance will start the dreaded fan up noticeably. I thought the lack of an SD card reader of any kind would be the most annoying aspect of this machine, but it's actually the incredibly bad cooling. Throttling I could take, but this feels terrible on top of that. If you don't like to hear your laptop then this one is not for you!
Boot up time feels sluggish here considering the specification. It's actually slightly slower to boot than my two year old Acer Spin 5. There the OS has been upgraded from Windows 10 to 11 (no fresh install), it has an older gen 3 SSD, much slower CPU and RAM. That's even more disappointing considering the newer Swift Edge caches your finger print to log you in automatically.
The original PCI-E Gen 4 x4 NVME SSD drive (more naming hell!) is a decent 1TB size with speeds that just barely push above gen 3 limits (although see below*). I decided to replaced this with a 2TB WD SN850X which would double the capacity and speed (in theory*). This main slot needs to be a single-sided drive to fit, so this Western Digital model or the Samsung 980 Pro are safe best for this capacity from what I could tell. The Swift Edge has another NVME slot too, which supports gen 4 speeds and double sided memory modules. I added another 2TB drive here (Kingston KC3000), bringing the total capacity to 4TB.
*I got the speed at the bottom (red) only when the laptop was plugged into the charger. Unfortunately as you can see from all the other figures, this only works when it's essentially not a laptop and hence is useless! Under normal operation the SSD speeds are limited to roughly half of their potential. No matter what I tried with the advanced power management in Windows 11, I could not get them to be any quicker when running from the internal battery. Here is Acer's current response concerning this issue verbatim:
"It’s the SSD performance itself to decide the read and write speeds.
SSD Gen 4 has different version, with Gen4 Performance we can have up to 7000 mbs.
As the end user use WD, which we believe is regular Gen 4, it’s normal to have sequential read with 3500mbs."
This response sounds quite strange, seemingly suggesting that the drive isn't capable of speeds higher than 3500MB/s, which would obviously be incorrect. They don't mention anything about the laptop using its battery. I have to wonder whether this performance limitation is dialled in to stop the fan being even more obnoxious than it already is.
I would be surprised if an SD card reader adds much cost or weight to a laptop, but maybe I'm wrong. Acer unfortunately decided it had to go, so it's unfortunate that the advertising campaign for the Swift Edge literally features a travelling photographer. For me, being able to just throw my camera and laptop into a bag and go on an adventure is really nice. I wish it wasn't necessary to remember and locate dongles before every trip. SD card readers are featured on many other laptops, so it's disappointing to see Acer removing it from most of their new models, especially one like this!
I decided to work around this by getting the small USB reader from Sandisk (below left). I then bought their extreme micro SD and full size SD adapter for my cameras. This is a neat solution, which is actually really fast, but I wish it wasn't needed.
Apart from the neat micro SD reader (above) I use quite a few things that use the USB-A connector, so I really appreciate having these ports, especially on both sides of the laptop. I wish the USB-C ports were also on both sides as well. That way the laptop could be charged more easily in various locations, as well as accepting more wide USB-C devices.
** The USB-C ports are listed as USB 4 on Acer's main marketing page, however if you dive a little deeper into Acer's own specifications they get called 3.2 gen 2 later on. I'm not sure why Acer are ok with this ambiguity since this has quite large implications (especially for the future). USB4 would suggest PCI-E tunnelling and 40Gb/s transfers, whereas 3.2 gen 2x1 (god I hate that naming!) would be just 10Gb/s and a generic display output. The potential silver lining here is that Razor added USB4 support to one of their new AMD laptops with USB 3.2 via a firmware update, so this could happen here too. I can confirm that the ports are detected as USB4 by the device manager in Windows 11 (22H2).
UPDATE: I have now tried a Samsung X5 external SSD (Thunderbolt 3) and the Orico USB4 enclosure, so can confirm that these devices are NoT supported at all. So did Acer lie? Yes, right now thier marketing material for the Swift Edge is not truthful, as it specifically states USB4 on the main page. Whether they intend to update the chipset to support this later on is another story, but never buy into a hope with tech. If you need USB4 in your next machine - DO NOT BUY THIS LAPTOP!!
The HDMI port is one of the first 2.1 specified connectors that I've seen on a mobile device. I was super excited by this because it supports 4k @ 120hz. This means that with just a modern TV and cable you can finally play back 4K 24fps movies smoothly at last. No longer do you need to put up with nasty 3:2 pull-down results from HDMI 2.0b's indivisible 60hz limit (at 4k).
I can confirm that this does work as expected and the movies are played back using very little CPU / GPU power on this very well specified machine, but... Getting the laptop to output an image to my TV has been an absolute nightmare! I can't be sure if this is my TV's fault (LG C9) or the laptop. When I tell the laptop to mirror or extend the display, the TV detects something is happening, but the screen is just black... most of the time. After fiddling with the GPU display settings for hours I did get it to work... once... but then never again. I thought that having a full size HDMI output would be great, but certainly is NOT "plug and play"!
The trackpad is really nice and large, with an anti-microbial coating. It feels nicely responsive and all the gesture inputs work well. Maybe the click is a bit loud, but there is nothing here to really complain about.
For the keyboard, It makes sense to me for it to be centred with the screen and track pad, so I appreciate the lack of number pad layout here. Apple agrees, so I assume they've done a poll to confirm that most people prefer this? Unlike Matthew Moniz's review, I don't get any annoying keyboard flex, so not sure what was going on there. The backlight is fine, I like the chicklet spacing and the slightly larger left/right arrows, but unfortunately that's where my positives for the keyboard end.
Since the keys are so far in from the side and so shallow I find it difficult to locate the default position for my hands by touch. I am struggling to get used to the layout in general and am finding that key strokes are often not registered. I would kill for a Logitech MX Mini keyboard in here, surely it wouldn't need to be too much thicker to accommodate that? And I'd gladly pay that price on top. Another thing I would like from that keyboard is the motion sensing backlight. Too often the light goes out and I can't see where to press for the function keys. Speaking of which, there is so much room here it would have been nice to have full height function keys.
Since I upgraded the main SSD, I took the chance to clear all the bloatware once and for and did a fresh install of the OS. After downloading the latest version of Windows 11 and all the laptops drivers, I stuck everything on to a USB stick. I then took the back of the laptop off, which is pretty easy, and switched out the drives. Note that you will need a single sided SSD for slot 1 (the second 2280 slot will accept double sided). Thus for the main SSD I used a 2TB Western Digital SN850X drive.
This process of installing Windows 11 was going fine until it needed to connect to the internet to continue for some reason (not skippable). It's pretty annoying that it can't be done offline because the Windows install doesn't install the WIFI driver and the screen locks you out of the Windows interface (no access to file explorer). The only way I could get around this was to press 'Shift + F10' to install a driver via DOS. I won't go to the trouble of telling you the commands because I couldn't get them to work anyway. What I did then was to force an explorer window to open by pressing 'Win + E', which now worked with the DOS window open. I could then browse to the installer, fix the issue and return to the installation process.
This clean install did not fix the drive speeds (above), nor did it improve boot up times, but it feels quicker than removing the bloatware manually. If you plan to buy this machine and upgrade the drive I still recommend a clean install over cloning the drive, despite the pointlessly painful WIFI driver issue.
There is no such thing as a perfect laptop and this is certainly no exception. The processing power and RAM is really impressive for the size and weight, but productivity is marred by the heat and subsequently overzealous fan. Unfortunately there is a lot that could improve here (read the cons list above), but I really hope Acer has another attempt at this model next year and addresses some of the bigger issues. I would happily sacrifice some weight savings and cost for a better keyboard, much better cooling solution, more battery life and a full size SD card reader.
Even if I would have preferred a slightly lower resolution and higher frame rate screen this one is stunning. It's unheard of and impressive in a machine this thin and light, but ultimately it has too many corners cut for me to recommend it.