The new Acer Swift 3 looks, feels and performs like a mid-range laptop. But it is priced like a budget notebook at $998.
To my surprise, it has features that you would not expect in budget models, such as a fingerprint reader, full-HD IPS (in-plane switching) display, a backlit keyboard and a USB Type-C port.
The downside is that it looks rather sedate in business-like grey and lacks the flair of more premium notebooks.
However, its brushed metallic chassis is fairly slim and light. It has good build quality, though there is a hint of creakiness.
It keeps up with the times - the 14-inch screen has narrow bezels, a design feature that reduces its footprint to about that of a 13.3-inch model.
On top of all that, Acer offers a two-year warranty on the Swift 3, compared with the usual one-year period for notebooks.
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-8250U (1.6GHz)
GRAPHICS: Intel UHD Graphics 620
MEMORY: 4GB DDR4 RAM + 16GB Optane memory
SCREEN SIZE: 14 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
CONNECTIVITY: 1 x USB 3.0 Type-C, 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, HDMI, SD card reader, audio jack
BATTERY: 48 watt-hour
VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5
BATTERY LIFE: 5/5
You may wonder what the catch is. The bad news is that it has a 1TB hard drive that runs much slower than a solid-state drive (SSD). Its 4GB of system memory (RAM) is also lacking as 8GB is now commonplace in notebooks.
The good news is that Acer has equipped the Swift 3 with Intel's Optane Memory technology.
This special memory cache (16GB) can improve system performance. Its software learns how you use the computer and stores frequently used apps and data so that programs load and run faster.
In other words, it works much like the flash memory cache embedded in hybrid drives, though it has twice as much capacity as the 8GB typically found in hybrid drives.
In addition to its Optane memory cache, the Swift 3 is powered by Intel's latest eighth-generation Core i5 processor. This is a mid-tier chip that should suffice for most users.
To assess the laptop's performance, I ran PCMark 10, a system benchmark that tests common computing scenarios using popular applications.
The Swift scored 3,343 points - slightly lower than the Asus ZenBook 13 (3,566), which has an identical Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and an SSD (and costs $1,698).
The Swift took about 13 seconds to boot into Windows 10, which is snappy. I was expecting a timing of more than 30 seconds because of the hard drive, but the Optane memory showed its worth here.
The most dramatic example of the cache in action was in the CrystalDiskMark storage benchmark. In my initial test, the read speeds (about 170MB/s) were typical of a hard drive. But these numbers shot up to reach the levels of an SSD (around 900MB/s) in subsequent tests.
As for its other features, I found its fingerprint reader to be prompt at unlocking the laptop.
The keyboard is on the shallow side and dips slightly in the middle while being typed on. Its backlight is useful and switches itself off when the keyboard is idle.
The IPS display is decent - viewing angles are wide, aided by a non-reflective matt finish. There is some colour shift when viewed off-centre.
It could also be brighter, though its modest screen brightness probably helps with its excellent battery stamina.
The Swift 3 lasted 8 hours 10 minutes in The Straits Times' video-loop battery test, with the screen brightness and volume set at maximum.
• Verdict: The Acer Swift 3 offers excellent value and decent performance for its price.