If there's a silver lining to the overall decline of computer sales , it's the booming of the premium ultramobile segment. Based on a forecast from Gartner , sales of these slim but powerful flagship systems could rise by 11% this year and, by 2018, account for 27% of PC sales.
The key to success in this category is to deliver the most powerful and long-lasting mobile computers in the thinnest and lightest packages. Currently, that could require using Intel's recently introduced Kaby Lake processor family. The new Core processors add additional speed and efficiency to their Skylake predecessors while making 4K graphics run smoother.
Among the first Windows PCs to use these seventh-generation Core processors are Acer's Swift 7 and Dell's XPS 13 .
I spent two weeks with each of these systems, taking them on short trips, to meetings and to the living room for some late-night movie watching. I also ran them through a variety of benchmarks to check performance, battery life, and other factors.
Each of these two ultraportables squeeze a lot of power and battery life into impressively lightweight packages. Read on to find out what they're about and which might make a better selection for you.
Acer Swift 7
One of the thinnest notebooks around, Acer's Swift 7 sets the standard for those who travel light but need a large, brilliant display.
Inside, the Swift 7 has the Kaby Lake-based Intel Core i5-7Y54 processor that ranges in speed from 1.2GHz to 3.2GHz. The 7-watt processor can minutely adjust its performance -- and energy consumption -- to match the task at hand across a 2GHz clock speed range. The laptop includes 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 256GB of SSD storage and a 13.3-in. HD screen.
Dell Acer Swift 7
At only 0.4-in. thick, Swift 7 is a marvel of engineering. With an aluminum base, keyboard deck and screen lid, it feels surprisingly solid and sturdy; and the system doesn't bend if you stress its corners. However, like so many other notebooks these days, it feels cold and metallic to the touch -- personally, I prefer the ones with a rubberized coating.
In addition, the system weighs an enviable 2.5 lb.; add in the system's small three-prong power adapter and you have a 2.8-lb. travel weight.
On the other hand, the Swift 7 takes up a lot of desk space, measuring 12.7 x 8.9 in., which can be attributed to the 13.3-in. display's wide 0.6-in. frame. I found the color balance of the 1920 x 1080 HD screen to be more vivid and rich than the Dell XPS 13's display, even though it had a brightness level of 268 cd/m 2 , about 4% less than the XPS 13's display.
In an effort to make low-light reading a bit easier (and healthier) , the Swift 7 includes Acer's Bluelight Shield , a feature that reduces the level of blue light in the display. Unfortunately, it gives the entire screen a yellow cast which I found unpleasant, especially when looking at images or videos, but it's easy to turn the feature on and off.
The display (there is no touch version) uses Intel's Graphics 615 video processor that runs at a top speed of 950Mhz and has 4.158GB of video memory at its disposal.
The system's webcam is above the display and can show up to a 1280 x 720 resolution.
The Swift 7's rose-gold keyboard deck struck me as a bit kitschy (and unfortunately, it is not backlit), but its 19.3mm keys are supple and responsive. The system's enormous 5.9-in. touch pad is perfect for performing two- or three-finger gestures.
While they can get quite loud, the Swift 7's speakers point straight down and, as a result, can sound muffled. The system's Dolby Audio software includes a graphic equalizer that can help compensate by mixing in more mid-range and high-end tones.
As far as connections go, the Swift 7 embraces USB-C with a pair of ports, either of which can charge the system; the system also comes with adapters for traditional USB 3.0 devices and connecting with an HDMI display or projector. There's also an audio jack, but no SD card slot. There are built-in Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but the unit lacks the XPS 13's networking amplifiers and prioritization software.
A second-generation Trusted Platform Module (TPM) makes remote log-ins more secure.
Despite its low-power processor, the Swift 7's performance was within striking distance of the XPS 13. Its PCMark 8 score of 2,796 was 7% less than the XPS 13's score -- but it would be hard to tell the difference between them on raw computing power. Despite not having a fan, the Swift 7 never got hotter than 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although the Swift 7's 2,770mAh battery is less than half the strength of the XPS 13's, it was able to power the system for 6 hours and 31 minutes -- just 18 minutes short of the XPS 13 -- on PCMark 8's rigorous battery life tests. The system lasted for 8 hours, 43 minutes while playing a series of videos, nearly an hour short of the XPS 13.
Acer backs the Swift 7 with a one-year warranty that can be extended to three years for a reasonable $90.
At $1,100 ( vendor price ), the Swift 7 is a bargain for those who want to travel light but not give up the latest mobile technology or a big screen.
Dell XPS 13
Short and a little chunky, Dell's XPS 13 is among the smallest notebooks around with a 13-in. display.
The system occupies only 12 x 7.9 in. of desktop space, making it roughly the same size as the 11.5 x 8.2-in. HP EliteBook Folio G1 , which has a smaller 12.5-in. display. This is probably due to the XPS 13's 0.2-in. screen bezel -- one-third the size of that of the Swift 7. Dell calls this its InfinityEdge display; to me, the thin frame makes the display look like it's suspended in space.