Choosing the best lightweight laptops is about more than just portability: there’s no point buying a laptop for its luggability if its specification, performance and battery life aren’t also up to the job. Some of the best budget laptops may be almost as portable as our top choices, but the savings have to come somewhere – and that’s usually in the materials used and the speed of the components.
If you’re buying for work rather than casual use, that’s likely to be too much of a compromise – and that’s why Acer and HP both offer premium ultraportable laptops in the form of the Acer Swift 7 and the HP Elite Dragonfly. The Acer is our current pick of the best ultraportable laptops, and the HP was a deserved winner in the 2020 T3 Awards, where it won the coveted best laptop gong.
These laptops are both well-built machines from well-respected brands, but while they come in at very similar prices there are some crucial differences between them. Let’s discover their respective strengths and weaknesses.
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Acer Swift 7 vs HP Elite Dragonfly: design and display
The Acer Swift 7 is 9.95mm thick and weighs 890g thanks to its magnesium alloy casing. It has a 14” FHD touchscreen behind a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 6, and that touchscreen is an IPS panel with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 and truly tiny bezels around it. IPS is our preferred display tech for laptops thanks to its brightness, viewing angles and colour reproduction. This display delivers 400 nits brightness.
The HP also has a 400-nit display. This one is a 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS, and you can also specify a 4K HDR panel with 550 nits. But the key difference here isn’t the size but the hinge, which enables you to work in laptop mode, tablet mode, tent mode for sharing content and media mode for watching video. Once again the casing is magnesium but the HP is marginally heavier than the Acer at 990g and it’s thicker too, 16mm at its thickest point.
These are both very beautiful laptops but to our eyes the HP has the edge: its “dragonfly blue” finish is iridescent with diamond-cut accents and looks reassuringly expensive.
Acer Swift 7 vs HP Elite Dragonfly: processor, storage and graphics
The Acer has an 8th generation dual-core Core i7-8500Y, 16GB of memory, Intel UHD Graphics 615 and a 512GB SSD.
The HP has an 8th generation quad-core Core i5-8265U processor with 16GB of RAM, Intel UHD Graphics 620 and a 512GB SSD with 32GB Intel Octane Memory for storage acceleration. You can specify it with a Core i7-8565U.
Although Core i5s are usually less powerful than i7s, the Core i5 in the Dragonfly is a strong i5 up against a relatively weak i7 that’s designed more for energy efficiency than performance. The HP’s processor has double the CPU cores, a higher base frequency and higher memory bandwidth than the processor in the Acer, although it is less energy efficient and marginally slower in Turbo mode.
The difference between graphics systems is less dramatic, with the Acer typically scoring better and delivering marginally higher frame rates in games.
The Acer has a quoted 11.5-hour battery life. HP promises 10.
Acer Swift 7 vs HP Elite Dragonfly: connectivity
The Acer is designed for portability and has twin USB 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The HP is more sociable than the Acer, with twin Thunderbolt / USB-C connectors with power delivery 3.0, an HDMI 1.4 port, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 (charging) port and the obligatory audio jack. And while we’re on the subject of audio, this laptop produces a very impressive sound thanks to four speakers from hi-fi legends Bang & Olufsen. The Wi-Fi is gigabit 802.11ax / Wi-Fi 6 and the HP has Bluetooth 5.
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Acer Swift 7 vs HP Elite Dragonfly: price and verdict
Prices for the Swift vary by model but you can currently expect to pay around a grand and a half for the specification detailed here. Just make sure you’re getting the right model, as some of the previous generation are still on sale. The Dragonfly in the base specification we’re looking at here is slightly more expensive.
The Swift is very pretty, exceptionally thin and reasonably powerful, and it’s a very strong choice. We think it’s the best ultralight Windows laptop for most people.
We’re choosing our words carefully here, though, because we think the HP is the better device – but technically it’s a convertible rather than a normal laptop.
If you’re buying for business or travel a lot the HP is absolutely the laptop to buy if you can afford it. Its display is better even without the UHD 4K upgrade, its processor is better, its Wi-Fi is faster and it’s better looking too, and it’s packed with HP security and privacy features ranging from its webcam privacy shutter to its optional Sure View screen that makes your display unreadable to anyone trying to sneak a peek at your world domination plans.