Vizio made a name for itself in the TV business taking on the likes of Sony and Pioneer, and now its hoping to put HP and Dell on notice with three new value-priced laptops that are bloatware-free and beautifully designed. The 14-inch and 15.6-inch Vizio Thin + Light are Ultrabooks that measure just 0.66 inches thick and feature aluminum "undercut" designs that make it seem as if they're floating. Starting price? A relatively aggressive $898.
The 14-inch Thin + Light (CT-14) features a third-generation Core processor, a 128GB SSD, Intel HD 4000 graphics, and a 1600 x 900-pixel screen. Expect up to 7 hours of battery life. The 15.6-inch Thin + Light (CT-15) steps it up to a 1080p display and lasts up to 6 hours on a charge. You can get up to 256 GB SSDs on both notebooks. Last but not least, the 15.6 inch Notebook features Nvidia Kepler graphics and a one terrabyte drive plus a 32GB SSD. This model wasn't on display at today's event.
We just went hands on with the two new Ultrabooks and came away impressed with the design and display quality you get for the price. But you have to make a couple of trade-offs.
Vizio's Undercut design is certainly striking. We like the tapered edges and especially the soft-touch finish on the bottom of the notebooks. This doesn't feel like an Air clone. The 14-inch and 15-inch Thin + Light not only look cool and clean but feel solid.
Vizio spent nine months developing its keyboard from scratch, concentrating on the feel and even the right noise level. During our hands-on time the layout on the 14-inch Thin + Light offered springy tactile feedback, even though there's not a lot of spacing between the keys. Too bad the keyboards aren't backlit. The clickpad is a bit on the small size but offered smooth navigation.
The 1600 x 900 display on the 14-inch Thin + Light was vibrant and offered rich color, befitting Vizio's TV heritage. The 15.6-inch model's full HD panel looked even better. Both models offer HDMI and USB 3.0 but not SD Card slots. That's a big omission in our book.
Vizio focused on entertainment in other ways, creating custom audio drivers. SRS tuned all the audio. A dedicated V key on the keyboard provides access to multiple content partners, including Hulu, Vudu, Rhapsody , Amazon, Origin (powered by EA) and BackBlaze for backups.
Vizio also hopes to stand out because of what it doesn't include: crapware. Vizio's laptops have a perfectly clean, bloatware-free image, so you won't get hit with pop-ups. All you see is the desktop. As Vizio CTO Matt McRae said, the goal is to make sure that customers don't try to "fix" their PCs right out of the box. Microsoft engineers actually worked directly with Vizio to optimize the image for the notebooks' components.
Overall, Vizio's first Ultrabooks offer sleek and sturdy designs, gorgeous screens, and good components for the price. If you can live without a backlit keyboard (we can) and an SD Card slot, these laptops look like a pretty darn good deal. Stay tuned for our full reviews.