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Vizio Crashes the PC Party: Hands on with the Company's Ultra-Thin, Minimalist-Friendly Notebooks

LAS VEGAS -- In an unusual move for a manufacturer of teleVizion sets and audio devices, Vizio announced three new Windows this week. The systems—a 15.6-inch full size notebook, and two ultra-thin lightweight machines that measure in at 14 and 15-inches—look very much like the Apple MacBook Air or one of that system’s many competitors  but they also manage to distinguish themselves in design as well. Not to mention the company’s mission to help integrate an immersive multimedia entertainment between your notebook, tablet, and television set.

We met with Vizio today at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show to preview the company’s fresh notebooks and find out if these machines are a flash in the ultrabook pan or a new spark in the thin-and-light notebook category. Read on to find out, and don’t miss our gallery images and hands on video along the way.

At first glance, Vizio’s machines certainly look like a MacBook Air, but on closer inspection, they resemble ASUS Zenbooks more.   You see the similarity in the tapered curve of the bottom chassis, which flows inward and down, disappearing beneath the palm rest. The effect is a curved profile that visually implies how thin-and-light the smaller systems really are.  

There were definitely other design features we liked. First of all, Vizio used a single-body aluminum chassis design for the base and lid of these machines, and you can feel it when you hold them. The company hasn’t finalized much of the system, including internal specs like CPUs and graphics cards, so the weight isn’t set in stone, but so far, all three machines were teacup light. The aluminum body went a long way to making each machine feel more durable, steady, and balanced. A bottom covered in soft-touch material didn’t hurt the feel of the system either.

All three systems offer a minimum amount of ports. The 14- and 15-inch systems include two USB 3.0 ports, a combined headphone-microphone port, and a full sized HDMI port. The larger, heavier 15.6-inch model throws in a full-size SD card slot. Add the power port, and that’s all she wrote in terms port. Vizio said the goal was to keep these systems thin and light, so spare accoutrement was excised for that goal. On the list of sacrificed features is a backlight keyboard, which none of the systems include.

Speaking of keyboards, each of these models rock the same layout, and it’s flat, dull, and stiff. Vizio says the keyboard is another feature it’s working to finalize. When the notebooks are launched later this year—potentially as early as the spring—the company hopes to have a better keyboard in place. Ditto for the single-button clickpad, a feature we also found to be stiff and a little slow to register drag gestures.

That covers input, but what about software. To match the notebooks’ emphasis on minimal design, Vizio  is working closely with Microsoft to ensure that the PCs are free of bloatware and unnecessary programs.  

One piece of software the Vizio notebooks may include is Vizio’s media integration software. Much like the media software the company includes on the Vizio 8-inch tablet, this software suite could help you control you teleVizion set from your laptop. The company shared that it would also build its own proprietary DLNA software into the notebooks to help stream content between a household’s devices. The software will work with other Vizio teleVizio sets or any other DLNA-enabled device.

So how impressive is Vizio’s fleet of new notebooks. It’s not a bad start. The path from CES showcase to store shelf is still a few months long for these systems. But Vizio’s going to keep up posted on their progress. So when we get updates, so will you.