It's not often that a company tries to break into the laptop market, but Vizio brings some fresh thinking to the table with its 15-inch Thin+Light. First off, the TV maker has banished bloatware altogether, making the Windows experience refreshingly clean on this notebook. Starting at $849 ($999 as configured), this machine also boasts a gorgeous 1080p display, a fast SSD, and a very stylish aluminum chassis. Can this upstart show up the more established players?
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Click to EnlargeThe Vizio 15-inch Thin+Light is one of the better- looking Ultrabooks yet. Its aluminum lid and deck are minimalist and elegant, tapering around the edges, and the surface repels fingerprints as well. A small backlit Vizio logo rests in one corner, the only embellishment. Inside, the notebook gets the same treatment. The keyboard lies flush with the deck, with an inch and a half of extra space on either side. Above the keyboard is a speaker grille that spans the width of the notebook.
The bottom of the Vizio is aluminum with a black soft-touch finish, much like the Dell XPS 15; it's a nice touch that feels comfortable when carrying this system around.
This is one of the lightest and thinnest 15-inch laptops ever. At 14.9 x 9.9 x 0.68 inches, the Vizio takes up a bit more space on a desk than the Samsung Series 9 15-inch (14.0 x 9.3 x 0.58 inches), but less than the Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-581TG (14.4 x 10.05 x 0.79/0.81 inches) and the Sony VAIO S Series 15 (14.9 x 10 x 0.9 inches). Weighing a hair under 4 pounds, the Vizio again splits the difference between the 3.8-pound Samsung and the 4.6-pound Sony and the 4.8-pound Acer.
Display and Audio
Click to EnlargeThe Vizio's 15.6-inch IPS display has a resolution of 1920 x 1080, and it's really an impressive sight. The matte display did an excellent job minimizing glare and reflections while we watchinged trailers for "The Avengers" and "The Hobbit." Better still, colors were bright and crisp, and there was a minimal amount of pixeilation and artifacts in darker areas. Viewing angles were very wide, too.
The display's brightness of 257 lux beat the average (246), the Sony VAIO S (231) and the Acer (158), but not the Samsung Series 9 (368).
Boosted by SRS Premium Sound, the stereo speakers above the Vizio's keyboard produced accurate, but somewhat underwhelming, audio. Carly Rae Jepsen's voice rang out on "Call Me Maybe," but higher notes sounded tinny, and there was a lack of bass. This was made all the more evident on Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend"; the lower end was almost nonexistent.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeWhile most other laptop makers now use island-style keyboards, Vizio opted for a more traditional layout, where the keys abut one another. The metal keys, which match the color of the deck, are reminiscent of the Apple PowerBook. While the keys themselves were large, their short travel and flex led to us to making more mistakes than usual. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, we averaged 52 words per minute with a 3- percent error rate. While typing this review, we found ourselves typing a lot of double letters by accident. Also, at this price point, backlit keys would have been nice, too.
However, we did like the fact that the function row keys were reversed. The F1 key has the Vizio logo, which, when pressed, opens the Web browser to a special Vizio PC page. Here customers are shown special offers for online services. Not all are exclusive, though. For instance, while there's an offer for a 30-day free trial of Rhapsody, twice what you could get normally, the free one-week trial of Hulu Plus is available for anyone.
Click to EnlargeThe Vizio's large 4.2 x 2.8-inch Sentelic touchpad isn't exactly centered under the G and H keys; instead, it's ever so slightly to the right, which made us twist our hands a little while typing. For the most part, it was accurate, but we found ourselves having to direct it more so than with other touchpads. Also, when we used two hands (the left to press and the right to navigate), we found that the cursor would jump around on occasion. Multi-finger gestures, such as two-finger rotate and three-finger swipe, worked well, but first had to be activated in the control panel. Sometimes it took a few tries to get two-finger scrolling to work correctly.
Ports and Webcam
Click to EnlargeOn a 15-inch laptop, it's a little disappointing to see such a paucity of ports. The left side of the Vizio 15.6" Thin + Light has one USB 3.0 port and a full HDMI port. The right side houses a second USB port and a headphone jack. That's it. No Ethernet, no DisplayPort, not even an SD card slot. Acer may put all of its ports inconveniently in the back, but at least they're there.
Click to EnlargeThe 1.3-MP webcam served up accurate colors, but sharpness left something to be desired. When we recorded a video of ourselves using Windows Movie Maker, our face and the office behind us was pixilated and blurry, like an early Impressionist painting.
After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, all of our standard touchpoints on the Vizio remained below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, what we consider uncomfortable. The touchpad measured 80 degrees, the G and H keys were 86 degrees, and the middle of the underside was 89 degrees. However, the back of the notebook by the speaker bar, reached a toasty 100 degrees.
The configuration we tested of the Vizio 15.6" Thin + Light features a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB Toshiba SSD. Its PCMark07 score of 4,818 was nearly double both the mainstream and the thin-and-light average, due in no small part to its SSD. The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-581TG-6666, which has the same CPU but a 500GB hard drive and a 32GB SSD cache, mustered a score of 2,631. The Samsung Series 9 15-inch has the same processor as well, but it only managed a score of only 3,749. The Sony Vaio S, which has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3210M chip, scored 2,279.
On our file transfer test, in which we duplicate 4.97GB of mixed media files, the Vizio took 1 minute and 5 seconds, a pretty swift rate of 78.3 MBps. That's more than double the Samsung Series 9 (34MBps) and the VAIO S (35MBps), as well as the category average. Vizio told us that the first run of its notebooks would use Toshiba SSDs exclusively, and that the firmware had been tailored for Vizio's notebooks.
When we ran our OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which times how long a notebook takes to match 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses, the Vizio 15.6" Thin + Light took 6 minutes and 14 seconds, about 10 seconds longer than the category average. The Samsung (5:48) and the Acer M5 (5:51) were faster by about a half a minute, and the VAIO S took just 5:10.
The Vizio's boot time of 32 seconds was about half that of the average (54 seconds), and on a par with the Acer TimelineU M5 (31 seconds), and longer than the Samsung Series 9 15-inch (23 seconds).
Click to EnlargeThe integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics in the Vizio aren't going to win it any fragging contests, but you will be able to play more mainstream titles without a hitch. On "World of Warcraft," we averaged a smooth 41 fps with the screen at its native resolution and graphics set to autodetect. The Series 9, which has the same GPU as the Vizio but a lower-res 1600 x 900-pixel display, averaged 43 fps. The Acer M5 and VAIO S, which both use an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE GPU, notched 137 fps and 97 fps, respectively, at their native resolutions.
When we increased the graphics settings to max, the Vizio dropped to an unplayable 17 fps, about half the average.
The notebook's 3DMark11 score of 607 is about 500 points below average, but on a par with the Series 9 (595). The Acer M5 scored a higher 1,824, as did the VAIO S (1,342).
Sadly, the Vizio lasted just four4 hours on the LAPTOP Battery test, which involves continuous wWeb surfing with the screen set to 40 percent brightness. That's an hour and a half less than the category average, as well as the Sony VAIO S Series 15 (5:24). Other 15-inch Ultrabooks we've tested last considerably longer. The Acer Aspire M5-581TG and the Samsung Series 9 both turned in runtimes of 7:29.
Software and Support
Click to EnlargeAs a Microsoft Signature notebook, the Vizio Thin + Light comes with a refreshing absence of trialware. No annoying pop-ups for McAffee or the like. Instead, consumers get Microsoft Security Essentials, as well as 90 days of Microsoft technical support.
Vizio provides a one-year limited warranty and up to one year of complimentary telephone technical support. Vizio's customer care is located in South Dakota.
Our configuration of the Vizio 15.6" Thin + Light (CT15-A1) costs $999 and has a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB Toshiba SSD. The CT15-A0 ($949) features a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i3-3217U CPU, and the CT15-A2 ($1,249) has a 1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3517U processor and a 256GB SSD. Otherwise, all three configurations have the same specs.
The Vizio 15.6" Thin + Light (CT15-A1) is a good first effort from a company trying to break into the notebook market. The display is not only gorgeous, you can actually enjoy it because the desktop isn't cluttered with annoying bloatware. We also appreciate the high-quality industrial design. On the other hand, the company committed a couple of rookie mistakes, such as the lack of an SD Card slot and relatively short battery life.
At this price, we prefer the Sony VAIO S Series 15, which offers better graphics, greater endurance, and a backlit keyboard. But if you want a lighter and more durable design along with a more pure Windows computing experience, the Vizio 15.6" Thin + Light is an Ultrabook worth considering.