Hands-on: Vizio’s Beautiful, Bloatware-Free Ultrabooks Start at $898

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.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Chris Says:

    No backlit keyboard is a deal killer!

  2. Wes Says:

    Looks awesome! Can’t wait to get one.

    The lack of a backlit keyboard is a non-issue for me (Yes, kids, it’s called touch-typing. They used to teach it in school.)

  3. Chip Says:

    Seriously, looks good but will someone please tell us the weight!

  4. Reid Says:

    Wow…once again, Apple innovates, others copy. Blatant ripoff.

  5. GLN Says:

    Glossy screen and poor keyboard design. Meh…

  6. john Says:

    The 15inch has a 1080p display

  7. Bob Dole Says:

    Am I the only one annoyed by the lack of the context menu key? That’s coming up on way too many windows laptops these days. Sure you can use Shift + F10, but it’s not like they don’t have the space for that key.

  8. JDE Says:

    “No backlit keyboard is a deal killer!”

    Forced to agree. It’ a cheap enough option to include. Also, The Verge panned the touchpad and didn’t care much for the keyboard: “Vizio says that it designed and built the keyboards on the new systems completely from scratch (a nine month process), but unfortunately they aren’t the best we’ve felt. They’re a bit too shallow for our tastes, which means that there isn’t quite enough feedback when you press a key. The trackpad also leaves a bit to be desired: its plastic construction means it’s too “sticky,” and it couldn’t track two fingers independently (e.g. using one finger to click and another to drag).”

  9. Ryan Says:

    “The 15inch has a 1080p display”

    And even better, this display incorporate in-plane switching (IPS) module technology.

  10. Tsais Says:

    @Ryan I was wondering about that… so, does that mean the 14″ unit’s display is not IPS ?

    I find the lack of backlit keyboard annoying too. Not cause I can’t touch type, but using function keys etc is not part of touch typing and it helps to be able to see the volume adjustment keys at night, just as an example.

    Worse is, that they spent 9 month developing a keyboard from scratch that doesn’t even take advantage of the width of the notebook!! No backlight and more cramped than necessary just doesn’t fly.

    I would have been fine with a Micro SD card slot, cause I only buy Micro SD cards anyway, using an adapter for old fashioned devices that still waste space and use regular SD cards.

    Another deal killer is lack of at least 3 USB ports. Cause with a lot of external drives, you still need 2 USB ports, and the third to keep your mouse connected.

    The trackpad is an emergency input device only, so I don’t mind if its smallish, it spends 99% of the time disabled anyway.

    And what do I hear? they got glossy screens? What a pointless failure… Can hardly believe Laptop Mag didn’t flag that.

    Lastly, its mentioned that the 15″ model has some kind of Kepler GPU, but then there’s no mention what model? It best be a 640M LE or 650M, cause the 620M and 630M are just renamed FERMI GPUs with less performance, yet higher TDP than the 640M LE…

    I’m still puzzling why Asus installed that PoS GT 620M with a 30Watt TDP in their UX32VD, when the Kepler version of the 640M LE has double the performance at 17 Watt TDP… The Ultrabook would get less hot than it does and have more performance… I’d pay extra for that, but no… Annoying, annoying…

    What to buy? Still waiting for an Ultrabook without stupid mistakes.

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