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Vizio’s Laptop Debut Dazzles, Then Fizzles

Vizio is a company known for its televisions and home entertainment products, but now it’s hoping to also make a name in the world of personal computers.

This summer, the company launched its own line of laptops and all-in-one PCs that focused on design and value, and this week, I tested one of its Ultrabooks: The Vizio Thin + Light CT15-A1.

With a starting price of $950 (Vizio also offers a 14-inch model starting at $800), the Ultrabook packs in some great features, such as a full HD 15.6-inch display and Microsoft’s Signature version of Windows 7, so it’s not bogged down with trial software. The Vizio is also a fast machine that can handle everyday tasks without a problem. But it’s plagued by some design missteps and short battery life.

It’s also worth mentioning that Windows 8 will launch next month, along with a slew of new devices. Vizio says all of its current PCs will be upgradeable to Windows 8 for $15 but, unlike the new hardware, won’t have a touchscreen to take advantage of the operating system’s touch-friendly interface.

The Vizio Thin + Light makes quite a first impression with its sleek, minimalist design. It has an all-aluminum construction and a soft-touch finish on the bottom that makes it less slippery and easy to grip.

At 14.9 inches wide, the Vizio isn’t something I’d want to carry around with me every day but when you do have to travel with it, it helps that it’s thin and light at 0.68 inch thick and 3.96 pounds. The edges are also tapered, which adds to the Ultrabook’s overall slimness, but also make it difficult to open the notebook. I really had to dig my nails in to pry it open.

The 15.6-inch full HD non-touch display is gorgeous. It has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, and text, photos and videos looked bright and sharp. Web pages and documents are easy to read, and the display’s matte finish help reduce glare.

Samsung offers a 15-inch Ultrabook in its Series 9 line ($1,400), but the screen resolution maxes out at 1,600 x 900 pixels, while the HP Envy 6 Sleekbook’s 15.6-inch display has a 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution, so you don’t see as much on the screen, and using it requires more scrolling.

I had mixed feelings about the Vizio’s keyboard. The company opted to forgo the chiclet-style keys that are popular on today’s laptops, including the MacBook, and instead went for a flatter layout. As a result, the buttons didn’t spring back as much as I like, but because of the spacious layout, I had no problems typing on it.

I was disappointed that the keyboard isn’t backlit. Vizio told me that it wanted to include a backlit keyboard, and explored several designs, but none met their standards — either the lighting wasn’t consistent or there was too much light bleed. It is a feature that the company is actively looking at for future products.

The bigger issue with the Vizio is its touchpad. When I first started using it, it was erratic. At times, the slightest swipe of the touchpad would cause the cursor to jump all over the place, making it hard to click on links or to select text.

I downloaded a software update that was supposed to fix the problem, but it made the touchpad less responsive instead. This time, it needed more guidance to get the cursor in the right place, and multitouch gestures, like pinch-to-zoom, required several tries. There were even a few times where the cursor got stuck for a few seconds. Adjusting the sensitivity didn’t help, and it really made this Ultrabook frustrating to use.

On the left side of the Vizio is a power connector, a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB 3.0 port. There’s a second USB 3.0 port on the right side along with a full HDMI port, but no Ethernet jack or SD card reader.

This Vizio Thin + Light CT15-A1 model comes with a third-generation Intel Core i5 processor, four gigabytes of memory and a 128GB solid-state drive. You can also configure it with a Core i3 processor, or go with a top-of-the-line Core i7 processor and a 256GB solid-state drive for $1,150.

The machine felt very responsive while doing everyday tasks. Typically, I would use the computer to browse multiple Web pages, watch videos, check email and work on Word documents, and it never slowed down. In addition, I never felt the Ultrabook overheat.

I really like the fact that the Vizio comes loaded with a clean version of Windows 7, without all the extraneous apps and annoying pop-ups — just Microsoft Office Starter Edition, Microsoft Security Essentials and Skype. It made for a nice clutter-free experience, and also helped the computer to boot up faster.

From a cold start, it took just 18 seconds to boot up, and six seconds to wake from sleep mode. It’s almost as fast as the MacBook Air, which fired up in 15 seconds, and certainly quicker than the Sony Vaio T13’s 29-second, cold-start time.

Unfortunately, the battery is also quick to drain. The Vizio has an estimated battery life of around seven hours with power-saving mode on. In my tests, where I turned off all power-saving features and left Wi-Fi on, set the display to full brightness and looped a music playlist while running an email application in the background, the Vizio only delivered three hours and 50 minutes of battery life.

With normal usage, you should get about an additional hour of battery life, but even so, I wouldn’t have much confidence using the Vizio on the road.

For Vizio’s first attempt at the laptop market, the company got a lot of things right. The beautiful HD display, premium design and clean user experience are all worth a mention. But given the battery life and touchpad problems, it’s hard to recommend the Vizio Thin + Light CT15-A1. Hopefully, the company can resolve those issues with its next wave of devices.


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