Hands-on with Vizio's razor thin laptop and all-in-one PC

If you build it, they will come. That's how the saying goes, at least. Cheapo HDTV maker Vizio wants to do for PCs what it did with the HDTV business; that is, disrupt it with well designed products, with the latest specs at affordable prices. Vizio isn't entering the PC business to churn out the same products Samsung, HP or Dell have. It envisions itself being able to offer "experiences" that no other PC makers have been able to do so far. (Pinch me if you've heard of another company that focuses on "experiences" rather than simply specs.)

To kick-off its first foray into the PC market, Vizio is releasing two gorgeous products — an aluminum unibody laptop (14-inch and 15.6-inch) and an all-in-one PC (24-inch and 27-inch) that reflect its desire to provide consumers with an uncompromised PCs.

One look at Vizio's laptop and all-in-one (AIO) and it's obvious that Vizio's gone through great lengths to build handsome computers that not only have the technical specs to brag about, but look like products from the distant future worth of being put on a pedestal.

A Touch of Vizio

Make no mistake, Vizio is not a PC company. Not yet.

To build the very best PCs without any bloatware — yes, you read that right, and that's rare for cheaper machines — and crazily no branding stickers, Vizio roped in help from Intel and Microsoft. The PCs you see in our gallery below were built by engineers and designers with decades of experience in the PC business, not by TV engineers trying to cram a PC inside of a panel. So even if Vizio is the newbie, it cut right through and identified all of the crap consumers hate about current PCs and did the complete opposite.

And just because Vizio is building PCs now doesn't mean it's forgotten that consumers flocked to its products because Vizio understands how to build entertainment "experiences." If you look closely, on every Vizio PC, you'll find a "V" button. It's a one-press button that'll give you access to Origin, Rhapsody, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, BackBlaze, Netflix and Vudu HD Movies. None of this is installed on the PCs — they're shortcuts that open up in a browser window. It's a nice compromise between trying to push services at the consumer, but keeping them off the actual machine.

14-inch and 15.6-inch Ultrabooks

Self-described as "The Ultimate Ultrabook," Vizio's thin and light notebooks are crafted from flat sheets of aluminum to give it a sturdy unibody design in a 0.66-inch form factor, much like the MacBook Air. Available in 14-inch and 15.6-inch displays, the notebooks feel solid open and closed, on the table and in the arms, with the keyboard being one of the best we've ever typed on (Vizio says it spent nine months perfecting it).

The displays have very wide viewing angles, rendering pixels at a crisp 1600x900 resolution. I did notice that the 15.6-inch model had a better display when viewed from the side — colors remained vivid without becoming washed out as it was on the 14-inch.

Configurations for the 14-inch start with third-gen Intel Core i3 processors (can be topped out to either a 1.7GHz Core i5 or 1.9GHz Core i7 processor), Intel HD 4000 graphics, Windows 7 Home Premium, 4GB RAM, 128GB of Solid-State Drive storage, two USB 3.0 ports, a single HDMI port, 3.5mm audio jack, 1.3-megapixel webcam and up to seven hours of battery life.

If you step up to the 15.6-inch, you'll find a higher resolution display set at 1920x1080, with the same model specs as on the 14-inch, but it appears the battery takes a hit with a beefier processor — dropping down to six hours and five and half hours when you move up from the Core i3 base to a Core i5 or Core i7.

If there ever was a rival to take on Apple's MacBook Air, Vizio's are definitely in the running.

24-inch and 27-inch All-In-One

When it comes to all-in-one PCs, Apple and HP are the undisputed kings, but Vizio's new 24-inch and 27-inch all-in-one (AIO) are formidable challengers. The AIO is a sliver of thinness that other PC makers just don't seem to know how to make.

All I could think about the entire time during my hands-on was just how good-looking Vizio's AIO was. Its 1080p display isn't going to compare to the iMac's 2560x1440 resolution, but its elegant design definitely leaves an impression. It reminds me of the iMac G4 aka the "iLamp" in that its display pivots on a slender metal arm.

In terms of ports, there are three USB 3.0 ports, an eSata port, Ethernet jack and two HDMI ports (for plugging in an Xbox 360, Blu-ray player, etc.). Vizio says it purposely designed the base of the AIO to have all of the ports facing the back because it reduces cable clutter — that makes sense.

Vizio's Chief Technology Officer Matt McRae spoke about how important the back of an AIO was, and I couldn't agree more. The rear of the PC looks just as good as the front. Vizio's attention to detail with the its AIO line is as obsessive as Apple's. The AIO PCs look superb from every angle. Photos don't do them justice. You'll need to touch them for yourself to really get a good feel for them.

But design is only one part of the AIO. They're also powerful, too. The two AIOs feature third-gen Intel Core processors, 2.1 stereo speakers with audio tuned by the SRS folks, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, 500GB to 1TB of hard drive storage + 32GB of Solid-State Drive, an SD card reader, four USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, Ethernet, two HDMI ports and either Intel HD 4000 or NVIDIA GeForce Kepler graphics. To my dismay, there's no optical drive to be found on the AIO. You can attach a USB one or plug in an Xbox 360, Blu-ray or DVD player through the HDMI port, though, if you find yourself missing physical discs.

Accompanying the AIO is a Magic Trackpad clone and a media remote that can be used to turn the PC on and off, toggle volume, switch video inputs and control video playback.

Elegance At An Affordable Price

I understand that computers with "great" design come at a premium. That's just the way it works. But Vizio doesn't get that. With its first PCs, it has managed to bring the pricing down to a starting price of $900 for 14-inch Ultrabook and 24-inch AIO. The cost of a 27-inch AIO isn't too expensive, either, starting at $1,100. All of them are available as of yesterday at retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, Target and the Microsoft Store.

While I think Vizio's got a pair of hits in its hands, the PCs are just a trackpad short of perfect. The trackpads on the Ultrabooks felt a little small for my tastes and tracking was a little spotty, with mousing a little jumpier than I would have liked. The same applies for the AIO's trackpad: mousing still needs to be improved, although the increased size of the pad improves the experience.

Will Vizio catch every other PC maker off guard and go in for the silent kill? I'm not psychic, but I think for a newcomer, Vizio's off to a great start.

All photos taken by Raymond Wong for DVICE.

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