Vizio meets the MacBook

Vizio offers a design that could give buyers pause when considering a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. In the latter case, it's almost $1,000 cheaper than the lower-end MacBook Pro retina.

Both the Vizio ultrabooks and display take design cues from Apple.
Both the Vizio ultrabooks and display take design cues from Apple. Vizio

Vizio is the latest to make a run at Apple's MacBook. So far, I like what I see.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company's "Thin + Light" laptops are front and center at the Los Angeles Microsoft store these days.

I counted six Vizio ultrabooks. That's more -- a lot more in most cases -- than any other single vendor in the store.

And the Vizio ultrabook display setup screams Apple. Walk into any Apple store and you'll see display tables full of the newest MacBooks. For instance, the MacBook Pro Retina is currently displayed six to a table.

Ditto Vizio. In another nod to Apple, Vizio has only two basic ultrabook models -- 14-inch and 15.6-inch -- and the Los Angeles Microsoft Store had six of the same 15.6-inch models side-by-side.

Throw in the fact that Vizio has a minimalist metal (anodized aluminum) design similar to the MacBook and you have the makings of an Apple experience.

But enough about the store logistics. I've spent enough time in the LA store lately using Vizio's ultrabooks to appreciate what the company is trying to do: Deliver a laptop that competes head on with the Air and Pro but with better bang-for-the-buck.

Vizio 15.6-inch ultrabook offers a 1,920-by-1,080 display and 256GB solid-state drive for $1,249.  While it doesn't match the MacBook Pro's 2,880-by-1,800 pixel density display, for a metal unibody design, it's a pretty solid configuration.
Vizio 15.6-inch ultrabook offers a 1,920-by-1,080 display and 256GB solid-state drive for $1,249. While it doesn't match the MacBook Pro's 2,880-by-1,800 pixel density display, for a metal unibody design, it's a pretty solid configuration. Vizio

Let's focus on the Retina Pro competition here. For $999, you can get the 15.6-inch Vizio model with a 1,920-by-1,080 screen, dual-core Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor, 4GB of memory, a 128GB solid-state drive, and Intel HD 4000 graphics.

For the $1,249 model, you get bumped up to a 256GB SSD and a Core i7 chip.

Both models weigh less than 4 pounds (3.96 pounds to be exact) and are 0.68 inches thick.

By comparison, the 15.4-inch Pro starts at $2,199 with a 2,880-by-1,800 pixel density display, 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 chip, 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics 4000, and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M discrete graphics.

The MBP is 4.6 pounds and 0.7 inches thick.

For me, the display is more important than performance. Especially these days when Apple is setting a new standard with its Retina tech. And the screens on the 15.6-inch Vizio models I saw were pretty stunning. No, they can't match the pixel density of the MBP Retina but they were bright (one the brightest 15-inch screens I've seen) with vibrant, rich colors.

Which isn't that surprising considering Vizio's HDTV heritage. And another reason Vizio may be uniquely positioned to take on Apple.

Of course, you don't get Apple's OS X. But Windows 8 is on the way, which, at least for me, should give any Windows-based ultrabook more appeal.

Here's another reason I'm impressed. This is Vizio's first crop of ultrabooks. Though I don't own one and cannot vouch for their long-term durability, quality, and battery life, it's an impressive start.

Another review of the 15.6-inch model appeared Monday at The Verge. Battery life seems to be the biggest complaint.

Finally, I will revisit the Vizio laptops again after discovering one issue with both the 14-inch and 15-inch models.

Updated at 12:30 p.m. PST: corrects for typo on MacBook Pro retina pixel density.

Updated on July 23 at 12:05 p.m. PST: Adds to discussion at bottom.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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