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Vizio isn't the first name that springs to mind when you think of tablets, but it's not a company to be dismissed. In just a few short years, Vizio has popped onto the radar as one of the most powerful players in high-definition televisions using a simple formula of quality products at low prices.
It's a formula that's a great match for the current tablet market. Big-name tablets that sold in 2010 for as much as $700 can now be found for half the price and consumers are watching to see how low things will go.
The answer, for Vizio, is $299, which buys you an 8-inch tablet stocked with 4GB of storage and Android 2.3. Is it an irresistible combo of price and quality? Let's take a look.
The Vizio Tablet VTAB1008 isn't winning any beauty pageants. Sure, its 8-inch screen size stands out in the sea of 7-inch and 10-inch options on the market, but at nearly 0.5 inch thick and weighing 1.3 pounds, this tablet feels less like the future of personal computing and more like a cutting board.
There are some redeeming qualities. Vizio's husky design feels sturdier than the unintentionally flexible build of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the Archos 101. The back of the tablet is covered in a matte, fingerprint-resistant plastic.
One of Vizio's niftiest design tricks is the disappearing act that's been done with the Android navigation controls. When you turn the tablet for landscape or portrait orientation, the three backlit buttons for home, menu, and back will magically jump from one bezel to the next so that the controls are always located beneath the screen. Similarly, there are three speakers along the edges of the tablet, two of which will activate depending on how the tablet is positioned. This helps to avoid the problem of inadvertently blocking a speaker's sound when holding the tablet in one orientation or another.
Though the home screen may not look like it, this tablet is running Android 2.3 with all the trimmings. Vizio put in some design work to skin the system graphics to emulate the look of the VIA (Vizio Internet Apps) applications built into its latest crop of Internet-connected TVs. When you look at the total product ecosystem, it makes a lot of sense, but even on its own the tablet's distinct look is both attractive and intuitive.
Essentially, Vizio has done away with Android's desktop and plunges you right into your app collection--a philosophy similar to iOS. A customizable selection of favorites can be arranged at the top of the screen while an ever-present dock of core apps (Browser, Market, Email, Gallery, Music) runs across the bottom of the screen. Like the dock found in Apple's iOS, these apps can be added to, rearranged, and deleted.
Despite all of these tweaks, the beating heart of Android is still vital throughout this tablet. Google's entire mobile app suite is present, including Gmail, Maps, Latitude, Navigation (yes, GPS is built in), Places, Talk, YouTube, and the all-important Google App Market. Barnes & Noble's free Nook e-reader app also comes preinstalled, and there's talk of other apps arriving on the tablet later by way of an over-the-air update.
One feature included on Vizio's tablet that you're not likely to come across on any competing tablet is a remote control app that works in conjunction with an integrated IR blaster so the tablet can be used as a universal remote for most consumer audiovisual equipment--regardless of brand. We set up the tablet to operate a reference TV within minutes. The tablet requires you to punch in the model number of the device you want to control, but after that, you should be up and running.
Is it the ultimate universal remote? Not quite. If you're looking to turn on a fleet of home audiovisual equipment with a single click or do more than your basic volume and channel adjustments, something like the Logitech Harmony Remote series is still your best bet. Still, for those times when your remote is out of reach, it's comforting to know that you can mute obnoxious commercials with the same tablet you're using to check your e-mail.
Other features on Vizio's tablet are par for the course. You get a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front that works for both still shots and video capture. Internally you'll find wireless options for 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth peripheral support. For hardware connections, you get a Micro-HDMI video output, Micro-USB output for syncing files, and a microSD card slot for expanding on the relatively meager 4GB of internal storage (much of which is taken up by the system software).
Though the Vizio tablet has all the makings of an affordable underdog, there is one aspect that gives us pause: the screen. The 1,024x768-pixel resolution display is crisp, but its maximum brightness levels are lacking and there are two noticeably poor viewing angles that crop up. For a company that has made a name delivering quality LCD panels in TVs, it's a shame that the same can't be said of its tablet.
We're also a little disappointed by the overall system speed. Compared with Samsung's similarly priced 7-inch Galaxy Tab, Vizio's tablet feels like it's taking a breath before launching or closing apps, scrolling Web pages, or even jumping into the settings menu. Some of this can be minimized by switching off the screen animations under the tablet's settings menu, but the latency never disappears completely.
Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Maximum black level (in cd/m2)||Default black level (in cd/m2)||Default contrast ratio||Contrast ratio (max brightness)|
Vizio deserves credit for branching out of its comfort zone and delivering an affordable tablet with plenty of unique attributes. Unfortunately, the Vizio Tablet's best features still aren't compelling enough for us to ignore its heft, mediocre speed, and poor viewing angles. As Android 2.3 tablets go, the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab is still the one to beat, though the prices of Android 3.0 tablets are getting lower every week.