Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement | How we test computers

Vizio Thin+Light CT14 review: Vizio Thin+Light CT14

Taking a bold step into the PC market, the Vizio Thin+Light CT14 is a new type of 14-inch ultrabook, held back by some first-gen jitters.

Dan Ackerman

Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

See full bio
8 min read

The major players in the laptop business are well-established. Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, and others have all been making portable computers for 20-plus years. That's why it's surprising that we've seen not one, but two fresh takes on laptops from first-time PC makers in 2012. First was the Razer Blade, from the accessory company Razer. The second is a new line of laptops from Vizio, best known for its big-screen televisions.


Vizio Thin+Light CT14

The Good

The <b>Vizio Thin+Light CT14</b> has an excellent consumer-electronics-inspired design, and is enviably thin and light. Its clutter-free desktop and minimalist looks showcase the fact that this is not just another rote laptop.

The Bad

The CT14 is plagued by head-scratching omissions -- from a backlit keyboard to a SD card slot -- that make this feel like a first-gen product. The touch pad and battery life are also disappointing.

The Bottom Line

Taking a bold step into the PC market, the Vizio Thin+Light CT14 is a fresh take on the 14-inch ultrabook, held back by some first-gen jitters.

In both cases, these are new laptops, designed from the ground up. Both are thin, midsize systems, with an eye toward creating a premium product line. The Blade looked very cool, but famously went off the rails trying to do too much that was unfamiliar. The Vizio line, represented here by the 14-inch CT14-A2, doesn't mess with the archetype too much and hits more often than it misses.

This 14-inch is technically an ultrabook, although it doesn't particularly promote Intel's trademarked ultrabook branding. It's very thin, and feels especially light in the hand, and its all-metal construction gives it a very high-end vibe. Of course, at $1,199 for this Core i7/256GB solid-state drive (SSD) configuration, it is a high-end laptop. A more reasonable Core i3 version, with a 128GB SSD, is $899 (still expensive for a Core i3 laptop), while a middle-ground Core i5/128GB SSD version is $949. All have 1,600x900-pixel-resolution displays, 4GB of RAM, and Intel HD 4000 graphics.

While the thin, sturdy chassis is exactly the kind of thing Dell, HP, and others have been struggling to get right for a long time, there are some potential deal killers. The touch pad is just unresponsive enough to be annoying. The keyboard is a nonisland throwback, like an old MacBook Pro keyboard, but with shallower keys. Battery life is unimpressive. And, oddly, there's no SD card slot, which is a surprising omission; even $299 Netbooks include that basic feature.

If you can live within those restrictions, it's very hard not to like the Vizio CT14. For a first-shot laptop, it looks and feels great, and it's exactly the kind of rock-solid, ultrathin midsize laptop I wish more companies would make. As it is, Vizio's inaugural laptop is a few tweaks (admittedly very important ones) away from being a top-tier product.

Price as reviewed $1,199
Processor 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 256GB SSD
Chipset Intel HM77
Graphics Intel HD4000
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 13.3x9.2 inches
Height 0.67 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 14 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.4 pounds / 4.2 pounds
Category Midsize

With a matte silver-gray finish and sharp angles, the Vizio CT14 stands out from a sea of shiny, soft-focus laptops with gently sloping curves and reflective surfaces. If anything, it's a much more "home theater" look, which is appropriate for a company largely concerned with creating unobtrusive, minimalist big-screen televisions.

Some 14-inch ultrabooks push the spirit, if not the letter of Intel's official ultrabook specs, with bodies nearly 1 inch thick, non-SSD storage, optical drives, and weights that come close to 4 pounds. Fortunately, the Vizio CT14 doesn't walk that close to the edge, coming in at 3.4 pounds and 0.67 inch thick. It's one of those laptops that feels even lighter than it looks, but only because it retains a healthy desktop footprint for a 14-inch laptop.

The side edges bevel in for the front three-quarters of the system's depth. That leaves less room for ports and connections, but creates a natural rounded grip to lift the laptop up by when it's open and sitting right in front of you. Few laptop makers think of ergonomic touches such as this.

The keyboard is one of the most notable deviations from the norm. Instead of the island-style keys that have become nearly universal, these are wide, flat keys that sit nearly edge-to-edge. The key faces taper just a little around the edges, and the keys are the same silver-gray color as the rest of the system interior, making the keyboard look very much like the classic MacBook Pro from a couple of generations ago. Unlike on that now-defunct Apple keyboard, however, there is a decent amount of flex while typing, even away from the center of the keyboard tray.

One nice touch is a system tray icon that will reverse the tasks on the Function key row, so you don't have to hold down the Fn key to raise or lower the volume via F8 or F9, for example.

The click-pad-style touch pad, like many ultrabook touch pads, drops the left and right mouse buttons for a single surface, with click zones built into the lower corners of the pad itself. This is one of the hardest components for any laptop maker to get right, and the right-mouse click zone takes a little concentration to hit consistently. There's also a tiny bit of that laggy, unresponsive feeling that drives me crazy. That said, the multifinger gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, were very responsive, as if the sensitivity on those functions had been cranked way up.

Vizio touts, as part of a partnership with Microsoft, a clean, bloatware-free operating system, without the usual preloaded software packages, advertising come-ons, and other annoying desktop detritus. It's a shame that needs to be called out as a feature, when it should really be called "not screwing up the user experience in the first place."

The 14-inch display has a 1,600x900-pixel native resolution, which is standard across all three CT14 configurations, regardless of price. That's really the ideal resolution for 13- and 14-inch laptops, and it gives you the best balance of readability and screen real estate. That said, the screen itself was a mixed bag. It had that subtle wavy quality you see in some budget laptops, but at the same time, it's an IPS screen, and the one on our test model was bright, colorful, and even had good off-axis viewing angles.

As is typical of thin laptops, the CT14's sound quality is similarly thin. It's fine for online TV or movie viewing, or some music in a pinch, and the volume level actually gets surprisingly high.

Vizio CT14-A2 Average for category [midsize]
Video HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None DVD burner

Vizio made a few bold choices regarding what to include in and what to omit from the CT14. Two USB 3.0 ports are included, but an SD card reader and Ethernet jack are not. Practically the only other laptop I can think of that doesn't have an SD card slot right now is the 11-inch MacBook Air. I'm not saying that's a deal killer, but it's certainly something to think about.

Vizio currently has three configurations of this 14-inch ultrabook. This review unit is the highest-end model, the CT14-A2, which has an Intel Core i7 CPU and a 256GB SSD. The CT14-A1 has a Core i5 and a 128GB SSD, while the CT14-A0 has a Core i3 CPU and the same 128GB SSD. All three models have the same 4GB of RAM and Intel HD 4000 graphics.

In our CNET Labs benchmark tests, this high-end Core i7 model performed admirably, matching up well against other low-voltage Core i7 laptops, including the Asus Zenbook UX32VD and the Dell XPS 14, in our tests. Like any current Core i5 or i7 laptop (and, honestly, most Core i3 laptops), this system has more than enough power for even heavy multitasking, from Photoshop to video encoding.

Where it falls a bit behind is in gaming performance. With no discrete GPU, you're stuck with Intel's integrated HD 4000 graphics. That's fine for HD video playback and Facebook games, but in our Street Fighter IV test at 1,600x900 resolution, the CT14 only ran at 20.4 frames per second. You'd have to dial the resolution and settings way down to get a playable experience from most any current game.

Juice box
Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.26
Sleep (10 percent) 0.78
Idle (25 percent) 6.70
Load (5 percent) 33.78
Raw kWh 31.52
Annual power consumption cost $3.58

Annual energy consumption cost
Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2

One area in which an ultrabook really needs to excel is battery life. Unfortunately, the Vizio CT14-A2 is borderline adequate in this area, running for 4 hours and 9 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air ran nearly twice as long, and even Dell's high-powered XPS 14 ran for nearly 2 hours more. Hitting around the 4-hour mark is just not going to cut it for a purportedly highly portable laptop.

Vizio offers a two-year warranty, at least for any Vizio laptop purchased through its Web site, or a one-year warranty otherwise. From its years in the television business, the company has detailed Web support tools and a clean, easy-to-search interface. Toll-free telephone support is available from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT at 877-698-4946. As a new entrant in the PC field, however, Vizio has yet to be put to the test in providing long-term computer support.

The Vizio CT14-A2 is a hard laptop to dislike. Its design is familiar but different enough to stand out, and it feels like a fully formed consumer product, rather than a collection of thrown-together components. A few first-gen blunders, such as the omitted SD card slot and backlit keyboard, and the weak battery life, are things that can hopefully be addressed in the next wave of Vizio laptops.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:
Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Toshiba SSD

HP Envy Sleekbook 6
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.4GHz AMD A6-4455MM APU; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 7500G; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 620M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch (Summer 2012)
OS X 10.7.4 Lion; 1.8GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Dell XPS 14
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm


Vizio Thin+Light CT14

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 5Support 7
Shopping laptop image
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping