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Vizio gets back in the phone game with 5-inch 1080p and 4.7-inch 720p handsets... for China

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Two of the hottest phones at CES, but you can't have one

Gallery Photo: Vizio 4.7-inch and 5.0-inch smartphone pictures
Gallery Photo: Vizio 4.7-inch and 5.0-inch smartphone pictures

Two years ago, Vizio came to CES and announced the Vizio Phone, a skinned Android phone that quietly died at the hands of American carrier politics. Vizio moved on by designing and building a line of Windows PCs instead — and now that the PC line is humming along, the company is here at CES 2013 with two brand new phones... for the Chinese market.

That's Vizio's first expansion outside of North America, and while Vizio CTO Matt McRae won't come right out and say it's because of American carrier issues, he's not shy in saying that it's easier for his company to sell phones directly to Chinese consumers — unlike the carrier-dominated American market. And that's a shame, because the two phones here at CES 2013 are extremely intriguing: a high-end 5-inch 1080p device and a 4.7-inch 720p device with dual SIM slots. Both are running stock Android Jelly Bean, just like Vizio's new tablets; the 5-inch phone has an unspecified dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor with 2GB of RAM while the smaller phone has a 1.2GHz dual-core MediaTek chip with 1GB of RAM.

Both phones have terrific laminated high-resolution displays; the 5-inch display in particular looks so good it almost feels fake. The 5-inch is otherwise fairly generic apart from the display, but the 4.7-inch model has a lightly-textured matte white plastic unibody that feels vaguely like ceramic — it's really attractive in the same way as the HTC One X. Pushing a small button on the back pops off the chrome end plate, revealing the dual-SIM slots and the SD card slot. It's a clever, playful design.

If you're really desperate to run stock Android, Vizio CTO Matt McRae says either device will run on AT&T's 3G network — although like the Nexus 4, the lack of official carrier support leaves LTE out of the question. But McRae's plan is to gain experience building phones and produce enough sales in China to let him come back to the US with more leverage to negotiate deals with our carriers — a plan that will have to work if McRae wants to achieve his goal of providing "all the screens in your life." We'll see if the second time's the charm.