Vizio, the electronics manufacturer known best for its flat-panel TVs and LCD displays will soon join its rival Samsung in becoming an Android mobile phone and tablet company, too. According to The Wall St. Journal, Vizio has announced its first mobile phone called the "Via Phone" and its first tablet computer the "Via Tablet," in advance of the annual Consumer Electronics Show's start in Las Vegas this week.

The Interface

Both the new phone and tablet will have the same look as the company's TV sets, which you can see in the photos provided. There are two sections of applications displayed on the screen: "Favorites," for your most heavily used apps, and "All Apps," for everything else.

It also appears as if Vizio has done away with the typical 4-button setup found on most Android devices - these photos only show a menu and back button as well as a stylized "V" whose function is currently unknown.

Looking at the bottom on-screen toolbar, the menu buttons read "Email," "Home," "Web," "Music" and "Movies," the latter two which hint at some sort of multimedia integration, perhaps.

The Apps...Wait, Did You Say Netflix?

Speaking of movies, one bit from the WSJ story jumped out at us. The devices will provide access Vizio's Via Plus Internet Service, the article says, referring to Vizio's app ecosystem which aims to deliver a consistent interface across Vizio products from TVs to Blu-ray players and now, smartphones and tablets. But it was WSJ's description of Vizio's plans for Via Plus on its new mobile offerings that really caught our eye. The Via Plus service on the new devices, said the WSJ, "lets users access apps such as Netflix Inc.'s movie downloading service, the Android Market and the Facebook and Twitter social-networking sites."

Netflix? Netflix! The same Netflix that said it had to delay its instant streaming application for Android devices because of troubles with developing a secure enough Digital Rights Management (DRM) system on Android-based devices? Either the WSJ overlooked a very interesting aspect to this story, intentionally downplayed this reveal, or perhaps they got it wrong - Netflix may surely run on Via Plus on Vizio TVs, for example, but not on these new mobile devices.  Who knows?

We'll hold out for the official unveiling at CES 2011, we suppose, to learn more.

The Specs

The Via Phone will also feature a 4-inch screen, a 1 GHz processor, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, a microSD slot, a front-facing camera for video calls and a rear-facing five megapixel camera. The Via Tablet will have an 8-inch screen, a 1 GHz processor, 3 speakers, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, a microSD slot, and a front-facing camera for video conferencing. In keeping with Vizio's TV-focused sensitivities, both devices will also offer HDMI ports. Both will also offer HD video playback.

A "Real" Remote Control

?One unique feature to both the tablet and phone is the addition of a built-in IR blaster, which allows you to use the mobile device as a TV remote, not just with Vizio products, but with any consumer electronics device you have connected to your home entertainment center.

Although there are a lot of different "Remote" apps already in existence, both from independent 3rd-party developers as well as TV providers like Comcast and FiOS, these tend to use the home's Wi-Fi network to communicate with DVRs and set-top boxes. Samsung's mobile gadgets will instead function like a real remote control, which uses infrared technology to control functions on electronic devices.

Android Version, Price, Launch Date?

The new phone and tablet will run Android, but the company has not yet specified which version of Android it will offer. "Gingerbread" (Android 2.3) is the most current version of the mobile operating system from Google, but the yet-to-launch version code-named "Honeycomb" is the revision that will be fully tablet-ready. Honeycomb isn't expect to launch until March, but because this is an announcement only from Vizio, not the actual launch, it's fully possible they will run Honeycomb when they launch.

An interesting sidenote to this report: Vizio said that it developed both the phone and tablet over the past year and a half with a team of less than 10 people. Matthew McRae, Vizio's chief technology officer, said that the team included mobile specialists from Nokia and other device manufacturers.

No pricing or carrier information is available yet. Vizio will also be introducing new Via Plus HDTVs and Blu-ray players with Google TV built in at CES 2011.