Anything one screen can do, two screens can do better. Such is the thinking behind Asus’s latest premium notebook-tablet hybrid, the Asus Taichi.
The second screen fitted to the lid of the 1.25kg (2.76lbs) chassis enables you to turn this ultra-portable laptop into a tablet and take full advantage of the touch-optimised Windows 8 operating system.
As with previous Asus products such as the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A or the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, the Asus Taichi is a gorgeously designed with a tapered wedge that measures only 3mm (0.12 inches) at its thinnest point.
Although the Asus Taichi is, first and foremost, a laptop, it doesn’t stop impressing when you shut the lid and begin swiping through Microsoft’s latest version of Windows.
The display will automatically switch when you close the lid, and there’s also a dedicated display key built into the keyboard that enables you to either switch screens or use both simultaneously.
Swapping screens takes little over a second, and the system automatically calls up the live tiles of the Windows 8 Start interface. The drawback is you can expect the glossy lid to be covered in smudges and fingerprints within minutes.
It’s no surprise that the Asus Taichi doesn’t come cheap. The likely £1,500 (around AU$2,310/US$2,415) price tag certainly lifts this above a casual purchase, but the Taiwanese company has made sure you get plenty of tech for your money.
Our review unit came sporting an Intel Core i7-3517U CPU clocked at 1.90GHz. The 4GB of RAM is admittedly lacklustre given rival Ultrabooks now regularly arrive with at least 8GB RAM, but the 256GB SSD is one factor keeping the speed up.
It really comes down to whether Windows 8 can deliver in the long term. The Asus Taichi is an extremely well-designed laptop, but success as a tablet depends on continued app development and mass-market familiarity with the layout of Windows 8.
At present though, it offers an excellent example of how a hybrid machine should work, and we feel the versatility comes in particularly handy while on the move.
Commuters especially will value the ability to tap out an email on a proper keyboard before jumping on board a bus, train or taxi, flipping the screen down and using the Asus Taichi to catch up on the latest episode of Mad Men.
For all the eye catching design and dual-screen versatility, the Asus Taichi also has some impressive components pulling the strings. The model we had in for review came sporting the Intel Core i7-3517U processor and 4GB RAM.
There’s also a Core i5 spec available for both the 11.6-inch and the larger 13.3-inch models, but we’d opt for the i7. Clocked at 1.90 GHz, the Asus Taichi navigated Windows 8 smoothly, and we found apps and programs loaded quickly.
Intense multitasking failed to slow down the experience, and the only evidence of lag we found was while operating the two screens simultaneously. If one screen was browsing while another was running a program, there was a bit of slowdown as the Asus Taichi tried to keep up.
The 256GB SSD also helps maintain speed, thanks to the lack of moving parts. But these days, 256GB really isn’t all that much. Those of you with large media collections will want to supplement the Asus Taichi with an external hard drive or cloud storage.
Both the USB ports on the Asus Taichi are USB 3.0 compatible, while Windows 8 comes with native driver support for the faster format. If you’re going to accessorise the Asus Taichi, we’d recommend looking for USB 3.0 compatible peripherals and drives that will give you the faster transfer speeds.
The lack of a dedicated GPU limits gaming potential, and the Asus Taichi relies on Intel’s own HD Graphics 4000 integrated card for its graphical muscle. Ultra-portable laptops have never really been designed for gaming, and this is no exception – you won’t be able to fire up Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on the Asus Taichi.
But to be fair, older and less-demanding games shouldn’t be a problem. Given that people regularly use their tablets for gaming, it should be a big consideration and the Asus Taichi certainly copes with casual games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope – both of which are available to download from the Windows Store.
The dual screens on the Asus Taichi both feature Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution displays. The main notebook screen is a matt display that blocks out irritating reflections and is useful for working on documents.
The second screen on the lid features a glossy thin-film transistor coating that gives extra depth to colours and shades. It’s particularly noticeable in blacks and reds, and is more geared towards the multimedia consumption we want from a tablet.
When it comes to the specifications, Asus hasn’t compromised on the Taichi, and that’s part of what gives it the astronomical price tag.
This was exactly the right approach though. Given what the Asus Taichi is trying to accomplish by filling two separate form factors, the components needed to be top class.
However, a bit of extra RAM wouldn’t have gone amiss, and we’d encourage you to opt for the Core i7 model over the Core i5 version.
We’ve grown used to typing on shallow-travel keyboards, inspecting chassis for signs of flex and squeezing out as much battery power as possible. Happily, the Asus Taichi holds up well when it comes to general day-to-day performance.
That’s not to say there aren’t drawbacks – the least of which is that we shudder to think what would happen if you dropped it. For all its style and sex appeal, we can’t help but feel the Asus Taichi is a little on the fragile side.
Similarly, its small size limits its connectivity. Along with the aforementioned USB ports you get a Micro VGA, Micro HDMI and an Ethernet port. There’s also the latest wireless connectivity in the form of Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth v4.0.
The chiclet keyboard features a subtle white backlight, and the touchpad is reassuringly large. The integrated click buttons aren’t a problem here as they have been on other laptops, and you’ll quickly find your orientation after a few minutes of using the Asus Taichi.
Multitasking is handled well, partly due to Windows 8‘s snap view feature that enables you to resize running apps and snap them to the left and right of the screen for easy navigation.
A feature of the Asus Taichi that deserves a particular mention is the audio performance. Thanks to built-in speakers from audio maestros Bang & Olufsen, the Asus Taichi punches well above its weight.
You won’t be able to use this laptop for a party without amplification, but there’s enough here for more than one person to sit down for a movie and hear what’s going on.
Asus originally brought in the Danish company for work on the original Asus Zenbook UX31, and we’re glad to see the partnership is still going strong.
Cinebench 10: 10,768
3D Mark ’06: 4,007
Battery Eater ’05: 197 minutes
We were a little disappointed to find the Asus Taichi only managed 197 minutes when we subjected it to our battery test. We’d expect it to easily clear the 200-minute mark, so it really should have performed better.
In fairness, we’d expect this device to last longer with more conservative usage and when being used as a tablet. By way of a comparison, the second generation Asus Zenbook UX32A managed only 208 minutes when we subjected it to the same test.
Overall we were impressed with the performance of the Asus Taichi, and the Cinebench score of 10,768 reflects this.
We did occasionally see some lag when both screens were running independently with several programs on the go, but this was an extreme example. If you’re looking for power, portability and no small measure of versatility, you’ll find it here.
Asus has elevated itself to such a position that we are genuinely excited whenever a new product appears in its lineup. In the case of the Asus Taichi, our excitement is completely justified.
It’s a completely different approach that, if not for Windows 8, would likely fall flat, get branded as a gimmick and dismissed just as quickly. Instead, we have a realistic laptop/tablet hybrid that really does manage to independently fill the requirements of these two different devices.
The highlight of the Asus Taichi is the dual-screen approach. While the matt display of the main laptop screen is perfect for work, the glossy, multi-touch enabled second screen is perfect for enjoying media and games.
The fact that both are capable of 1080p HD resolution is a real positive, and the two displays look crisp and sharp. Audio is first class, as is the general build quality of the chassis.
Asus has put as much effort into the look and feel of the Taichi as it has into its excellent performance and usability. Windows 8 is still a fledgling system, but this type of device really plays to its strengths and showcases what Microsoft’s latest creation has to offer.
A couple of drawbacks are evident with the Asus Taichi, not least of which is the price and the frailty of the device as a whole. We expect you’ll want a sturdy protective case for this machine, since the chances of cracking the lid screen are ever present.
Other issues that could be improved are the battery life and the brightness of the screen – neither was as strong as it could be. Lastly, while the system performed admirably most of the time, it did struggle when we pushed multitasking and both screens simultaneously.
The Asus Taichi stands up as a supremely desirable piece of consumer tech that acts as a sterling showcase for Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system.
Both power and usability are first class, and the design – as we’ve come to expect from Asus – really is head-turning. The Asus Taichi works better as a laptop than a tablet, but it’s one of the best examples we’ve yet seen of marrying the two form factors together.
A couple of issues mean that it’s not the perfect device, and the stonking price tag means it isn’t a casual purchase by any means.
However, we couldn’t help but enjoy every minute we spent using the Asus Taichi, and can recommend it as a rewarding purchase for anyone looking for the latest must-have device.
By Jeff Parsons, TechRadar