A bold, dual-screened vision of the convertible tablet, but ergonomic niggles and mediocre battery life see it fall short of the mark.
Asus is no stranger to innovation: its range of Transformer Pads was the first to successfully fuse the Android tablet and netbook. Now it’s attempting to repeat the feat with Windows 8. Enter the Taichi 21, Asus’ unique take on the Windows 8 convertible tablet.
From afar, it’s easy to mistake the Taichi 21 for a classy, slimline Ultrabook. Flip back the glass-covered lid, and the Taichi looks like a tweaked version of Asus’ Zenbook UX21E, or a more high-end vision of the VivoBook S200E. There’s a full keyboard, multitouch touchpad, and an 11.6in matte IPS Full HD panel above. Dark-grey metal and glass reaches all around, and the slender chassis measures 18mm thick and weighs only 1.25kg.
Surprisingly, though, this slim chassis houses not one but two screens. Shut the lid, or press the dedicated button on the keyboard, and that glass lid is illuminated by a Full HD IPS touch panel, complete with a touch-sensitive Windows 8 button in the bezel below.
The flexibility is undeniably novel: it’s possible to mirror the image shown on both the front and rear displays simultaneously, use one at a time, or utilise the rear display as a secondary monitor.
The twin-screen design enables the Taichi to be used in a variety of configurations. As a standard laptop it works without fuss, thanks to the comfy backlit keyboard and the wide multitouch touchpad. We’re also pleased to see that Asus has employed a less reflective, semi-gloss finish on the internal display.
As a tablet, the hinged design means that the Taichi can be folded flat or pivoted upwards to face the user without the need for a third-party case or stand. The included stylus, meanwhile, provides pressure-sensitive inking, thanks to the N-trig digitiser panel pressed beneath the protective Gorilla Glass topping. It’s a shame there isn’t a place to stash the stylus in the Taichi itself; there is a slot for it in the supplied slip cover, however.
Visually, the Taichi’s twin IPS displays mean Windows 8 looks lovely in any orientation. Viewing angles are wide, colours are rich, and while the outer display’s Gorilla Glass layer gives images tremendous punch, the laptop display’s semi-gloss finish cuts down on distracting reflections.
Colour accuracy is slightly off, with the low 5563K colour temperature of both screens giving images a warm, rosy tone. But the high contrast ratio of 965:1 delivers punchy images, with detail revealed in even the darkest scenes. Asus has had to make compromises to squeeze two backlights back to back: the laptop display reaches 222cd/m2, and the tablet display reaches an average 245cd/m2; both are dimmer than we’d like.
In addition to the twin displays, Asus has crammed in a high-end specification. Our review model came with an Intel Core i7-3517U processor, 4GB of memory and a 256GB SSD. The result of 0.66 in our Real World Benchmarks isn’t lightning quick, but the pairing of a Core i7 CPU and SSD remains potent enough to keep the Taichi feeling responsive. It’s disappointing that the 4GB of memory is soldered onto the motherboard, preventing further upgrades.