There’s nothing Asus loves to do more than stick a screen, keyboard or even a whole tablet where gadget laws say it simply shouldn’t go. Take the Taichi – it’s like it was made specifically to show off the split personality of Windows 8. Asus’ latest (fairly) light Ultrabook has Intel Core i7 brains, a full sized keyboard’n’ trackpad and an 11.6in 1920x800 matte screen.
And did we forget to mention that there’s also another 11.6in HD screen? This time glossy, touch-tastic and on the outside of the Taichi’s lid. Yep, this is a dual-screen-wielding tablet-top of computer. That’s got you interested, hasn’t it?
design, build and ports
The Taichi makes an excellent first impression – it’s sexy, doesn’t weigh the Earth, and incredibly the lid doesn’t look any thicker than those of more ‘normal’ Ultrabook rivals, despite the fact that it houses two screens.
In terms of ports the Taichi is pretty well equipped – two USB 3.0s, a 3.5mm headphone jack, microHDMI, Ethernet, and mini VGA, plus the obligatory Bluetooth 4.0 skills and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless niceties.
Both HD displays are very sharp and bright by Ultrabook standards, as long as you ignore the 13in MacBook Pro with Retina Display, that is. The second screen does a good job of hiding when it’s not in use and will get your inner geek giddy the first few times you power it up.
It’s also more inviting than the duller display inside, but you won’t want to prod your way through the desktop mode; it’s much better suited to Windows 8’s Modern Interface.
There are downsides to life with two screens: fingerprint smudges are rife on the touchscreen for starters. Then there’s the fear of scratches and bumps, although the top display does bounce slightly when pressed leading us to believe it could probably handle a knock or two. You’ll still need to take much more care how you sling the Taichi in your bag or stack it up on your desk than you would a standard laptop, though.
It’s not immediately obvious how to switch between display modes, so here’s a helpful hint: don’t spend too long messing about with the lock switch on the side. But once you make friends with the blue button in the top-right corner of the keyboard it’s a doddle to cycle between onscreen icons. The Taichi's display options include: tablet, notebook, a mirrored mode and dual screen, where each display acts independently – great for collaborative work though you may fight over the angle of the screens.
It all works really nicely – until you close the lid, when it turns into a big, heavy tablet. Windows 8 flies in both modes, meaning swiping between live tiles, downloading apps and loading web pages is all nippy business.
The Taichi runs Windows 8 Pro which is the full-fat version of the new OS for ‘real’ computers. That means you’re not limited to Win 8 apps, but don’t go thinking this is a games machine: the Ultra settings of Battlefield 3 are but a distant, impossible dream for this Asus.
Getting work done is a breeze, though, and the balance between tablet and laptop can be a great combo for productivity.
Another result of switching between screens is the hit battery life takes – Asus claims a 5-hour performance but we could only get the Taichi to stretch to just over four hours of combined web browsing, movies, gaming and word processing.
What’s useful is that you can ignore the touchscreen and use Asus’ power management tools to eke out another hour or so using just the standard screen. Still, there are Ultrabooks out there with much better stamina.
The Taichi’s screen-on-screen action could be exactly what some people want – be they business types, show-offs or just wildly popular Ultrabook users who never get any peace from their adoring fans.
It is a touch too unwieldy to use as a touchscreen tablet to justify that £1200 price tag, but it’s already available for less so you may not have to stretch right up to the RRP.
And frankly, while many Windows 8 hybrids have left us cold the Taichi impresses with its maverick approach. It’s yet another example of Asus’ bold and somewhat bonkers design, and that’s well worth a round of applause.
Review by Sophie Charara