Asus TaiChi 21. Do you really need 2 screens?
Since Windows 8’s debut last October, PC manufacturers have all struggled with how to deal with this two faced operating system. Obviously there is the laptop with a touchscreen. Some have tried a docking laptop / tablet hybrid? then there’s a strange, hinged device that twists and turns from tablet to laptop modes. It is all getting a bit weird but most of the devices are pretty much the same except for the Asus TaiChi..who names an Ultrabook after a form of exercise?..but I digress.
Available in 11.6-inch Intel Core i5 and i7 models, the Taichi features a double-sided LED-backlit IPS display. That means there is a standard clamshell laptop screen, and then a second screen pointing out from where the back of the lid would normally be. While you can choose to use one screen or the other, you can also use both in tandem, with the outer screen acting as a secondary display, able to either duplicate or extend the interior display.
My test unit is the TaiChi 21, a 11.6″ screen with a Intel Core i5 3317U 1.7GHz processor and a speedy 128Gb SSD and 4Gb of RAM. it measures 12.05 x 7.83 x 0.19 in (30.6 x 19.8 x 0.48 cm) and it tips the scales at 2.75 lb (1.25 kg) just a whisker bigger than a MacBook Air 11 and about half a pound heavier. That extra weight seems to be concentrated in the screens which by the way are full 1080p HD at 1920 x 1080 pixels which is quite impressive for a Ultrabook in this size. the Taichi 21 comes with the excellent Bang & Olafsen audio and Waves MAXXAudio software enhancement that delivers superb sound quality, with clear tones even at high volume and bass as rich as it gets without a subwoofer.
The defining characteristic of the Taichi 21 is the dual screens, the 11.6-inch 1920-by-1080 resolution matte-finish IPS panel display that you see when the laptop is open, and the second 11.6-inch 1080p IPS touch screen built into the lid. Covered with a scratch-resistant sheet of Gorilla Glass and offering tracking for both 10-finger touch and an N-trig digital pen.
The actual real-world usefulness of this feature is a bit of a question mark, and nearly everyone I’ve shown it to wondered about its practicality, especially with so many high-quality thin, powerful, ultrabook-style laptops available for less. While the dual-screen setup is cool and weird at the same time, the system as a whole suffers from one huge flaw. The outer 11-inch screen is a standard Windows 8 touch screen, but the interior screen, where you’ll likely spend most of your time, is not touch-enabled. It’s really frustrating especially as nearly every new Windows 8 system has a touch screen, and certainly everything in this price range. Windows 8 doesn’t work well without a touch screen and I found myself trying to swipe and tap on the screen.
This is not to say this adventurous design is without appeal. The dual-screen mode for example allows you to show a presentation or project a mock-up or other business document to a client or co-worker who is sitting across from you. You can do all of this while you read your private notes or check email on the notebook screen at the same time. the bundled Screen Share app even lets you see a small preview of the back screen contents from within a window on the inner screen.
Unlike the exterior the interior design is decidedly ho hum. The wide bezel around the screen is unattractive and the keyboard is your standard Asus fare. While some may fint it, like all small laptops a bit cramped I found it comfortable to use. The large touchpad while a bit draggy worked well and unlike many Windows notebooks the two finger scroll and gestures worked really well. Overall input methods are excellent.
Overall performance was good everything works smoothly and app openings were snappy. The integrated graphics were fine for light gaming and the sharp HD screens were great for watching movies. Battery life was OK for its size, I was able to get 4:45 of mixed use out of it only a bit less than I get from my MacBook Air 11. I certainly would not suggest the Core i7 version, the slight bump in performance would not be worth the extra hit on the battery.
So in the end what do we have here? The Asus Taichi 21 is a really nice looking well built Ultrabook with an adventurous dual screen. Unfortunately I don’t see a whole lot of value in the outside touch screen and the absence of touch on the inner screen is a deal breaker. You end up with a decent Ultrabook and a mediocre tablet with a low battery life and a high price. Nice try Asus but there are better convertible Ultrabooks at lower prices. So to the question do you really need 2 screens, sadly the answer is no.
The Asus Taichi 21 is available wherever Asus products are sold. The i5 model sells for $1300 and the i7 model with a bigger 256Gb SSD is priced at $1500.