Rotating displays, touch-sensitive displays, tablet/notebook transformers… All of these were mere concepts a few years ago, yet they’re increasingly invading the store displays of today. Other than the Lenovo Yoga notebook, we’ve also been surprised by ASUS’ Taichi 21. Although the idea is the same, these two notebook models are actually quite different. While Yoga does its transformation from notebook to tablet by rotating the display by 360 degrees, ASUS has decided that Taichi should have two displays altogether.
The name Taichi was picked after the popular name of an ancient Chinese martial art called “T’ai chi ch’uan”, combining defence capabilities with a wellness philosophy. Taichi arrives in two sizes, indicated by the model name: 21 (11.6”) and 31 (13.3”). Both are impressive in specifications, and we got the smaller version – Taichi 21 – for testing. The most interesting feature of this model is its two displays, of course, and these are utilised so that Taichi behaves as a tablet when the lid is down and as a regular notebook when the lid is up. Both displays obviously have an identical size of 11.6” and full HD resolution, with the “external” one being touch-sensitive.
A resolution this high on a display this small looks absolutely astonishing. The level of detail and display quality is at its highest, whether we’re talking about the internal or external display. Of course, the antiglare coating of the internal display makes for more neutral colours, while the reflective shield of the external one makes them much brighter and more vivid. The external display looks like a typical Windows 8 tablet, with a wide enough frame to hold with both hands, without the fear that you’ll press something by accident. The bottom section contains the capacitive Windows button, right next to the camera lens. The left side houses the rotation switch and volume rocker, whereas the right one only features the power slider. Since the ultrabook-looking Taichi is reminiscent of Zenbook, which has the body narrow down from the lid elbow to the frontal section, this model too features connectors closer to the lid hinges. As is the case with all ultrabooks, room is paramount to the number of connections offered, and an 11.6” notebook such as this one couldn’t really ask for any more than two USB 3.0 ports, mini HDMI, mini DisplayPort and audio in/out. Interestingly enough, there wasn’t enough space for a card reader, and the bundle contains as many as two adapters, for VGA and LAN ports respectively, as the full size of these connectors couldn’t fit the concept in any way. Although it has two full-blown displays, one of which has a touch-sensitive layer, ASUS Taichi 21 manages to keep its total width under 17.5 mm, which is impressive. Even the edge of the display(s) is angled, making this tablet/ultrabook appear much thinner than it really is.
A stylus was included in the bundle too, but the information on ASUS’ website indicates that it will be an optional, not mandatory, feature in retail. With the very high resolution and small diagonal in mind, it’s very recommendable that you get the stylus as well, since you won’t be able to cope with all the precise selection in desktop mode, not even with banal tasks such as closing or minimising a window, selecting text, choosing a field in Excel etc. It took a good five or so tries for us to nail these the first time around, despite thinner fingers. Stylus makes all this much more elegant, so make sure you start getting accustomed to it sooner rather than later, especially for actions that require precision. Since Taichi uses IPS panels, there’s no need to underline the fantastic viewing angles, although the external display seemed a little darker in comparison; we can’t say if it’s due to the digitiser or the reflective surface, but the small difference is definitely there when you switch from one to the other in short succession. Other than that, the external display doesn’t fall behind its internal twin one bit. The decent frame around the display is there and the plastic is matte, so that this section doesn’t look “dingy” when opened, closed or moved.
The internal display isn’t touch-sensitive, obviously, but it’s still a pleasure to work with at this resolution. The excellent touchpad and keyboard only contribute to the impression. The touchpad is spacious, clickable and has integrated buttons, which means that it’s perfectly optimised for Windows 8. Due to the thin casing, the click is rather shallow and somewhat harder than usual, but that’s positive, since you won’t need a lot of time to adjust. An even more important feature is the pronounced precision of the touchpad surface, with very few dead zones along the very bottom. The situation is similar with the keyboard. The small diagonal of the display and the overall size of the casing have conditioned ASUS to additionally reduce the size of the keys, so that the spacing between them remains untouched, which is the main contributor to pleasant typing. The surface underneath gives no signs of bending, while the keys don’t have a grid to pass through, unlike the case with Zenbook. With a well-balanced step and good feedback, it’ll only take you a little time to get used to the keyboard; after that period, you’re in for a very enjoyable experience. Even the cursor keys aren’t problematic, despite the fact that they’re half their standard size, probably because they’re situated in the extreme bottom right corner, so it’s difficult to miss them. Of course, premium devices such as Taichi always come with keyboard backlight, and this particular iteration has three selectable levels of brightness, so those who often work into the night will be very glad to see this.
Although it has Bang & Olufsen ICE Power speakers, the limited space (small resonating box) makes sound rather weak and undefined. For comparison’s sake, we put the notebook next to a Samsung Galaxy Note II mobile phone, which was surprisingly better and louder than the stereo combination in Taichi. In other words, don’t expect a lot of cinematic or audial enjoyment; consider these speakers as a transitory solution, serving more as first aid than anything else. Of course, the model we got for testing is just a sample and not the final product that’s going to end up on the retail shelves, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the final revision ends up with better sound, as well as the elimination of certain bugs that we’ve encountered while using Taichi.
The production quality has never been questionable in ASUS’ ultrabooks, and the same applies here, especially since the model was designed with Zenbook as the base, so it’s still the same large pieces of ground metal that serve as the skeleton to keep everything in place. With its dark blue colour, Taichi looks elegant and serious, fitting into any business environment with ease, which doesn’t come across as surprising, since ultrabooks were designed from the ground-up to be oriented towards business users.
An interesting feature implemented by ASUS into this model is the mode selection button, used to choose how you want your displays to work. The options are as follows. The default option is for one of the displays to be active depending on the position of the lid. You’re also able to turn on the clone mode, as well as the presentation mode, which is particularly interesting. The latter means that you see your desktop on the inside, but the outside behaves as an extended desktop, without any icons or possibility for someone to see what you’re doing, unless you manually move a window to the other display. Additional options are available too, courtesy of ASUS Taichi software, which can be used for media playback on the external display, accessing the cloud server or using a number of predefined gestures that make some of our everyday tasks much easier to accomplish.
One of the things we didn’t like, however, is the fact that the external display has a large frame that’s a real magnet for fingerprints, bound to be constantly dirty and dingy, regardless of how careful you are when using it. This isn’t such a large problem with tablets because you’re always directing your eyes to the display itself, but in Taichi, it looks just plain ugly, so unless you want everyone to notice how dirty your notebook is after five minutes of use, you’ll literally be forced to wear gloves. Luckily, this model’s bundle also contains a carrying bag, with a cleaning cloth in a small pocket, but also a very neat spot for keeping your stylus.
Since our model was equipped with a Core i7 3517U CPU, able to raise its frequency from the default 1.9 GHz to as much as 3 GHz, we were expecting heating and noise issues to occur, but we ended up pleasantly surprised. The cooling system is identical to the one already seen in Zenbook. Cool air is taken through the keyboard and ejected through the openings on the lid elbow and on the bottom, through the grid-like openings stretching across the entire width of the back section. Combined with the high-tech cooling bodies inside the notebook itself, this makes Taichi’s heat transfer through the very narrow and closed body impeccable. Surprisingly enough, even the fans are relatively quiet, to the point where they’re only noticeable in absolute silence. Even the usual hotspots, such as the palm rest, are anything but hot. Have a look at the temperature chart, the results whereof were obtained through torturing the poor device with maximum load for hours on end.
Aside from the aforementioned Core i7 CPU, this model also packs 4 GB of RAM (also available as 6 GB), a 256 GB SSD and a 35 Wh polymer battery, giving over five and a half hours of autonomy in power-saving mode, and almost an hour and a half under full load.
|ASUS Taichi 21|
|CPU||Intel Core i7 3517U 1,9 GHz (3 GHz Turbo) 2C/4T, 17W|
|Chipset||Intel Ivy Bridge|
|Memory||4 GB DDR3 1600 MHz (single channel, integrated on board)|
|SSD||SanDisk 256 GB|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD4000|
|Display||2x 11.6'' IPS; 1920x1080 pix, one capacitive multitouch glare and one antireflexive|
|Interfaces||2x USB 3.0, 1x mini HDMI, 1x mini DP, audio in/out, 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Additional||HD web camera, Bang & Olufsen ICEpower audio, Docking connector, G-Sensor, gyro, e-Compass, 2x Ambient Light sensor, NFC smart|
|Dimension and Weight||306.6 x 199.3 x 17.4 mm, 1.3 kg|
|OS||Windows 8 64-bit|
Owing to the exceptionally high display resolution, you definitely won’t be able to play any games natively, not even older titles. Truth be told, Intel has never touted their HD 4000 as anything else than a chip for “casual gaming” (a term which should be taken very loosely in their context), and the reasons are listed in the accompanying chart listing FPS rates across several titles, which should serve as a heads-up (if not a warning) to potential buyers.
|3DMark 11 Performance Score/Graphic/Physics/Combined||P537 / 470 / 3277 / 456|
|PCMark 7 Score||4605|
|7-Zip 9.20 x64 compression/decompression [KB/s]||7669 / 90053|
|Cinebench R11.5 x64 OpenGL [fps]/CPU/CPU (Single Core) [pts]||16.39 / 2.79 / 1.22|
|HD Tune Pro 5.0 average read [MB/s]||308|
|Batery Eater Pro 2.7 min/max||5h 36' / 1h 25'|
|1600x900 / 1920x1080 0xAA 0xAF|
|Heaven benchmark 3.0 tess off, shaders med [fps]||9.9 / 9.2|
|Resident Evil 5 DX10 med [fps]||17.6 / 13.6|
|Lost Planet 2 DX11 Test B med [fps]||5.4 / 4.5|
|Street Fighter IV high [fps]||24 / 18.7|
As for software, Windows 8 feels right at home in this notebook. The spacious high-res display enables very precise stylus manipulation, while the Modern UI environment makes the entire experience similar to smartphones and very simple to use when you’re in tablet mode. Add to this all the software niceties that ASUS has been kind enough to implement, and you get a very functional and out-of-the-ordinary machine.
As a finished product, Taichi is a huge step ahead for the market, especially since most other manufacturers have stopped at the drawing board for now. Disregarding its few minor drawbacks, Taichi 21 has definitely ploughed no man’s land, with ASUS starting a new chapter in the IT industry yet again. If you recognise yourself in the description of a businessman in need of a powerful tablet and a fast and functional notebook at the same time, we feel safe in claiming that this model’s price, which is unmistakably high, absolutely corresponds with all the functions and features you get with this ultraportable tablet, erm, ultratablet, or… Well, this powerful machine that ASUS calls Taichi 21.