Hybrid ultrabooks are getting weird. There’s been a “try it and see” attitude displayed by most manufacturers lately as they grapple with the “tablet-ification” of laptops and the various design problems that come with it. Nowhere is this more evident than the Asus Taichi 21 (Taichi 21-DH71), which takes the conventional ultrabook design and puts a touch screen display onto the lid, letting it function as a tablet when closed or as a secondary display while open. Is this the device to crack the code for the new convertible hybrid category? No, but after some testing and hands-on time, it’s clear that the Taichi 21 is a decent ultrabook, even with its unconventional second display.
As an ultrabook, the Asus Taichi 21 is a well-built, stylish looking system. It’s similar, in most respects, to another Asus product, the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71 . The brushed aluminum construction is sturdy and feels luxurious. The backlit chiclet keyboard is comfortable to type on, and the one-piece clickable trackpad is smooth and responsive—or it least it was some of the time. Occasionally, the smooth cursor control would spaz out, skittering around the screen when my finger was kept still. A driver update seems to have fixed the problem.
The Taichi 21 is just as light and slim as one would expect from an ultrabook, weighing 2.8 pounds and measuring 0.7 by 12.1 by 7.9 inches (HWD), making it about the same size as the 2.9-pound Sony VAIO Duo 11 (D11213CX) . The slim build and light weight are especially impressive considering the fact that the Taichi 21 has a second IPS (In-Plane Switching), touch-enabled display built into the lid. (More on that below.) Aside from the unique dual display setup, the Taichi 21 gets the same excellent Bang & Olafsen audio and Waves MAXXAudio software enhancement found in the Asus UX32VD-DB71. In our testing, the sound quality was superb, with clear tones even at high volume and bass as rich as it gets without a subwoofer in the mix.
The defining characteristic of the Taichi 21 is not its audio, or is it the keyboard, or the mouse, or anything else you would expect on a normal ultrabook. Instead, in addition to the 11.6-inch 1920-by-1080 resolution matte-finish IPS panel display that you see when the laptop is open, you also get a 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 Taichi 21 opens like a laptop, but closes to become a tablet. When the second display is turned off—using the display-swapping Taichi Button on the keyboard—the lid of the Taichi 21 looks very similar to the Gorilla Glass-covered lid of the HP Envy 14 Spectre . It’s worth noting, however, that the interior display has no touch functionality, leaving you with just the keyboard and mouse to maneuver through Windows 8 during regular use.
The screen on the lid can be touched and tapped just like the standard touch screens seen on the Dell XPS 12 and the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 . The addition of a digital pen also improves the experience, providing fine cursor control as needed and an intuitive option for those who want to draw or take advantage of Windows’ baked in handwriting recognition or other handwriting-friendly apps. The tablet lid isn’t without its drawbacks, however. The Gorilla Glass screen may ward off scratches, but it attracts smudges like crazy. And, just as we saw with the Lenovo Yoga 13, the 16:9 aspect ratio is awkward for use as a tablet, being just a little too heavy for one-handed use and too long to comfortably cradle in one arm.
The two displays can also be used simultaneously, first as a mirrored display to share presentations and video, or the two displays can be used independently. With two independent displays you can do things like show a PowerPoint slideshow on the outward facing screen, and advance the slides with a simple swipe, while having a document of presentation notes open on the other side. Another possible use—albeit an awkward one—would allow one person to browse the Web using the touch screen while someone works with the regular laptop on the other side. While this novel use is intriguing in theory, it’s frustrating in practice—the two displays run using Windows extended display, treating the two displays like a pair of side-by-side monitors, rather than the back-to-back arrangement that is used. One would think that Asus, having gone through all the difficulty of making the hardware work, would do more than use a clumsy default solution for managing the two displays together.
The collection of ports and features found on the Taichi 21 is nearly identical to Asus’ Zenboook systems, with a few notable changes. In addition to two USB 3.0 ports (one with power for charging devices), a combination headphone and microphone jack, mini VGA, and micro HDMI port, you will also find physical controls on the edges of the laptop for power, volume, and switching displays. These controls, which would normally be function buttons on the keyboard, have been added to the edges of the laptop for use in tablet mode. Connecting to the Web or to an external device can be done wirelessly—via 802.11n dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and Intel’s WiDi 2.0—or through included adapters that convert USB to Ethernet or mini VGA to full-size.
Because it’s a tablet as well as a laptop, the Taichi 21 is outfitted with a few sensors that laptop’s don’t normally offer, such as accelerometer, e-compass, gyroscope, and an ambient light sensor. Two cameras are available for video chat or snapping photos, with a 720p webcam above the regular laptop display and a second 5MP camera with auto-focus on the tablet (lid) side.
Our review unit was also equipped with a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), offering faster performance than traditional spinning hard drives, quicker booting, near-instant wake times, and because the drive has no moving parts, it’s better suited for use in a device that will be picked up, moved, held at odd angles, and potentially dropped during use. The drive is divided into three partitions—a 20GB recovery partition, 95GB partition for the OS (with 56GB free), and a 117GB data partition with 113GB available.
In addition to the Windows 8 operating system, you’ll find a few extra programs on the SSD, but not many. Asus offers two different tools for learning the ins and outs of the Taichi 21—Asus Tutor for Taichi, which offers tutorials for all of the Taichi’s unique display modes as well as Windows 8 functions and settings, and Asus Taichi Essentials, which is a brief three-image slideshow illustrating a few features of the Taichi—the first is useful, while the second feels like a waste of time. Asus also includes branded basics like a calculator, converter for units of measurement, and a sample of Asus’ WebStorage cloud backup. Additionally, the Taichi 21 includes Microsoft Office Starter 2010, Skype, SuperNote (which allows you to take notes using your own handwriting), and FreshPaint, a stylus-friendly drawing program. Asus covers the Taichi 21 with both a one-year warranty covering parts and labor and one year of accident coverage. Doubly important with the dual-monitor design, Asus includes a 30-day “Zero Bright Dot” warranty. A number of complaints have surfaced online about uneven lighting in the display—something that we did not experience—so buyers should be aware that this is a potential problem, and take advantage of the solution.
Our review unit came equipped with an 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U ultra-low-voltage processor designed for use in tablets and ultrabooks, and paired with 4GB of RAM. This is a step up from other convertible hybrid ultrabooks we’ve reviewed, which have all featured Intel Core i5 processors. The difference can be seen in Cinebench results, where the Taichi 21 scored 2.81 points, ahead of the Core i5-equipped the Sony Duo 11 (2.40) and Lenovo Yoga 13 (2.19).
Similar performance was seen in real-world applications: The Taichi 21 completed our Handbrake test in 1 minute 17 seconds and Photoshop CS6 in 4:50, notably faster than both the Lenovo Yoga 13 ( 1:31 in Handbrake; 6:35 in Photoshop) and Sony Duo 11 (1:25 in Handbrake; 6:31 in Photoshop).
The Taichi 21 utilizes Intel’s integrated graphics solution, which provides more than enough power for your average Web browsing, video watching, and even basic gaming, but it’s not sufficient for high-end games. It cranked through 3DMark11 with scores of 1,243 points (Entry) and 207 (Extreme), but couldn’t produce playable scores in either of our gaming tests, even at lower resolution and detail settings. As a result, while you may be able to enjoy less demanding games like Team Fortress 2 or World of Warcraft, high-end games, like Call of Duty or Skyrim, are out of the question.
The Taichi 21 may have twice the display, but the battery life falls a bit short. In our video rundown test the ultrabook last 3 hours 41 minutes, ahead of the Sony Duo 11 (3:09), but well behind both the Lenovo Yoga 13 (5:00) and the Dell XPS 12 (5:09). The result is a hybrid ultrabook that should offer more portability thanks to the tablet design, but the need to bring along a power adapter and plug into an outlet every few hours is a definite disadvantage.
Ultimately, the Asus Taichi 21 (Taichi 21-DH71) is a decent ultrabook, with an innovative design that may not have broad appeal. That’s a shame because the glass-backed lid looks great, and the Zenbook-like design of the laptop echoes Asus’s best systems. Unfortunately, in this period of dual-device confusion, the attitude of “let’s throw something at the touch screen and see what sticks” puts the Taichi 21 in the unenviable position of being a good ultrabook and a mediocre tablet, and not everyone will appreciate the combination of the two as a dual-display device. Despite the two-screened awkwardness, short battery life, and premium price, I’ll gladly give Asus props for taking an innovative stab at today’s odd design problems. For a better convertible ultrabook, however, consider either the Dell XPS 12 or the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, and for our top pick for ultrabooks, consider the Editors’ Choice Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 .
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS:
Check out the test scores for the Asus Taichi 21
Compare the Asus Taichi 21 with several other laptops side by side.
More laptop reviews:
|Processor Name||Intel Core i7-3517U|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Type||General Purpose, Ultraportable, Tablet, Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage, Ultrabook|
|Processor Speed||1.9 GHz|
|Primary Optical Drive||External|
|Screen Size||11.6 inches|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||256 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc