Review Asus Taichi 21 Ultrabook Windows 8

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Review Asus Taichi 21 Ultrabook Windows 8 - We've waited a long time for the Asus Taichi Windows 8 convertible Ultrabook-tablet, first announced in June 2012, well ahead of Windows 8's official Oct. 26, 2012 launch date. Delayed a few months, the computer is just now hitting stores in its 11.6" Taichi 21 form. The Asus Taichi 31, the 13.3" version with identical specs except the larger display panels and an added SD card slot, should follow in Feb. 2013. Why did the Asus Taichi have geeks swooning for months? It has dual 1080p IPS displays so you can use it as a tablet or a laptop without delicate specialty hinges or living with the keyboard facing outward in tablet mode like Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga models.

Asus Taichi 21 Ultrabook Windows 8

So how does it work? Simple, yet unique: there's a matte 1920 x 1080 IPS display on the inside for use in standard notebook mode. This one isn't a touch screen, but you'll likely start poking at it reflexively as we did. The outer display on the Taichi's lid is also IPS 1080p, though glossy. When the display is off, it looks much like a black glass-topped Ultrabook like the HP Envy 14 Spectre and Acer Aspire S7 (though the Acer has white glass). The glossy Gorilla Glass outer display supports both 10 points of multi-touch and the included N-Trig digital pen with 256 level of pressure sensitivity for drawing, painting and note taking. This is N-Trig's new DuoSense 2 digitizer and pen, also used on the Sony Vaio Duo 11, and it's a significant improvement over older N-Trig offerings such that we didn't wish for a Wacom digitizer.

Specs and Design

In terms of both design and internals, this is basically an Asus Zenbook Prime, and like that series you can get it in either 11.6 or 13.3 inch sizes. It shares the same tapered wedge design, premium build quality, high quality metal casing and good backlit island style keyboard. The Taichi 21 weighs 2.75 lbs. making it light for an Ultrabook but heavy relative compared to Android and iOS tablets. It's available with ULV Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 CPUs with 4 gigs of RAM and Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. The i5 comes with a 128 gig SSD drive and the i7 with a 256 gig SSD. The Taichi has dual band Intel WiFi 802.11b/g/n with WiDi, Bluetooth, NFC, a front 720p webcam and a rear 5MP 1080p webcam. The notebook has two USB 3.0 ports (one charging), micro HDMI, 3.5mm combo audio and VGA out via a mini VGA port and included VGA dongle adapter. Asus also includes a 10/100 USB Ethernet adapter in the box, as they do with Zenbook Prime models. You get a ballistic nylon sleeve with microfiber interior and a little matching pouch for the dongle adapters.

Display Switching

The tablet has a switch on its side so you can quickly put the Taichi into notebook-only mode (closing the lid will put the machine to sleep) or hybrid mode (closing the lid turns on the outer display for tablet use and turn off the inner display). There's a dedicated "Taichi" key (on the top row with a blue Yin-Yang symbol) that launches Asus' utility for basic settings and info along with the more important 4 display options: laptop mode (inner display only), tablet mode (outer display only), mirror mode (both displays show the same content) and extended desktop where the inner and outer displays function as primary and secondary monitors that show different content and can run different apps. For example, you could have email and the web browser running on the inner panel while someone else watches a movie or plays a game on the outer display (assuming that doesn't destroy your concentration). Asus also includes a utility that you can use in laptop mode where you can drag a PowerPoint file, video or PDF into the app window to play it on the outer display. Switching between the displays takes 1-2 seconds.

The Best Zenbook Prime Yet

Happily, Asus improves quickly and the weaknesses we've seen on Zenbook Prime models have been addressed: light bleed is minimal and the large trackpad actually works reliably even for Windows 8 multi-touch gestures. There is a little bit of light bleed along the bottom edge of the inner panel and virtually none on the outer panel. The Sandisk 256 gig SSD drive in our Taichi earned high benchmark numbers and is a totally new model compared to the slower Sandisk SSDs used in older Zenbook models. The machine is assembled with excellent fit and finish, materials are top notch and there are no fatal flaws.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The backlit island style keyboard is quite good for a small machine and we required no adjustment period to type at our usual 80wpm. An ambient light sensor controls backlighting, but you can override this if you wish (the auto function worked fine for us). Windows 8's auto display brightness on the other hand never works well except on the MS Surface RT, and we found it dimmed the passably bright displays (250 and 280 nits) too much. Turn off display auto-brightness under general settings in the Charms settings zone and use the Fn row brightness controls instead for a better experience. Speaking of the Fn row, you must hit the Fn key to use brightness, volume and other controls and there's no setting in BIOS to make these the default rather than the F1 through F12.

Digital N-Trig Pen

Graphic artists have strong opinions on N-Trig vs. Wacom, the two big players in the active digitizer and digital pen space. N-Trig has come a long way with their tech and the DuoSense 2 pen and latest generation digitizer offer excellent edge response that beats Wacom, good pen response with little lag and fairly good straight line tracking with little jitter. Subjectively, it still lacks the buttery feel of a Wacom pen and digitizer, but that didn't stop me from spending many hours of enjoyable drawing and digital painting time in Corel Painter 12, ArtRage Pro and Alias SketchBook. Note taking is very responsive for those whose needs lean more towards business and school tasks.


Asus Taichi 21 Ultrabook Windows 8

Performance and Horsepower

In terms of internals this is a standard Ultrabook with third generation Intel Ivy Bridge ultra low voltage CPUs and Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. You can get the machine with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U or a 1.9GHz Intel Core i-7-3517U (the same CPUs used in most Ultrabooks). Our review unit came with the i7 and a 256 gig SSD for $1,599. Both versions have 4 gigs of DDR3 1600MHz RAM soldered to the motherboard and a SATA III SSD. It's not hard to remove the bottom panel by unscrewing several tiny Torx screws, but there's little to upgrade inside.
The laptop's scores are right where we'd expect a ULV Core i7 with a fast SSD. It has very good Windows Experience Index numbers and a healthy PCMark07 score. The machine can handle everyday office tasks, browsing with multiple tabs open, 1080p video playback, casual and light 3D gaming (not Crysis), Adobe Photoshop and developments apps perfectly well.

Battery Life

This isn't the pretty part of our story: battery life is thoroughly mediocre. That's been the case with many small Windows 8 convertibles running on Intel Core processors. Simply, there's little room for a big battery and the drive towards thinness and lightness means that manufacturers aren't leaving room for large power cells. The 35 Whr Lithium Ion Polymer battery is sealed inside, as per usual for Ultrabooks. Asus claims up to 5 hours of use on a charge, which isn't very high and in our real world tests with one display turned on and set to 50% brightness, WiFi on and active in a mix of MS Office, email, web and playback of a few streaming HD video clips, the Taichi 21 averaged 3.4 hours on a charge. That's worse than the Sony Vaio Duo 11 (4 to 4.5 hours) and the Dell XPS 12 (4.5 hours). Using both displays simultaneously will significantly drop runtimes. As a consolation, the Taichi ships with Asus' usual small wall wart charger that's small and light--you won't want to leave it at home.

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Price: $1,299 for the Core i5 with 128 gig SSD, $1,599 for the Core i7 with 256 gig SSD
Website: www.asus.com
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Specs:


  • Display: 11.6", 1920 x 180 matte IPS display (inner) and 1920 x 1080 gloss IPS display with 10 points of multi-touch and N-Trig digitizer with digital pen (outer display). Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. Micro HDMI and mini VGA ports. Mini VGA to VGA adapter included in the box. Supports Intel WiDi wireless display.
  • Battery: 35 Whr Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable.
  • Performance: 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U or 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U. 4 gigs DDR3 1600MHz RAM soldered to motherboard. SATA III SSD drive, 128 or 256 gigs.
  • Size: 12.1 x 7.8 x 0.68 inches. Weight: 2.75 pounds.
  • Camera: HD webcam above inner display and 5MP camera above outer display.
  • Audio: Built-in stereo speakers with Bang & Olufsen ICEpower audio, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.
  • Networking: Integrated dual band Intel WiFi 802.11b/g/n with WiDi, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. USB 10/100 Ethernet adapter included.
  • Software: Windows 8 64 bit.
  • Expansion and Ports: Two USB 3.0 ports, micro HDMI, 3.5mm combo audio jack and mini VGA.

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