Asus has long stuck its neck out with off-the-wall products that few other manufacturers would dare to make (the PadFone 2 is a good example). The Taichi is cast in the same mould, although alongside some of the weird and wonderful Windows 8 products that have appeared in recent months, it doesn't feel quite as radical.
Asus Taichi hands-on: dual screens
Still, it's a brave move on Asus' part to put a double-sided screen on the Taichi. Open it up and you'll feel like you're using any of its Zenbook range. There's a backlit keyboard and an 11.6in non-reflective screen.
Close it, though and you're presented with an edge-to-edge glass panel which houses another 11.6in screen, this time a touchscreen supporting 10 fingers. Both screens are IPS panels with an amazingly high 1920 x 1080 resolution, which equates to a 190ppi density. (A more traditional 1366 x 768 resolution gives a density of 135ppi.)
The strange thing is that the internal screen isn’t a touchscreen. This is quite confusing at first, since you naturally try and tap on tiles on the Start screen to launch programs. However, for this you'll need to resort to the gesture-capable touchpad.
Both screens can work independently - the touchscreen is effectively a second screen as far as Windows is concerned, so Asus says two people can use the laptop at the same time. We're less convinced about that assertion, since you'll typically tilt the screen back at an angle to use it as a laptop, in which case it won't be at the right angle for someone else to, say, watch a video.
You can drag windows between screens as you would in Windows 7 with a dual-screen setup, but since you can't see them both at the same time, it's not all that easy to do. Also, when open, an Asus logo lights up on the outside of the lid, and this switches to a Windows 8 logo when shut. That's also confusing as you expect to be able to press it to return to the Start screen, but this didn't work for us, and we're almost certain it's simply a logo.
A more realistic way to use the Taichi is as a traditional laptop or, with the screen closed, as a traditional tablet. However, the catch here is that - at 1.25kg - it's pretty heavy to hold for any period of time. There's also a 13.3in model, which is even heavier.
Asus has added a special button to the Windows 8 Charms bar, which launches a settings app where you can configure how the dual screens work as well as changing power options, other system settings and turn Wi-Fi and NFC on and off. There's also a dedicated key on the keyboard to display this interface, and a hardware switch on the left-hand side to enable or disable the touchscreen for privacy.
One setting allows you to make touchscreen become the primary display when you shut the laptop, either carrying on uninterrupted or displaying the Windows 8 lock screen. We couldn't get this to work in our brief test - the Taichi simply went into sleep mode every time, so another setting clearly needed to be changed somewhere.
Playing an HD film trailer, it was clear that both screens were up to scratch in terms of quality, and the Bang & Olufsen speakers produced better-sounding audio than most Ultrabooks. Whether they were loud enough was tricky to ascertain in the busy room.
Asus Taichi hands-on: specifications
At £1500, the Taichi sits towards the top end of Ultrabook pricing, but its specs help to justify this. There's a choice of an Ivy Bridge Core i5 or i7, a 128 or 256GB SSD and built-in NFC. RAM is stingy at 4GB, but you get dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4 and a pair of USB ports. There's also micro HDMI and a proprietary VGA output, which requires the included adaptor to actually connect it to a display. The Taichi is unlikely to be able to drive three displays simultaneously, as the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics can handle only two monitors at once.
You get front and rear cameras, with the rear being a 5Mp snapper capable of shooting 1080p video. We'll have to wait until we can test it out properly to find out whether it delivers good quality or not.
Asus Taichi hands-on: initial thoughts
The Taichi is almost ridiculously expensive, but it shares the same excellent build quality as the rest of the Zenbook range with an aluminium 'unibody' chassis, similar to the MacBook Air.
We're not convinced that there's a need for two screens, though - Dell's XPS12 Duo and Lenovo's Yoga (and other convertibles) show that you can have a single touchscreen which works in both laptop and tablet modes.
The price is also a sticking point - you could buy a decent Ultrabook and a separate tablet (a Microsoft Surface, for example) for a similar price. Finally, there's the weight. We wouldn't want to hold the Taichi for long, even with two hands.