A number of manufacturers have a history of trying out innovative new form factors, whether it's in the tablet space with Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga, or in the phone arena with Asus' PadFone and its successor, the PadFone 2.
But I just can't get my head around who Asus' most recent hybrid ultrabook, the Taichi, is aimed at, and how the company has so spectacularly missed the point of Windows 8 with the device.
In terms of specs, the Taichi is solid and can stand up to the best of the rest in the ultrabook-cum-tablet sector, with its either Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, 4GB RAM and a 256GB SSD.
What makes the Taichi stand out from the rest of the pack, however, is its back-to-back dual displays — as well as a standard issue, non-touchscreen placed where you'd expect for a laptop, there's also a touchscreen on the reverse of the lid too, for when the Taichi's in tablet mode.
So how does the dual-screen approach work in the real world? I recently got hands-on with the Taichi to find out.
I sat down in front of it, opened it up and hit the power button. I was greeted with the Windows 8 Start screen — so far, so good.
But when I reached out and swiped the screen to have a look around, nothing happened. I thought about it for a second longer; it didn't even feel like a touchscreen. Oh, right, it's not a touchscreen. How disappointing.
Missing the point
With the two-screen approach, Asus has completely missed the point of Windows 8: the OS is all about touch. But touch is something that the Taichi doesn't really accommodate well: despite its nod to being a tablet and featuring a touch-centric UI, the Taichi's touchscreen perplexingly doesn't face forward.
(For what it's worth, the touchscreen seemed to work perfectly well; it was responsive, bright and crisp — all the things you'd want in a display. It just happens to be facing in the wrong direction.)
One of the best things about Windows 8 for me is the way in which it feels natural to reach out and scroll or tap the screen to perform an operation, and to still use the keyboard or mouse for text input or other finely tuned operations too.
With the Taichi, there is no option to use the touch interface unless the device is fully closed, thereby shutting off use of the keyboard, or the lid is open, but the keyboard is facing away from you. There are times when having a keyboard to enter text is considerably easier than inputting by touch in Windows 8, and having to turn the laptop 180 degrees every time you need to type in a URL is hugely ungainly, not to mention a bit odd.
A laptop first
I suspect that the Taichi will spend most of its life being used as a laptop, rather than in tablet mode — as much a result of its weight as anything else.
The device I tested was the 11.6-inch model, weighing 1.25kg, making it a little heavier than the average tablet, and realistically a little too heavy to hold for long periods, despite its impressive thinness. I can only imagine how ungainly the 13.3-inch screen version of the Taichi will be when used as a tablet.
So, then, think of the Taichi as an ultrabook that can technically be used as a tablet, but really only when it's sat firmly on your lap at home, and when you don't want to use a keyboard at all. As such, the Taichi is pretty much reserved for light companion duties, despite the fact that the hardware could easily handle a more demanding workload.
For me, an 11.6-inch tablet that costs from £1,499 (or from $1,299 in the US) is a little on the excessive side for something that will be used mainly for checking emails, browsing the internet and tweeting.
I'm always happy to see Asus' innovative new form factors, and it has done as much for the hybrid/convertible market as any other company, but for me, the Taichi remains just a solution in search of a problem.