Two Windows 8 convertible tablet -Ultrabooks priced within $100 of each other. Both offer Intel core i5 and Core i7 ULV CPU options with Intel HD 4000 graphics and a fast 128 or 256 gig SSD. They both have 1080p 11.6" IPS Gorilla Glass displays. They both weigh 2.75 pounds and are close in thickness. Backlit keyboards? Yep. Dual band Intel WiFi with WiDi, Bluetooth and NFC? Yes again. We're talking about the hot new Asus Taichi 21 and the Sony Vaio Duo 11. The Sony has been out 1.5 months while the Taichi has just hit retailers' shelves. Both are hot commodities and aren't easy to find in stock.
Both tablets have the latest generation N-Trig digitizer with pressure sensitivity (except in Adobe apps for now) and a DuoSense 2 pen that's made of light metal. Both work well for note-taking and artwork with a near identical experience. The Taichi and Duo 11 have stereo speakers that are equally loud and make a lot of sound for 11.6" machines, though you won't get much bass unless you plug in headphones.
Where do they diverge? The Sony Vaio Duo 11 is a slider: it looks like a tablet, albeit a bigger one than the iPad or Android 10" tablets, until you lift up on the display section and it slides to reveal an island style keyboard with optical nav. The Asus Taichi 21 has a conventional laptop design and it looks much like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX21... except the lid. The lid looks like black glass when turned off, but when turned on it becomes a 1080p touch screen with active digitizer. Inside there's a 1080p matte non-touch display, and that's what the extra $100 gets you; two 1080p displays.
Sony gives you 6 gigs of RAM with the $1,199 1.7GHz Core i5 and 128 gig SSD model, and 8 gigs with the $1,499 1.9GHz Core i7 and 256 gig SSD.
For the Asus Taichi, both the $1,299 1.7GHz Core i5 + 128 gig SSD model and $1,599 1.9GHz Core i7 + 256 gig SSD models come with 4 gigs of RAM.
4 gigs is adequate for average use, but those of you who run VMs or edit HD video may want more, though we don't generally recommend Ultrabooks for those who spend a good deal of time editing 1080p video anyway. Memory is soldered on the motherboard for Asus and Sony uses a proprietary memory module (and the case is tedious to open).
The biggest difference between these two? Form factor. If you crave a portable that can be both a traditional Ultrabook and a tablet, then the Asus Taichi 21 with its 11.6" form or the 13.3" Taichi 31 make the most sense. With a truly lovely 1920 x 1080 matte IPS display inside, a very good (though small, given the machine's size) island style keyboard and a large multi-touch trackpad (that actually works well, despite Asus' poor track record for trackpads), the Taichi looks, acts and feels just like a traditional laptop. If you spend much of your time in the desktop environment running Windows 7 apps, it will feel like home. When you want a tablet, simply close the lid and start using it like a tablet. And you can use both displays at once should you need to give a presentation or perhaps entertain your kids with a movie or game while you're trying to get work done.
If you spend a good deal of time in the new Windows 8 Modern UI with its Live Tiles and touch-centric apps, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 makes more sense since the touchscreen is always available, whether in tablet or keyboard deployed mode. We instinctively tried to touch the inner non-touch display on the Asus Taichi countless times because Windows 8's UI is so much easier to use with touch, and well... gosh you can touch the outer screen! But the Sony Vaio Duo 11's keyboard isn't as good: the keys feel small and cramped and there's no wrist rest area or traditional trackpad. Instead there's the generally annoying optical nav embedded in the keyboard and three mouse buttons along the front edge of the keyboard deck.
Battery life on Windows 8 convertibles isn't impressive. Both the Taichi and Duo 11 averaged 4 hours of use with brightness at 50% and wireless on. Sony does offer a $149 sheet battery that clips onto the Duo 11's bottom to increase runtimes by 60 to 80% while adding a pound or less of weight. For those who spend significant time away from power outlets and don't mind the added weight and expense, this could be a strong selling point.
Here's our Asus Taichi 21 vs. Sony Vaio Duo 11 Comparison Smackdown video: