Taiwanese company Asus has emerged as one of the leading names in the laptop and tablet market.
The tech giant has popularised hybrids of laptops and tablets too, with the Android-equipped Transformer line being one of the more critically acclaimed slates around.
Featuring a keyboard dock, complete with additional battery and more connectivity options, the Transformer line has won over legions of tablet fans. In fact our review of the Transformer Pad Infinity tablet was pretty favourable as well.
Now with Windows 8 being launched, the company is hoping to continue its run of good fortune with a variety of new tablets, laptops and hybrids thereof being unveiled.
We attended a press briefing with the company in Cape Town, shedding more light on their Windows 8 devices.
A variety of ways to touch
The company had quite an eclectic variety of touch-enabled Windows 8 machines on tap, starting with their hero offering, the Asus Taichi.
Due for launch in Q1 of next year, the Taichi's unique selling point is that it has two touchscreens - one on either side. It's a pretty neat trick, allowing you to fold the laptop and use it as a tablet instead. But why else would you want two screens on your laptop?
Evidently, there are more uses for it than I imagined, with presentations being another, rendering a projector obsolete for small groups of people. Of course, the ability to use the two screens independently of each other means that you can have two people utilising the device at once.
In saying so, our one concern was that the battery life wouldn't be up to scratch, but the company has a five hour estimate. It remains to be seen whether this is a conservative estimate, but with two full HD screens being lit, a hit on the battery is to be expected.
The Taichi needs some horsepower if it needs to power two displays, but with support for up to i7 chips and preinstalled with 4GBs of RAM, it should be in good stead.
A brief hands-on with the laptop hybrid saw no slowdown at all, with gestures and app launching being seamless. Changing screen settings was simple too, with a desktop icon allowing you to toggle between mirror mode and other options.
The Zenbook Prime is another touch-enabled laptop (rather, an ultrabook) and unarguably the most beautiful device of the lot.
With a ridiculously thin profile, the Zenbook Prime oozes style - no wonder the first generation Zenbook was considered the best ultrabook around.
We have nothing but good things to say about the Zenbook Prime in our brief time with it, being arguably the most responsive machine of the lot. Whether it was transitioning between desktop mode and the new "Metro" interface or simply opening programs, the Zenbook Prime was pretty nippy.
The company also has a few sensibly priced options in the form of the X202 touch-enabled laptop, priced at between R4500 and R5000. It's not a bad price at all for an entry-level machine, featuring 2GBs of RAM and the choice between Celeron and i3 CPUs.
This entry-level machine is particularly important for the local market, where not everyone can afford the top-flight touch-enabled laptops.
We didn't get a chance to play with the X202, although we hope that more RAM can easily be added to it. But in saying so, Windows 8 runs great on older hardware, so we hope this is the case here too.
The all-important Transformer range
The Android-based Transformers influenced the design and strategy of the company's Windows 8 Transformers too, the firm said, serving to familiarise customers to the concept.
The latest entry in the Transformer line, which sees a tablet and detachable keyboard dock bundled together, is the Transformer Book. Asus has also taken to calling it "the world's first convertible ultrabook".
The Transformer Book is powerful too, featuring an Intel i5 processor (although i3 and i7 are reportedly supported too), 128GB solid-state drive and 4GBs of RAM. Being a Transformer product, the keyboard dock has some neat features too, such as an additional battery, boosting the lifespan to eight hours and a larger hard drive.
Much like the other Transformer devices, assembling and disassembling the two components is pretty easy, with a little latch mechanism being used. Sure, it's no Microsoft Surface in that regard (as emphasised by their "click" ads), but then again, Microsoft's keyboard cover doesn't give you extra juice and a hard drive. Trade-offs, trade-offs...
The Transformer Book is pretty svelte and lightweight though, featuring the company's IPS display too, which resulted in some vivid colours. This type of display, also seen on the Taichi, really makes Windows 8 and its Live Tiles pop out. We'd argue that Windows is a more suitable platform for the screen than Android in this case.
Asus is also creating Windows RT devices, such as the VivoTab RT, which features the same Tegra 3 quad-core chip seen in its later Transformer devices and the Microsoft Surface.
Unlike the reported performance of the Surface however, the VivoTab RT excelled in a brief hands-on, with nary a framerate drop experienced during games.
Of course, consumers wanting this tablet need to remember that it's not capable of running the full version of Windows 8, so only the new Metro apps are supported.
Of course, with the likes of Samsung launching hybrid devices running Windows 8 too, Asus will need their products to stand out even more.
"We have good, award-winning design behind us, as well as Asus WebStorage, which offers 32GBs of online storage for two years," says Judy Huang, Marketing Specialist for Asustek South Africa.
When checking their devices out, one of the common themes was that there wasn't a bucketload of preinstalled software, aside from little apps like a Calculator and Calendar. It's by no means a bad thing however, as most manufacturers tend to go overboard with this "bloatware".
The great design certainly warrants a look, as evident by their Nexus 7 (look out for the review next week!) and their Zenbook Prime.
Huang also cites hardware innovations, such as their use of polymer batteries for what they claim is a longer battery life as well as IceCool tech to keep palm rests cool on laptops.
Either way, with Asus showing their hand here, the company is in a great position locally as Windows 8 sales get underway.