More about the Modbook

March 10th, 2008 | Posted in It's All Geek to Me!

Some time ago I wrote about the long anticipated tablet Mac finally having become a reality thanks to Axiotron. They have created a modification package that turns an Apple MacBook into a tablet based computer… it’s like having a Cintiq monitor combined with a laptop in one contained unit. Here’s a video I ran across recently demoing this new unit with Axiotron’s leader and some artists doing work on it:

It’s great they have a comic book artist doing the demo, and a nice portrait of the reporter… too bad they didn’t say his last name. The show apparently is a local one from Hawaii.

This is something that is very enticing for me. Last week I hauled my 21 inch Cintiq all the way to St. Louis because I had to finish up a parody for MAD and I was on the color stage. It would have been nearly impossible to do that had I not been driving, as the Cintiq is big, heavy and delicate. Commercial transport is basically impossible. I would have needed to bring my Intous tablet with me and done it that way were I not driving with room in my back seat for the Cintiq. It certainly would have taken me far longer and been a lot harder to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish on the Intous, particularly since I am so used to working on the Cintiq these days.

Using the new 12 inch Cintiq for travel is an option, but it’s not truly portable either. It has a big brick of a transformer, needs AC power and has a thick, heavy dual cable coming from the back. You also need the laptop to make it work, so it’s a full suitcase of stuff and a full desktop of space needed. On the plus side it does have 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity and all the features of the big Cintiq including tilt sensitivity and the shortcut keys.

The “Modbook”, as it’s called, was very intriguing as it is truly portable. It’s a full MacBook computer with all the ports, drives etc…. just no keyboard. It can run on battery power alone (although doubtless not for long) and uses the simple apple power cord when running on AC. The cord, Modbook and pen is all you need. Easy to take out and start scribbling.

I was seriously considering getting one, but after asking some questions i decided it’s just not quite right yet. Here are my reasons for reservation:

  1. Only 512 levels of pressure sensitivity- That might seem like plenty but after using a Cintiq with 1024 levels it is a step backward.
  2. No tilt sensitivity- Axiotron told me in order to do tilt sensivity, they would have had to add to the size of the tablet (but not the screen) making it cumbersome. Tilt is not really needed for what I usually do but I do use it when doing more painted stuff, which this would not do.
  3. Can’t use the Cintiq pen- I love the feel of the Cintiq’s pen, but you have to use the skinny, hard pen that comes with the Modbook… Axiotron cited “battery life” as the reason for this.
  4. No side function keys- This isn’t a dealbreaker, but I love those things. I also use my keyboard a lot to switch tools, set opacity, etc, but a bluetooth keyboard would fix that part.
  5. It’s a MacBook, not a MacBook Pro- If they can do it to a MacBook, they should be able to do it to a MacBook Pro. It was silly of them to base it on the smallest MacBook when they have ben quoted as saying they are pursuing the graphic artist market, 99% of which use a Pro for the better screen size and power.
  6. Too new a technology- Sorry but I seldom buy the first model of anything, especially a complex and expensive thing like a computer. No doubt the second generation will have better features and technology… maybe solving all the issues listed above.

So the Modbook is not on my wish list. Maybe Modbook 2.0? We’ll see. Here are some other videos showing the Modbook in action:


  1. Lee-Roy says:

    All good points, Tom. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, too, and am pretty much in the same boat. In my debate between the MacBook Pro and the Modbook, I think the MacBook Pro has finally won out. Probably the most important items on your list, in my opinion, are 5 and 6. The other item I would add to your list which was the major deal breaker for me, is even though the Modbook was once a Mac and essentially still a Mac of sorts, it is no longer an Apple product and so doesn’t include the service and support you get with purchasing an Apple product.

    If I can afford it, I may upgrade my Intuos to a Cintiq 12WX (though I wasn’t aware of the power supply issue). It may be a little less portable and a bit more expensive an option, but I’m certain I’ll be satisfied with the power, performance, service, and support, which means I can make my purchases with confidence.

    Maybe I’ll get the Modbook 2.0 as well, although I sense that a tablet Mac made by Apple is only a matter of time. Let’s hope sooner, rather than later. I find all of this a little frustrating, because I do believe that a tablet Mac is easily within Apple’s ability. I think they’re behind the market in this area and I do wish they would stop spoon-feeding us the technology. In the meantime, I guess they will continue to test and perfect their touch technology, make their machines slimmer (and lighter) and more power-efficient and when they do come out with tablets, I’m sure they will be the best (and prettiest) on the market.

  2. I coveted those Modbooks as well since they first were announced but ultimately passed for all the same reasons. It’s also hella ‘spensive, $3000 for the fully tricked-out version, and it’s still only a basic Macbook! I decided to save my pennies so I can upgrade my good old Intuos to a Cintiq 12WX instead.
    DId you ever consider getting a windows-based tablet pc instead? I’ve read raves about the Motion Graphics tablets that have most of the features the Modbook is missing. I’m a Mac-head too, so I can understand the aversion to a Windows machines, but if you just loaded it with photoshop and alias sketchbook and only used it as an auxiliary computer for illustrating on the road or sketching on the couch it wouldn’t really be that bad? Or am I just fooling myself?

  3. Tom says:

    I was a PC guy for a long time before I went to a Mac about one and a half years ago, so i do not fear Windows. I should look into the tablet PC possibility, but I probably will just opt for the smaller Cintiq as well if I feel a desperate need to have some portable digital options.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Jeroen says:

    So glad I found this blog!
    I was dealing with the same problems you guys described above.
    I’m a Industrial Design student and traveling with such devices is something I prefer and I like to do it with the least amount of effort.

    The Modbook seems perfect for traveling, but it misses all the nice features of a Wacom board.
    As well as the Wacom wx12, it looks very nice, but for traveling it has too many cables and stuff. You also need to bring your laptop aswel. So for example, your in the train to work. I would prefer drawing directly on to the device, without setting up all sorts of gear.

    Grab and go!

    So my suggesture for the modbook 2.0:
    Something like a Macbook Pro with a Wacom tablet on top of it.

    – So get rid of the cables which come with the Wacom wx12 and power it with the
    onboard battery
    – Make sure there is 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity or more
    – Get the tilt and rotation sensitivity on the screen
    – Set it up so you CAN use the Wacom pens
    – Get the side function keys
    – Do it on a Macbook Pro
    – Get it portable
    – Make sure it doesn’t lag
    – Get rid of the pen bug that’s now on the Modbook
    (Bug: pen reset after computer fell asleep)

    If it has these features, I would LOVE IT, BUY IT and recommend it to everyone I know.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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