Axiotron’s Modbook vs. Cintiq 12 WX

May 5th, 2008 | Posted in It's All Geek to Me!

I try hard to time my workflow around any traveling I have to do so I do not need to do coloring or any computer work on projects while “on the road”. I much prefer the familiar settings and equipment of my studio and my Cintiq 21UX for that kind of thing, and can much more easily draw and ink in hotel rooms or in less accommodating environments than to do the coloring or painting on a job. Still, sometimes it’s unavoidable, and I bring my Macbook Pro and Wacom Intuos tablet along to work on the finishes for a project.

On my last road trip to Massachusetts I ended up having to do most of the color on a retail product job, which I did partly on the Intuos and partly on my friend Ed Steckley‘s new Cintiq 12 WX. I’ve examined both that device and the Axiotron Modbook, an Apple approved modified Macbook tablet that uses Wacom tablet technology to form a combo Cintiq and Macbook in one portable package, here on this blog… although I had not the occasion to actually use either until recently.

I’ve now used the 12 WX, and while I have yet to try the Modbook there have been several very comprehensive reviews of the unit by those who have including this very recent one from The Unofficial Apple Weblog, complete with the following video (read the review, it’s better):

The review was done primarily with the artist and designers, the Modbook’s main demographic, in mind.

I’ve considered getting either the Modbook or the Cintiq 12 WX to make coloring on the road more convenient and efficient. Most of the TUAW review substantiates my thoughts on the pluses and minuses of the Modbook. I was not surprised to read that there is some issue with the responsiveness of the pen on the Modbook, and that it is not up to par with the Cintiq. With only 512 levels of pressure sensitivity, no tilt sensitivity and both the lack of programmable side keys and a lack of a keyboard for shortcuts, the advantages of it being a self contained unit are essentially nullified. In order for me to use it in the way I’d want to, I’d need to use a Bluetooth or USB keyboard and the power brick for all but short bursts of use. That’s getting into the same level of “portability” as using the 12 WX in addition to my current Macbook Pro.

The 12 WX, on the other hand, is not truly portable in the way the Modbook is. You can’t take it out of your backpack on the plane or in the coffeeshop and start sketching away. At the very least you need a desk surface to place your laptop on and two power sockets… one for your laptop power and one for the Cintiq’s power brick. That brick also houses the guts for some of the Cintiq’s electronics, which is why the 12 WX itself is so much slimmer and lighter than the other models of Cintiq. Those units have a single thick cable running out of them that splits to USB and power, with the electronics in the tablet itself. The much thinner 12 WX cable plugs into the larger brick, which then has a power cable and the USB cable going from it to the respective sockets. All that said, set up is quick and with just a little room, like a typically small hotel room writing desk area, you have an instant portable digital studio.

The screen on the 12 WX is adequately big for my work. Not as big as the 21 UX of course but a surprising amount of work area. The widescreen aspect ratio helps when you place palettes on the sides of the screen. The response time and feel of the tablet features are as good as the larger Cintiq’s, and the programmable side buttons can be set up in any way you wish for whatever use you need. I have mine set to various functions and find them of immense time saving value. I also extensively use the keyboard for other shortcuts like quickly switching between tools, etc. Using both a laptop and the 12 WX gives me everything I have in the studio in a little more compact and flexible form. The important point is that I can do the work almost as quickly and efficiently using the Macbook Pro/Cintiq 12 WX as I can at home with the bruising Mac pro and Cintiq 21 UX.

The Modbook is a great idea that is not yet ready for prime time. If their goal is truly to cater to the artist they need to incorporate more Cintiq and less tablet PC into the device. You need programmable side buttons (at least a few) and 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity at least, and tilt sensitivity would be nice for painters (although to do that they must extend the edges of the tablet past the monitor edges, so that might be sacrificed for form issues). They also need to give users a Macbook Pro option, as opposed to the underpowered Macbook based units, for the kind of horsepower digital artists might need for big image files. maybe Modbook 2.0 will be a more complete product.

Looks like it’s the Cintiq 12 WX for me… someday. It might be a summer buy this year.


  1. SteveH says:

    I am going to be in the market for a cintiq some time in the next 12 months and the 12WX is an option that has both price advantages and good product usage but I am also thinking that maybe I should go for the 21UX as a larger size screen to work on should be better? I guess the 12WX is portable and as you mentioned Tom, you can use it when out and about. As I draw for customers on their trade stands, the 12WX would be the right choice. I will have to visit a retailer to check them out before I buy, so I can make the right decision! Either way, I am looking forward to getting my dirty little paws on one!

  2. meredithd says:

    I just bought the 12WX and a new MacBook Pro as my primary studio tools. I was very close to buying the Modbook as I prefer the all-in-one portability of a tablet, but now I’m glad I didn’t. It’s a real crime to the arts community that there isn’t a better Mac tablet out there. I really considered switching to PC for this reason alone (and I’m a real Mac evangelist, too). I think part of the problem is that people don’t understand artists’ need to work directly on the screen. From my non-arts friends (“what do you need a tablet for, to take notes?”) to a relative in the videogame industry (“um, my Nintendo DS has a drawing program that works fine”). I just don’t think that there is enough voice for this tool in the computer market. So for now, I’ll just have to suffer shutting down my laptop to unplug my Cintiq every time I want to go to a different room. o-o;

  3. yondaime_kazekage says:

    wacom rules!


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