Sunday Mailbag

October 7th, 2012 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Are you going to get the new Modbook Pro that was just announced as being available soon?

A: For those who don’t know what a Modbook is, it is a Mac laptop that has been converted into a tablet computer that has a pressure-sensitive screen using Wacom technology, so you have a totally portable digital drawing/painting solution. A company called Axiotron originally produced these Modbooks, using the old white MacBooks as the base computer. The company went under and disappeared without much explanation a year or two ago. Apparently the original inventor of the technology, or one of them, is now working with a new financier and a new version based on a Macbook Pro is forthcoming.

The short answer to your question is no, absolutely not, and for one big reason: with the base unit priced at $3499.00 it is way too expensive for what you are getting.

The $3,499 base Modbook only gives you a 2.5 GHz i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 64 GB solid state hard drive. That’s barely functional if I wanted to do real work on it, like painting a full sized illustration with multiple working layers. Realistically I’d need 8 GB RAM and the 240 GB hard drive, and that would bring the price to just a hair under $4,000. Ideally I’d want the 16 GB of RAM and the i7 processor, and now my price is $4,200. That is ridiculous. I can get a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro with a 15 inch Retina display AND a Cintiq 12wx for less, and get far better performance from both computer and Cintiq. The Cintiq’s specs alone blow away the Modbook… 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity compared to 512, tilt sensitivity compare to no tilt sensitivity, the hotkey buttons and features lacking on the Modbook, plus a real keyboard and dual screen by using a full MacBook Pro…all for less money. If I went with a less than top-of-the-line Macbook Pro with just the same specs as the $4,200 Modbook, I’d save significant money, and still have the far better Cintiq.

The only thing the Modbook has going for it is the total portability. As I said in my review of the 12WX, this unit is not truly portable… too many cables and the need for an electrical outlet make it impractical for using in a coffeeshop or somewhere truly on-the-go. However, the only reason I’d really want something like this is to do real work while away from the studio, not just sketching in a coffeeshop. That would entail sitting somewhere quiet for hours and getting some serious work done. I can deal with the 10 minute set-up and need for a tabletop as a trade-off for saving a thousand bucks and having more to work with to boot.

If you truly need a portable drawing solution, then there are cheaper options as well. . .  especially for just sketching. The upcoming Samsung Series 7 Slate computers will have 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, and otherwise have the same basic specs for the digitizer and will run full PhotoShop or whatever program you want to use, so long as there is a Windows version of said program. They are based priced at only $1,199 for a base model and with upgraded RAM and hard drive will still be well under $2,000. That can do serious painting work with total portability, and PhotoShop is identical on Windows as it is on the Mac.

For you coffeeshop sketching folk you can . . . and get this . . . use a SKETCHBOOK and a PENCIL to draw. Yes!!! You see, the sharp end of the pencil is your “cursor” and the funny, rubbery end is your “Command-Z” key. This method uses no electricity, does not require wifi, and to “reboot” you tear off a sheet and start again. Novel, I know. Seriously, it’s amazing to me how many artists these days are tethered to the computer and a tablet of some kind. Drawing is drawing. Unplug a little.

Thanks to Steven Miers for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar,¬¨‚Će-mail me¬¨‚Ćand I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Mike says:

    I’m impressed by your knowledge of various systems, and sharing it with your readers.
    But, I really like your last paragraph…that’s why I read your blog and why I bought your book! A pencil and a sketchbook: that’s rich!

  2. Lee Fortuna says:

    RIGHT ON TOM! We’re all just a little too plugged in these days.

  3. Jim Lavery says:

    no, that’s rich-mond

  4. Bryan Senka says:

    I actually expected the Modbook Pro to cost more on launch. I was expecting a starting price of at least $5000 just because of the job they’re doing to make these things. They have to buy a Macbook Pro at retail, then take it apart, then fit the pieces into the new enclosure that they engineered in house.

    That said, I do agree that they made too many compromises to make this version “the one”. If it had a much larger, higher resolution screen, and used the same Wacom digitizer from the HD Cintiqs, then you’d be talking. Maybe next time.

    Problem is, you and I both use Wacom tablets to make our living and if we aren’t interested in this offering, who is? If they don’t sell many of the current version, they may not be around long enough to make one that really makes sense.

    The biggest problem is the Modbook is a product Apple should have been making for creative professionals all along. They could easily make it have the features we need for a much lower price than a third-party conversion.

    • Tom says:

      True. Much of the expense here is that they are a small company without the resources to R&D and manufacture at reasonable costs. They needed to hit a real home run with the product to overcome the high costs. They didn’t. I have heard Wacom would not allow them to exceed 512 levels of PS because they didn’t want the specs to compete with a Cintiq, but I am not sure if that is true.

      I prefer the Mac platform, but would have zero problem using PhotoShop in Windows if the functionality of the hardware was right, along with the price.


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