Is it time to buy a Modbook?


UPDATE: For a more recent update of my thoughts and opinions about the Modbook, go here.

During Macworld 2009 this past week Axiotron, the company that produces the Modbook, released an all new model of their product called the Modbook Pro. It has produced tons of hype and questions, so I thought I would give my thoughts and impressions as a current Modbook owner, in case you are curious or debating whether or not to get one for yourself.

The Modbook is a tablet computer built from an Apple Macbook base. I purchased mine in mid-2008 and have previously posted an extensive review. It is controlled using a pen with the help of Wacom’s digitizer technology. In short, it is great for artists because you can draw directly on the screen. It is also the only tablet computer available that uses the Mac OS, which I happen to prefer over Windows.

The Modbook Pro

Here is a summary of the differences between the new Pro model and its predecessor:

  • The Modbook Pro is based on the Macbook Pro, instead of the consumer-level Macbook. This means more power, better graphics, and bigger-screen size.
  • A new design. On the standard Modbook, you can see the Macbook base still attached to the machine; for the new model, Axiotron designed an all new, black aluminum case.
  • New software. Synergy, which integrates touch input (previously, it was pen-only); and QuickScript, a new advanced handwriting-recognition technology.
  • Numerous bug fixes and improvements, like screen-rotation, full bluetooth compatibility, and improved battery life.
  • $$$ – the Modbook Pro will set you back $5000. (The standard Modbook starts at $2249)


  • – Some nice pics of the Modbook Pro on display at Macworld 2009
  • – pictures of the Modbook Pro demo, including a good look at its insides
  • – Another good view of the Modbook Pro interior


First look via Macworld:


Also check out this good overview from TUAW.

What about the other Modbook?

The standard Modbook also received a set of improvements, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Bug Fixes:

  • Full bluetooth compatibility. Previously, Apple’s bluetooth feature caused the Modbook to freeze and had to be kept turned off.
  • Improved screen. Axiotron has improved the coating process, which has improved the durability, lowered the overall weight, and reduced the parallax between pen and cursor.
  • Better system performance. A redesigned controller board improves battery life and makes for quicker boot times. There is also more shielding for reducing tablet and GPS interference.

Upgrades and New Services:

  • New software: Autodesk Sketchbook Express. This is a lightweight version of Sketchbook Pro, and it now comes standard on all Modbooks. I was also able to download it myself for free, as a current Modbook owner. It is a very solid and fun program for sketching.
  • Modservice. This is a new service that cropped up after I bought my Modbook. Existing Macbook owners can now send in their own machines (if it is one of the previous plastic models, not the new aluminum unibody ones) and have them modded into a Modbook for a lower price than a brand new Modbook.
  • The Woz. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, has joined the Board of Advisors for Axiotron in late 2008, bringing lots of knowledge and experience to the Modbook team.

What does all this mean? Well, I for one am excited to see these new developments and improvements by Axiotron. It shows their dedication to the product. They are moving forward, thinking of the future, and making the Modbook highly adaptable for ongoing Apple developments, which makes me think that this product is here to stay.

Should I buy a Modbook?


  • …if you are in the market for a new system, both a computer and a tablet, and already have the money saved and ready to spend anyway.
  • …if your only worries are about bugs or the quality of construction. My Modbook does have bugs, but they are minor. With the new improvements touted by Axiotron, you have nothing to fear, in my opinion.
  • …if you are an experienced digital painter who would definitely get a lot of mileage out of this product. I paint on the computer every day, so for me this is not just a luxury, but a convenient tool. It makes it worth the investment.


  • …if you would rather have the money than the extra portability. If you can do without that, then a Cintiq, or just a standard tablet, is probably more your style.
  • …if you are not a heavy digital painter. You will not want to spend $3000-$5000 on something you are only going to use for touch-ups or occasional sketches.
  • …if you think working without a keyboard would really annoy you.

Modbook or Modbook Pro?

It is great to see the improvements and power that is in the Modbook Pro. The bigger screen size alone would be a big plus for me. With this new model and the recent developments, it seems to me that Axiotron is finally addressing some of the awkward stages and troubles that have plagued them since they launched. If you have been waiting for the right time to purchase a Modbook, things are certainly looking up. I’m still satisfied with my current Modbook, but I’m happy to know there is a bigger machine waiting for me when I’ve worn it down in a year or two.

And hopefully the price will have dropped by then. :)

But also, from my experience the standard Modbook has done very well for me as a working professional and is powerful enough to handle applications like Photoshop and Illustrator; I use the Modbook every day and have not regretted making the purchase. If you can do without the extra bells and whistles in the Pro, the Modbook is a very solid, cheaper alternative.

I would not consider the Modbook a “must-buy” for artists. The price is certainly steep, and artists can get by splendidly with a Cintiq for the on-screen drawing experience. However, the extra portability and the quality of the Modbook IS worth the money if you choose to spend it.