Is It Time to Buy a Modbook? – UPDATE

Modbook Front

For some reason, I’ve been getting quite a few comments and questions about the Modbook recently. (The Modbook is a Macbook computer that’s been modified into a tablet computer. They are sold by a company called Axiotron.) Not sure why I’ve been getting so much renewed interest and curiosity lately – maybe a lot of artists are contemplating tablets with the release of the iPad. But anyway, I thought it was about time to post an update about my opinions and advice about the Modbook and clear up some things that I’ve said previously.

I use a Modbook as my main workhorse. I bought one back when they were first released in 2008. You can read my very first review here. I also posted an updated review in 2009 here.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with it. I only had one major issue with a bloated battery that I had to replace (which I think is a common Macbook problem). Other than that, I’ve been using it almost daily for professional work. It’s speedy, handy, convenient, and still going strong.

But to answer the burning question that everyone likes to ask me:

Do you recommend that I buy a Modbook?

In a word, no.


Here’s the thing – the Modbook is an awesome product, but the company Axiotron has been less than reliable. They first announced the Modbook in 2007, saying they would ship units in a few months; customers didn’t receive their Modbooks for over a year. Orders continued to be slow for quite some time afterwards until they caught up.

Then in 2009, Axiotron announced the Modbook Pro. I was extremely excited to see them upgrading their product and moving forward. However, as of now, it STILL has not seen the light of day. Two years, and no sign of the Modbook Pro. (As I write this post, their website says “planned for release in first quarter of 2011”, which passed a month ago.)

So the Modbook hasn’t received a major update since it’s release in 2008. Even if the Modbook Pro were to be released today (and I had an extra $5000 to spare) I would not buy one simply because I would be too unsure about future updates and reliability with the company. My next big purchase will probably be a Cintiq tablet.

That being said, if you want to buy the current Modbook, I don’t think it would be a total waste. Like I said, I’m very happy with mine and it’s been solid for me. Keep in mind however that you are buying a computer that’s several years old. The Modbooks are built from the older generation “white” Macbooks, not the current model. If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would have said “yes, buy one” but nowadays it’s hard for me to recommend a computer that was built in 2008-2009. In computer years, that’s fairly old, and given the history there won’t be an update anytime soon.

Should I buy an iPad instead?

That’s another question that I receive A LOT. And along with it: Is the iPad good enough for professional artwork?

I said this in my first review of the iPad – it makes a GREAT sketching tool. The quality and functionality of the iPad and the art-making software available is way beyond what I thought it would be for such a new device. However, it is short of the Modbook in its ability to make professional work. The iPad is meant to be operated by the touch of a finger, not a stylus, and although there are various styluses being made that make drawing on the iPad easier, it is not the same as a Wacom tablet. The precision and pressure-sensitivity is not there. Lots of the art apps also don’t create high-res images that are suitable for pro work. So, if you’re thinking the iPad is a cheaper, more reliable alternative to the Modbook, you’ll be disappointed. (Although it’s still a great product and you should buy one – just not for drawing.)

However, given how fast technology moves, especially when you’re talking about Apple, I think we are only a few hardware/software updates away from getting that kind of functionality on the iPad. At the rate Axiotron is going, we’ll probably see it before we ever get a Modbook update.