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Kool Tools: Axiotron ModBook

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 08
Column Tag: Kool Tools

Kool Tools: Axiotron ModBook

The ModBook is the right solution... for some people

by Dennis Sellers

Axiotron ModBook

If you've been around the industry for a while, you undoubtedly have been asked about what Mac tablets are available. The ModBook from Axiotron ( will make those who need to plan and draw very, very happy. Especially those who diagram, or are in the graphic design, visual arts, architecture and similar fields. The world's only Mac tablet is a modified Apple MacBook — hence the name. In fact, when you buy one of the "tablet-ized" laptops it comes in the original box of the MacBook that's been modded.

The ModBook is an US$2,290 or $2,479 slate-style computer. It's a tablet device, but not a touchscreen product (more on that in a minute). The less expensive model sports a 2.1GHz Core Duo processor, 1GB of RAM, a CDRW/DVD-ROM Combo Drive and a 120GB hard drive. The higher end ModBook touts a 2.4GHz Core Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, a double-layer SuperDrive and a 160GB hard drive. Performance specs are the same as those of the MacBook on which the ModBook is based.

Both models retain all the ports and features of the Apple laptop, including the iSight webcam. However, the folks at Axiotron have added Wacom Pen-enabled hardware for pen input and have equipped the tablet computer to work with Apple's Inkwell, a Mac OS X 10.4 feature that provides system level handwriting and gesture recognition to several Mac applications.

They've also added a built-in Global Positioning System (GPS). To many, this may seem more of a gimmick than a useful feature since the ModBook is very hefty for a GPS device, but for others, they will be glad it's there. Thankfully, you can turn GPS off to spare the battery.

With all the extra goodies, the ModBook is slightly deeper and heavier (1.16 inches and 5.5 pounds) than an unmodified MacBook (1.08 inches, five pounds). Most of the extra heft is due to the dual-layer magnesium frame, triple-layer plated magnesium top shell and ForceGlass screen cover. These bulk up the tablet computer a bit, but it also makes it very rugged and durable.

If you like your current laptop, you probably won't go for the ModBook. As Axiotron has removed the keyboard and mouse. Of course, you can attach such peripherals via the USB ports, but that defeats part of the concept of the ModBook. It all comes down to whether you are using the ModBook as a tablet computer, or because you like having the Wacom hardware and the MacBook so closely integrated.

Also, if you want a tablet computer that sports a touch screen a la the iPhone and latest Apple laptops, the ModBook is not for you. All input requires you to use the styluses that come with the device or an onscreen keyboard (dubbed "QuickClicks"). Axiotron says the ModBook doesn't respond to hand/finger touch "for the reason that it's made for artists and design professionals whose work would be inhibited using a touchscreen device since their hands rest up on the device as they draw or design."

These features make the ModBook a less likely solution for the general end user, students and office workers ... unless they are the type of user that diagrams or draws things. For a user whose primary task is entering text, writing, email and surfing the web, a traditional laptop is much easier to use with a physical keyboard. As for gamers, well, the ModBook is not for you.

However, creative professionals, those that diagram, and users in the fields I mentioned in the first paragraph should give Axiotron's tablet Mac a look. The big draw (pun intended): with it, you can draw and write directly on the screen.

The stylus and touchscreen, utilizing Wacom technology, offer 512 levels of pressure sensitivity. On one hand, Wacom's Intuos tablet has 1,024 levels of sensitivity and costs about a third of what the ModBook costs. But after you've gotten used to the ModBook, there's something that feels natural about drawing and writing directly on the screen of the device. And it works great with software such as Photoshop and Corel Painter.

The Modbook will appeal to others beyond traditional designers. For example, an architect could carry the tablet to a job site, look up plans and view them in 3D applications. Revision notes could be drawn on-screen and quick pics taken with the iSight (though aiming the camera would be a bit tricky).

Real estate agents and insurance adjusters could use the ModBook to collect signatures and look up info easily. Ditto health care professionals, who could use the device for quickly viewing a patent's chart and making quick notes. It's also great for diagramming (for example, a network administration drawing network diagrams), jotting down notes during brainstorming sessions and helping project managers juggle projects.

For what it is, Modbook is a great device. If you're one of the previously mentioned type of potential users, the "world's only Mac tablet" should be added to your arsenal. It's worth the money for anyone who has to constantly draw or (hand) write on screen. But for most of us the ModBook would simply be an expensive novelty item.

Also note that there's no Apple warranty for the ModBook. You have to get it serviced (under its own one-year warranty) through an Axiotron authorized dealer, not in Apple Stores.

Dennis Sellers is a long-time journalist. He started in the newspaper business, but has been in the online journalism business for the past 15 years. He's the editor/publisher of Macsimum News (


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