Axiotron ModBook Review (Verdict: A Touchscreen MacBook Done Right)

Click to viewIt was exactly a year from the time Axiotron first debuted their touchscreen MacBook at Macworld 2007 to the time we got the first hands-on of it at Macworld 2008, and that year of development time seems to have done the company some good. Not only is this ModBook the touchscreen Mac Apple fans have been looking for, it's got all the components of a MacBook, which means it's not a low-powered, stripped down, gimped version (MacBook Air) that sacrifices performance for the tablet pen sensitivity. And for that, we're thankful.


The Pros:

• It's essentially a MacBook. They've taken a Core 2 Duo MacBook with Leopard, replaced the standard screen with a Wacom Penabled Digitizer and even stuck a GPS inside.

• The screen is bright, but matte (not glossy like the new MacBook Pro models), so images are a bit fuzzier than my MacBook Pro.

• Handwriting recognition works well in inkBook (the included app)

• The screen is scratch/fingerprint free and pretty durable

The Cons:

• It's heavier than a standard MacBook, because of its "aircraft grade magnesium alloy", which means it's not quite as portable as you'd like

• The standard digitizer pen is usable, but slightly flimsy

• No keyboard means typing is a pain

• Expensive! $2279 and $2479.

• No way to orient the screen vertically like a clipboard

If you're looking for a touchscreen Apple laptop that lets you actually draw on the screen (similar to the idea of the Wacom Cintiq Jesus reviewed), the ModBook is perfect for you. For $2279 or $2479 (the difference is in CPU speed, slightly more hard drive space, twice the RAM and a double layer DVD drive), you'll be able to get a MacBook and a touchscreen tablet in one—great for traveling cartoonists and caricature artists.


I'm no Photoshop or art expert (obviously), but the ModBook was even better than my current Wacom Bamboo because it allowed me to draw directly on the screen. For an amateur digital tablet user, that's the huge difference between being able to draw something that looks like what it's supposed to look like and an unintelligible blob. The two drawings below are what I whipped up in ArtRage on the ModBook. Bender is a trace, in case you thought I killed Jesus and usurped his talent.


The good news is that the screen works perfectly. It's scratch and fingerprint resistant, durable, bright, but somewhat fuzzy since it's not a glossy screen. The bad news is that it's heavy, and will probably be too heavy for you to walk around like a gym teacher with a clipboard. The white built-in pen that slides into a built-in pen holder is good, but isn't as sturdy as the Wacom pens you're probably used to. It'll take you a few weeks to get used to not hitting either the "right mouse button" or the the on-screen keyboard button when you're drawing.


Speaking of the on-screen keyboard, this is what you're going to be using to type. There is no built-in keyboard. Forget about writing long emails with this thing unless you've got a USB keyboard handy. It's solely for drawing. But, if you really have to write something long or take notes, the handwriting recognition is actually great and fairly accurate. For the times when you're forced to use the keyboard (like in OS dialogues), here are the options you can choose from.


There's also a GPS inside, which gives you the same result as attaching a GPS unit to a regular MacBook. It works, and you can rig it up to do navigation or look up where you are in Google Earth, but it's not a practical GPS device that you can take into the car and drive to grandma's with.

The people who are in the market for a ModBook are people who want to draw and make art with a laptop, but have another computer for their normal email and internet browsing. If you're one of these people, the ModBook is a definite buy. For others who just want a touchscreen MacBook so they can do art sometimes, but rely on a keyboard most of the time and want a regular laptop more often than not, the ModBook isn't quite right, and we recommend a standard Wacom tablet instead. [Macsales]


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