By Neil Bennett | on May 14, 2009
Price When Reviewed: 1649
Pros: Great for sketching out ideas and creating design work on the move or in front of clients; more sensitive than other tablet PCs.
Cons: Expensive; doesn’t convert into laptop; sensitivity not as good as Cintiq touchscreens; heavy.
A digital sketchbook is on every illustrator, artist or 3D modeller’s wishlist. We’d all like a combination of graphics tablet and laptop that we can sketch with in the park on a sunny day, or in a meeting with clients – allowing roughs to be quickly turned into final pieces. The current generation of tablet PCs have generally been found wanting – but the latest model from Modbook has a number of advantages. One major boon for many creative users is simple: it’s a Mac.
The Modbook is a converted MacBook. The keyboard and screen have been replaced with an Axiotron touchscreen 13.3-inch LCD display, which uses Wacom Penabled digitizer system so you can draw with the stylus, as on one of that company’s Cintiq screen tablets.
This was developed by Axiotron in the US, but in the UK it’s been licensed to reseller Computer Warehouse – who take standard MacBooks and convert them into Modbooks. The negates your original warranty with Apple, but Computer Warehouse is offering a one-year warranty of its own.
The Modbook is the converted white polycarbonate MacBook from the Apple Store and, as such, its base specs are largely the same. It sports the same Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz processor, 2GB DDR 2 memory, 120GB hard drive, and the new Nvidia 9400M graphics processor. Normally we would advise Digital Arts readers to avoid a MacBook in favour of the more powerful MacBook Pro, but this is powerful enough for sketch work in Photoshop, Illustrator or SketchUp.
If you’d like to use the ModBook for multi-layered paintings or use some of Painter’s more intensive brush types, we’d recommend waiting until July when the ModBook Pro is due out.
The Axiotron ForceGlass covering the Modbook’s display is chemically strengthened and etched to improve longevity, scratch resistance, writing sensation, and reflection problems.
The touchscreen has the 1,280-x-800 same resolution as a standard MacBook, but has a 500-to-1 contrast ratio versus 400-to-1 on the MacBook, and it features a wider viewing angle than the MacBook. The 13.3-inch screen is noticeably larger than the 12.1-inch screens offered by tablet PCs such as Lenovo’s X200T, and has twice as many levels of sensitivity: 512 versus the X200T’s 256. This means you’ll be able to apply pen and brush strokes with much finer effect. Unlike the X200T though, the Modbook can’t convert into a traditional laptop with a keyboard – it’s a sketchbook or nothing.
However, this is half the sensitivity of Wacom’s Cintiq tablets and a quarter of the 2,048 levels offered by that company’s latest Intuos4 tablets. Even if you use an Intuos4, you may not notice the difference if you use the Modbook only for sketching – but this, and its relatively low power, prevents you from using it to finish off digital paintings.