20 January 2008

Report from MacWorld: the ModBook

While there was surprisingly little at MacWorld that was really new, I did enjoy spending some time in the Axiotron booth playing with the ModBook, which is now available.

When the ModBook was announced last year, I was skeptical. Would it be possible to modify an Apple laptop without coming up with something odd and ugly like a Kustom Van? Are there really enough people who are willing to pay a premium for a computer that you can write on? My answer to the first question is yes - it's a nice looking machine that seems very sturdy. My answer to the second is maybe.

The ModBook feels like quality as soon as you see it and pick it up. The frame is magnesium, the class is extra thick and sturdy, the entire frame is rigid. It feels much sturdier than any other tablet I've held, but it's not that heavy, because of the lightweight materials used. While I'm sure Jonny Ive and his team can't stand to look at it, it's really not that bad and manages to NOT look like an Apple product, which is a good thing - if they had tried to copy Apple's design language they would surely have failed. It looks like something different and not half-bad.

One smart choice was to license Wacom's technology so writing on a ModBook should be just like working with a Wacom Cintiq. In my brief test, it was responsive and accurate.

A few caveats - the ModBook is based on the MacBook, not the MacBook Pro, so it's going to be somewhat lacking in horsepower for many creative users. It's also got the 13.3" screen, great for casual use but small for designs and layouts. However, you can imagine setting it up with an external keyboard (it's a fixed configuration, there's no swingout keyboard access) and a larger monitor and using it much like one of the smaller Cintiq's. It will also set you back for about $2500 in the faster configuration, about what you'd pay for a more powerful MacBook Pro plus a Wacom tablet.

Tablet PC's of all kinds have struggled to find a market, so it remains to be seen whether this machine will be any different. But Axiotron have done a lot of things right here, and what they've created is arguably the most attractive and capable Tablet PC out there - you can even use Bookcamp and run Vista on it, if you want. I'm hoping we'll get a couple into the hands of our designers soon so we can see how they operate in the real world.

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