For those that don't know me or my work, I color comics for a living. I've worked for most of the major publishers as well as many clients outside the world of comics. I'm not a professional writer and I don't think I've ever reviewed a product before (no, not even on Amazon). Hopefully I can convey my opinions on the Modbook Pro and help anyone interested in the product gain a better understanding.
Why I wanted one:
I was in need of a new mobile work solution. With my job I can do the work anywhere, but my home setup consists of a 27" iMac and 21" Wacom Cintiq (mounted on this awesome arm) which are both rather big and not exactly portable. My previous travel work solution was a 15" Macbook Pro laptop and a 9"x12" Wacom Intous 3 tablet that was originally part of my home setup before I bought my Cintiq in 2011. Because the tablet was originally intended for use in my home office it's a bit too big to really be considered portable and my laptop is showing it's age after 6 years. Also, to be honest, I've become a bit spoiled by working on my Cintiq and I don't really like working on a tablet anymore. I really want the Cintiq experience even when I'm away from my home office.
What's in the box?
What will spending all that money get you exactly? Before I give my impressions on using the Modbook I thought I'd show you an unboxing.
The cardboard box that the Modbook box came shipped in was sturdy and in good shape after it's trip from southern California to Georgia via UPS 2nd day air (the shipping was 40-something bucks, but at least it was fast I guess).
The Modbook box inside was also in good shape and undamaged due to the eight thick foam bumpers placed on each corner of the Modbook box.
Inside the shipping box is the Modbook box, and it's quite nice. Not that the box really matters, but they could've easily cheaped out and skimped on the presentation here. When charging a premium price it's nice to see a premium product even before you open the box.
If you really wanted to, the handle on the box would allow you to transport the Modbook from place to place, but I doubt many people will want to keep their new computer in a cardboard box. No matter how nice that cardboard box is. :)
Opening the Modbook box reveals the Modbook Pro and a screen cleaning cloth. The lid of the box has a thin foam layer, and the Modbook is surrounded by thick foam that fits snugly. Again, it's all well put together and at this stage feels like a well thought out product.
Lift the Modbook out of the foam and you'll find the rest of the contents, all placed in their own foam cutouts. Again, the components fit well inside their cutouts and all stayed in place during shipping.
Below you'll see the remaining contents of the box from left to right...
-The Modbook Pro documentation and the original Macbook Pro documentation (the Modbook manual cover wasn't printed very well, and was the first thing I come across that seems cheap or disappointing).
-Next, at the top middle is a USB 3.0 PortDoubler (their term, not mine). The Modbook only has one USB port, so this is handy in case you need to plug in more than one USB device at a time.
-Below the PortDoubler is a 8GB thumb drive. It's tiny and has a clip so you can clip it to something less tiny making it harder to lose (I guess). It also flips in and out like a pocket knife to protect the contacts. I don't think I realized this was coming in the package, and I'm not sure I'll use it, but it's a nice extra.
-The little plastic bag to the right of the USB PortDoubler is full of replacement nibs for the pen. There are 5 of the softer nibs, 4 of the harder nibs, and 3 of the springy nibs. That's far more extra nibs than I got with my Cintiq or Intuos, so that's nice.
-The two white cords are the power cords for the Modbook. They're the original power cords from the Macbook Pro that the Modbook was made from. The one on the left is the extension and the one on the right is main power cord (it's the MagSafe cord from Apple).
A closer look at the USB PortDoubler, thumb drive and nibs...
"I wish I could see this thing in a store before I buy one..."
Well, you can't. :/ They don't sell these at any retail locations, just online. Since you'll have a hard time getting hands on with a Modbook I figured it might be helpful to post some shots of the device a little closer up.
On the left side of the Modbook you have the ports and power button.
In the picture above, starting from the left you have...
-SDXC card slot
-Mod Key (helps calibrate the pen)
(there's a speaker and a pen activity light tucked in there as well)
Of all these ports, I've only used the power and the USB so far. They are all a bit close together, which may get tight if you have multiple cords plugged in at once. Also, the ports are kind of recessed under the screen, which means they have a sort of roof over them. This doesn't seem to be a problem so far except for the USB port, which is also really close to a bit of the case on one side. I've tried to plug in one of my thumb drives to it and the plastic housing on the drive keeps it from reaching the port (this awesome C3P0 thumb drive, actually). In this case, I plugged in the PortDoubler to the Modbook and then plugged the thumb drive into the PortDoubler. That set up works fine and in the end it's not a big deal, but it's odd they didn't consider the cramped space when placing the USB port. I suppose things like this are bound to happen when trying to keep the overall size down. Anyhow, moving on...
In the pic below you'll see the Super Drive and another speaker. I used the drive to install Photoshop from a cd. Nothing special to report. It sucks the disc in just as you would expect. Also, to the far left you can see one of the vents used to vent heat (which I'll talk more about below).
The pen is located in the back, on the top right hand corner, above the Super Drive. There is a window cut out which exposes a ribbed section on the pen. You grip that portion of the pen with a finger tip or fingernail and slide it out. It's easy to do one handed and works well. There's a magnetic lock so the pen won't slide out on it's own, but again, it's not so strong that it's hard to remove the pen. When putting the pen back in you do have to make sure that pen lines up with the hole just right, because there is a grove that fits the pen buttons. But once you've done it a few times and know the correct orientation of the pen, you can easily put the pen away without looking at the hole.
The back is a brushed metal, and feels sturdy and well made.
For those that don't want to use an external keyboard, Modbook has installed QuickClicks, which is a QWERTY-style pen-enabled keyboard. You can change it's opacity, and move it anywhere on the screen. If it is over an open window or application your pen clicks will trigger the keyboard rather than the object behind it.
I used it at first, just to see how it felt. I found that I had to move it a lot because it was eventually over something I wanted to click on. It's also extremely slow for someone that's used to typing with all ten fingers on a regular keyboard. It's also slower than typing on other tablet devices like the iPad or Kindle. You can remove the QuickClicks keyboard from the screen entirely if you'd rather just use a physical keyboard, but by default it will always show up when you turn on the Modbook (maybe there's a way to shut that off too, but I haven't come across it yet).
My typing solution is a wireless Apple keyboard that originally came with my iMac (which I don't use with my iMac anymore, and was just sitting in a box in my office). I always thought it was too small for my desktop and I didn't like the lack of number pad, but it's the perfect solution for the Modbook since it's small, thin, and lightweight. I don't mind the loss of the number pad in this case, as I'm more concerned with having a small keyboard for travel. I looked at various soft keyboards that you can roll up, or keyboards that fold in half but the majority of reviews weren't very positive. In the end, I'm glad I didn't buy another keyboard since I already had this Apple keyboard and it works great for this purpose.
How is it to work on?
Short answer? So far, so good. There are some aspects of the Modbook that I find inferior to my Cintiq (listed in the cons below), but the ability to draw directly on the screen with a device as powerful as my home computer while sitting on a plane, or a convention table, and its small (but not too small) size makes up for most of its deficiencies. So far I've colored with the Modbook on my couch for a few hours at a time. Both trips I planned to take the Modbook on have been canceled or altered and I haven't had the opportunity to travel with the device yet.
Let's start with the bad news. Cons...
The first, and biggest problem that I encountered is the viewing angle. It's incredibly low. The Modbook site says the viewing angle is 70° horizontal and 60° vertical (here's the full tech specs). Reading those numbers by themselves wouldn't mean much to me, so my less technical summation is, "Don't move your head." That might be a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one. Move your head too much, or shift the Modbook and your colors are going to appear off, either washed out or oddly inverted.
The next con is the levels of pressure sensitivity. When the specs for the Modbook were first released it only had 512 levels of pen pressure. Just before launch they doubled the levels to 1024. Obviously the higher levels was a welcomed upgrade, but that is still half of the 2048 levels my Cintiq offers. However, it's comparable to the current 12" Cintiq and the Bamboo line of tablet's 1024 levels. For me personally it isn't too big of a problem because my coloring style doesn't rely on a heavy use of rendering. However, that said, I can still feel those missing 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity that I'm used to on my Cintiq when using brushes that have their opacity tied to pen pressure. Well, OK, maybe I can't feel ALL 1024 missing levels.
While discussing the display and cons, I also have to mention the resolution. The highest resolution is 1200x800, and while that's not terrible it's not great either. If I had to qualify it further, I'd say it's a very minor negative for me, and almost not worth mentioning. However, I know there are laptops out there with much better resolutions, and some of you may prefer a higher res display and a small tablet so I thought I'd mention it.
Another con that I've barely experienced, but can see being a bigger problem with extended use is finding a comfortable position to sit in for extended amounts of time. The longest I've worked at a time has been two and half hours. By the end of that session I was beginning to get uncomfortable. Granted, the Modbook was in my lap and not on a desk or table (I put it on a pillow and off a pillow to test what worked best, I think a pillow was a bit better). This seems like another problem that will be bigger or smaller depending on your particular usage of the device. While I feel that I will be able to comfortably color a page or two in the airport or on a plane, I'm not certain I'll be able to sit comfortably for an entire days worth of work at my hotel or at a convention without actually testing those scenarios. As a side note, I've considered one of those lap desks/pillow things, but I'd rather not add something else to pack and carry to complete my mobile work station if I can help it. So far, just a simple throw pillow from my couch has worked, and I suspect my jacket or backpack will do if I'm sitting in an airport without a pillow. Otherwise a hotel room or airplane should have a pillow handy.
My last con is probably the price. The Modbook pro is very expensive, and almost certainly "over priced." That's not to say I regret buying it, but I'm sure that most people will be fine with other, cheaper solutions to working on the go. I know the Modbook's price nearly made me buy a laptop and a tablet. My decision to buy a Modbook ultimately came down to two things: I really wanted a Cintiq-like experience when I work away from home, and I still needed an equipment write off for my taxes this year.
So, that's really it as far as negatives go. For me, most of those negatives can be easily compensated for, or aren't that bothersome to begin with.
Good news, everyone! Pros...
Size. It's like that one bear's porridge, chair, or bed. It's just right! The screen size is 13.3" diagonal and the Modbook itself is 13.86 inches (35.2 cm) by 9.65 inches (24.5 cm) and 0.93 inches (2.37 cm) thick. It feels a bit heavy (5.5 lbs), but I think it only seems that way because it's a tablet and we've been trained to expect that tablets are light. Considering it's a full featured laptop and a pen display in one device the weight actually doesn't seem too bad. Also, for comparison, the 13" Macbook Pro that the Modbook is made from is only 1 lb lighter at 4.5 lbs and the 15" Macbook Pro is 5.6 lbs. So the Modbook isn't going to feel much different than most laptops while in use on your lap or being carried in a bag. I'll also say that the heft, and it's metal casing, make it seem sturdy and well made.
Another pro, which I didn't expect, was that the outer casing of the Modbook did not get too hot while in use. I had heard that the previous version of the Modbook got quite hot, and I also know my older Macbook Pro got very hot after just a short time of use. I often had to remove the laptop from my lap after an hour. During multiple sessions, all lasting at least two hours or more, I never had to remove the Modbook from my lap due to heat. Even when I placed the Modbook on a pillow to get a better viewing angle, I would regularly check the pillow and the Modbook for heat and I wouldn't consider either anything more than warm. Most of the heat is vented through the two vents on the longer sides of the back of the Modbook (top and bottom when looking at it in landscape).
Speaking of those vents and the noise that is sometimes associated with computer fans and vents, the Modbook Pro is actually very quiet. None of the usual culprits such as the vents, the hard drive, or the optical drive make much noise. In regards to the hard drive, that's because it's a solid state drive which I quite like. The discussion of solid state drives versus hard disk drives has it's own list pros and cons, which I won't bother with here. But in this case I like Modbook's choice of using a solid state drive for the faster response time and the lack of noise when running. My Modbook has the standard 120GB solid state drive, but can be upgraded to a 240GB or a 480GB solid state drive.
While I didn't upgrade the hard drive, I did order my Modbook with an upgrade to the RAM (from the standard 8GB to the max 16GB). I'd say this is half pro, half con, really. Normally I would do this upgrade on my own, ordering the RAM online and installing it myself, saving a bunch of money in the process. Unfortunately you cannot order the RAM separately and install it yourself without voiding the Modbook warranty. Obviously I wasn't about to void the warranty (1 year) on something that cost this much. So, while I really enjoy the speed the extra RAM gives me, it was hard to overpay Modbook for an upgrade I would normally do myself for cheaper.
So far I've been pleased with the battery in the Modbook. It seems to charge rather quickly and lasts a long time. I haven't timed how long it takes to charge while turned off, but I have charged it while working in Photoshop and that took less than two hours to go from nearly 0% to 100%. Once the battery was fully charged I worked in Photoshop for two and half hours and used about 50% of the charge.
It's finally over. Hooray!
Well, that sums up all the things that stood out to me during my first few times using the Modbook Pro. Hopefully this write-up has given you a little more information that you can use when deciding if you want to buy a Modbook Pro. For me the product is good, and just shy of being great. Even though the purchase price was steep, I'll be happy with the Modbook as long as it doesn't die in the next 5 years. :)
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or ask me on twitter.