Mac laptop users generally love their hardware, but with only three basic designs--the MacBook, the MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Air--there are a few distinct gaps in the lineup. Axiotron aims to fill at least one of those gaps with the ModBook, a 13-inch MacBook reworked into a slate-style tablet PC. It's a clever bit of engineering, taking the guts of a MacBook and removing the lid, omitting the keyboard and trackpad, replacing the display with a Wacom-enabled LCD and digitizer, and adding a scratch-resistant magnesium shell to the top. Starting at $2,279 (our review unit was $2,609), you'll pay a hefty premium over the basic MacBook, but for tablet users, it's is the only Mac game in town.
The ModBook is an impressive feat of engineering and it looks and feels well-constructed. But unlike convertible tablet PCs, it lacks a keyboard and even the most basic of tablet functions, a rotating screen orientation, so you're stuck in landscape mode--which is somewhat awkward when cradling it in your arm. For the very small minority who need a slate-style tablet and the Mac OS, Axiotron certainly fits the bill. For the rest of us, however, it's an expensive oddity.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$2,609|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard|
|Dimensions (WDH)||12.8 x 8.9 x 1.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.5/6.1 pounds|
|Category||Thin and Light|
Despite having the same dimensions as a standard MacBook, the ModBook weighs about half a pound more and feels somewhat heavy and unwieldy when carrying it in your arms. The silver-finished magnesium top shell looks more like a MacBook Pro, but from the sides and bottom, you can clearly see the system's origins as a stock white MacBook. The original system's slot-loading optical drive is there, as are the original ports and connections along the opposite side. The bottom is the original MacBook shell, with a standard MacBook battery.
In the same style as Apple, the ModBook's front face has a very clean look, with only a power button and a button for controlling the built-in GPS module--an interesting, if not universally practical, extra. We might have preferred skipping the GPS and saving a few bucks.
A Wacom digitizer pen slides into a slot just below the screen. This is an active pen, so unlike tablets such as the HP tx2000, you won't be able to use your finger or another pointing device. The pen, however, has an eraser and a rocker switch with two function buttons. Like Windows Vista, the Mac operating system supports handwriting recognition, with a built-in app called Inkwell. We were able to jot down some notes and have the program convert them to text fairly easily and accurately. Axiotron includes some other programs for you, including Quickclicks, which is a basic onscreen keyboard for entering text, and a trial version of a more advanced notepad program called InkBook. The ModBook is a natural for design programs such as Photoshop, although some users still may feel lost in advanced apps like that without a keyboard. Even knocking out a quick e-mail is a challenge; anything outside of jotting down a handwritten note or drawing or sketching on the screen will require you travel with a USB keyboard.
The display, while new, offers the same 1,280x800 native resolution as the original MacBook and has a matte finish for easy viewing in a variety of lighting situations--particularly important for a tablet. Above the display is Apple's familiar iSight camera, which fortunately survived the rebuilding.
|Axiotron ModBook||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||Mini-DVI video out||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, FireWire 400||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||None||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Slot-loading DVD burner||DVD burner|
You'll find the same standard ports and connections on the ModBook as a MacBook, with the addition of a GPS module. The GPS works with programs like Google Earth, but can also be turned off to save battery life.
Since the ModBooks are built from off-the-shelf MacBooks, the available components closely mirror what Apple is offering at any given time. Our review unit had the then-faster of two processor choices, a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. But since Apple recently upgraded the MacBook line with newer CPUs, the ModBooks have been updated as well. The $2,279 2.1GHz version is based on the $1,099 MacBook and includes 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive, while the $2,479 2.4GHz version is based on the $1,299 MacBook and has 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. Upgrades to RAM and hard-drive size are the same as offered by Apple, but you can also replace the optical drive with another hard drive, up to 250GB.
Our ModBook's components were nearly identical to the 13-inch MacBook we tested in November 2007, with an identical 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. The ModBook, however, had 4GB of RAM to the MacBook's 2GB. Despite the extra RAM, the two systems' performance was virtually identical, but bear in mind that the ModBook has extra Wacom and GPS components to deal with. A brand-new MacBook Pro with a 2.5GHz Penryn-class Intel Core 2 Duo easily beat both systems, but Apple's new MacBook Air was far behind, thanks to its slower custom CPU, designed to fit into the Air's slim frame. Like the original MacBook, apps like Photoshop ran well, which is probably the most important thing in a device like this.
The ModBook ran for 3 hours and 36 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, even though the original MacBook ran for nearly an hour longer with the exact same battery. The difference can be chalked up to the additional components, and it's still an impressive showing.
The ModBook includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty (upgradeable to three years for $349) through its official reseller, Other World Computing. That does not fill us with confidence, as we couldn't find any ModBook-specific tech support information on OWC's Web site (macsales.com), and tech support (via a toll call) is only available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.