Sunday, December 09, 2007

Laptop Bag Review: Papa's got a brand new bag

Papa's got a brand new bag!
laptop bag reivew

If industry expert predictions hold true, laptops will outpace desktop sales again this holiday season. Unfortunately people pay thousands of dollars for a laptop , yet protect it with something that is stylish, but offers little more protection than a ziplock bag. If you give or get a laptop this holiday season, please protect it. Screen cracking can be eliminated in our lifetime, but only if we work together!

You really can't blame some people for not protecting their laptop properly. Most bags are ugly. Butt-ugly. Black behemoths that scream "I have a laptop and you should steal me". College students opt for the stylish laptop sleeves, because, well they want dates and don't want to look stupid. Function over form comes later in life. Older people buy Volvos, younger people buy Minis or Hummers. Don't buy your college student a laptop bag unless you are sure they will use it. Those ubiquitous black bags simply won't fill the bill.

I, who couldn't get dates in college, did have one of those black bags until this year . Now that I'm staring down at my 20th college reunion on the calendar I feel obligated to grow up from my sturdy yet functional black bag that my original Powerbook 180c was carried in. I was reluctant to say goodbye, but yet my stylish Macbook wouldn't fit snug in the bag at all. That's the only thing from college that fits "too loose." Also, people coming up to me in coffee shops saying "I remember when I had a bag like that" certainly didn't help.

So I was on a quest for a new bag. I didn't want to sacrifice protecting my laptop just so I didn't want to look like a dork either. Can something be stylish and functional, yet provide quality protection ? Oh, I should add that it shouldn't be too stylish. I don't want a bag that screams "Pretty in Pink" Onward to my journey....

I contacted a variety of vendors for samples of their cases that would fit this my demands. Some didn't respond and were rather smug about having their cases compared--partially I think because they know their popular messenger bag style cases simply don't provide protection. An ideal case should be padded on all sides, so the computer is protected from every angle. Many simply provide some padding on the sides, but none on the edges, which is a more likely impact zone.

First up was the Targus radius Convertible Messenger/Backpack, a well-known industry name. They provided me a "hybrid" case that was supposed to be a backpack and a messenger bag style at the same time. In reality, it was simply a backpack with a shoulder strap. Not the end of the world, but backpacks remind me of my days in A/V club and not hanging out with the cool kids. The case had some nice nooks and crannies specifically designed for Mac laptops: square holder for power adapter, space for your iPod, etc. It had some kind of conduit to hold your iPod headphone cord while listening, but I couldn't figure it out. That was a common trend I found: features I didn't quite get. I'm not sure I want tech support for my laptop bag. Ironically, when I asked press people about some of these features, they couldn't always answer my questions. Only the designers I think truly understand what they designed

Though there Targus bag had nice storage room and met the protection criteria, it wasn't stylish. Even without my nerd day hangups, the backpack wasn't very good looking. It reminded me of one of those square Pan-Am travel bags grandma used to have. I had this sudden urge to offer people breath mints while using it...or at least save teabags for future dunks (Grandma: "You can reuse a teabag at least 3 times, stop wasting money young man"). However, I've seen those type of bags at Urban Outfitters, so maybe it actually attempted to be retro. Nonetheless, the shoulder strap didn't adequately distribute the weight and I felt very uncomfortable walking with it. It was great on the bike though. After forcing myself to use it for the review, I quickly put it on the shelf and abandoned it. It's a backpack with a messenger bag strap, nothing more. Sorry Targus, no offense, but I don't think you'll be seeing too many marketing or fashion majors using your bag. Maybe you can do some cross-promotion on Warcraft, or hit the other end with It was an upgrade, but not by much. The only reason I'd upgrade from my black bag to this is because my Macbook fits perfect. However, I had to remove my Neocase sleeve to use it.

Second to respond is It's marketing is hip and trendy with distinctive Aussie roots. They want to be as popular as Men At Work was in the 80's. Their Macworld booth reflected their eagerness to make it on the scene, and their website is about as easy to understand as the lyrics of "Down Under" (Imagine looking up vegimite in pre-internet days!) . Huge display with funky giveaways like tiny matchbooks. Does all that flash translate into a good laptop bag? Somewhat. Crumpler bags came in a variety of styles and colors. I was sent a "Hee-Goer". Name is promising because many bags feel too much like a purse. Unfortunately, I ran into technical difficulties with this one as well. No info on the website about what all the straps do including it's "third leg" (their words, not mine). I made an importu visit to their store in New York (next to my new favorite veggie restaurant S'Nice) and they had a handout because I wasn't the only one confused by the third leg. Sorry, third leg sometimes can have some rather inappropriate connotations.
Crumpler review

Crumpler adequately held all my items, though I didn't like the fact my Macbook was being held in place by a velcro strap instead of a zipper or a clasp. The outside of the case used both velcro and clasps. That was frustrating because the velcro would have to be readjusted constantly to properly place the clasps. While Crumpler clearly was tops on style, including a fun store and funky website, I didn't find it had enough room to hold my myriad of connectors and adapters. Crumpler gets bonus points on style (how can you go wrong with the name He-Goer), it was average on function and protection. The Macbook's spine stuck out a bit, and while it would have been well protected against a standard drop, given the bag's balance, I found it easily fell on the spine with my test laptop.

Next on the list was BBP (bum bak pack) . I was intrigued after MacWorld seeing their Hampton "hybrid bag". This bag looks like a standard messenger bag, but you can convert the single shoulder strap into a dual backpack module. You click a snap in the middle of the strap and then adjust the backpack straps as such. Yes it is 3 steps, and at first I was confused. Fortunately, they had a video on their website and I quickly got an idea. It even has a top handle, so I'd actually call it a tribrid: backpack, messenger bag, and briefcase. I liked that briefcase handle, because it made it very easy to pull it up when it was on the floor. Other bags, you had to grasp the straps. Did BBP secretly steal someone from Apple or SFMOMA to design this bag?

Out of open disclosure, I got sent this bag first, so I may be slightly biased. When I'd try the other bags, I kept slipping back into my BBP bag. First, I really dug the hybrid concept. With gas prices they way they are, I'm biking more and I didn't feel comfortable with a messenger bag that moves around while you ride, or could even slip off. Though to be fair the "third leg" on the Crumpler was helpful in that. However the feature I liked the most was the padding. Why didn't someone think of this sooner? The shoulder strap is padded which is not uncommon. What is padded is the bag wall of the messenger bag itself. When used as a backpack, it releases the pressure on your back, but when you use it as a messenger bag, it's uniqueness really shines through. They say they "protect your bum" and they sure do. I'd walk around with this bag, and I kid you not, I was worried at times that I left my laptop somewhere, the padding eased the pressure enough, I thought there was something wrong. My hip often times would get sore walking with a laptop bag. Instead of being butt-ugly, this bag is butt-friendly.

Other great bonus features was a variety of nooks and crannies to hold my accessories. I counted a total of sixteen compartments. Though none were specifically designed for Mac products , I was able to find a home for almost everything I carry with me. In particular, there was a separate "hidden" holder for the laptop bag that had a water resistant zip enclosure. Someone could open up your messenger bag and rummage around and never find your laptop. The compartment that had the laptop was closest to your body, making it near impossible for a passerby to pilfer your bag. I was impressed that STM bags (another Aussie company)had that feature, but alas, they didn't provide me a review unit. I've been traveling a reasonable amount lately and more than once said "test over" and switched from one of the other bags to my BBP was just so darn handy with travel. Of the three I tested, it fit best underneath an airplane seat.

My only complaint with BBP was the color. I was sent the chocolate brown and orange bag. It reminded me of a Reeses Pieces. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I didn't feel very professional. However the better half said it was "zune" brown. Yuck. I think beggers can't be choosers as they say. I'd recommend "he-man" try the urban camouflage style. With the style and color, it's not just a hybrid backpack messenger bag, but a hybrid bag that will gain appeal with both men and women.

So what's papa's brand new bag.? If you haven't figured it out yet it's the BBP bag. Not only is it comfortable on your "bum" but its ample storage and hybrid convertibility makes it the bag for me. I love the bag. I trekked all over New York and Seattle with it and felt very comfortable. In fact, I brought one of the other review bags with me on a trip, and I decided I needed something that worked and quickly transfered to my BBP. BBP has a zen like balance of style, function, and protection that will make it the only bag I trust my laptop in and bumping my bum.

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right