The quest for the ultimate PowerBook bag

A notebook bag by any other name still holds your notebook (with sincere apologies to The Bard). True, but it may not be what you really want.


If you’re a road warrior type of any description, or you own a notebook PC which travels with you even a little, having the right bag to organise everything you want is crucuial. Particularly if you’re a user of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, or reader of Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders, you’ll know that the dilemma that’s posed by having to choose the best notebook bag for your needs is a terrible one. There are a gazillion questions to ask yourself in terms of choosing that bag:

  • What do I need to store in the bag beyond my notebook PC? If you’re like me, the list isn’t small…
  • What “style” do I want? Messenger bag, traditional notebook bag, mini roller suitcase, backpack, side- or vertical-loader? This is often decided for you by how much travelling you do, as well as the extras you carry – many of the messenger bag styles have limited additional space, so if you carry lots around, probably no messenger bag for you
  • What “finish” do I want? Traditional black leather, urban canvas/no-tear cloth, something different? This can have a significant impact on how long your bag is likely to last, as well as how much you pay
  • Ah, yes. The money question. Notebook bags, at least the really good ones, aren’t cheap. Spending over AU$100 is easy, spending over US$200 is also not too difficult if you’ve got something special in mind
  • Do I have a favorite brand/manufacturer? We all know about Targus and Belkin, they’re standard fare. But there are a huge range of bag makers out there who make some sweet notebook bags

Motivation and criteria

I came up against this dilemma last week – the freebie (but perfectly good) notebook backpack I got at a conference last year is no longer suitable. My new job requires that all the consultants project a very corporate look, and notebook backpacks don’t fit that look. I also didn’t want anything ordinary, I wanted something really nice. So, I established my criteria, based off my earlier internal conversation:

  • I have a fair amount of stuff I want to carry about – my 15″ PowerBook and its powerpack, Mighty Mouse, Creative Zen Xtra mp3 player, some pens, my compendium, a Moleskine Weekly Diary and Moleskine Large Ruled Notebook, a few extra cables (Cat-5, USB, etc.), my phone and occasionally an extra file or two and maybe a book I’m reading. If I’m travelling, possibly an extra shirt, tie, jocks and socks, some deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste and aftershave. So the bag needs to be large enough to cope with all this stuff
  • I can’t have a backpack, and I don’t want a rolling suitcase, so it’s a traditional notebook bag, or messenger bag style
  • I want leather or dark finish of some sort
  • I don’t want a bag everyone else has, so ideally, it’s not going to be from a common manufacturer
  • Price. Personally, I don’t care what I pay, so long as I get the bag I want. On the other hand, I’m not the only consideration – I have a family, bills and house – so blowing US$250 on a bag is probably not smart. I decided to limit myself to US$120 give or take a small margin
  • It had to look “corporate enough”. That is, it shouldn’t look out of place over the shoulder of someone in a suit and tie, and carrying it shouldn’t make your suit jacket look like it had come from the Salvation Army Thrift Shop

With these criteria in mind, I started looking online. This is my story.

The bags

Booq Folee XM System

First, I found this review at MacNN of the Booq Folee XM System. How did it fit my criteria? 15″ PowerBook, tick. Room for pens, notebooks and folders, tick. Super sexy, while still nice and corporate. Plenty of space. But yikes! US$230!

Crumpler Part and Parcel

Battling onwards, I came across stuff I’d never even heard of – the Crumpler Part and Parcel at AU$230. Another bag which has it all, and comes highly recommended from some folks I know. Plus Crumpler are Aussies. But again yikes on the price, albeit significantly less than the Booq Folee XM. A really nice bag, but well out of budget. Oh yes, if you’re epileptic, beware of their site. Scary stuff, seemingly designed by someone with ADHD and a penchant for weird music and sound effects.

The Empire Builder

Next, I came across a blog comment somewhere which mentioned the Tom Bihn Empire Builder plus Brain Cell and Absolute Shoulder Strap at US$215. How can you fault a bag which took three years to design? It’s also arguably the nicest looking of all the bags I saw, except for the Folee. Plus, it appears to have it all – roomy, solid, stylish. Sadly, the price is yet again the breaker.

The Pro

Finally, a bag that’s near-budget. Not terribly near, but near enough that I’d probably win approval if I check. The Brenthaven Pro at US$179 It looks to have everything – space, ruggedness and style to burn. A very nice corporate-looking bag. This one’s on the “probables” rather than the “possibles” list.

The Skooba Satchel

The RoadWired Skooba Satchel at US$100 is the closest thing so far to fulfilling all my specified requirements. Not to mention, it was recommended on boingboing recently. It also seems to have plenty of space.

The One

The Patagonia One Bag at US$128 is also in budget, or very close. It’s not as pretty as many of the others, but very serviceable. I kind of crossed this one off on style, despite the excellent price and serviceability, and the fact that Patagonia reckon you can use it for “[h]itch-hiking through Central America”.

The Endo

Lastly, I found the Spire Endo. At US$90, the Endo is well within budget, and nicely contemporary, while still corporate enough. It looks to have enough storage space, too. Also on the “probables” list.

At this point, I felt thoroughly overwhelmed. I also knew that despite the attractions of the Booq Folee XM and the Brenthaven Pro, my budget just wasn’t going to stretch that far. Well, I’d be happy to spend that much, but others to whom I have responsibilities would kick my ass. It looked like the Spire Endo or RoadWired Skooba were the most likely. I was leaning towards the Skooba, particularly given the boingboing article.


Then, came the breaker. I am now a mere shell of a man, having discovered (I don’t recall where or how) that my beloved Adobe (Macromedia, Allaire, etc.) has released its own, custom built bag which would be utterly perfect for my needs.

The Adobe Messenger

Meet the Adobe Messenger from MEDIUM, “the ultimate design bag for the creative professional”. Read the story of the design process. View the awesome multimedia display with all the details you’ll ever want. Read again the story of MEDIUM and their ties to Adobe and how they use Adobe tools every day. Download the spec sheet and drool over the gorgeousness of the Adobe Messenger. This bag is absolutely the duck’s nuts. Just look at the thing. Nothing has been left off, or forgotten. It has routing clips for earphones, for Chrissakes! And a built-in weather shield. And… and…

Understand too, that when I emailed friends on Adobe’s staff about this bag, they didn’t even know it existed!

Oh, how I lust after one of these. But at US$250, it just ain’t happening… Not unless I have a fairy godsomething who’s tight with the right people at Adobe. But having seen this, I’m spoiled now. No other bag will do.

Compromise and purchase

So, after all that pain, and the unfulfilled gear-lust I had for the really nice (but expensive) bags I found, I knew I just wasn’t going to get what I wanted. I was doomed to experience a case of unrequited kit-love. Recognising this, I bit the bullet and visited the nearest computer superstore – the one where I originally bought my PowerBook. I ended up with a Targus CityGear New York, for which I paid AU$90.

CityGear New York

Now, the CityGear New York isn’t what I really want, but it does fulfil most of my criteria – corporate enough, plenty of space, rugged. Just not stylish or unique. And definitely no sexiness about it – “utility” is a word that comes to mind. Still, it’ll do until that fairy at Adobe emails me…

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