Three notebook cases, First Take: Bags of potential

Sensible commuters and business travellers will want to protect their mobile technology in a good-quality travel bag. Here are three contenders.
Written by Sandra Vogel, Contributing Writer

Any notebook carry bag that makes it into my permanent collection needs to cope with my 'mobile wordworker' necessities: notebook (currently a Lenovo ThinkPad T440), tablet (one of several Android or iPad choices), mobile phone, Kindle or paper book for downtime, and various other paraphernalia such as paper and pens. I also like at least one of the collection to accommodate enough flotsam to serve as an overnight bag.

The hunt has recently thrown up two options I'd class as 'good' and one that's close to 'outstanding'.

Image: Belkin
Belkin Suit Line Collection Carry Case
Laptop size up to 15.6-inch

The Belkin Suit Line Collection Carry Case isn't big enough to be an overnight case, and it's not great on separate pockets for protecting individual bits and pieces. In fact, there's just one internal pocket, which is stretched if I put notebook, tablet and Kindle in it, because the T440 is fairly chunky and I feel the need to protect it separately with a sleeve.

The single side pocket is deep enough to take an A4 pad and some pens, but it's difficult to fit my bulky notebook charger in the bag. Other chargers (USB, iPad and so on) I resort to keeping in a small zipped case. Pens go in another case.

It all fits, but the lack of separate inner pockets is annoying, and a second side pocket would be useful, as would a smaller pocket for keys, tickets and the like.

Still, there are things to like: the material is tough with some PU leather finishing, which should look acceptable in many offices and formal situations. The two zips are well made and feel as though there's plenty of life in them. The adjustable shoulder strap has a nice long padded section.

All in all, and considering the price, the Belkin Suit Line Collection Carry Case has a lot of plus points.

Image: Crosscase
Crosscase Ultra V2 laptop backpack
Laptop size 11-inch to 15.6-inch

Crosscase has revamped its Ultra backpack into this new V2 variant, and the result is a very comfortable unit, with thick padding down the back and along the shoulder straps. The waist strap is a little thin, but it's nice to see one -- these are important both for securing the pack and for weight distribution.

There are pockets galore on this backpack. Deep, elasticated left and right side pockets could accommodate an umbrella or water bottle. The small front pocket is disappointing: its zip goes all around, so that its flap falls open and anything you stow in it could easily fall out.

The zip pocket at the top of the case, behind the main pocket, is much better. This is large enough to accommodate keys, train tickets and an iPod. If you'd rather keep these more secure inside the main zip then two pockets on the inside of the flap, one shallow, one deep, are available.

The main pocket is home to a host of sub-pockets and pouches. The larger back one is where your notebook lives, and in front of this is a shallower pocket I used to stow my tablet and Kindle at the same time. Both of these are quite well padded, with a Velcro strap to secure them.

In front of these two pockets are two unpadded pouches, one open and one with a strap to help secure its contents, plus some pen loops. My notebook charger dropped neatly into the space in front of these pockets, as did other bits I carry around during the day. There's even a rain cover hiding inside a zipped pocket on the bottom of the bag.

The Ultra V2 is a capacious bag with good padding and mostly well thought-out pockets. My only grumble is that the main part is a bit small for doubling up as a weekend bag, and I'd be reluctant to carry this and another bag.

Image: Crosscase
Crosscase Eighty 6 laptop backpack, messenger
and tote bag

Laptop size up to 17.3-inch

Crosscase has thought about almost everything with this bag. It has carry handles on the long and short edges, plus a shoulder strap and backpack straps that tuck away when not in use. There's no tuck-away waist strap, though.

Plenty of padding makes this a comfortable bag to wear backpack-style, even when it's full to bursting; a gap between the padding and back of the bag also means you can drop it onto a wheeled case handle for easy toting around stations and airports.

The front pocket will take A4 papers and contains pen holders and a single padded pocket. There's a small zipped pocket at the back edge for keys, tickets and so on. The main pocket has copious inner storage. Two mesh pockets and a full-width pocket are zipped. There's a padded pocket perfectly sized for an iPad, two smaller pockets and a few pen loops. When full of bits and pieces, this space sill just about leaves room for an expanding pocket file and a packed lunch.

The separate notebook pocket has no inner pockets and is well padded.

The only thing that stops the Crosscase Eighty 6 from being my perfect notebook bag is the absence of a second inner pocket that could open up suitacase-style to accommodate overnight clothes. I do appreciate that this can add bulk to an everyday bag, but a zipped expanding section might do the trick while keeping the overall footprint down most of the time.

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