Developer: WaterField Designs
Price: $144 (for 15″); $139 (for 12″); $149 (for 17″)
Laptop bags come in a whole variety of formats for specific applications, but they don’t always work for more general settings. I take my Titanium PowerBook with me almost everywhere I go, on campus and off. Which is why in the four years I’ve had it, I have bought five backpacks, messenger bags, briefcases and the like, plus two laptop sleeves to use with the bags that don’t have laptop compartments.
Over the years, I’ve found that the best format is a kind of quasi-briefcase. It took me a long time to get over my squeamishness at carrying something that looks like a briefcase, but the value of having a strap that doesn’t need to go over your head, doesn’t mess up your clothing, and can dress up or down far outweighs the fact that, on some level, I am carrying a briefcase.
The previous champion was an InCase sleeve-on-a-strap, a bag just large enough to hold my PowerBook, AC adapter, iPod, and sunglasses. But sometimes I have to bring a textbook, or papers to turn in, and then I have to turn to a backpack. And then, like every other bag I’ve ever owned, there was a sizable compromise.
Until now. The Racer-X is the new heavyweight champion, and may it reign forever.
In the month that I have used this extraordinarily sturdy and American-manufactured bag—mine is the 15″ model—I have yet to find a significant trade-off, other than the fact that it looks briefcase-y. It has a special zippered computer pocket that holds my PowerBook snugly, and I’m comfortable lugging the bag on the El and in other potentially damaging situations, knowing that my computer is safe.
The Racer-X also has a second front pocket, which has five stretchy elastic pockets on one side and three somewhat looser-fitting pockets on the other. You can put anything you want in these pockets; I have carried my power adapter, my digital camera, my Moleskine and a pen, my sunglasses in and out of case, a lunch, and a small textbook, variously, in these pockets. These are surprisingly useful because they’re so versatile. Sometimes, all I have is the power brick and a pen, but on one occasion I got in a full-sized textbook and spiral notebook, a digital camera, a PDA, the Moleskine, and lunch. It was heavy, but carry-able.
And that’s the other wonderful thing about the Racer-X: carrying it is comfortable without being ridiculous, no matter how heavy it is. The padded shoulder strap seems to have more give in it than most of its ilk, so that a very heavy bag doesn’t get uncomfortable for a few minutes. And if that’s not enough, there’s a bicycle-grip handle mounted on the top, which is great if you’re wearing something you don’t want to wrinkle with a shoulder strap.
Now, there are a couple of other useful features, like a small pouch on the back of the bag that doubles as a document pocket and a strap to harness the bag on top of a rollaboard. (I haven’t had occasion to try this, but there ought not be any reason it wouldn’t work out.) The bag has a very stiff front and back, so that it holds its shape almost no matter what you put in it. It will even stand upright on the ground or on a table, although I wouldn’t count on this in a situation when something might get broken.
The Racer-X’s aesthetics really aren’t 100% briefcase, either, for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above, plus certain minor details. It’s made out of ballistic nylon, and has a a wide stripe and a small stripe of configurable color flourish. It’s also got the bicycle grip, and some super-grabby zippers that stick out. Which I admittedly like because it makes it clear that it’s not, well, my dad’s briefcase.
As far as the color is concerned, I should be fair and note that to my eye it feels very late 1980s corporate chic, and I’d like the ability to make the entire front panel a different color, like a Timbuk2 bag. But, be that as it may, I wish I could lose the grey panel, at least. But it’s a minor flaw, and it’s aesthetic, too. If you are not concerned about aesthetics, this will hardly bother you.
One other thing: WaterField’s customer service has been stellar. A friend of mine bought one of their bags and received a hand-written thank-you note with his bag; I received a note with mine as well, and I had assumed that it was just a way of being nice to a product reviewer, until my friend told me that he, too, had received such a note. And he was just an ordinary customer. So, thank you for lavishing such individual attention on your customers, WaterField.
I have to say, I have not been this happy with a bag…ever. As a recap, it will hold any number of things, it’s comfortable and easy to carry, it’s durable, and it’s briefcase-y but not excessively so. And its slight aesthetic flaws will hardly outweigh all of those excellent benefits.