Function: Convertible backpack/messenger-style laptop bag.
Developer: BBP Bags
Requirements: Any laptop (four sizes are available).
The messenger-style laptop bag has exploded in popularity over the past decade as laptops have moved from a high-end businessman’s tool to a required accessory even for middle-school students. A briefcase-style bag looks fine in the boardroom but doesn’t fit in at college. Even frequent business travelers aren’t using briefcases as much as they used to, since the TSA requires that laptops be removed from their bag entirely, or located in a compartment with nothing else above or below for ease of X-ray inspection.
Problem is, those messenger bags aren’t always too comfortable. They put all the weight on one shoulder, or they slide around, or they don’t adjust to the right position on your body, or, well, you get the idea. A backpack is more comfortable and stays in place better, but it lacks a certain formality, making it unsuitable for businessmen.
Enter BBP’s Hamptons Hybrid, a $95 laptop bag that attempts to bring the best of both worlds to the traveling laptop user.
It’s usually true that man-made hybrids are a compromise. A Corvette ZR1 is a tremendously appealing automobile from a driver’s perspective, while a purely electric vehicle is extremely efficient but substantially less practical than a gasoline-powered one. A Toyota Prius is a mediocre driver’s car with mediocre fuel economy, but it’s an acceptable compromise between the two ideals. A Swiss Army knife or Leatherman multi-tool is a fine thing to keep on hand for general fix-it tasks, but it’s awkward at best for preparing (or eating) a meal or disassembling an entire computer.
So it is with the Hamptons Hybrid, which is neither a fantastic backpack nor a great messenger bag but manages to perform both tasks acceptably well. Available in a variety of colors, including a sharp-looking dark blue and orange combination, the bag’s build quality and materials are first-rate, with the bag showing very little wear from nearly a month of heavy travel use at work.
BBP says their hybrid bags “are backpacks first.” Unfortunately, the Hamptons is a much better messenger bag than a backpack. The conversion process is complicated and time-consuming, though it would be much improved if BBP had taken the simple step of including two different straps for backpack mode and messenger mode rather than forcing one strap to do double duty. The included strap is fine when it’s in backpack mode, but it’s too long to make the messenger mode work well.
The backpack mode is also somewhat uncomfortable. The bag sits horizontally across your back rather than vertically, a limitation forced on the bag in part by the design of the convertible single strap and in part by the fact that a messenger bag simply doesn’t turn on its side all that well. A backpack doesn’t naturally open from the side, but rather from the top, and a backpack is also usually taller than it is wide, like the torso of the person wearing it.
BBP did go to some lengths to make the backpack mode as usable as possible. A removable waist strap is included, which helps with fit and keeps the Hamptons from sliding around too much on your back. A chest strap further enhances comfort, and two substantial pads on the back of the bag spread the weight out over your lower back and hips and provide a nice cushion in messenger mode as well. Despite all this, the Hamptons is never going to be as comfortable as a dedicated backpack, and if you’re a backpack sort of person, there are some very nice laptop backpacks out there.
The Powers That Be at the day job discourage the use of backpacks with our uniform, so I’m more of a messenger bag guy. Travel and airport security are a part of my daily life, so claims that the Hamptons Hybrid is such a great travel companion were particularly intriguing. Unfortunately, even in messenger mode, the bag falls short of ideal.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but shouldn’t a pocket for the AC adapter be able to accommodate the whole adapter and its power cord?
The biggest flaw is the design of the pockets. The flap of the bag has three external pockets—one about the size of a deck of cards, one just a little bigger than an Apple MagSafe AC adapter, and one about the size of an original iPod. Which is great if you like taking your AC adapter apart twice a day, or only carry the built-in power cord for it. None of the three pockets on the flap is big enough to hold a standard MagSafe AC adapter with the three-prong cord attached, or to hold a spare battery for a MacBook Pro.
Why is this important? Because unless you want to remove your laptop from the bag and send it through an X-ray scanner by itself, there cannot be anything in the same compartment as the laptop, or above or below it, when it goes through the scanner. Ergo, your AC adapter (or battery) has to go in a pocket on the flap, and BBP’s claim that a “convenient top-loading laptop compartment let’s [sic] you zip through airport security” simply doesn’t hold water without an adequate pocket on the flap. (The middle pocket is almost, but not quite, big enough; if it were two inches wider or an inch deeper, it would probably work, at least for the AC adapter. The battery would still be an issue.)
The idea of attaching the Hamptons bag to the handle of a carry-on is a great one, but this zipper needs to be two inches wider.
Like many messenger bags and briefcases, the Hamptons has a panel in the back allowing it to attach to the handle of a carry-on bag. Unlike most other bags I’ve seen with this feature, the opening through which the handle is inserted is barely wider than the handle itself, which makes this wonderful feature a tremendous pain in the rear to use. If the opening were three or four inches wider—that is, the full width of the bag rather than two-thirds of it—there wouldn’t be a problem and I’d be a much happier camper.
And, as mentioned earlier, the single convertible strap is too long to be comfortable when using the Hamptons as a messenger bag. BBP gets a little bit of a pass on this oversight because of their claim that they intend the bag as a backpack first, but again, the bag’s fit would be improved if it shipped with different straps for the different modes.
It’s a shame, really, because the Hamptons is not otherwise lacking in features. It has pockets galore and a great deal of storage space, much more than most people would likely ever need (and indeed, much more than you can use if you’re going through airport security often, unless you want to remove your laptop from the bag every time). There are D-rings all over the outside for tying stuff on, and a nice mesh water bottle pocket on one end.
The $95 price is excellent for a bag of this quality and versatility, but the execution just isn’t at the level I’ve come to expect from accessory manufacturers. The details need work, and while the idea of a combination backpack/messenger bag is a good one, the Hamptons Hybrid exemplifies the cliché “jack of all trades and master of none.”