Lately though I've wanted something a bit smaller and more convenient to use on a day-to-day basis. I recently bought a Toshiba Chromebook 2, a light and thin laptop with a 13-inch screen. The old backpack just swallows it up. Even throwing in my kindle, wallet, phone, and a bunch of other junk I don't really need to tote everywhere I go, there was lots of wasted space. After 7 years the plastic wrap on the top handle-strap is breaking apart, and well, I've been itching to make a change.
My choice was the Case Logic 14-inch Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Bag (see it at Case Logic's website or over at Amazon where you can read some other reviews). The bag just arrived, and I have some first impressions.
Let me start by saying that this appears to be a well-made bag. The material is the pretty standard black canvas, seems water-resistant, with solid zippers and strap attachments. The handles are made of the canvas cloth but are well padded and I think will be comfortable for everyday carrying.
What makes this a "Checkpoint Friendly" bag? You can read the official TSA writeup, but basically it's a laptop bag that can be run through the security scanner without removing the laptop. The laptop compartment has to be specially designed so that there are no zippers or buckles that would interfere with the scanner's view of the laptop. Virtually all such bags are designed to "zip open" so that the laptop compartment lies flat with everything else out of the way.
With that in mind, the first thing to note is that this bag does indeed have a dedicated laptop compartment that appears to meet the TSA requirements. The compartment itself has a set of zippers that only unzip partway down the sides, so that you don't accidentally unzip it far enough for the laptop to fall out. This review is for the 14-inch version, and my Toshiba Chromebook 2 fits comfortably in the compartment with maybe a half-inch clearance on either side. Note that you are not supposed to put ANYTHING else in this compartment, including charger, cables, mice, or anything else that might obstruct the scanner's view, and frankly the space is too tight for anything but the laptop.
The next most important feature is a set of zippers, just forward (towards the front of the bag) from the laptop compartment. These do unzip clear down the sides of the bag, and allow it to lay flat. When open, the laptop compartment lies by itself on one side, and anything else in the bag on the other. The laptop side has a red cloth tag with the words "Security Friendly" on it, I suppose just in case you get a TSA agent who hasn't seen one of these before. The opposite side of this compartment has a mesh pocket where you could conceivably put some papers or something. I am thinking I will never put anything in there, just so that when this baby is lying flat on the scanner there will be nothing exposed.
Now I've described two sets of zippers already, and there are more to go. At first I was envisioning myself fumbling around in the security line at the airport trying to figure out what to unzip, but CaseLogic has me covered - the zippers that open the bag flat have red stitching on them, where all the other zippers are just plain black. Once you notice this there is no way you're going to make a mistake. What is a little tricky is that there are cloth handles sewn on either side of this opening, as well as two strap buckles, one on each side of the compartment, at opposite sides of the bag (diagonal from one another). With the handles and strap buckles and the strap itself, it can feel a little clumsy getting ahold of the zippers and getting them open. I suspect this will become second nature after a few tries.
I mentioned buckles on either side of that last section, and a strap. The reason they're placed on either side of this compartment is so that after the bag comes through security, you can just grab the strap and snatch it up, and the bag will automatically close (albeit still unzipped). If you are trying to rush through security this could save you a little time. If you are having trouble envisioning this, check out the CaseLogic site link above, where there are pictures of this function in action.
Just forward from the "lay flat" section is another full-sized, zippered compartment. On one side is a silk-like cloth pocket that could be used for pretty much anything. However the other side has a padded, felt-lined pocket designed for a tablet. This is a nice touch - a bag designed for both a laptop and tablet! I don't carry a tablet these days, but I'm sure my Kindle will be right at home here.
Again towards the front of the bag is a smaller compartment with various pockets for things like passport, credit or business cards, etc. There is an attachment point for a keychain, and a couple of pen-holders in there. Finally, right on the front of the bag is yet another small compartment for, well, anything you didn't stick somewhere else, I suppose.
I have transferred pretty much my whole kit from the old laptop bag to the new CaseLogic bag. It's definitely a bit more snug - moving from a laptop backpack designed for a 17" laptop down to a briefcase-style bag designed for a 14-inch laptop, there's obviously going to be less room. Of course that also translates to "carry less junk", which is not a bad thing at all. It appears that even stuffed full it will have no problem fitting under an airplane seat in front of me when I travel.
I think I'm going to love this bag. I'll be taking it to work Monday, and in a couple of weeks it's going with me to Belize. I'll update this post with final impressions after the trip.