Seeking the Perfect Laptop Bag

Finding the best case for toting a notebook (and sundry other necessities) wasn't easy—but it was worth it, thanks to the eBags Firewall.

Needs change. For years my laptop carrier of choice was a now-unavailable Briggs & Riley backpack that had survived a decade of abuse and still didn't look much worse for the wear. Unfortunately, such durability has a downside. It left me stuck with a perfectly good computer bag in an unfortunate shade of bright blue that made me look like a balding third-grader on his way to grammar school.

The bag had other problems, too. While it was great for carrying a laptop and a sheaf of paperwork, it had precious few other pockets—just a pair of unpadded narrow slots on the sides and a back zippered section with spots for pens, business cards and maybe some spare change.

It was time for something new. Something with a more professional aura. Something with more space to hold the cables, cell phone, PDA, camera and other paraphernalia that have come to define my working life. Yet it still needed to hold paperwork. (The paperless office is nothing more than a 20-year-old cruel lie, after all.) And a shoulder strap; a nicely padded shoulder strap.

I started hunting at the local electronics, computer and luggage stores as well as online, but what I encountered was a mix of depressingly shoddy and unimaginative or outrageously expensive laptop bags.

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While poking around the eBags.com website, however, I discovered their top-selling Firewall laptop brief. It seemed to have everything I was looking for, and users were raving about the thing. $69.95 and a few days later, I had my bag. And I (almost) couldn't be happier.

First, the downside: The interior is orange. Bright, blaze orange. Turn the bag inside out, put it on your head, and you' d be legally compliant for deer hunting in most states. If orange isn't your color, you'll be unhappy. That said, the orange makes it very easy to find things. Nothing gets lost against this bright hue the way it could against a darker background.

Another negative: The bag is a touch tippy. Based on comments on the eBags site, the amount of tippiness seems to depend on the size and shape of laptop you carry, but with my ThinkPad T42, the Firewall has a tendency to keel over slowly unless I lean it against something. A flip-down floor stiffener in the bag' s bottom apparently makes it less of a slouch than previous versions, but it' s still a bag that would rather be on its side. A problem? Not really, but it might annoy some people.

Everything else = love. The biggest plus about this bag is the sheer number of storage nooks. The main pocket has an attached, well-padded sleeve with a velcro tab to keep your notebook safely tucked away. The sleeve has a removable bumper at the bottom, letting you adjust the space to fit everything from small subnotebooks (though they'd likely slide a bit from side to side) all the way up to large widescreens. (The pocket fits laptops up to 13.5" by 11 " by 2". The same main pocket also includes four roomy, unpadded pockets that could hold a CD case, power adapter, cables, or just about anything else smaller than a guinea pig.

The largest front pocket has space for a few file folders, plus dedicated slots for a cell phone, business cards, pens, spare change, and a large-ish pocket with a Velcro closure and a fleece-lined interior on one side, ideal for a PDA, MP3 player or camera that warrants a little extra protection. The smallest front pocket is a zippered quick-access slot that could hold a couple magazines and your airline tickets.

On the back, there's a large zippered space divided into three pockets ideal for carrying even more paperwork. A thin, Velcro-latched space would hold yet another magazine or two. And a slot through the back lets you slide the Firewall down the handle of a rolling carry-on bag, making for easier transit through airports and city streets.

I'm not done yet—it also has side pockets! One is padded and holds a PDA or portable hard drive securely. The other unzips and expands via fabric mesh, letting you conveniently carry a water bottle.

Construction feels solid all around. The zippers are heavy duty with nicely formed pulls. The exterior is 2520 + 840 denier nylon, and connection points where handles and shoulder strap connectors meet the bag are well-stitched or riveted. Hard plastic bumpers on the bottom of the bag should provide some abrasion protection. The shoulder strap has beefy release-with-one-hand connectors and is well made, with a thick pad that is sewn in place (either a plus or a minus depending on your preference). The pad has a nonskid backing and a slight curve to keep it from biting into your neck when under load.

All in all, I couldn't be happier with this bag. Mine's dark green with black trim—a far more sophisticated and professional palette than my old bag. But eBags sells the Firewall in a number of shades, ranging from all black to fiesty red. At just under $70, the bag isn't much more expensive than the generic laptop carriers you'll find at the local office supply store. But while many of those totes may seem to be little more than old briefcase designs with a couple extra pockets, the Firewall has some intelligent design behind it. And eBags' return policy means that if you don't like it, you can always send it back.

But you'll like it.

Personal Value: 4

It's not glamorous, so fashion plates may scurry.

Business Value: 5

A place for everything and everything in its place. Get your business life organized.

IT Fear Factor: 1

It's a laptop bag—how scary could it be?

Conclusion: A great bag for the money. Well made. Loads of space and pockets for the gear of modern life.

Price: $69.95 direct

Manufacturer: eBags

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