By Evan Ackerman
New backpack smell always takes me back to the first day of school. And since I’ve been out of school, I haven’t put much thought into replacing my ancient JanSport. But ever since Mobile Edge sent me a couple of their laptop backpacks to check out, my sense of style, my laptop, and my back have all been demanding something new. I was able to meander about with these backpacks for several weeks on a trip up to the Pacific Northwest, and I’ll review them both separately over the next few days. You can be assured that these reviews are unbiased since I had to send the backpacks back (grrr); but it’s worth noting that I was disappointed to have to do so, ’cause I really did (mostly) like them. Read my full review after the jump.
I’m going to start with the larger of the two backpacks, the Premium Backpack:
The Mobile Edge Premium Backpack is on the larger side as backpacks go, at 16” x 21” x 9”. Most people I talked to weren’t exactly taken with the color scheme. I guess it would be useful if you want to hide in an urban environment populated by people who are orange colorblind, but I’ve only found myself in situations like that three or four times. I in fact kinda like the urban camo, but I’d like it a lot better without the orange trim, especially since it’s made a bit redundant by the fact that the silver trim is reflective while the orange is not. Mobile Edge does offer this style of backpack in other colors including charcoal, navy, silver, and a questionable sort of greenish yellow. The outside of the backpack has some rubber bits, holes, straps with ambiguous functionality, and some other foofawfery, but it’s not too overblown. I appreciate the fact that the matching cellphone holder is detachable; although I carry a cellphone with me, I don’t like to flaunt it because it’s not an iPhone. I’m a bit confused as to why there is a tough rubber piece on the outside cover of the backpack, but not on the bottom of the backpack, where there’s likely to be more wear from setting it down over and over. So, overall, I like the look and the shape. It’s certainly not a small backpack, but it doesn’t look or feel huge when you’re wearing it.
The design of the backpack is fairly standard (large interior spaces, smaller auxiliary pocket at the front), with one exception, which is the top flap. After all the compartments are zipped, this flap goes over the top of them to cover the front of the backpack and clips to the sides near the bottom. If it were larger and didn’t have six holes in it, I’d call it a rain fly. As it is, I guess it might keep stuff from falling out if you forget to close the zippered compartments at the top completely and do a back flip, but it seems to be mostly for looks (in that the backpack would arguably be just as functional with the top flap completely removed). That’s fine, as long as you’re comfortable with having to go through the additional step of unclipping it in order to access the main pockets of the backpack.
The backpack itself has two main compartments, accessible via separate double zippers, both of which collapse to some degree when not stuffed full of important crap. The laptop pocket is in the back; more on that feature later. The large back pocket has a separate “media pocket” large enough for a CD player (a what?), with a little hole towards your back through which you can pass a headphone cable. While a good idea in principle, it makes actually operating your media player of choice somewhat of a hassle, and besides, how can everyone else know how trendy you are if your brand new iPod Touch is hidden inside your backpack?
The large front pocket has a business card slot, some loops for pencils and pens, and two mesh compartments which are almost exactly the wrong size for putting things into. Fortunately, the rest of the pocket is large enough to comfortably fit books, binders, et cetera. The exterior of the front pocket (the front of the backpack, basically) has an additional horizontally zippered pocket which Mobile Edge suggests you use for airplane tickets and passports and stuff. It’s certainly a useful feature, since you can access it without opening the top flap of the backpack.
The smaller auxiliary pocket at the front of the backpack has a good amount of interior room, but is afflicted with two mesh compartments that I’m starting to think were included just because the inside of the pocket would look bare otherwise. There are also two more mesh compartments on the exterior of this pocket, on the front of the backpack. After three weeks, I have not managed to find anything to put into any of these mesh pockets at all. What I DO like, though, are the two zippered pockets on the sides of the backpack. They are just about perfectly sized for my digital camera (a large-ish compact Canon) and my GPS. I’d have liked them better if they used two zippers instead of one so that they could contain a standard sized bottle of water. In fact, that’s one of my problems with the design: you can’t fit a regular sized Nalgene bottle into any of the external pockets, and just about every student on the planet carries around a Nalgene bottle. But it will fit into the front pocket with room to spare, you just have to be sure that you’ve closed the bottle tightly since it has to lie sideways.
Now, here’s the part I was most impressed with: this thing has a lot of padding. Like, seriously, a lot. The shoulder straps are padded all the way down, the back is entirely padded (except for some stitching which allows air to circulate nicely), and there’s even some sort of padding inside the rest (sides and front) of the shell. I feel like I could get whacked between the shoulder blades with a baseball bat and not only would I not feel a thing, neither would my laptop. Well, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it certainly makes a comfortable pillow when you’re on the road. If I had to find a complaint about the padding, it would only be that having so much makes the pack a bit stiff, but I’m sure that it’ll loosen up as you wear it more.
The Laptop Pocket
The primary reason you’re gonna want a Mobile Edge backpack is for the protection it offers your laptop. The laptop pocket in the back compartment of the backpack takes its job quite seriously. In addition to the padding already in the backpack, the pocket has quarter inch thick padded cell material on all four sides and (most critically) the bottom. Even the joints where the sides meet have additional padding. I wish I could afford to stick one of my laptops in there and see how much abuse it’ll take while in the pocket, but I have to return the backpack in reasonably good condition. From the look and feel of the material, I have a feeling it’s able to handle a lot, though. The dimensions of the pocket itself are 15.5″ L x 10.5″ H x 2.5″ W, meaning that if you have a large laptop, some of it might stick out the top, but I don’t think that’s going to have much effect on the safety of the laptop overall. With this in mind, the elastic and velcro strap that holds the laptop in the pocket has a sort of clever design, in that it includes an extension piece for laptops larger than about 16 inches. However, if you aren’t using the extension piece, it just sorta dangles there, and if you are, it ends up fastening behind the laptop in the pocket rather than in front, making it a bit awkward.
There were a few other general things I wasn’t a huge fan of… First of all, since it’s a laptop travel backpack, I’d have liked the laptop pocket to be in front, by itself. Having the pocket in back probably makes sense from the weight distribution (and probably protection) standpoint, but the back pocket is big enough that you’re tempted to stuff it full of a bunch of other crap, which makes easy access to your laptop (at the bottom) tricky, especially at the airport. Ideally, I’d want the laptop pocket to fit only my laptop (and maybe the power adapter), which would probably provide better protection for the computer anyway. But beyond that little design quibble, I’m pretty impressed with how seriously Mobile Edge takes protecting my computer. It’s as if they actually understand that really, my laptop is the center of my universe. Because, you know, it is.
I’ve probably taken longer conducting this review than I really should have, because I like this backpack, and I don’t especially want to return it. In general, the backpack seems to be very well made. Virtually the entire exterior is ballistic nylon with heavy stitching. The zippers are double stitched, and the material around the zipper tracks is kept well back so it won’t get caught up in the zippers. There is padding EVERYWHERE, it’s very comfortable to wear even for extended periods while carrying a lot of stuff, and (most importantly) I completely trust my laptop inside it. I like the overall look and the design, although a few aspects of both could have been thought out a little bit more. But what it really comes down to is value for money, and here’s the clincher: it’s only $89. I actually got the backpack and wrote the entire review without checking what the price was, and my guess was somewhere in the ballpark of $130. If you feel like you’re still not getting value for money at 89 bucks (and I’d seriously question that feeling), Newegg has the Mobile Edge Premium Backpack in stock in several colors for $60.
[ Mobile Edge ]