Review: PowerBag and GreenSmart Sleeve
I hate seeing people carrying around their computers in a purse or, worse, just in their hand. Modern tech is fairly tough -- witness the amazing Gorilla Glass from Corning that's essentially unscratchable on Apple iPhones and Android smartphones -- but it doesn't take much to break or damage a computer. Drop it even 18" onto the wrong surface and you're in trouble. I know, I dropped my ridiculously expensive MacBook Pro about 30" onto concrete and forever bent the case. And it was in a computer bag at the time, just not a padded one.
As a result, I'm always on the lookout for the best possible protection for my computer, whether it's a simple zip-up sleeve or a full-blown computer bag. As a result, I'm glad to report on one of each, two products that are both great options depending on how you work with your gear.
The smaller case is the eco-friendly GreenSmart Akepa laptop sleeve, and the larger is the incredibly well-designed Powerbag Instant Messenger. At opposite ends of the pricing spectrum, they also are great examples of how vendors in this highly competitive market have learned to differentiate their products.
I'll start by talking about the GreenSmart sleeve because it's an amazingly green product. The plush lining is made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles, and the exterior has the appearance of neoprene but without the toxins or harmful chemicals (or chemical odor). This might not seem important to you, but if you were to visit a typical bag factory, I think you'd be startled by their environmentally unfriendly their manufacturing process. Worse, the products themselves might look nice, but they're often made with all sorts of unpleasant chemicals that are bad for you and the environment.
There's another issue with laptop sleeves in my experience: getting the size just right. It's common in my experience to have a sleeve be just a bit too small which makes it a pain to properly zip up the laptop. Skip that, however, and now your sleeve isn't actually protecting your laptop, which is important.
Similarly, we tried for a while to use a really cool 15" laptop sleeve that we bought at Disneyland with a 13" MacBook and it really didn't work either. It highlights how important it is to have the right size sleeve for your computer and that's why manufacturers have so darn many sleeves, so that they are a snug -- but hopefully not too snug -- fit.
The GreenSmart sleeve is a great fit in this regard, snug enough that it feels secure when zipped up, but not so snug that it's hard to zip and close. We tested the 13.3" sleeve with a MacBook and the fit was perfect.
GreenSmart is a very environmentally-focused company too, not just with its materials, and the design of the particular sleeve we tested is called "Akepa", named after the rare Hawaiian 'akepa bird. 10% of the company profits are donated to the World Wildlife Fund. How can you not like that?
The 13.3" GreenSmart Akepa sleeve is $34.95 directly from their site.
Powerbag Instant Messenger
At the other end of the price spectrum at $179.99 is the Powerbag Instant Messenger. It's expensive, but it's also the best computer bag I've ever used, with so much thought put into pockets, zippers and compartments that it'd be really hard to ever switch back to any of my previous computer bags.
Oh, and did I mention it has a built-in large capacity battery and cables that make it a breeze for you to recharge your iPhone, digital camera or other gadget while on the road? Yup, neatly zipped into its own holder inside the bag is a 6000mAh battery and a set of connectors for iPhone/iPod/iPads, Micro-USB and Mini-USB connectors and even a USB port. To charge the battery there's a small power jack on the outside of the case, so it's easy to juice up overnight and never run out of power again.
What I like most about the bag design isn't the battery, however. It's the incredibly well-thought-out set of pockets and compartments. Since it's designed as a lay-flat airport security friendly bag (you don't need to take your laptop out for TSA) I find that the central compartment, with a zip all around the bag, is a perfect place to store the power cable for my 15" MacBook Pro, while the padded sleeve on the top of the bag is a snug, safe storage space for the laptop itself.
What this means is that I never have to actually open up the bag to get to what I need on a typical day. I can unzip and pull out the laptop itself in seconds, pull out the power cord if it's getting a bit low on power and put everything back, all without any fuss.
This leaves me the ability to use the many other internal compartments to organize my headphones, business cards, adapter cables and more. Oh, and there's a separate padded compartment inside for a 10" tablet that works equally well for my Apple iPad and my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
I didn't have anything critical to say about the GreenSmart sleeve, but the Powerbag Instant Messenger does have some problems, unfortunately, that seem to be more related to the parts and fabrics they're using for the bag: the clips on the flap are neatly tucked underneath the flap and end up being a real pain to clip / unclip. It might not look quite as sleek, but I really wish they were located on the outside of the flap. Further, for reasons I can't quite figure out, one of the pull straps stays nice and short while the other slips and ends up not keeping that side of the flap tight. Not a big deal, certainly not compared to the constant annoyance of having to actually unclip the flap, but still something that I haven't experienced with other bags I've tested.
More important for a premium bag of this nature is that after about two months of usage, I'm finding that the wires embedded in the bag for the charging system are starting to produce wear points on the fabric itself. Here's a close-up pic with the wear spot highlighted...
This is a real drag because the design of the Instant Messenger is otherwise amazing. It really is the best computer bag I've ever used and I can even forgive the annoying clips on the flap, but having the fabric start to show signs of degradation after such a short amount of time is problematic. I queried the company and they explained "All of the units we've sent out for demo are test models, but this is the first we've heard of the issue" so hopefully the fabric they're using now is more resistent to this wear problem.
This does create a dilemma for you, the potential buyer, if indeed the fabric I have is the shipping fabric: if the looks of your case are tantamount, I can't unabashedly recommend the Instant Messenger bag because of the wear point on the test unit they sent.
If you're more interested in a beautifully designed bag with more pockets than you'll ever need and terrific padding for all of your precious gear, however, then I've never seen a bag as well designed as the Powerbag Instant Messenger and know I'll continue to use it until it falls apart.
The 15"-compatible Powerbag Instant Messenger is $179.99 on their site.
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