Look around office lobbies and airport gates, and you’ll see that when it comes to computer cases, almost anything goes—from backpacks to messenger-style bags to sleeves. What you won’t see as much anymore is the conventional briefcase-style computer case. According to Travel Goods Association, sales of business briefcases and computer bags slid 4.7 percent in 2014.
Mark Davis of Eagle Creek, which manufactures computer bags, tells Consumers Digest that he attributes the growing use of backpacks and messenger-style bags that have computer compartments to the comfort of carry and ease of use. He also believes that the general work environment is more casual, “which allows for these types of bags.”
As a result, more than ever before you can find backpacks and unstructured bags, such as messenger- and tote-style models, that have notebook- and tablet-computer compartments.
Unstructured computer bags might not have enough interior structure for them to stand upright when you set them down. However, that doesn’t mean that they provide less protection for your electronics, because these bags use padded pockets and, in some cases, removable sleeves to protect your gear. Based on our hands-on evaluation, we also found that computer bags that have less structure are contoured to fit our body better than do conventional computer bags.
In computer backpacks we found more designs than ever before that incorporate ergonomic features, such as padded straps and cushy handles.
Although major manufacturers still provide computer bags that fit a notebook computer that has a 17-inch screen, we found fewer choices and styles that are available among those models than exist for bags that hold notebook computers that are 15.4 inches or smaller.
In fact, only 15 percent of computer backpacks and 10 percent of wheeled and nonwheeled computer bags today can hold a 17-inch notebook computer, according to our research.
LIGHTEN THE LOAD. As notebook computers get smaller, thinner and lighter, so do the computer cases that are designed to carry them. You now can find notebook-computer cases that are 7 ounces to 1.5 pounds lighter, depending on the size and style. Leather computer cases, for example, are 1–2 inches slimmer on average, which translates into 7–8 fewer ounces of weight on your shoulder.
Low Weight, High Performance
Today’s computer cases also are lighter because they’re constructed of materials that are more lightweight than the 1260-denier ballistic nylon of which nonleather bags generally were made. Lightweight performance materials, such as ripstop nylon and waffle-weave nylon, now are found in structured bags that cost at least $120. These materials have been used in luggage for years, and, based on their track record, we believe that they’ll prove to be just as sturdy in computer cases and backpacks as are their heavier counterparts.
Of course, when it comes to a lightweight option to carry your notebook computer, you can’t beat a simple sleeve. Sleeves now are almost ubiquitous. In 2011, we found 600 sleeves on the market. Today, that number is above 5,000. Almost all computer-case manufacturers, as well as luggage, electronic and handbag manufacturers, sell sleeves for both notebook computers and tablet computers at prices that range from $20 to $228. You generally can get a tablet sleeve that has handles, straps and slots to hold credit cards for $30–$60.
On the other end of the weight scale, four-wheel spinners now are available in wheeled computer cases that start at $180. Instead of flush-mounted wheels, as is the case on two-wheel spinners, the wheels that are on four-wheel spinners typically mount onto the underside of the computer case. This type of mounting raises the height of the case, yet it keeps the bag from tipping forward when it’s loaded fully. More important, you can pull or push models that have four-wheel spinners on the long or short side of the bag, which makes them easy to maneuver in tight spaces or down the aisle of a plane. (You’ll want to consider, however, that a wheeled computer case might not fit on a regional jet that has little overhead bin space.)