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It’s in the bag

Tech and Innovation

Posted on November 30, 2010

9 min read

For years I lamented the fact that my kids went off to school carrying a bag that would get hit with an overweight fee at the airport check-in counter. What did they have in there that was so heavy? In my days they provided us with lockers.

I once took the brave (or was it foolish) decision to actually peek inside – and what I saw will haunt me for years to come! Books – VERY BIG BOOKS, a 15” laptop, charger, last week’s lunch (well I think it was….hard to tell in its mutated form), and a pencil case. In all, at least 10kg being lugged back and forward daily.

The obvious question that sprung from my lips was – do you need all this every day? The obvious response – accompanied by raised eyebrows and a sigh – you don’t understand.

True – I didn’t, and still don’t.

But it did make think about my own “school bag” – the bag I take to and from work every day. What’s in it, what do I actually need, and why do I carry it at all? And most importantly – which bag would actually be the most suitable for me to carry?

As you might have gathered if you have read some of my previous blogs, not only do I love my toys, I love using them as well. Also, if I want a new toy, I can always pinpoint a justification to get it. The problem with this way of life (apart from storage), is how to carry the latest toy around so it remains safe but accessible.

Man holding bagLast week I counted no less than ten different satchels / wheelie bags of various sizes and colours that have been used within the past 12 months. In addition to this, four laptop bags (13.5”, 10” and 7”) and two protective sleeves (15” and 13”). By now I am starting to feel guilty about the comments I made regarding my wife’s and daughters’ “need” for a new handbag.

The other thing that was concerning was the amount of junk I actually carted around and had absolutely NO need for on a daily basis. This included two mobile phone chargers (for phones I was not using); a magazine (several months out of date); four pens (one worked); a collapsible umbrella (always useful in Melbourne); at least twenty pages of paper – scribbles of ideas, WIP Powerpoint packs, etc; an emergency charger for the iPhone (finally found where it was!); spare charger and cable for my laptop. Add to that the laptop making its trek home some nights and weekends.

Now, multiply a lot of that into several bags, and you can get the picture.

I felt I was being channelled by the late, great Peter Finch in the movie Network, when I yelled out “I’m as mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more”. I emptied the bags, put them away and declared I was going back to basics.

So now the question was – which bag, and what did I really need to carry around on a daily basis?

  • iPad – check
  • Wireless keyboard – check
  • Cheque book (some habits are hard to break) – check
  • Microfiber cleaning cloth – check
  • Headset – check
  • Mobile phone – check
  • USB memory – check
  • Spare batteries for wireless keyboard – check
  • Charger – optional (one on my desk at work and one at home)

Stitching detail on bagI have to admit being a bit scared walking out of the house without the security of an additional charger or phone for those “just in case” moments that never occur. But I did it, and guess what? Nothing happened! Well, that’s not exactly true. I no longer suffered from a sore shoulder or one elongated arm from carrying a heavy bag wherever I went.

Having become the latest spokesperson for SOMATTTICAAOT (Society Of Minimalists Approach To The Things I Carry At Any One Time) (current membership 1), I can now focus on the type of bag I carry.

Given I was now going to be a one-bag-a-day person, I had to look around for the one that would best meet my needs. The key elements I look at when choosing a bag (in this order) are:

  1. Durable
  2. Practical
  3. Neutral colour
  4. Removable shoulder strap
  5. Material – leather or synthetic
  6. Weight

I also needed to take into account that sometimes I would need my laptop over my iPad.

For longer trips, I will continue to use the airplane friendly Samsonite wheelie bag as it works well as an overnight bag as well as having enough space for me to easily access the laptop, relevant notes and other items required for an extended business trip – without having to wait for my baggage to come off the plane.

But I want to focus on the everyday bags of choice – yes I know I was going to try and keep to one, but read on and you will see why.

A local Sydney based company, Toffee, was displaying their range of computer bags at CES 2010 Las Vegas. My interest was instantly piqued when I took a look at the quality of their bags – especially the clips that connected the shoulder straps. They were a strong metal as opposed to the regular hardened plastic clips that I regularly break. That and the wonderful smell of real leather – something you just can’t beat! Following is my review on two of their products.

Toffee Tote bagThe Toffee Tote

The Toffee Tote was made to fit my 13.3” MacBook perfectly. It also fits my iPad and wireless keyboard. It has a professional look about it – and comes complete with a removable leather shoulder strap. Retailing at $249.95, the Tote boasts a premium leather exterior, an external accessories compartment, interior pockets for your wallet, mobile phone, pens etc.

The Tote has a padded pocket that protects your notebook. With its briefcase look, the Tote has metal studs on the base so you can put it down on the ground without ruining the leather base. I found the handles – with their leather grips – made for easy carrying when walking through the streets when I had the iPad and wireless keyboard inside. When I added the MacBook, I found the shoulder strap a welcome addition. The Tote is available in black or brown.

When carrying both the MacBook and iPad, fitting the chargers for both was a bit tight. This must be taken into consideration when choosing a compact bag over the larger ones.
As a business essential – the Toffee Tote is certainly worth considering.

Toffee Slim bagThe Toffee Slim

Retailing at $199.95, this is truly the work or play bag. When I first saw it, I suggested it was a perfect bag for someone about 25 years my junior. I just wasn’t sure I could pull it off – a 52 year old carrying around a stylish yet very practical pebble-grain leather shoulder bag that featured Toffee’s signature – very distinctive white double stitched line down the centre of the bag. In fact, I sat there looking at it for a few weeks before I even dared put my MacBook into it.

Overcoming my fears, I found it was a great fit for the 13.3” MacBook Pro, secured in its own compartment to protect it from other items you may be carrying. The compartment is further secured by the inclusion of a leather/Velcro tag that prevents your laptop from falling out.

The Slim has two internal pockets – handy for carrying your wallet, pens and mobile phone. These pockets are great if you are used to searching for your phone in the bottom of your bag, and reduce the risk of scratching your screen whilst moving about. A back pocket (zipped) provides great space for any accessories you may need.

There is enough padding in the Slim to protect your MacBook or iPad. I would caution against putting in too many items into the bag as you don’t want to stretch the leather.

The leather shoulder strap is adjustable, and well secured to the body of the bag in a way that gives you confidence it will not break when you pick it up. I had no problem carrying both my MacBook Pro and iPad in the bag for short periods of time, however the reality is that I would normally carry one or the other. Mostly I carry my iPad, the wireless keyboard, some accessories and my mobile phone.

If you are considering this bag, you will also appreciate the thought that went into selecting the zip fasteners. The tab used to open and close the zip is sturdy, and like the bag itself, built to last. A little thing I know, but certainly a source of frustration on other bags I have used over the years.

The Slim is available in black or brown, and is equally in place with a business suit or a pair of jeans – it’s rarely away from my side when I am out and about.

Conclusion

Whilst the Toffee range is primarily designed for the Apple range, their bags and sleeves are suitable for the wider portable computer market. I believe they do live up to their website claim that “toffee fuses fashion and function to create unique leather notebook sleeves and bags for your digital lifestyle”. Check out the full range on their website.
They even provide hints on their website on how to properly care for your Toffee products.

The fact that an Australian company can compete on the world scene with high quality leather goods is great. The price may seem a bit steep at first, but if your take into account the fact that your Toffee bag will protect and probably outlast your laptop, it’s not a bad investment.