Thanks to Apple’s heavy focus on thin, small laptops, and economic conditions favoring lower-priced machines, a lot has changed over the past few years: 13” MacBooks of various types have become massively popular, while the 15” and 17” models that used to be musts for power users have become commensurately less attractive. Due to our desire to carry less heavy computers around, three of our editors have switched from 15” MacBook Pros to various 13” MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air models over the past two years, a change that has had interesting accessory consequences, as well: we’re now looking for smaller cases and bags to carry them in.
We’ve been big fans of BBP Bags for the past several years, but haven’t found a smaller laptop bag with the right look to replace the overstuffed 15” Hamptons model we’ve been loving since 2007. So we were intrigued by the somewhat similar but streamlined Small Messenger Bag from Incase ($80), which has the same black ballistic nylon body material, a soft faux fur-lined compartment for the 13” MacBook/Pro family, a roomy interior compartment, and a bunch of pockets.
Incase describes it as weather resistant, though it’s not entirely sealed at the top; if you keep it closed properly and don’t try to submerge it in water, it’ll be OK with splashes. We think. (Click on Read More or the title of this article for additional photos and the rest of the story.)
Interestingly, most of the pockets are on the inner side of the interior compartment, alternating between zippered and velcro seals, and there’s another zippered one on the front flap that’s big enough to hold an iPod or iPhone, plus another velcro pocket with two compartments found underneath the closed flap. Heavy arm padding is included on the shoulder strap, as well as on a handle up top; both of the pads can be velcro’ed off to slim down the straps, and the shoulder band is easily adjusted into sling and across-the-body positions.
We really dig the design, which is all black on the outside with gray Incase topography-style vinyl on the inside, and uses nice tapered lines that evoke a classic messenger bad without looking bulky. What’s interesting is that the company only produces this single color for users of 13” notebooks. By comparison, the 15” version sells for $20 more and is available in eight different colors, including some bright blue and purple tones that one would think would appeal more to budget- and size-conscious users (think: iPod nano) than the 15”-using professional crowd.
Also interesting is Incase’s new Coated Canvas Sleeve ($50), which is designed for users who prefer to just hand-hold their MacBooks—or keep them padded inside of general-purpose bags. The 15” version shown here was too big for our machines, but uniquely is made from a weather-resistant-coated cotton canvas material that has only the slightest luster in the light, with a softened fabric-like tendency to wrinkle.
Diamond-padded, the interior has a simple white Incase logo bar, while the outside has Incase leaf logo zipper pulls and a matching leaf tag. We love that the dominant Incase logo on the face is a color-matched rubber piece that doesn’t scream out; it’s this sort of design subtlety that Incase has really mastered over the years.
On a related note, with the impending release of the iPad, we feel a big shift coming in case design over the next six months, as developers work to figure out how exactly people are going to want to carry and use iPads relative to their desktop and/or notebook computers. The first wave of cases will most likely come in several variations—miniature laptop sleeves like smaller versions of the Incase one above, book-style cases like the ones that have been sold for Amazon’s Kindles, and oversized versions of the play-through iPhone and iPod touch cases we’ve been using for the past couple of years. It’s hard to imagine people wanting iPad-specific full-sized messenger bags, but it’s probable that someone will try—as well as offering existing bags and backpacks with “iPad compartments.” Of all the companies currently making iPod, iPhone, and Mac cases, Incase is one of the ones we’re most interested in watching during the lead-up to the iPad’s release, since it has either mastered or come very close to mastering the art of case design for all of Apple’s other portable products.