We weren’t very fond of the last bag we saw equipped with a play-through iPad pocket — Versetta’s Angela — but Hex has done a far better job with its Varsity Messenger Bag ($80). Available in configurations that fit either a 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro in addition to the tablet, this shoulder bag is made out of really nice materials, and has more universal appeal than the purse-style design. More importantly, it fits the iPad 2 much better than Angela did.
Varsity Messenger Bag is made of really nice grey wool that has both classic and modern appeal. Lining the inside of the front flap as well as the computer pocket inside the main cavity is soft fleece, while the rest of the lining is nylon; the zipper pulls are high-quality real leather. This bag would have been a successful product simply as a laptop carrier, and includes a few smaller pockets and business card slots opposite the pocket for your computer.
Of course, the feature that makes this bag relevant to the iPad is a built-in tablet holder. It’s located on the body of the bag, underneath the front flap, a simple frame with three sides mostly closed off with elastic material; the top edge has a Velcro strap to hold itself shut. The openings are such that the iPad can only be inserted one proper way, with the Home button on the right. Along the left edge, the headphone port and Sleep/Wake button are accessible, but the microphone isn’t visible. All of the other ports and buttons can also be reached. The uncontoured flat back makes the ports and buttons a bit harder to get at, but because the material is not rigid, this is not a significant problem. One downside is the rear camera is completely blocked, and the front-facing camera and Home button are partially obscured—the latter is still usable. We can’t see a lot of people using either camera with their tablets in the bag like that, but it would be nice if at least the one on the front was more open. Unlike Versetta, either generation of the iPad fits in the holder without moving around too much thanks to the elastic.
Given the materials the company used and the overall look and feel of the Varsity Messenger Bag, the $80 price point seems appropriate, and the iPad holder feels like a nice bonus to an otherwise very good design. While we’d like to see a revision that provides better access to the front camera and Home button, this bag is a good option as-is for those who own and carry both a MacBook Pro and one of Apple’s tablets. For that reason, it earns our strong general recommendation.
Company and Price
Model: Varsity Messenger Bag
Compatible: iPad, iPad 2