Let me begin this article by exclaiming how particular I am about my travel accouterments. Not even bringing my food and supplement carry-on needs into consideration, I spend about five minutes collecting clothing and essentials prior to each journey I make for business or pleasure followed by about 30 minutes of perfectly laying out my suitcase. Why the obsession over neatness? Perhaps it is due to my engineering background. Or, more likely, perhaps I treat my travel luggage as an extension of my person and I want to know where every item is at all times. Since I never check a bag anymore (I've read enough horror stories in my five years of flying regularly to keep me away from the baggage carousel!), I've perfected the act of compressing a business week of clothing and gear into a carry-on bag deemed acceptable by the TSA. Needless to say, I put a lot more thought and effort into filling my Victorinox Werks Traveler 2.0 than perhaps I need to.
I'm a technology consultant. What about my computer equipment? This subject is the crux of this article. As obsessive as I am about how I take my clothes with me, I'm even more particular about how I tote my laptop and electronic accessories. I've been searching for my perfect bag for two years now. I've resolved to ignore price when looking at bags, since I figured a good bag would last me at least 18 months and after that time, I will have gotten my money's worth out of it. Here is a general outline of my criteria for a solid bag:
- Extremely durable. Made of nearly army-grade, non-leather material that will handle abuse from regular wear and tear and placement on rough surfaces
- Dedicated laptop compartment. This area would need to be permanently affixed to the bag. I don't like laptop sleeve inserts. Moving parts are bad when traveling. It's one more thing to lose. The compartment should also provide a decent amount of padding for obvious reasons.
- Dedicated documents compartment. I always bring several magazines, along with pertinent documents on all of my trips. I want to keep these items somewhat separate from the laptop.
- Bullet proof zippers. The moving parts of any system tend to be the least durable over time. Frequent zipper use can wear out the teeth of the zipper as well as become less smooth operating over time. Everyone uses "YKK" zippers. Some have more reinforcement than others.
- Ability to sit vertically. I was first introduced to this with my Booq XM (the 2006 XM has been replaced by the forthcoming Boa 3M). To be able to place your bag on the floor without propping it up against a wall is incredibly useful. This feature requires really smart weight balancing by the bag designer and a flat bottom.
- Backpack versus messenger. I like the look of messenger bags but I couldn't "live out of one". Messenger bags generally have insufficient storage and I generally have enough stuff in my bag that I'd want to support it with both shoulders. I'm looking to keep decent posture for as long as I travel, after all!
- Comfort. I want ergonomic back straps with sufficient padding and a nice bit of cushioning on the part of the bag that rests against the back. That's not too much to ask, is it?
- Style. I'm a big fan of fashionable accessories. I tend to like bags that grab attention by strong coloring, lots of cool logo/branding on the bag parts, and general sleek styling that stands out from the world of eBags-grade, disposable laptop bags.
As I said before, I've been researching laptop bags for a very long time. I've surveyed the landscape and have come up with the following brands to consider: Victorinox, Tumi, Ogio, Samsonite, Crumpler, Targus, Brenthaven, Kenneth Cole, Waterfield, Booq Bags, and several others. So far, the only bag that has really met my needs came from Booq. I used their Boa XM 2006 model for two years and change. The only reason why I decided to look for a replacement was the top handle was beginning to wear out and I wanted a more padded bag. Because prior to this review, none of their products had been much refreshed, I looked elsewhere. I learned about Covertec's edgy Racer M product and asked pocketnow to obtain a review sample for me.
Unfortunately, it didn't fit my needs for one reason: the documents sleeve wasn't high enough to really warrant its use. Magazines stuck out half-way and documents could easily get wrinkled since the pocket only was about 6 inches high. Bummer! It was great otherwise. I contacted Covertec directly and asked for something better and they told me I would have to wait. Four months later, they let me know I'd soon be receiving a Racer L, which has a dedicated document sleeve and compartment. Plus, they had totally redesigned their bags to include some pretty nifty features, which I will describe below.
AT A GLANCE
I recognize that pocketnow.com tends to put a great deal of emphasis on the unboxing process within their reviews, and I agree with that. After all, a great user experience starts as soon as you pry open the ugly UPS shipping box and connect with the product within. Covertec spent some time thinking through the boxing materials such that it entices with suggested usage ideas as well as folks enjoying their Racer bags.
Covertec put an almost Apple-esque touch on their packaging design. Even though most people will throw away the box (hopefully recycling in the process!), the first impression is a very positive one thanks to a nice minimal box.
Here is the Racer box interior.
Front face of the Racer.
The first thing you'll notice about this bag is its very minimal look. It's black with orange trim and no exposed appendages like a lot of the cheaper bags have. Those extraneous cell phone pockets make the bag wider and harder to fit under an airplane seat. Not interested in having to always chuck my bag in the overhead bin when I need my laptop by my side.
The bag is made of 1680D ballistic nylon (same as my Boa) and has waterproof zippers (I've never had zippers rust on me!), and comes with a lifetime warranty.
A CLOSER LOOK
The orange trim is a very nice touch that fits well into business settings. It's subtle enough to make your bag look different, but not garish to the point of wondering if you're about to go hiking up Mount Rainier!
The bottom of the bag is covered in a pretty durable looking, and I'm sure waterproofed material. Here is where one of my wish list items from above is missed: this bag cannot stand upright! No matter how well you balance the contents of the bag, you'll need to prop the bag against a wall to keep it standing. I really dislike this. Am I the only one who wants this in all bags?
Ah these shoulder straps feel as amazing as they look! Super padded and nicely angled so that they fit the back of a normal adult, rather than an alien of some kind. Covertec definitely spent time fitting this bag against folks of different forms, coming up with the best design to cover the average person.
I definitely appreciate the shoulder strap cross-over connection, which helps better distribute heavier loads. This makes a noticeable different when you're forced to keep the bag on your back for long durations, as the weight is placed not just on your upper back but also your lower back and even brings your abdominals into the equation. The sternum strap I never use. Just never saw the point of looking so ridiculous to be wearing a fabric belt!
Call me superficial, but I want all exposed parts of my laptop accessories to look great. The zippers play the part of breaking up the uniform black covering the bag. These zipper tips are made of a rubbery material and it makes opening and closing the zippers a bit easier. In the end, they serve one role: they look cool!
The front pocket is made of thermoformed, semi-rigid EVA. Prior to using this bag, I've never heard of such a material. Although it's a distinctive part of the bag, I'm not sure I'm totally sold on the front pocket. It juts from the bag by about two inches and makes the bag harder to squeeze into small places. I kind of wish this pocket weren't as fat. On a positive note, this pocket fits a ton of stuff.
Looking down on the bag reveals a durable Covertec-branded handle as well as the top-most pocket, which is good for coins, lip balm, keys, and perhaps a few tossable computer accessories like USB keys and the like.
In here you can fit several pens, plenty of business cards or other credit card-sized things, perhaps a charger or two, keys (on the key hook), and flat items within the first internal pocket. In this internal pocket I have placed some CDs and DVDs in flat jewel cases. Yes, I still use DVDs. I know I'm a bit slow with the trends!
This pocket is about 4 inches deep and has a rather narrow mouth. I use this pocket for change, keys, and small cords. It's not all that useful for anything else because you can't see what's in the pocket without diving in with your hand. Although I have a good use for this pocket, you might not.
Here is the document compartment that I was missing from the Racer M so I asked for the larger bag. This is the big differentiator between the M and the L, since they both accommodate up to 15.4" laptops. This compartment has a half-length document holder (like on the M), two somewhat hidden pockets that can hold a mouse, batteries, or any fist-size item, and then another flat-oriented pocket that can hold small objects such as a pack of gum, cards, writing tools, etc. Because this pocket is somewhat wide and is made of smooth material, things slide around a good bit in there. Not a big deal if you fill it with enough things, but something to consider. Also, the zipper is kind of corny on this pocket — not the same quality as the others. Don't pull too hard.
I don't understand why the document sleeves used in these bags are so low-cut. The issue is that the tops of your papers/magazines will quite likely get wrinkled or slightly mangled as time goes on � I had several hotel receipts in my bag and after a week, I had to reprint those statements because they were ruffled at the top. I think these document sleeves should be high enough to cover a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. Shouldn't be such a big deal!
At the bottom of this document is a short-height, mesh pocket that I use to store a small USB hard drive, its USB 2.0 cord, and a Verizon BroadbandAccess USB dongle.
Finally, here is the laptop compartment. Rest assured, your laptop will be kept comfortably in here. Unlike the diminutive document sleeves, this sleeve leaves no part of your 15.4" or smaller laptop uncovered. Just press back the top of the orange fabric, slide your laptop into the fleecy material, push down, and you're done.
It's quite easy to remove the laptop, too. My IBM ThinkPad T61 remains locked in place and doesn't slide at all. It's a perfect fit. Also in this compartment is a mesh pocket that can hold documents (again, it only protects half the length of a standard 8.5 x 11 page).
A detachable pouch can be used to hold pens or cords or small items that you may wish to take with you when not near your bag. I didn't find a need for this pouch, so I removed it.
Easily, the most striking feature of this bag is the protection it affords from the rain. It actually comes with a rain jacket (for the bag, not you!). It's stored in the bottom-most, hidden compartment of the bag.
Installing it on the bag is like removing the head covering from a windbreaker with a compartment located in the collar. It takes all of 5 seconds to properly fit.
Perhaps a little gimmicky, this will certainly keep your belongings dry if you get caught in the elements without an umbrella. Of course, you'll be soaked, but your bag will be fine.
The Racer L has two tucked away pockets of somewhat limited value due to their narrow opening. My Boa has one hidden pocket that spans the entire area of the bag front. I find the Boa to be more useful since I can fit a lot more in there. At any rate, it's great to be able to tuck infrequently used items into these two pockets for safe keeping. I usually keep a protein bar or two in these pockets.
View of MP3 player plugin.
We're not quite done yet! This bag has a nifty audio cable pass-through that starts in the top-most, hidden pocket and comes out at the base of the left shoulder strap. How cool! Since iPods these days are super thin, you can drop one into the small pocket underneath the shoulder straps.
All models within the Racer Bag Series come with a limited lifetime warranty. I find that these warranties are a nice bit of psychological comfort, but in the end, your fashion interests will probably be outlasted by the bag materials. If you do have a problem, just send the Covertec folks on their e-mail form page.
It is important to note that while this review is only looking at the L Model, there are several other choices within this product line, starting with the S and expanding in capacity to the XL. The S model is a sling edition, which is to be worn only over one shoulder. Price is $149 USD. The M model is the smallest standard backpack with an MSRP of $179 USD. The L model (as shown in this review) adds a dedicated documents compartment and the price increases to $219 USD. Finally, the XL model accommodates 17" laptops (who carries those around as a traveler tool, anyway?), and the price jumps to $249 USD.
BUGS AND WISHES
Even though I asked Covertec to replace my M with the L, I'm beginning to wonder if I wanted the M after all! I rarely use the dedicated documents compartment, and because the document slots are not full length, I'm afraid to place items in the document sleeve for fear of having my documents wrinkled or my magazines damaged. The other difference with the L is the depth — about 2 inches — and this makes a big difference when attempting to slide the bag under the seat in front of you in an airplane. If Covertec made all of the document pockets full height, the M would be a perfect model for me as I don't bring many documents with me. I tend to only bring boarding passes, expense envelopes, and several magazines.
I see nothing wrong with beating a dead horse — I want my laptop bags to stand upright on its own. If you've never owned a bag that does this, once you've experience it, you'll never turn back. It's like going from driving an average family sedan to driving a high-end sports car. You'll forever be disappointed unless you maintain that same level of performance. Not having to prop a bag up against a wall when in an airport bathroom, for example, is a great bit of freedom.
In addition to the above, it would be nice if the hidden pockets had widened mouths so I can fit more materials inside.
As mentioned earlier, the Racer series range in cost from $149 to $249, depending on size and configuration. All bags can be purchased directly from Covertec and likely, by the time this review is published, from several other high-end bag retailers. These "European"-style bags can be purchased both in USD and Euros, and likely can be shipped to most places in the world if you're willing to pay the import tariffs. Expect to pay about $60 in shipping to the US. It would be advisable to purchase one of these bags from a local or US-based, online retailer to save yourself the shipping fees.
- Super strong materials
- Durable zippers with attractive encasings
- Unique black-on-orange color scheme
- The most comfy shoulder straps/backing I've ever encountered on a backpack
- Laptop compartment is well protected
- Some of the pockets could benefit from larger openings
- All document-designed pockets should be full height
- All laptop bags should stand up on their own; the Racer doesn't
- The semi-rigged front pocket consumes precious airplane seat space
Covertec is certainly not new to the world of bags and laptop accessories, so I was thrilled when I saw several tech blogs link to the same teaser video of an earlier Racer M being unboxed, unzipped, and covered up by the nifty rain coat system. I've enjoyed spending time (traveling, attending meetings, etc.) with the Racer, and while it's not perfect, it has a lot going for it. Starting with the super strong nylon material, well-reinforced zippers, unique black-on-orange color scheme, and fabulously padded shoulder straps and backing, I found it easier to carry my 6 pound ThinkPad than with previous bags. I've been informed by Covertec that any criticism would be seriously considered for changing future releases of their models, so I hope they're listening carefully. Until Covertec releases the perfect bag for me, take a close look at one of the three available sizes and see which one fits your needs best.