The obvious benefit of having a laptop computer rather than a desktop is that you can take it anywhere. To take full advantage of that perk, however, you need something to carry it in. A good case will protect your laptop against damage from water and accidental bumps, while at the same time distributing its weight to make it easier to carry. It will also provide space for your laptop's accessories, such as a charger, and other gear you carry on a daily basis, from pencils to water bottles. With the right case, you can just grab one bag in the morning and go.
The most traditional-looking laptop case is essentially a briefcase, often made of leather, with additional padding inside to help protect the computer. Laptop briefcases are sleek and professional-looking, but they're also awkward to carry. Although laptops are lighter than they used to be, carrying the full weight of one -- along with papers and other paraphernalia -- in one hand can get pretty tiring if you're going more than a short distance. Most laptop briefcases add a shoulder strap to help distribute the weight, but they're still not as ergonomic as other styles.
Messenger bags and backpacks, which can be worn as well as carried, are the most popular styles for laptop cases today. Messenger bags have one long strap that can be worn on either shoulder or across the body. A large front flap makes contents easy to access. Notebook backpacks have a separate compartment or sleeve to protect the laptop computer, plus one or two other compartments for additional supplies. They're a bit informal for some business settings, but they're ideal for commuting by bicycle. We found that the best-rated laptop backpacks and messenger bags typically cost between $200 and $300, with messenger bags leaning slightly toward the lower end of the range.
In addition to these major styles, there are a few less common ones. Laptop totes are shoulder bags, often made of unusual materials or sporting contemporary designs. They typically contain a padded compartment or a removable protective sleeve to protect the computer while it's being carried. (You can also separately buy laptop sleeves.) Tucking your notebook computer inside one of these protective covers allows you to use any kind of large bag as your case. However, we didn't find nearly as many recommendations for these types of cases as we did for laptop backpacks and messenger bags.
Because there are thousands of laptop cases on the market, finding clear-cut consensus among reviewers is a challenge. Although most major computer publications have reviewed at least a few of the available models, very few are covered in more than one source. To ferret out the best bags, we hunted through all the reviews we could find on gadget-oriented sites -- as well as reviews from users at retail sites -- looking for laptop cases that earn praise from more than one source. Based on this research, we've identified two backpacks and two messenger bags that consistently receive high marks for their features, durability, carrying comfort and style.