Laptop bags come in several basic styles, each with its own advantages. Laptop cases, briefcases and totes have the most traditional appearance, especially those made of leather. Laptop totes are often made of unusual materials or sport contemporary designs, while laptop sleeves are sized to cover the notebook computer. Often, laptop sleeves are used in conjunction with a larger bag for extra protection.
Although laptops are lighter than they used to be, they can still be uncomfortable to lug around. Messenger bags and backpacks, which can be worn as well as carried, are two ergonomic alternatives to laptop bags. 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. One of their drawbacks is that they might be too informal for some business settings.
One of the most thorough comparative reviews of laptop bags online is from OutdoorGearLab.com, which compares laptop bags based on a number of factors ranging from weight to security and does hands-on tests. Macworld and The-Gadgeteer.com offer plentiful collections of detailed hands-on laptop bag reviews. CultOfMac.com, TechCrunch.com, OkayGeek.com and Laptop Magazine have slightly shorter overviews. A guide from About.com rounds up the best messenger bags and rolling laptop bags. User reviews from hundreds of bags are posted on sales sites such as Amazon.com, eBags.com, LuggagePros.com, Staples.com, user opinion aggregator Buzzillions.com and the manufacturers' own websites.
Because there are thousands of laptop bags on the market, finding clear-cut consensus among reviewers is a challenge. However, some brands and specific models do stand out. We've highlighted those bags in this report, but since laptop bags are driven in part by aesthetics, buying one is partly subjective. Be aware that some premium brands, such as Tom Bihn, WaterField Designs or Rickshaw Bagworks, are often found only (or in the best variety) on manufacturers' websites.
One new category of bags is designed specifically for frequent fliers: "Checkpoint-ready" laptop bags and sleeves open up or slide apart so that the notebook computer can go through the X-ray machine without being removed from the bag. Though the TSA helps manufacturers test the new laptop bags, there's no actual certification. Still, flyers report that at least in domestic airports, the bags seem to fly through security. Overseas regulations vary, and you're likely to still have to remove the laptop from the bag for some airports. The TSA reserves the right to ask any computer owner to remove their notebook from its case.
Most laptop bags get good reviews and high average ratings, but owner-written and single-product reviews make it clear that choosing the best laptop bag remains highly subjective. Often, it comes down to trying out several bags in order to find the best fit for your stuff. This is easy if you visit a store with a large selection, but if you're shopping online you may have only a single photo and a vague manufacturer's description to go on. In other words, reviewers advise, consider your needs and shop carefully.