PowerBook Accessories
Review

On March 7, 2002, in Review, by John Nemerovski

“TiPack WhyBuy: Hands-On Reviews of Two Premium Backpacks Custom Designed for Apple’s Titanium G4 PowerBook”


Walking the hilly streets of San Francisco and the endless corridors of its Moscone Center during last January’s Macworld Conference gave Nemo a pain in the back. He was carrying Weeks’ Titanium G4 PowerBook and its power supply in a humble consumer day pack, along with endless press releases, pads of paper, cameras, snacks, and bottles of water. This pack felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. The distance walked felt like a hundred miles each day. Never again! Nemo vowed to obtain a MUCH better pack for future expos.

Nemo has been a backpacker for over 40 years. He was intrigued by an advance invitation to visit the Brenthaven booth. The thought of a premium padded PowerBook case made his shoulders straighten and back muscles flex in enthusiastic anticipation. After admiring Brenthaven’s product line during the expo, Nemo made arrangements to have an evaluation pack sent for review.

By coincidence, MyMac.com received an email invitation from Willow Design to review a competing backpack, which arrived at Nemo’s home office two days after the Brenthaven. What follows is our report on these two deluxe TiBook packs.

But first, consider the advantages of a custom backpack over a typical computer carrying case:

  • SECURITY (less chance of theft, for a bunch of reasons)
  • PROTECTION (multiple layers of quality padding)
  • STABILITY (two shoulders straps plus back support)
  • LOOK MA, NO HANDS (both hands free at all times)
  •  

  • STORAGE (much more space for all your stuff)

    Titanium 2 Backpack for PowerBook G4
    Brenthaven

    Price: $179 US

    We’re not going to waste your time printing all the specs on this pack, because you can easily obtain them from the “Portable Gear” link in the left column at the Apple Store web site. Brenthaven has a special arrangement with Apple to offer their custom products this way, as opposed to their non-Apple merchandise, which can be found on the Brenthaven company site.

    David Weeks removed the plastic wrapping paper and admired the ballistic nylon material on Brenthaven’s Titanium 2 pack. “If it breaks the owner goes ballistic,” he remarked. Reading the promotional literature, Weeks was pleased to see a lifetime warranty, but he was not happy about an exclusion for airline mishandling. “Ha!” said Weeks, who is in the airline business.

    Zippers are huge and very sturdy. The main compartment has four spacious pockets. Your TiBook will reside in a heavily padded removable inner custom sleeve with a velcro-sealed flap and handle on top. Question: why does Brenthaven pad this sleeve only on three sides, and not all the way around? It then could be usable as a freestanding slimfit case.

    Nosing around inside the pack, Weeks admired its depth, enhanced via accordion-like expandability. On the outside front is a large central zippered compartment with loads of flaps, nooks, and crannies for your PowerBookStuff and PersonalGoodies. “There are enough places in this pack to forget where you put everything,” observed Weeks.

    After loading David’s PowerBook + custom padded sleeve into Brenthaven’s Titanium 2, Nemo dropped in a large (96 ounce or 2.84 liter) heavy bottle of water, and Weeks lifted the pack onto his shoulders. Its thick, wide straps were very comfortable and easy to adjust. The physical length of the backpack is greater than most backs, due to its long inner TiBook sleeve, so the pack may not conform to the contour of your back.

    Construction is very solid, almost overbuilt. Weeks kept discovering additional outside snap and identification pockets, speaking an enthusiastic running commentary while Nemo took notes.

    Brenthaven also sent a separate smaller generic laptop case, which fits Nemo’s PowerBook 1400 and many other computers, and drops easily into the inner compartment designed to hold a TiBook sleeve. You get the idea, readers who have more than one portable Macintosh. This shorter, chubbier case-within-case is built to the same standards as Brenthaven’s G4 PowerBook sleeve.

    OUR FAVORITE FEATURES ARE:

  • top grip handle, flexible and extremely sturdy
  • immense physical expandability (“You could live out of it forever,” claims Weeks.)
  • separate padded inner slip case
  • wide and comfy shoulder straps
  • pockets and more pocketsIf you need to take your TiBook up the north face of Mt. Everest, this is the pack for you.MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5

    Jacques Pack (model PK-10)
    Company: Willow Design Ltd.

    Price: $148 US, $228 CN


    Our first glance at this custom TiBook MacBackPack revealed an unusual rear closure cover to encase and neatly hide its shoulder straps. Handles on top and one side of this Willow Design pack allow it to be used as a hefty carrying case.

    The Jacques Pack comes with both waist and chest clip-straps for extra support and stability. If you decide to scale San Francisco’s massive Marriott Hotel during a rare break from next January’s Macworld Conference, these stabilizing straps will serve you well.

    External zippers are heavy duty, as we expected. Two internal compartments each have numerous zippered pockets. Your TiBook will fit nicely into a padded custom space with large velcro bands to contain the computer. Weeks wished he could reach in and quickly pull out his PowerBook, but that is not possible here.

    This pack is too narrow to fit my supersize 3/4 gallon water bottle, but it can hold a lot of normal water bottles, or books. David and I crammed several massive 900 page Book Bytes titles into the PK-10, with room to spare for a power supply and many accessories.

    Shoulder straps and adjusters are comfortable and easy to modify. “This pack won’t come loose EVER, Nemo,” said Weeks, “with its shoulder and waist and chest straps fastened.”

    Overall size is large but not exceptional, meaning it will fit into airline overhead and underseat areas. Jacques Pack is not cavernous, but it has plenty of volume if you don’t need a huge pack.

    We say it will be best for the road warrior who is not going into a major battle, and ideal for most computer or small office professionals and students.

    OUR FAVORITE FEATURES:

  • two outside handles
  • flap compartment to hide shoulder straps
  • light weight and compact design
  • shoulder strap and sturdy exterior lugs for either horizontal or vertical orientation
  • “fanatical bombproof guarantee” on every Willow Design product, which you probably won’t need to worry aboutMacMice Rating: 4 out of 5

    ADDITIONAL CASES:

    Willow Design also sent two small briefcase-style computer slipcases, mentioning: “The handles on the slipcases are velcroed, removable foam padded. An integral handle might be a bit more elegant but we wanted people to have the option of removing the padded part entirely just in case they wanted to compress the webbing flat to stuff into another bag. For those needing more space for their purposes, we offer seven other more traditional carry cases specifically designed for Apple laptops plus six laptop backpacks.”

    The Titanium 2 Slipcase (model SC-08) is a good fit with a TiBook, “designed to carry the Titanium, protected, in as small as case, as possible, and its main intent was for the minimalist Mac user who wants the smallest package,” but it’s not expandable. You can shove all your accessories into zippered flaps, but then the front bulges out way too far for our taste. Styling is attractive, and a rear magazine flap is handy. We don’t care much for the snap clasps or the generic handle, but we like the adjustable and well-balanced shoulder strap. Overall this $63 (US) computer case is awkward for anything more than a G4 PowerBook, and doesn’t really have room for essential accessories.

    Willow Design’s Kerouac has a vertical orientation, and is in most ways comparable to its larger sibling described above. It is for someone who is pretty much always carrying their Titanium or iBook in another pack or briefcase. The short end access flat allows the notebook to be removed easily from a pack within the pack. Again, this $52 (US) carrying case is slightly limited, without sufficient expansion capacity, but it is well constructed and designed.

    When we explained our opinions to Willow Design, they asked us to reconsider, so we re-examined both Slipcases, bearing in mind:

  • “the number of people who have contacted us emphatically demanding the absolute smallest iBook or Titanium case available in the world. We even had people commenting that the Sylph series was too big for them;
  •  

  • “protection, compactness, and room for accessories are in demand.”Weeks has many years’ experience with single-purpose computer cases, and he wants them to be as spacious as possible. Nemo has never liked conventional computer bags, always preferring backpacks. We accept this manufacturer’s claims for user requirements. If you want an ultra-slim handle- or shoulder-case, look no further than a Willow Design Slipcase, and you may think it deserves a rating higher than our:MacMice Rating: 3 out of 5

     


    NEMO GOES SOLO

    David Weeks went out of town for vacation and work, leaving me with both TiPacks to test drive under real world conditions. Here goes, beginning with the Brenthaven. Candid comments follow:

    1. Empty Brenthaven pack with sleeve is substantial enough to be a tiny bit heavy before putting anything inside.

    2. I like the way this pack stands upright on its flat base.

    3. The velcro gripper that holds the TiSleeve to the inner pack is a very nice feature.

    4. I loaded Titanium 2 with 25 pounds of computer books and went for a brisk stroll through my desert neighborhood. Fit and feel on my now-massive 167 pound combined Nemo/MacPack frame were about a thousand times more comfortable than with my feeble generic daypack. I could get used to this Brenthaven very quickly!

    5. Its adjustable, padded, contoured shoulder straps are marvelous.

    6. I can grab the PowerBook and pull it out of its padded sleeve without removing the sleeve from the pack.

    I agree this backpack should receive our highest rating.

    How does the Willow Design pack compare?

    1. The empty Jacques Pack is somewhat lighter than the Titanium 2, but not enough to make much difference.

    2. Willow’s nylon material construction provides fine protection for your delicate TiBook, but makes the pack somewhat rigid, so it’s not particularly easy to cram extra stuff into inner compartments.

    3. I fit two fewer large books into PK-10 than into Titanium 2. Then I inserted three smaller books into the outermost compartment. Overall Nemo/Jacques weight was a couple of pounds lighter than with Brenthaven.

    4. On my neighborhood saunter with the Willow Design pack, fit and stability were excellent, but my bony shoulders noticed lack of padding compared to Brenthaven’s Titanium 2. I’ll remove the annoying chest straps and clips for normal usage.

    5. The PK-10 does not sit upright when placed on its loaded bottom.

    6. Tucking in the backpack’s shoulder straps and using Jacques Pack’s padded handles and detachable shoulder strap, I was impressed by Willow’s thoughtful design and balanced construction. All of a sudden PK-10 didn’t seem large at all, and became even more versatile than considered previously. This pack combines well-integrated features and functions.

    Again I agree with our firm recommendation and MacMice score.


    Nigel from Willow Design reminds our readers that their website contains many more packs and cases created with Apple products in mind, and:

    “We have two other substantially larger packs for the the Titanium and other laptops. They are: the Kerouac which is the same height as your Jacques pack but wider and with deeper laptop and accessory compartments and, the Darwin (http://willowdesign.com/PK-06.html) which is two inches taller, plus wider and deeper. It would easily fit your large 2.8 liter bottle of water plus tons more stuff. It would look less professional though, if you were using it for corporate purposes, which many Titanium users need to do.

    “If you are too short for Brenthaven (or our Jacques pack, Kerouac or Darwin for that matter), you are out of luck as far as having a comfortable pack. For this reason we have two other packs, the shorter Thoreau for those 5′ 4″ and shorter and the Somerset (Maugham that is) for those 5’2″ and shorter which will also fit the Titanium as well as the iBooks.

    “The curved bottom of the Jacques and other packs was intentionally created to fit into the small of your back when the pack was cinched tight and to make sure the pack does not sag into a ‘blob’, hanging down, when it is fully loaded or overloaded. That said, your points about the pack not standing upright and not being able pull the laptop out from the vertical position has given us a new projects for yet another pack, or line of packs, for the future (we’ll let you know when it/they are done).”


    I look silly prancing through the desert hauling and hoisting heavy packs for no apparent reason, but my neighbors are used to my strange behavior.

    Get yourself one of these beauties and let us know how you use and like it. I didn’t mention the range of fabric colors from Willow and Brenthaven, but both companies make very attractive products. See their websites for choices of colors.

    Which TiPack will I be carrying to Macworld next January? Check back with me after Thanksgiving.


    Nemo’s MyMac.com “Q/D/S/V Standard” for all product reviews:

    Q = QUALITY, including ease of installation, performance, stability, and general happy relationship with everything on my system;

    D = DOCUMENTATION, both printed and electronic, plus appropriate website material;

    S = SUPPORT, in the form of email, phone, and web updates;

    V = VALUE, which includes both original cost and subsequent expenses


    MacMice Rating: 3
    Shows promise! Could be better, but a product worth watching.

    MacMice Rating: 4
    A very decent product. Worth the time and investment, but look for competing products.

    MacMice Rating: 5
    Fantastic product! Well worth your money and investment. The best of its kind.

     


    John Nemerovski

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