The last laptop bag or backpack I reviewed was way back in 2000, so when the folks at JanSport contacted me about reviewing an upcoming laptop backpack, I was honestly not all that excited about the prospect. Sure, I enjoy high-quality gear that allows me to protect my PowerBook and other stuff as much as the next person does, but to actually review one? Not really my game. Owen and Nemo usually have the computer case and backpacks well covered shortly after each Macworld Expo. But when I read that the Livewire BT works with the iPod, as well as Bluetooth enabled cell phones, I admit I was intrigued.
I carry a lot of equipment, including my G4 PowerBook, back and forth every week to our recording studio for the weekly podcast. While my old laptop bag worked fine, all it could really carry was my laptop, and maybe some paper, not much else. But being as lazy as I tend to be, getting something to replace it that would not only carry and protect my laptop, but let me bring other gear including my iPod along as well, was not high on my priority list. But I liked the look of the pictures JanSport’s PR department emailed me, so I decided to give it a try.
After using the Livewire BT for a month now, I have to say I am impressed. I have never really liked backpacks. I never had one that did not either cut into my shoulder, or feel comfortable enough to wear for any extended length of time. Of course, unlike Nemo or Owen, I have not tried or tested fifty different models, either. So my point of reference is limited. That said, I find myself really enjoying using the Livewire BT. It’s very comfortable and durable. The shoulder straps are easily adjustable, but the funny thing was that it was already adjusted perfectly for me when it arrived. Did JanSport post a spy to learn my measurements before sending it to me or something? Spooky.
There are multiple compartments within the Livewire BT, two of which I want to focus on for a moment. The first is the main compartment, where my PowerBook goes. This compartment is actually broken up inside into three parts, the middle of which is a protected, hard sleeve for the laptop itself. The sleeve is very durable, and really feels like it would do a great job of protecting my computer. On either side of the sleeve in this compartment are more padded pockets where I usually place other gear. The sleeve itself is secured inside the compartment, so your computer is in no danger of moving around in there.
The second compartment is located at the top of the backpack, closest to your shoulder blades. This is the small compartment, or pouch, where your iPod will go. Inside is nicely padded, but therein also lays a surprise: an iPod dock cable! This will allow your iPod to play music through the headphone jack located near on the right shoulder strap of the Livewire BT. With this, you only have to plug your headphones into it, and not into your iPod.
Located on the same shoulder strap is a control strip, which is used to control different functions of the iPod itself. You will find buttons for Play and Pause, Volume up and down, and last track, next track. All the basic functions needed to listen to your music.
On the left shoulder strap is a Bluetooth button. You can synch your Bluetooth enabled cell phone to the Livewire BT and, simply by pushing this button, switch between the iPod and Cell phone for a hands-free operation. While I could not get my cell phone to work with the Livewire BT, I will say that my Motorola V710 has a crippled form of Bluetooth that does not like to synch with almost any device besides a Motorola headset. I look forward to the day I find a better cell phone with REAL Bluetooth to test with the backpack. That being said, I am using a pre-production model of the Livewire BT, and it is not a finished or shipping product as of yet.
Each compartment has zippers, and these are quality zippers. I have seen and used other zipper backpacks in stores, as well as those found on some laptop bags, and many times I find these zippers of low quality. Not so with the Livewire BT. This is an area I think can be easily overlooked by a shopper, but after months of using a bag or backpack, the last thing you want to be doing is fighting to get zippers to open and close both easily and reliably. The zippers on the Livewire BT are of the plastic variety, which I usually don’t like as much as a metal zipper, but they work really well. Color me impressed!
The iPod controls work well, the backpack holds everything I really want it to, and it is very, very comfortable to wear. I really like this backpack. I don’t look forward to boxing it back up and shipping it back to JanSport. It’s a little pricey at $299, but with the Livewire BT, you really do get what you pay for. This pre-production model is superbly crafted, looks good, and seems very durable. I completely trust it to hold both my 15” PowerBook and iPod.
If I have a need (and I do) of a better quality backpack, I think my next purchase will be a JanSport backpack. I don’t personally really need either the iPod or Bluetooth connectivity, just a durable and attractive backpack to lug my gear around in. I am impressed enough with the Livewire BT to look at their other products as well, which is my highest recommendation.
MyMac.com Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (Pre-Production Test Unit)