“One thing that makes this bag [Synapse 19] stand out is its magnificently brilliant design. It is engineered so slickly and so intelligently that you can pack a hell lot more than other, much-larger backpacks. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it a work of art.”
On the Forum, member tpnl is well-known for his detailed and insightful posts and creative TB hacks. Today, he is turning the design spotlight on the Brain Cell. Read on . . .
Protection and Lightweight Minimalism – The Brain Cell
I quite often wonder, as I am sure many of you do as well, why I like Tom Bihn products so much—there are few companies that can engage people’s passion as much.
The conclusion I came to is that I resonate with what I believe is Tom Bihn’s underlying ethos—to create something the stands the test of time through the use of quality materials and innovative design combined with an intuitive understanding of how people could use his products.
I think one of the best examples of this is the Brain Cell, which is available in both Horizontal and Vertical orientations. First off, the Brain Cell is designed to provide significant amounts of protection for your laptop. However, with the choice of durable material, the multi-layered protection design, and flexible carrying options, it becomes more than just a protective laptop case—it really is a great minimalist Every Day Carry (EDC) for lightweight computing in its own right.
Laptop Protection – the Brain Cell’s primary role as designed
I wish to take some time to fully appreciate how effective the design is in providing superior protection for your laptop. The description on the website identifies the various protection techniques: Corrugated Plastic on the front, back and bottom; the Sling set-up; the thick Memory Foam; the Cross-Linked Closed-Cell foam on the side, etc.—even the Aplix strips that keep your laptop in the bag. But, what does it all mean? How does it make the Brain Cell stand out in the crowd of sleeves and cases also designed to hold and protect your laptop?
The answer—the devil is in the details:
Using Corrugated Polypropylene as opposed to a regular sheet of plastic enhances the stiffness of Brain Cell, similar to how a wood plank is made stronger in one direction because of the wood grain. By also making the sides and bottom out of Corrugated Polypropylene, it protects your laptop like a helmet protects your head. It serves to distribute the force from a drop onto a larger surface area and away from your laptop. It turns the Brain Cell into a lightweight version of hard-sided travel luggage.
What really separates the best laptop cases from just good ones is corner drop protection. Most people have experienced that if you drop something on its edge or corner, it will probably dent easily. This is because the impact force is concentrated in a small area or point, magnifying its effect. This is also why it is easy to hammer the pointed end of a nail into wood rather than the flat top. The Brain Cell’s hard Polypropylene helmet extends to its corners and like a frame, deflecting the force away from the corner of your laptop or absorbing it instead of transferring it to your laptop, causing damage.
Selecting Dense, Closed-cell and Cross-linked Polyethylene foam for side protection shows an attention to the details by picking the best choices for foam. How does this protect your laptop? The dense Closed-cell foam acts like bubble wrap packaging protecting fragile items. It provides increased compression resistance (does not squish as easily) on impact compared to open-cell regular foam (used in most other cases). The bubbles are closed (sealed) so air does not escape easily and there are many of them (dense) to ensure there is protection all the way through. The Cross-linking creates a lattice structure that acts like a net for your laptop by keeping the dense foam together.
The Sling Suspension System design and the thick Memory foam at the bottom provide a double layer of protection for the most likely way your laptop will be dropped—on the bottom. The design is like having a trampoline or bungee cord with a memory foam mattress below it. The main goal here is to make sure the laptop does not slow down too quickly, because if the laptop hits the ground directly, it goes from drop speed to zero in the blink of an eye and absorbs most of the drop energy in the process, causing damage. Memory foam has much slower compression and rebound than regular foam or neoprene and acts like a car shock absorber to slow down any impacts. Regular foam and neoprene are useless at this despite how they feel.
An interesting feature is that the Sling Suspension System is adjustable. This helps ensure your laptop does not “bang around inside the case” and get damaged. This helps to fit a variety of laptops and still have the protection afforded by the sling. There is even a helpful video on how to do this. Also, the Aplix strips on the opening flaps run the full length of the flap for a secure closure to further prevent accidental opening or movement of the laptop in the case.
Finally, the Annex Clips provide a fifth level of protection after the Sling Suspension, thick Memory Foam, Corrugated Polypropylene and 500d Cordura outer fabric (which also provides a level of abrasion resistance). These clips allow you to suspend your Brain Cell inside many Tom Bihn backpacks, briefcases and travel bags, further reducing the impact speed and potential for damage.
If you have taken the time to read all the above, I would be surprised if you are not impressed with all that goes into this simple looking product. It is unique in the industry and is how I first got introduced to Tom Bihn products. Arguably, the Brain Cell is the most protective soft-sided case, with only rigid hard-sided cases being more protective (but less flexible in use). There other cases with some of the Brain Cell’s features and design, but none with all of them. Being from an IT background, I found myself searching for the best protection for my laptop and found it … and as a bonus, I also found these amazing bags to hold it in.
I have actually tested this protection together with other companies’ products (using a piece of drywall to simulate a laptop—do not try with a real laptop!) and the Brain Cell was the most protective of them all, with no damage to the drywall when dropped from 4 feet on all 6 sides and 4 corners. It was very impressive and what cemented my appreciation for the design of this product.
Lightweight Minimalist Carry – the outstanding secondary role
Now, for the person who wants to be a Minimalist (or even just someone who wants a lighter Every Day Carry) but still wants maximum laptop protection, the Brain Cell presents itself as one of the best options with the most flexibility and features:
- 500d Cordura exterior – This material is extremely abrasion-resistant and durable so the Brain Cell will not be damaged easily when carried on its own and it has a very natural fiber look.
- Web pockets – Built-in organization options to put a power supply, cables, cellphone, etc.
- Though the pockets mean the Brain Cell does not technically meet all the Checkpoint Friendly recommendations, the fact that the pockets are webbing / see-through have never caused an issue for me when going through the security check.
- Multiple carry options:
- Webbing handles.
- D-Rings and a shoulder strap—custom-made plastic D-Rings for strength and arguably the most comfortable shoulder strap, the Tom Bihn Absolute Shoulder Strap.
- Annex Clip loops to attach the Brain Cell securely to a Tom Bihn bag.
To make this the ultimate lightweight minimalist bag without sacrificing things, Tom Bihn has many accessories and options that can be used. Another excellent highlight is the company’s full support of a web forum and blog that allows people to exercise their creativity and post customized options that go beyond the original design and personalize their customers’ bags. To that end, for the Brain Cell, there are a few additional carry options that go beyond the original design and may add more flexibility through the use of the Annex Clip loops and D-Ring attachment points. Thanks to all the forum members that have posted innovative additional design innovations and given me so many ideas, including sewing on webbing strips into the Brain Cell so it will work with the current Tom Bihn Checkpoint Friendly Gatekeeper Clip system (see here for a description of how I did it).
Below are a few pictures to showcase this and help start your own design creation – enjoy!
In summary, the Brain Cell is the faithful companion for those who are serious about wanting to protect their laptop and believe in buying once and using for life—the reason IMHO all TB products stand out in a world of disposable, poorly designed products. The surprise is its designed versatility, making it a boon for minimalists or for people looking to lighten their daily carry.
And after having ordered both Synapses and made his choice, Ineffable was kind enough to post a thorough comparison of the two sizes (with photos, just a couple of which are below). See Ineffable’s full post here.
“First time poster here, people. I’ve been lurking for months in the shadows of all you professional Bihners, in awe of your collections and your adventures. My own collection has been building while we prepared to leave the US to live in Asia, knowing how much harder it is to get something shipped to me outside the US. I fell in love with TB bags as soon as I put on my Synapse 19 the first time… then I was addicted! But that’s for a later time…
Recently, my family and I moved to Indonesia. Just this last week, I was sent from Bandung to Medan, which is about a two hour flight. I was going for three days, by myself. I was terribly nervous, not knowing the language yet, and flying a new airline in Asia, where they’re very often completely picky about weight of bags. I knew I needed to pack light, and not check any luggage….”
An excerpt from Snarky Nomad’s review of the Synapse 25:
“But I also wanted to highlight what makes the Synapse so distinctive. It’s not just good, but uniquely good, and I wanted to go into obsessive detail regarding each and every one of its distinguishing features, particularly for those who only want to buy something once. I think you’d have a hard time finding a new favorite after picking up one of these, despite the innumerable competitors clamoring for your attention.”
But wait! Go back and start at the beginning and read the entire review. It’s one the most detailed and thorough reviews we’ve seen of the Synapse 25.
Forum member Moose kicked off a very popular thread this week when she asked, “What do you keep in your Side Effect?” Read on for over a dozen answers and some terrific photos by ncb4, tizi and Ilkyway. chautime wanted to know what would happen if shampoo or some other liquid toiletry were to leak inside the 3D Clear Organizer Cube. Would the cube contain the spill? Read on for forum member testimonials. In other 3D happenings, icebeng discovered some pretty cool things happen if you turn your 3D Clear Organizer Cube inside out. Be sure to also check out the 3D hacks courtesy of sturbridge and SusanM.
PaulT00 rejoiced over the brand-spanking new Travel Trays that wended their way to England to live with and him and the Travel Trays already in residence. On the newest accessory front, K9TB wrote in to announce that the Small Double Organizer Pouchmakes a great wallet, especially if you’re traveling to a bunch of different countries and need to carry multiple currencies. Keep reading to see more pics of the SDOP in the wild.
Finally this week, dorayme made the compelling case that bags and accessories can be works of art. kkintea‘s little friend seems to agree, wouldn’t you say?
Avid business traveler Dan (and spouse of our very own HR/Office Manager, Barb) recently wrote-up this piece for us, offering some insightful tips for headache-free, enjoyable professional travel. Check out what he has to say about our bags, along with some other tidbits of travel advice, below…
Business travel can be viewed in two ways. It can be considered a necessary evil, or a desired experience. I prefer the latter. While it often might seem tedious and grueling, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun if you know what you’re doing and open yourself up to challenge and big-time return on investment! Even in a highly technological age where we can literally transport ourselves all over the world via our iPad or mobile phone, business travel still is a requirement for many of us. You might as well have fun!
I do a fair amount of travel throughout a given year. As a crisis & risk management consultant, executive, coach, professional speaker, and author, I find myself on a plane and traveling around the country (and sometimes the world) in search of new client relationships and new adventures. Living in Seattle makes most of those trips longer. To add to it, many of the cities I fly into don’t have direct flights, so I go up and down a lot!
I’ve recently started using Tom Bihn bags to travel and to say I’m thrilled is an understatement. Look, business travel is about three things, speed, nimbleness, and experience. Carting around a bunch of luggage and waiting and praying that it comes through the baggage carousel puts a big dent in those three things. My favorite bag (by far) is the Tri-Star. The first time I used it was for a 6-day excursion to New Jersey and Rhode Island for business with a weekend in New York with my daughter for fun thrown in right in the middle. I wasn’t at all sure that packing all I would need in one bag was going to fly. I’m a pretty thrifty packer by nature, but I was skeptical.
Turns out, it was awesome. Not only did I get everything in it, I actually overpacked! I didn’t even use all I brought (unfortunately I’m talking about my workout gear…but I did walk a lot). My wife taught me how to pack efficiently and smartly. I was even able to replicate it myself coming home! Here’s the coolest thing, though. I was able to pull out the backpack straps and carry it that way rather than rolling it. Oh my gosh, what a difference in walking through the airport AND Manhattan! I’ll never go back to the old way. If it has to be rolled, it ain’t going! Note: In the case of my golf clubs, I will just have to send them on ahead. We can’t get silly here…
For my fellow business travelers that need to upgrade to fast, nimble, and fun, allow me to offer a few best practices…
1. Use mobile devices for your boarding pass. Almost every airline has their own app that allows this. It’s simple and you don’t have to worry about keeping paper. If you’re smart and carrying on, it’s a straight shot to the security gate.
2. If you are going to have to wear a sports jacket or suit coat later for business, wear it on the plane. You avoid needing to take up space in your bags, plus you actually get treated better by staff. I kid you not. I usually take my black suit coat as it goes with most everything. Then I only need my black shoes (which I also wear to fly). I put on a pear of comfy jeans and not only am I more nimble; I look pretty good, too!
3. Always charge your phones and iPad in advance. I crank them up to 100% the night before, yet I still will recharge whenever possible. I’ve been in too many situations where the battery starts draining and I have no outlet for the foreseeable future. Mobile phones are too important for more than calling. This is crisis management at it’s finest!
4. Speaking of that, become handy with your maps on your phone. I constantly stick my headphones in and map out my destination. I find myself hoofing it through New York, San Francisco, and other ports of call more than I drive. Make sure the “walk” mode is on, not drive. If you wear your ear buds and kind of bounce around like you’re listening to AC/DC, you won’t look like a tourist.
5. Buy Tom Bihn travel bags. Really. They allow you the ability to pack what you really need in a manner to still be efficient. We all tend to over pack if given the alternative. These bags give you latitude to maximize what you must bring. Getting rid of roller bags allows you to dart in and out of crowds, avoid spilling someone that tripped over your wheels, AND keeps you from hurting your back stuffing them into an upper holding area. You never have to check these bags at the gate like all the other suckers. In and out has its advantages!
BONUS: When you travel for business, include pleasure. I always make time to have fun and experience the food, frivolity, and culture of where I travel. Don’t get stuck in your hotel room. Go make pleasure part of your business.
A large part of my work involves helping to keep people out of crisis, and mitigating the bad stuff that does happen. Travel is always potentially fraught with risk and crisis as relates to baggage, lost time, and frustration. If you keep a positive outlook on your experience, keep a few tricks up your sleeve, and tote around your Tom Bihn bags, you’re likely to be smiling all the way to your destination and back!
We’re lucky to have an active and enthusiastically informative forum, where members help new and long-time customers get answers to their questions about TOM BIHN bags and accessories, travel, and packing for any and all situations. It’s also a place where people can speculate about new products on the horizon, obsess over Organizer Pouches, and deliberate over what color bag they should order.
Our members, who live all over the world and come from all walks of life, contribute dozens of bag reviews, pictures, questions, and useful suggestions, and are quick and generous with their willingness to help. There’s no way to distill the wealth of their collective knowledge into a tidy package, but, starting this week, we will provide an occasional round-up of just a few threads from the previous week. While not exhaustive, the round-up will clue in readers of this blog about some of the goings-on in our online community.
This week’s theme: Travels Far and Near
Spring is usually when travel season starts heating up, but our forum members travel all the time to locales both far and near, for business and pleasure, with others or solo. We were stoked to receive a mention as one of The Wirecutter’s picks for traveling well (see here for the forum reaction), and forum members have had a lot to say about putting their bags through the paces of their travels.
Recently, dwright17 returned from her two-week trip to Israel flush with knowledge about the Holy Land and some good advice for those hoping to pack light for their next trip abroad (see here to see how her packing list started and then evolved). New member JoeM logged on to tell us that his new Aeronaut was about to accompany him to sea for a 6-to-8 week period of work in southeast Asia. Read on for a glimpse into life aboard a ship. Closer to home, Janine reported that her two-night work trip to D.C. with her Synapse 25 and Pilot was a feat of light packing, and heparker let us know that his Pilot performed admirably as an everyday carry (EDC) bag (he’s also our Pic of the Week!).
People who use our bags put lots of thought into how and what to pack. Some forum members wanted help finding solutions to traveling with their families: Travelmom4 wondered about the best accessory to carry passports for six people, and Jwalker was looking for the best in-flight bag to use with her children on their long-haul flight from the U.S. to New Zealand. Forum members saikyo and jannilee asked for and received advice about products TOM BIHN doesn’t make: travel toiletry bottles and lightweight Bluetooth speakers.
Finally, the biggest news of the week: after much wailing and lamentation, the fires of forum members’ fantasies of travels far, near, and within carry-on regulations were fanned when Darcy announced that the new, scaled-down Aeronaut 30 is on the pre-order horizon.
And now for our Pic of the Week!
heparker’s brand new Pilot (Navy/Solar), Horizontal Cache, 3D Fabric Organizer Cube (Wasabi), Dyneema Organizer Pouches (Small Ultraviolet and Mini Iberian), and Ultraviolet Key Strap.