Smart Alec Review (long)
I have used the Smart Alec for about 6 months now and the following are my thoughts on the bag.
I am a backpacker and own 3 different backpacks I use varying on the time of year and length of trip. I also choose to travel by taking backpacks instead of a duffel or a rollerboard since I enjoy just being able to go and have my hands free. I use the Smart Alec to carry my laptop (HP dv2000), papers, books, etc. to/from work and school. I also wanted something that if I went on an overnight business trip, it would have enough room for a change of clothes and I wouldn't need an additional bag. I did a lot of research on various bags before choosing the Smart Alec, sight unseen.
Design - I like the no-nonsense design with minimal straps and external pouches, pockets, etc. The bag is as big as I would want for this type of application - basically, I can fit more school books than I'd like to carry in the Smart Alec. I really like the side pockets: their location, shape, and size are perfect. The pockets within these pockets are perfect for calculator, mouse, and anything else that you don't want scratched or contacting things like keys. You can easily fit the power supply for my laptop in one of the side pockets as well.
Top Load - This is one of the greatest parts of the bag. No zippers that spill the bags contents as you open it up to look inside. It is like opening a drawer and everything is right there. The bright color on the inside is great to brighten things up and reflect enough light to help you find your stuff.
I like the minimal interior pockets, but the largest at the bottom of the interior would be great, but is basically useless since there is no realistic way to keep anything in there. I have placed things in there and when I open the bag back up, that object is just flopping around in the main compartment. A snap or a fine zipper would be a great addition here.
I do not use any of the organization accessories available for the Smart Alec. I don't even use a Freudian slip. I have a thin foam case for my laptop from a hand bag I was given and I tried it out, but it was cumbersome and took up a bit too much room for my liking. I presume the Freudian Slip would use the clips located in the top of the interior to make it easier to load/unload. I do use a small stuff sack with a drawcord for protecting my laptop from scratches and things. The stuff sack happens to be waterproof, although I think that is overkill since the Smart Alec has waterproof zippers and the top is sloped and will not collect water. Extra piece of mind in case I sit the Smart Alec on wet pavement or a puddle.
One thing I wish Tom Bihn would do would be to put some sort of air flow technology in the bag. I have 2 Deuter backpacks and while your back will sweat with any backpack, Deuter seems to have at least minimized this with their designs. Since the Smart Alec is large, that is a lot of area of your back that is not breathing. The shoulder straps are well padded and their spacing is ideal. I tend not to use the sternum strap, but when I do, I wish it had a bit of elastic on one side for comfort.
Overall, a great bag with build quality and fabric that are second to none and it seems like it will last forever. Mine still looks like I just got it after nearly daily use for 5-6 months. It does exactly what I want without the look of a computer backpack and with plenty of room for day to day and overnight trips - with a laptop.