Two months with an Empire Builder & Brain Cell
I needed a new briefcase after the limitations of my standard Dell laptop bag became too great to deal with on a day to day day basis. As far as carrying the laptop & other paraphenalia such as power bricks, cables & trackballs, it was fine, but that was all (barring a few pens & some papers) it could carry. My criterion for a new bag were as follows:-
- It had to be large enough to carry a 15" notebook with accessories;
- It had to be large enough to carry papers and lunch box. I want to carry one bag day to day and two when I travel;
- It had to be able to grow, that is, have some longevity so that when the current notebook dies, it can handle the new one and the one after; and
- It had to look professional without screaming “Notebook case”.
With these criterion in mind, I drew a short list consisting of the Empire Builder, the Zephyr, ACME’s Clyde and Booq’s Viper XL.
I decided on an Empire Builder because of its size, versatility and general looks. The Viper seemed too notebook-specific and formal while the Clyde seemed too informal in a professional context and had a non-removable strap. For me, the Zephyr seemed slightly larger than my too-small Dell bag. Because this was an overseas internet purchase, other reviews were also helpful. In addition, to the basic bag (in Black/Steel/Wasabi), I bought a brain cell (Wasabi) to house the notebook, a horizontal Freudian Slip, extra dividers, an Absolute strap and a snake charmer for the power brick. The following reviews my experiences over two months.
It took a week between placing the order & receiving the box. Had I thought a little harder, I could have had it in three days which is very good between Seattle & Sydney, Australia. Various reviewers had stressed how bright wasabi was. My initial impressions were that it wasn’t that bright and that it was going to be very easy to live with. A bright colour inside the bag makes such a difference. All pockets on the main flap are proving very useful. I find two ‘clip’ loops inside the smaller pocket excessive. Perhaps only one is needed here. I miss at least one of these loops in the main compartment and currently use the clip on the brain cell as a poor substitute. The smaller pocket under the flap is very useful. It can store quite a lot without being obtrusive or reducing what can be stored in the main compartment. Various reviewers have commented on the handles with good reason – they are very comfortable. I didn’t think I’d be using the pockets on the back of the case, but currently, they hold miscellaneous papers and occasionally, a mobile ‘phone. I thought that because I don’t use messenger bags or shoulder straps that fit on briefcases, the anchor points on the side of the case would bother me. I was wrong. They are unobtrusive and have been used as clip points for keys.
The snake charmer proved an excellent choice as storage for the notebook’s power brick & cable. It will also keep my trackball & USB hub safe too, but, because of the trackball, this combination is a little too thick. With a mouse, it’d be fine.
The Freudian slip currently resides on my office wall. With the amount of storage for pens & papers already in the Empire Builder, this really was a superfluous purchase. Perhaps a second version of the Empire Builder might combine the two so that the same storage system can be kept with the bag and, like the brain cell, removed if the need arises.
I don’t currently use the file dividers. My current configuration of brain cell, snake charmer and lunch box means they get in the way. However, they will be returning to the case when I no longer need to carry the notebook every day. Neither do I currently use the Absolute strap. When I tried it on my partially loaded travel pack, it was a marked improvement on the original. In the future, I see it being used more on the travel pack than on the Empire Builder.
The brain cell fits very well inside the case and it fits my notebook like a glove. The mesh pocket provides useful storage for CD’s. For notebooks that can operate on batteries, the brain cell would be very useful as a standalone bag. My current notebook is not such a beast and although the mesh pocket probably could hold the power brick and trackball between office & meeting room, it's not something I'd be comfortable doing. I continue to be unimpressed with the brain cell’s handles. If I don’t tuck one side into the mesh pocket, it gets in the way when I put things into the case. If I tuck it into the mesh pocket, it gets in the way when I try to retrieve CD’s. Surely there’s a better way of incorporating handles in such a way that they can be used and that when they aren’t, they can be stored out of the way?
What I like
- Empire builder's capacity, both in the main compartment & under the flap
- Brain cell's integration with the Empire Builder
- Brain cell's protection
- Mesh pocket on Brain cell
- Understated looks
- Wasabi interior
What I don't like
- Handles on the brain cell
- Lack of clips inside the main compartment of the Empire Builder