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Tom Bihn Forums: Community discussion on travel bags, laptop bags, and backpacks. Tom Bihn has been designing and making bags since 1972. The best materials and innovative construction.

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  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    564

    Brain Bag and Smart Alec review/thoughts

    I have had an ongoing search for a new backpack and decided to jot down some thoughts on my search so far with a review of the Brain Bag (BB) and Smart Alec (SA). It's not going to be as well done as others since it's more going to be blog style as I collect some thoughts.

    I should say that in order to do this I can't really use the bags under normal routines because it would violate the return policy. As such I am stuck trying them out inside the house when I can and loading various things in them to simulate a day at work or a vacation.

    Smart Alec - plus
    I like this bag. It's size is good and it's comfortable on the back. This may be an oxymoron but to me it screams stealth. How can you scream stealth? Well, the lack of extra pockets or straps hanging off make it look stealthy to me to the point where it's yelling at you that no one has an idea of how to open the bag let alone what is in the bag. The side pockets hold my water and coffee containers and the main compartment holds my large laptop.

    Smart Alec - minus
    The small mouth and long depth make it hard to get stuff from the bottom like the bottom pocket. You can't see and grab but instead have to just stick your hand inside. With a large laptop the water and coffee containers are hard to get into the side pocket. Add a Freudian Slip and this can get in the way when trying to add the bottles. The side containers are great for the water and coffee but once you use them for that you can't really put much else you want in there, except for maybe a durable pen, unless your containers are small. With the laptop I was not able to fit my DSLR in the bag also, or it was too tight of a fit.

    Brain Bag - plus
    Lots of room. Tons of it. Should be no surprise for a bag that can hold two laptops. This means you can put a large laptop in and then store your beverage containers in the other area and still keep the pockets for phone, iPod, and such. This also means you can store quick grab items like maps or reservation documents in a pocket you can get to on the go at the airport. It will hold a laptop and DSLR without much trouble and the straps allow you to cinch it down to look less bulky. The outside middle strap looks like it would hold a 32 oz water bottle securely if you wanted - neat feature.

    Brain Bag - minus
    All the straps and such annoy me at times. You can remove the waist straps which is great because they are big (you can with the SA too). It's not as professional looking imho as the SA, again probably the straps and pockets. You can argue that any backpack is really not a professional bag in the first place but I think the SA pulls it off better than most bags. It's height seems more than the SA to the point where it seems to hit me below the belt line. It almost feels like a backpack used for hiking in that respect.

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    564
    The problem, which I should have expected, is that I want to keep both bags. Sigh.

    Overall I prefer the look of the SA. It just seems to be a better look and much cleaner. It also seems to be more modern which may be due to it's recent redesign. I didn't like all the straps on the BB but the side ones are growing on me. It's not as bad looking as I thought when you load it up and cinch the straps. But I'm not sure if doing that every day would become a pain not.

    What I didn't expect with the BB is it's influence from a hiking backpack design. In another post I started to realize that the BB seems to have features that are found in a hiking backpack. This makes sense because it's larger size and capacity means it will hold more weight. More weight means you need to use better ergonomics to keep it comfortable.

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    564
    FWIW, I decided to go with the BB. I like the looks and feel of the SA more, there is something pleasing about the Dyneema/nylon fabric with the SA, but right now my work laptop is a monster and things were crowded in the SA. I felt the SA was more comfortable to me because it sat higher and seemed to conform to my shoulders and back better. I think the final straw came down to multipurpose. If I need to take my work laptop and my DSLR on another trip I need a pretty large personal carry on and the BB can handle this load while the SA cannot. You can say I shouldn't carry this much and I'd agree but if I have to then I need the size of the BB. I'm trying to avoid owning too much "stuff" in my life and having a bag that will handle several situations seemed more practical. If my next laptop for work is much smaller I may consider the SA again.


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