Just got my Empire Builder today. I would summarize my initial impressions upon opening the box like this:
Why did I wait so long to buy one?
Upon first opening the box: Amazing build quality. Great looking lines and profile. Professional looking without being the same old briefcase (a bit of stylistic "oomph" to stand out from the pack). As always, nary a stitch out of place. Built like a rock
Upon loading all of my stuff from my Brain Bag: where did my stuff go? I'm loading a Thinkpad 420 in a sleeve, a leather portfolio, an iPad, a couple of file folders, power bricks and chargers, various stationary goodies, and 3-4 different TB organizer pouches, etc. The EB just soaks it all in elegantly with nary a bulge to the profile and plenty room for more.
And the design? Subtle, but brilliant. The overall organization is so smart. Everything is where I want it, with easy access to all my stuff without a struggle. No awkward fumbling to get to the deeper parts of the bag. The dividers really help organize the main chamber, while the outside chamber is as well organized as my old ID (I missed that pocket layout terribly). Well placed external pockets to stash quick-to- reach items. Everything just seems to work seamlessly and elegantly. And it stands up on its own... Something that has driven me bonkers in the office with my collection of backpacks, messengers and briefcases over the years.
The placement of the new o-rings is outstanding. There's an o-ring or two in nearly every chamber/pocket you would like to have one.
At first I thought it might be too big when I first opened the box, but now I don't think so. I feel that the width is just about perfect for my daily haul, plus room for a water bottle & lunch bag. The height of the bag is what really throws you off when you try to gauge the size, but I see the value now. You could roll up a light jacket, an umbrella, a snake charmer, or any variety of things and stash 'em on top without disturbing the compromising the rest of your gear. Nice touch when you are working out of your briefcase for extended periods of time.
Plenty has been said about the strap hook placements. I was a bit apprehensive about this, but I get it when you load it up. Placing the connection points closer to the middle of the bag (along with the lovely absolute shoulder strap!) really seems to balance the bag well, and take a lot of strain off the carry. It feels like it rides closer and tighter to the body than I am used to with other briefcases, which seems like it will be much more comfortable in the long run once I get used to it.
I'll post pictures this week, and my impressions after a week at the office. So far, however, I am extremely pleased with what I see out of the box!
(Oh, and my shipment came with the coolest doodle on the box when it arrived. I'll post pics of that later!)