I thought it would be a good time for an update on my new best friend. I have had my Empire Builder for about 6 weeks now, and I continue to be more and more impressed with this bag.
I have had a Brain Bag for ages, but I found myself looking for an alternative solution. I work for a large company, and spend quite a bit of time traveling from building to building at different sites. The ability to instantly transport my mobile office and have quick access to my stuff was critical to me, and that's tough with a backpack. Professional look was also an important consideration, as I often find myself switching between casual and formal situations off and on throughout the day. With these considerations in mind, I went shopping. I looked at a large variety of options from a bunch of manufacturers, but I kept coming back to the EB based on my previous TB experiences and the reviews I found here.
I am very happy that I went with my first choice.
The great thing (to me) about the EB is the extraordinary functionality of the design. The are an infinite combination of messenger/briefcase hybrid styles out there, but the EB really nails every detail. The structured, padded main compartment allows quick & roomy access to your "big" stuff without fumbling with a messenger-style flap to get what you need. The front compartment (under the flap) offers the ideal combination of pockets and zippered compartments to organize your stuff without overdoing it so you lose things. And the messenger-style flap offers a set of really clever compartments for the quick access items (car keys, cell phone, etc.) without getting in the way. And the o-rings really complement the design, allowing me to stash an assortment of organizer pouches for those tiny additions that tend to swim free if not corralled (like I-device chargers, headphones, mints, etc.).
I did not think I would like the dividers as much as I do, but they are really great at compartmentalizing the main compartment. I have banished dog-eared folders and papers forever without adding an additional protection to the bag. This makes me happy, as does the set of rear pockets for quickly stuffing/accessing folders, my iPad, etc.
As far as the strap configuration is concerned: at first, it was a little off-putting to me and I thought it may be a weak point. Now that I have lived with it for a month plus, I completely get it. It really balances the bag nicely while keeping it snug against your body... I have had other briefcases where the strap position can be really annoying & uncomfortable, especially with a heavy load. Not so here.
When I assess a design, the first thing I look at is compromises. How many petty things annoy me in the daily use of the item? How often do I find myself looking for a workaround to a persistent problem? Honestly, I find very little to nitpick here. Things are always where I need them, and easy to get to. The size seems just right for my needs, without being a burden. The construction is rock solid. All around it is just a great companion for my working style, executed so well that it fits seamlessly into my daily grind with nary a complaint.
Good design is clever. Great design is transparent. The Empire Builder, in my opinion, is great design.
I hope this helps anyone who is still making their own decisions!