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Thread: Reviewing the Smart Alec as a laptop bag

  1. #1
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    Reviewing the Smart Alec as a laptop bag

    Hello all,

    I'm new to Tom Bihn bags -- having only discovered them recently -- but am not new to the quest for a perfect system to carry around my laptop. My livelihood is computer programming, so the main requirement I have of any bag is that it transport my machine, anywhere I need to take it, in safety and security. I've learned the hard way that comfort and quality are nearly as important, which is what started me on this quest.

    From that perspective, I'd like to review the Smart Alec. I purchased it with a Brain Cell, iPad Cache w/ rails, upper & lower modular pockets, and 3 small organizer pouches. It cost somewhere around $350 all told.

    My first thoughts on opening the box were that this is certainly a well-made product. My second thought was that the back straps seemed a little skimpy compared to other bags I've used. However, usage, and education about seam-stitching and bar tacks, has completely reversed me on that second thought. Simply put, these are the best back straps I've encountered, and the most comfortable that I've used on any bag. In fact, they are not just comfortable: my back actually feels better with the pack on than off! I'm not sure how that works exactly, but I look forward to putting it on each day. It has come to be one of my favorite things about the bag, which I would not have expected from the beginning. To give you a point of reference, I'm 6'1" 190 lbs with fairly broad shoulders.

    I also *love* the fact that I can reduce the amount of hardware on the bag. I'm so tired of bags that look like a "strap medusa", waiting to turn me into stone if I look too hard.

    In terms of laptop safety and security, I give this bag top marks all around. It gets banged into doors, accidentally dropped, has stuff put on top of it, etc., and I have no worries. The only bag I've had with better security was a Zero Halliburton, but I gave up on it due to weight and shoulder discomfort. The iPad Cache on rails is also a very welcome addition. In the past I've kept the iPad in a dedicated padded pouch, but it would swim around in the bag and I always feared a scenario were lateral pressure would somehow crack the screen. The rails system in the Smart Alec keeps the iPad in the exact same position and orientation (mid bag, off the bottom), giving me as much safety and security for that piece of tech as I could hope for.

    I also purchased the upper and lower modular pockets, in order to have extra storage options while traveling. At first I thought I'd keep them on the bag at all times, but I don't use them enough to justify the weight (together they add 3/4 lbs to the bag when empty). I prefer to keep only what is necessary in the bag, to maximize ease and comfort while toting it around.

    The stitching and materials are a dream compared to other bags. I think 1050 ballistic nylon is now my favorite bag fabric. I ordered a Side Effect in 1050 as well (which I'm not reviewing here) and sometimes I like to just sit and touch it to feel the fabric under my skin. I just wish the SA had no Cordura on the outside -- which gets dirty far too quickly -- and instead had 1050 over the whole exterior. Oh, and the nylon/dyneema fabric chosen for the interior is simply amazing! I love the color (my bag is black/black/steel) and the feel against my fingers as I bring things in and out. Plus, the high strength of this fabric relieves any worries about damaging it as I shove stuff things in or pull them out.

    As for as internal organization, I like that there are only two external pockets, and that one of them is a giant empty pocket for a water bottle (I more often have an AC charger in there than a water bottle). The only negative in this respect is the "kangaroo pocket" at the bottom of the main part of the bag. I don't use this for anything, and my fingers are constantly catching on it while grabbing for things at the bottom of the bag. I'm half-tempted to tape it closed so I won't be bothered by it anymore. Oh, and I love all the O-rings everywhere. Makes it easy to add pouches and other quick-to-get items inside the giant storage area.

    Is it worth $350? Given the value of what it's protecting, how often I'll use it, and how long I expect to use it for, I would pay 3x that and consider it money well spent. I realize it may be a large figure compared to other bags, or to pay "sight unseen" since you're ordering it online; but after a few months of usage -- and compared to all the other expensive bags I've owned in my quest for something truly useful -- $350 is a bargain in my opinion. It's really only $30/month for the first year, or $3/month for the ten years in which I fully expect to enjoy this pack.

    Tom, you've made something I can truly enjoy using for my money, and that is really the highest praise I can give for an item designed for its utility.

    John

  2. #2
    Registered User snowbot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jwiegley View Post
    I'm so tired of bags that look like a "strap medusa", waiting to turn me into stone if I look too hard.
    Awesome! I will never look directly at another over-strapped bag again.

  3. #3
    Registered User tpnl's Avatar
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    jwiegley

    Great review and I agree completely.

    I thought it was just me but I too find that wearing the Smart Alec as intended (with both shoulder straps) makes my back feel better - I think it helps correct my posture.

    The Smart Alec is the best TB backpack for protecting your laptop IMHO (suspended/attached Brain Cell + padding at the bottom of the backpack).
    I also like the clean, simple design of the SA and I find the Vertical Freudian Slip perfect to keep my electronics / papers organized. I agree that the bottom inner pocket gets in the way sometimes but I am used to it now.
    All my EDC stuff, work files, laptop, lunch, breakfast and Contigo Mug fit perfectly while still maintaining that slim, uncluttered look.

    Cheers!
    Last edited by tpnl; 01-29-2014 at 09:15 AM.
    Zephyr (Black/Steel), Synapse 25 (Black/Iberian), Smart Alec (Black/Steel), Brain Bag (Back/Steel), Aeronaut (Black/Iberian) + PCBP & PCSB (400D Nordic), Tristar (Black/Iberian) + PCBP (400D Nordic), Checkpoint Flyer (Black/Indigo/Steel), Co-Pilot (Black/Steel), Ego (Black/Black/Steel/Indigo Stripe), Vertical Brain Cells (Black, 1, 2S, 4Z, 3), Vertical & Horizontal Freudian Slips, Camera I/O, TT (400D Nordic), Lead's Pocket (Black)

  4. #4
    Registered User kkintea's Avatar
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    This is one bag I don't have, but I'm sure going to use those monthly/yearly figures to rationalize all TB purchases to my significant other.

    It's brilliant!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  5. #5
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    Couldn't agree more. I keep my laptop in the Smart Alec in a Cache on Rails and it's incredibly well protected. I'm still excited about using mine, 6+ months after getting it.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by sidoneill View Post
    Couldn't agree more. I keep my laptop in the Smart Alec in a Cache on Rails and it's incredibly well protected. I'm still excited about using mine, 6+ months after getting it.
    That's the thing about TB loot in general: it's so much FUN!!

    Ordering it is super fun.
    Waiting for it is anticipatory fun.
    Unboxing it is breathtaking fun.
    Using it is daily fun.
    Touting its virtues to others is zealous fun.

    ...and then the cycle begins again Win-win!

  7. #7
    TOM BIHN Crew (we work here) Beau's Avatar
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    Thanks for sharing this fantastic and remarkably thorough review with everybody, jwiegley! I'll be sure to bring it to the attention of the rest of the crew.

    Oh, and glad to hear that the whole experience is fun as well!
    emailus@tombihn.com or call U.S./Canada 1-800-729-9607 / Other countries +1-206-652-4123

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by jwiegley View Post
    Hello all,

    Is it worth $350? Given the value of what it's protecting, how often I'll use it, and how long I expect to use it for, I would pay 3x that and consider it money well spent. I realize it may be a large figure compared to other bags, or to pay "sight unseen" since you're ordering it online; but after a few months of usage -- and compared to all the other expensive bags I've owned in my quest for something truly useful -- $350 is a bargain in my opinion. It's really only $30/month for the first year, or $3/month for the ten years in which I fully expect to enjoy this pack.

    John
    nice review john and welcome to the forum...i did a review a couple of days before yours...i posted it here with partial pictures and over at edcf with all the pictures...the smart alec is a great bag...i use mine at least 5 days a week so that makes my cost less than a dollar a day...


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