So nice, I bought it twice!
I have just recently completed my conversion from button-down corporate supply chain consultant to independent professional wrestling video producer (that is entirely a too long separate story).
Along with this change came the switch from my road warrior IBM ThinkPad to first one, and now two Apple Mac Powerbooks. For years, my road warrior bag has been Victorinox’ Webmaster® bag (Swiss Army Webmaster ). While a bit on the expensive side, it met all of my criteria:
1) Looks good in a corporate environment
2) Protects my computer
5) Holds EVERYTHING I need on the road
6) Organizes well
7) Keeps handy stuff handy
8) Keeps everything secure
9) Travels well
10) Comfortable to carry
The Webmaster certainly met all of those criteria with regards to my ThinkPad for a lot of years. When I bought my first Powerbook (a 15” 1.5 GHz Aluminum) the vendor graciously threw in a free Kensington SaddleBag (Kensington SaddleBag ). It missed criteria 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 – but it was free. And since I was still carrying my ThinkPad to presentations & meetings it was O.K.
But as the new video business grew – we needed more portable computing power. So we added a new 17” Powerbook. This would allow us to cover multiple meetings, multiple live shows for taping, etc. I also decided to leave the ThinkPad at home and conduct the video business solely on the Mac platform.
The Webmaster bag was out of the running. It was a bit too snug for the 15” Powerbook and would in no way accommodate the 17”. And while it has been a tremendous bag, and I don’t mind paying for quality, it is a tad on the pricey side.
I started searching for the correct bag for the new 17” monster. After conducting my due diligence search, I decided to give the Empire Builder® a try. I also bought a size one Brain Cell®, the Absolute Shoulder Strap®, a Freudian Slip®, a pair of Snake Charmers®, and a bunch of Strapeez®.
This worked out beautifully. The Empire Builder holds it all. Starting from the back and working forward:
Brain Cell with the 17” PowerBook and mouse pad
Wired USB mouse and Apple power “rectangle” in the outside pockets of the Brain Cell
Meeting notes, call sheets, etc. paperwork in the file dividers
A LaCie 1Tb external firewire drive (carefully wrapped in a Domke® wrap – thanks to Ken from the Tom Bihn forum)
All of the cables, power supply, etc for the drive in a Snake Charmer
That pretty much fills up the main compartment. Not too shabby. Next, under the flap in the open compartment:
A RadTech BT mini mouse in its snug little case
A pair of PostWorX SpeedBalls (nifty little half round, Velcro-on feet)
A PCMCIA firewire expansion card
A Kensington universal power supply adaptor kit
That pretty much fills up the space under the flap. I could jam more stuff in, especially in the zippered compartment, but that makes the bag look a little too pregnant for my tastes – and I’ve already loaded in everything I need.
In the flap, when I’m traveling I add a paperback book in the big zippered compartment, my cell phone in the little zippered compartment, and boarding passes in the open compartment.
It’s a little tricky getting the Powerbook out to go through security – but I’ll gladly trade the minor hassle for the supreme security that the Empire Builder and Brain Cell provide me.
This worked out so well that I went back online and purchased another Empire Builder, a size 4 Brain Cell, another Absolute Shoulder Strap, a couple more Snake Charmers, and another bunch of Strapeez. My 15” Powerbook now resides in a set-up very similar to its bigger brother. The main differences are that the 15” travels with 2 Maxtor 250 Gb external firewire drives instead of the LaCie and the Airport Express rectangle resides under the flap instead of the universal power adapter.
Of my ten criteria at the start of this (I’m sorry it’s so long) review, the Empire Builder gets top marks in 8 categories. The handles on this bag are the best I've ever dealt with. Somehow they are magically always where I want them to be and they are very comfortable even under full load.
While I haven’t seen any problem yet, I have to deduct minor points in category 8 “Keeps everything secure” just because I fear that an overzealous airport security inspector is going to throw the flap open and dump stuff out of the open compartment under the flap. Again, I haven’t seen this happen yet and don’t know that it will. But I still have just the tiniest bit of dread that it will happen.
The other category where I have to deduct minor points is category 9 “Travels well”. And these few points are the sum total of my dislikes about the Empire Builder.
1) I want a water bottle pocket! I know that Mr. Bihn has decreed that a water bottle pocket would be sportier than the Empire Builder is intended to be. And I agree – I don’t want to walk into a client meeting with a water bottle hanging off of my bag. But on the way back to the airport after a successful meeting I want to celebrate with a cold, soft beverage that I will probably nurse all the way onto the plane. So I want a discrete, disappearing water bottle holder – like the one on the Webmaster.
2) I don’t want to suggest outright intellectual property or design theft, but take a look at the back pocket on the Webmaster and make the back pocket on the Empire Builder work like that. Put a zippered slot in the bottom so that I can slide the back pocket over the handle of my rolling luggage. And put a slot in the side of the back pocket so that I can stick an umbrella there – particularly a wet umbrella.
That’s really it. Score it as a 95 out of 100. My bottom line analysis – if you need to carry a LOT of stuff and look like a professional instead of a backpacker or bike messenger while doing it – the Empire Builder is the winner. For a smaller laptop than the 15” Powerbook the Webmaster might be a slightly better bag – but at nearly twice the cost the Empire Builder is still near the top of the list. And for a larger computer – there is no competition.