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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
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    Aug 2008
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    Brain Bag or Smart Alec?

    Hi, Everyone!

    I believe that my Tom Bihn addiction is starting to rise. I absolutely love my ID, and that's my day-to-day bag for just about everything... but I also need a backpack for those occassions when I need to carry more stuff.

    I have been waffling between the Brain Bag and the Smart Alec. Both have features that appeal to me for different reasons. I like the size and flexibility of the Brain Bag, but I fear that it may be too big (I currently have a Targus XL backpack and it's a clunky, uncomfortable monster). The Smart Alec is a beautifully designed bag

    Can anyone comment on the comparative size of the Smart Alec and the Brain Bag in day-to-day use (carrying them around, I mean)? How about the one-chamber design of the Smart Alec vs. the 2-chamber Brain Bag? What about what you carry in them?

    Multitasking is also important to me; I am a big fan of one back pack for all my uses. The bag will be used for those days when my need for a laptop, books, and assorted school work becomes too large for my ID (I carry a Dell e1705). ... this backpack will see a lot of personal travel as well on airplanes where it will be fit a smaller laptop (Dell XPS M1210), change of clothes, books, assorted travel items and souveniers, etc.

    Thanks for your thoughts and advice in advance! I appreciate all the great support from Tom Bihn and the community here!

    --Bob
    ----------------
    Bob P.
    Magic Tiki Studios

    Empire Builder (black/steel), Brain Bag (steel), Small Padded Organizer Pouch, Clear Wallet, Soft Cell, Snake Charmer (cayenne) and assorted trimmings.

  2. #2
    Registered User
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    Feb 2006
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    2,884
    I do not have a Smart Alex.

    But I do have a Brain Bag and it is -the bag- you want for your needs.

    I use the Brain Bag=BB the way you intent to use it. As a matter of fact it goes with me anytime I go on a day or overnite trip.

    The compression straps can make it as thin or as wide as you wish.

    The BB can carry two laptops in their sleeves or an enormous stack of paperwork or a weekend worth of clothes or more (lighweight clothes).
    I haven't tried to fit a formal jacket in.

    It is a great school backpack, I haven't gone back to school yet but it holds loads of big books.

    Because it is so well balanced and lightweight by itself (when u get it, you will grump that it is heavier than the cheapo bags you used before) but you can load it without fear of having your stuff ending up on the floor broken because a shoulder strap has unraveled.

    I have seen that happen on one of my husband cheap bag, while he was on his bike, the bag holding his relatively new laptop.

    I have also seen, and unfortunately, used clunky monster backpacks, the BB is not one of them, it is big but not a monster. If it was I could not carry it.
    It is sturdy.


    I am 5'7" and not petite, at all, the bag goes on my back, from between my shoulder blade to my waist. Speaking of waist, the BB waist strap is Amazing, even more now that it can be removed if one wishes.


    Go for the Brain Bag you will not regret it.

  3. #3
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    Mar 2008
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    127
    I've had my BB for 8 years. It's an older style with the nonremovable waist strap and the old snaps for attaching a Brain Cell.

    Aside from very minor fraying along the shoulder straps, it has yet to rip, bust, or split anywhere. I use it about 200 days a year going back and forth to work.

    As backpack outlines, it will fit everything you want on a daily basis. I work at a university and it hauls a laptop, files, books, a planner, a big lunch, and just about everything else.

    Sometimes over the 8 years I've strayed to other carrying combinations, but I always come back to the BB.

  4. #4
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    Aug 2007
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    564
    Finally something I can comment on with a bit of knowledge.

    I tried both the BB and SA and I liked the SA better but I kept the BB mostly because of it's larger size which resulted in it's ability to handle more situations.

    For now I have a large Dell D810 at work that I carry everyday. Along with that I like to take a big Sigg water bottle and slightly smaller Thermos of coffee. I also take an iPod, radio, and I bought a Freudian Slip but to me that is optional. Both bags could handle this load but it was easier to get in and out of the BB because of it's wide mouth and larger size. The combination of the large laptop sleeve with a narrow top opening made the SA a bit cumbersome to get stuff in and out of. Most times you just had to dive your hand in and search as you couldn't look and search at the same time. I also found that with both of my liquid containers in the side pockets of the SA that I had no room for anything else in those pockets but I also had a hard time with the FS because the pockets wanted to bulge forward.

    Having said all that I really liked the SA better. It was more comfortable on my back and it looked and felt better to me. The BB is fine but with all the straps and such it feels less professional, that is if a backpack can even be professional in the first place.

    The one thing that forced my decision was a test I did where I assumed I had to take my laptop on vacation. With the BB I could fit my laptop and my DSLR but I could not do that with the SA. I really tried too. It's rare that this has to be done but I thought I had to pick the BB just in case it came up.

    There is a definite catch 22 to the flexibility of the BB. The ability to handle more situations does mean it's bigger and (if loaded) heavier. The waist straps kind of fit on the BB because it has the potential to be pretty big. I don't use them on a day to day basis but if I were to backpack I might. So while you can praise the BB for being able to handle all kinds of situations, you have to admit that it comes at a price of size and to a lesser extent looks. You can haul a lot of stuff with the BB but you then have to ask if you really want to haul a lot of stuff.

    If I get a smaller laptop in the future I might look to get a SA. I can't explain why besides to say it just seemed "cooler" to me. A lot of it was just looks and how the materials felt really.

    One odd note - the SA always wanted to tip forward while the BB tips back. Maybe it was just from what I had in it.

    I think you need to consider what you're going to carry and how you like to pack. Having two separate compartments is nice because I can put my liquids in one and my laptop in the other and feel a bit safe about it. If I were going on a short trip I could put clothes in one section and everything else in another, which would also be great. You can't do that with the SA but maybe you don't want or need to.

    Whew. Too much info?

  5. #5
    Registered User
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    Feb 2008
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    50
    Hello

    I have both a BB & SA. I got the BB first, but I couldn't resist the redesigned SA.

    I love the SA! It feels lighter and the straps are more comfortable for me than the BB. I personally like the zippers better on the SA, and i like the sleek look of it. I use the SA for computer/accessories, but use other bags in addition to it for travel. I took the SA on a 7-day trip to LA along with a canvas tote bag for clothes, and it worked out wonderfully.

    Here's a link to what I usually carry in my SA: http://www.flickr.com/photos/3807609...7606476698761/

    I can't carry a cafe bag in the SA in addition to my computer, which would be convenient (I use the small cafe bag for wallet/camera/keys/etc.). Cafe bags fit easily into the BB. The BB is more flexible, and is comfortable to carry large loads with. The BB definitely holds more, and would be a better "only bag".




    Here are some pictures of what the main compartments of the bags can hold:
    The SA can hold the Brain Cell, a binder, a folder, two reference books, a composition book, and a small dictionary, along with a pair of jeans, a sweater, shirt & socks. (the SA can still take a water bottle in the side pocket with all of this)

    The BB can hold all of the above, but also another pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, two more shirts, and two random things I stuffed in there (body mist & yakpak wallet). The BB also holds more in the smaller pockets than the SA.
    Attached Images Attached Images        

  6. #6
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    Aug 2008
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    Wow... this is all amazingly helpful! Thank you all for your detailed and supportive feedback, everyone!

    Clearly you can't lose with either one... I am still struggling with that elegance vs. size issue. The design of the SA is really slick, but you can't buy more size... I will need to carefully consider my needs. I think this makes my decision even harder, but in a good way!

    Once again, I am amazed at the support and advice that flows in this community! You all are good people... I hope that I have been able to contribute to that spirit as well!

    - The Magic Tiki
    ----------------
    Bob P.
    Magic Tiki Studios

    Empire Builder (black/steel), Brain Bag (steel), Small Padded Organizer Pouch, Clear Wallet, Soft Cell, Snake Charmer (cayenne) and assorted trimmings.

  7. #7
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    564
    Quote Originally Posted by MagicTiki View Post
    Wow... this is all amazingly helpful! Thank you all for your detailed and supportive feedback, everyone!

    Clearly you can't lose with either one... I am still struggling with that elegance vs. size issue. The design of the SA is really slick, but you can't buy more size... I will need to carefully consider my needs. I think this makes my decision even harder, but in a good way!

    Once again, I am amazed at the support and advice that flows in this community! You all are good people... I hope that I have been able to contribute to that spirit as well!

    - The Magic Tiki
    I think you are correct in that it probably comes down to size and how much do you need to carry around. As a general rule I think it's a good idea to try and stay as small as possible but if there are times when you need to lug a lot of stuff you don't want to be out of luck.

    If you prefer the styling of the SA like I did then I'd think long and hard about what you want to carry in the bag. If size of the SA is enough then it might be an easy pick.

    Hearing that reina has both bags makes me feel bad for not doing the same. I try to not obsess over bags and limit myself to just what I need but it might have been nice to have both to rotate my usage.

  8. #8
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    Feb 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by pretzelb View Post
    I think you are correct in that it probably comes down to size and how much do you need to carry around. As a general rule I think it's a good idea to try and stay as small as possible but if there are times when you need to lug a lot of stuff you don't want to be out of luck.

    If you prefer the styling of the SA like I did then I'd think long and hard about what you want to carry in the bag. If size of the SA is enough then it might be an easy pick.

    Hearing that reina has both bags makes me feel bad for not doing the same. I try to not obsess over bags and limit myself to just what I need but it might have been nice to have both to rotate my usage.
    Aww don't feel bad!!! I don't really use the BB anymore...my boyfriend is using it for school. Those are all his books in the pic ehhehe You probably wouldn't rotate much anyway....the SA is probably enough

  9. #9
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    Dec 2007
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    2
    The Smart Alec saved my back. In general, I find that if I've got room in the bag, I'll fill it.
    That's why I like the SA. It fits my macbook pro 15" the ac adapter, a portable hard drive and some odd cables in the snake charmer. It leaves me with enough room for a hardcover book or a snack or a light fleece, depending on the trip.
    What else do I really need?
    The loaded SA weighs about half as much as my old ibook/Targus setup.
    I'm very happy with it, especially the protection from the brain cell.
    FWIW mine is one of the last first gen Smart Alecs, and the kiwi is very cool, and looks great with the red snake charmer and brain cell
    enjoy
    allen

  10. #10
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    Aug 2008
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    Outside of Philadelphia, PA
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    Thanks, Avincent! Reading yours and Reina's comments, I'm feeling like the Smart Alec (plus some sensible packing plans) is the right move!
    ----------------
    Bob P.
    Magic Tiki Studios

    Empire Builder (black/steel), Brain Bag (steel), Small Padded Organizer Pouch, Clear Wallet, Soft Cell, Snake Charmer (cayenne) and assorted trimmings.


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