On the Forum, member tpnl is well-known for his detailed and insightful posts and creative TB hacks. Today, he is turning the design spotlight on the Brain Cell. Read on . . .
Protection and Lightweight Minimalism – The Brain Cell
I quite often wonder, as I am sure many of you do as well, why I like Tom Bihn products so much—there are few companies that can engage people’s passion as much.
The conclusion I came to is that I resonate with what I believe is Tom Bihn’s underlying ethos—to create something the stands the test of time through the use of quality materials and innovative design combined with an intuitive understanding of how people could use his products.
I think one of the best examples of this is the Brain Cell, which is available in both Horizontal and Vertical orientations. First off, the Brain Cell is designed to provide significant amounts of protection for your laptop. However, with the choice of durable material, the multi-layered protection design, and flexible carrying options, it becomes more than just a protective laptop case—it really is a great minimalist Every Day Carry (EDC) for lightweight computing in its own right.
Laptop Protection – the Brain Cell’s primary role as designed
I wish to take some time to fully appreciate how effective the design is in providing superior protection for your laptop. The description on the website identifies the various protection techniques: Corrugated Plastic on the front, back and bottom; the Sling set-up; the thick Memory Foam; the Cross-Linked Closed-Cell foam on the side, etc.—even the Aplix strips that keep your laptop in the bag. But, what does it all mean? How does it make the Brain Cell stand out in the crowd of sleeves and cases also designed to hold and protect your laptop?
The answer—the devil is in the details:
Using Corrugated Polypropylene as opposed to a regular sheet of plastic enhances the stiffness of Brain Cell, similar to how a wood plank is made stronger in one direction because of the wood grain. By also making the sides and bottom out of Corrugated Polypropylene, it protects your laptop like a helmet protects your head. It serves to distribute the force from a drop onto a larger surface area and away from your laptop. It turns the Brain Cell into a lightweight version of hard-sided travel luggage.
What really separates the best laptop cases from just good ones is corner drop protection. Most people have experienced that if you drop something on its edge or corner, it will probably dent easily. This is because the impact force is concentrated in a small area or point, magnifying its effect. This is also why it is easy to hammer the pointed end of a nail into wood rather than the flat top. The Brain Cell’s hard Polypropylene helmet extends to its corners and like a frame, deflecting the force away from the corner of your laptop or absorbing it instead of transferring it to your laptop, causing damage.
Selecting Dense, Closed-cell and Cross-linked Polyethylene foam for side protection shows an attention to the details by picking the best choices for foam. How does this protect your laptop? The dense Closed-cell foam acts like bubble wrap packaging protecting fragile items. It provides increased compression resistance (does not squish as easily) on impact compared to open-cell regular foam (used in most other cases). The bubbles are closed (sealed) so air does not escape easily and there are many of them (dense) to ensure there is protection all the way through. The Cross-linking creates a lattice structure that acts like a net for your laptop by keeping the dense foam together.
The Sling Suspension System design and the thick Memory foam at the bottom provide a double layer of protection for the most likely way your laptop will be dropped—on the bottom. The design is like having a trampoline or bungee cord with a memory foam mattress below it. The main goal here is to make sure the laptop does not slow down too quickly, because if the laptop hits the ground directly, it goes from drop speed to zero in the blink of an eye and absorbs most of the drop energy in the process, causing damage. Memory foam has much slower compression and rebound than regular foam or neoprene and acts like a car shock absorber to slow down any impacts. Regular foam and neoprene are useless at this despite how they feel.
An interesting feature is that the Sling Suspension System is adjustable. This helps ensure your laptop does not “bang around inside the case” and get damaged. This helps to fit a variety of laptops and still have the protection afforded by the sling. There is even a helpful video on how to do this. Also, the Aplix strips on the opening flaps run the full length of the flap for a secure closure to further prevent accidental opening or movement of the laptop in the case.
Finally, the Annex Clips provide a fifth level of protection after the Sling Suspension, thick Memory Foam, Corrugated Polypropylene and 500d Cordura outer fabric (which also provides a level of abrasion resistance). These clips allow you to suspend your Brain Cell inside many Tom Bihn backpacks, briefcases and travel bags, further reducing the impact speed and potential for damage.
If you have taken the time to read all the above, I would be surprised if you are not impressed with all that goes into this simple looking product. It is unique in the industry and is how I first got introduced to Tom Bihn products. Arguably, the Brain Cell is the most protective soft-sided case, with only rigid hard-sided cases being more protective (but less flexible in use). There other cases with some of the Brain Cell’s features and design, but none with all of them. Being from an IT background, I found myself searching for the best protection for my laptop and found it … and as a bonus, I also found these amazing bags to hold it in. :)
I have actually tested this protection together with other companies’ products (using a piece of drywall to simulate a laptop—do not try with a real laptop!) and the Brain Cell was the most protective of them all, with no damage to the drywall when dropped from 4 feet on all 6 sides and 4 corners. It was very impressive and what cemented my appreciation for the design of this product.
Lightweight Minimalist Carry – the outstanding secondary role
Now, for the person who wants to be a Minimalist (or even just someone who wants a lighter Every Day Carry) but still wants maximum laptop protection, the Brain Cell presents itself as one of the best options with the most flexibility and features:
- 500d Cordura exterior – This material is extremely abrasion-resistant and durable so the Brain Cell will not be damaged easily when carried on its own and it has a very natural fiber look.
- Web pockets – Built-in organization options to put a power supply, cables, cellphone, etc.
- Though the pockets mean the Brain Cell does not technically meet all the Checkpoint Friendly recommendations, the fact that the pockets are webbing / see-through have never caused an issue for me when going through the security check.
- Multiple carry options:
- Webbing handles.
- D-Rings and a shoulder strap—custom-made plastic D-Rings for strength and arguably the most comfortable shoulder strap, the Tom Bihn Absolute Shoulder Strap.
- Annex Clip loops to attach the Brain Cell securely to a Tom Bihn bag.
To make this the ultimate lightweight minimalist bag without sacrificing things, Tom Bihn has many accessories and options that can be used. Another excellent highlight is the company’s full support of a web forum and blog that allows people to exercise their creativity and post customized options that go beyond the original design and personalize their customers’ bags. To that end, for the Brain Cell, there are a few additional carry options that go beyond the original design and may add more flexibility through the use of the Annex Clip loops and D-Ring attachment points. Thanks to all the forum members that have posted innovative additional design innovations and given me so many ideas, including sewing on webbing strips into the Brain Cell so it will work with the current Tom Bihn Checkpoint Friendly Gatekeeper Clip system (see here for a description of how I did it).
Below are a few pictures to showcase this and help start your own design creation – enjoy!
[caption id="attachment_10085" align="aligncenter" width="562"] Minimalist Business - Brain Cell, Smart Alec Lower Modular Pocket, Organizer Pouches, 16” Key Strap for keys.
Note: Brain Cell is worn “reversed”—i.e., with the webbing pocket side towards you.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_10084" align="aligncenter" width="563"] Mobile Office – Brain Cell inside Tri-Star/Western Flyer Packing Cube Backpack with Vertical Freudian Slip, Lead’s Pocket, Organizer Pouches.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_10083" align="aligncenter" width="562"] Every Day Carry (EDC) – Brain Cell, Smart Alec Lower Modular Pocket, Guardian Light, Water Bottle Holder (non-TB), Lead’s Pocket, with Double Carabiner and Single Gatekeeper Clips to hook it onto the Brain Cell. Note: Brain Cell is worn “reversed”—i.e., with the webbing pocket side towards you.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_10082" align="aligncenter" width="563"] Vacation / Casual / Coffee Shop – Brain Cell and Packing Cube Shoulder Bag with Double Carabiner and Single Gatekeeper Clips to hook it onto the Brain Cell.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_10081" align="aligncenter" width="524"] TSA-friendly Personal Carry-On – Brain Cell, Co-Pilot with emergency clothes, Nordic Packing Cube Shoulder Bag, Iberian Large Yarn Stuff Sack, Organizer Pouches, 8” Key Straps and Single Gatekeeper Clips to hook the Co-Pilot onto the Brain Cell. Note: Brain Cell is worn “reversed”—i.e., with the webbing pocket side towards you.[/caption]
In summary, the Brain Cell is the faithful companion for those who are serious about wanting to protect their laptop and believe in buying once and using for life—the reason IMHO all TB products stand out in a world of disposable, poorly designed products. The surprise is its designed versatility, making it a boon for minimalists or for people looking to lighten their daily carry.