Review: The Satchel laptop bag by Skooba Design

Shortly after I got my new laptop, I decided I needed a new laptop bag to go with it. I’ve had a couple bags over the years — the Targus that everybody starts with (I got mine in 1996) and another bag or two. This time, though, I wanted to trade up a bit and get something that would really protect my System76 Pangolin from all the harm that can be dished out in a house with two young boys.

I was amazed at how many laptop bag makers there are. I started with a Google search and was quickly overwhelmed. One company I kept coming back to was Skooba Design, whose bags looked durable, intelligently designed (not by God, though), and attractive. Next I looked into companies whose gear I knew from cycling. The most obvious choice in this category was Timbuk2, maker of strong and stylish messenger bags for messengers and wannabes. I spent a lot of time looking at Timbuk2 bags and came close to buying one. Before I did, though, I decided to try asking around.

I posted a quick note to my Facebook account asking for recommendations. A few people made good suggestions, but I kept coming back to the Satchel by Skooba Design:

satchel1

Outside

I bought the orange and grey version of the Satchel, and it’s a wonderful bag. First of all, it’s great to look at. Well designed, nice colors, and some snazzy touches such as the patented strap design and the color accents on the side zipper.

The outside is “ballistic nylon,” which I assume means it’s bulletproof, right? Whatever it is, it’s strong and resistant to pulls and tears, a fact one of our cats proved when he leapt on it recently and went to town before I could get it away.

The bag is also light. Really light. Without anything in it, it weighs just 44 oz. That’s nice because my laptop is a bit weighty, and I tend to also carry books and other goodies in the bag.

Inside

The lining of the various compartments is the same color orange as the highlight on the outside. I imagine that the other color combinations have different colors inside. I like the orange a lot.

The bag is divided into several compartments. The section for the laptop is lined with Skooba’s Air Square cushions, which you can see at Skooba’s site. These offer an impressive amount of protection for the computer without adding a ton of weight to the bag. (These same Air Squares are also on the underside of the shoulder strap, which is a nice touch.) The laptop pocket has an adjustable strap for a secure fit.

The middle compartment is where I put my books and papers. It’s roomy and no-nonsense. A panel with mesh webbing has a Velcro strap that can be opened to access a third compartment. I keep a set of headphones and the laptop power cord in these mesh pockets.

The outer zipper pocket is full of handy bits, including a hook for your keys, pen holders, a cell phone pocket with a Velcro cover, and another closeable pocket that will fit a CD or PDA. There’s also a mesh pocket inside, which is where I keep my cell phone charger and work ID. And did I mention the hidden water bottle holder? It’s tucked away behind a zipper on the side of the bag, so it’s there when you need it and not flopping around when you don’t. Nice.

On the back, the Satchel has a zipper pocket that would be useful for plane tickets or a thin folder of papers for a meeting. It also has a strap that will allow the bag to fit over the handle of a rolling suitcase at the airport.

Summmary

This is a very solid bag with great looks and great features. And as an added bonus, it’s made right here in upstate New York — in Rochester, to be exact. Cool, huh?

Highly recommended. For more information, visit Skooba Design.

UPDATE: I received a very nice message from Michael Hess, the president and CEO of Skooba Design. He added one point of clarification to the story:

“[I]n the interest of fairness and accuracy, the bags are designed and developed 100% here in Rochester, but manufactured offshore (an unfortunate competition-driven reality for most of our industry). We did used to make bags here, but nowadays the market has made that effectively impossible for products like ours.”

Review: Pangolin Performance laptop from System76

I’ve now had my Pangolin Performance laptop from System76 for a month or so, and it’s time for a review. This won’t be one of those brilliant technical reviews that smart people write. This is just one guy’s experience with the Pangolin.

First of all, let me say that I like the laptop and I’m very happy to support a company such as System76 that’s committed to Open Source software. My laptop came with Ubuntu (Linux) 8.10 installed. I upgraded to the beta of Ubuntu 9.04 shortly thereafter. The upgrade worked like a charm.

Right from the beginning, the Pangolin and Ubuntu found the wifi network at my house. It also found and controlled my HP all-in-one printer with no problem. I was able to start surfing the Web right away, although I had to install a few extra things to make videos work on the Web. This is fairly normal for Ubuntu, and not difficult even for a non-geek like me.

The Pangolin has a nice screen. Bright, clear and easy to read. I do a lot of word processing and blogging and enjoy being able to see things. I give the Pangolin high marks in that regard. The keyboard is also responsive and easy to use, although I’ve noticed some clacking in the arrow keys and a (rarely) non-responsive “c” key. Obviously the “c” key works most of the time, or I wouldn’t be typing this.

The Pangolin’s case is solid. I’m not an enormous fan of the black finish on the lid, which shows more fingerprints than an episode of CSI. And the keyboard and surrounding plastic are much more white than they appear in the photo above, where they look a bit silver to my eye. So maybe 7 out of 10 for looks.

I ordered my Pangolin with the Core Duo T3400 2.16 GHz 667 MHz FSB 1 MB L2 (35 Watt). If I had it to do over again, I would have spent the extra $55 and upgraded to the Core2 Duo. That said, the build I have is plenty fast, as I’ll detail later. I have 2GB of RAM, a 250GB SATA II hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD-RW optical drive, and the Intel Wi-Fi Link 5300. Of all those components, the only one that feels a little cheap is the optical drive. It works just fine, but feels like very light plastic that wobbles a little in its slot.

One issue I have with the Pangolin is temperature. I have nothing technical or smart to say about it, but it seems to get pretty hot. I think, though, that I have more to learn about the fan management system in Ubuntu, so there may be more I can do to help with the temperature control.

I produce a weekly jazz interview show called The Jazz Session. Even when I made the show on a Mac, I used Audacity, so there wasn’t much of a switch to move to Ubuntu. The Pangolin is plenty fast enough to do all the multi-tracked audio editing I need to do. So much so, in fact, that it’s replaced my Mac completely. I do have one issue — there’s a lot of noise in the audio system. When I add the Pangolin to my mixer setup, I can hear a distinct buzz, which never happened with the Mac. I know it’s coming from the laptop because I can cause an attack in the buzz by hitting any key. I’m going to try to address this issue with a USB audio hub.

All in all, it’s a solid machine with everything I need to be productive and happy. I’d recommend System76 to others.