Here in the UK, bags for the new 11in MacBook Air have been as rare as hens' teeth since the mini laptop came to the market three months ago. So I decided to go further afield for a new messenger bag to replace my old Crumpler. This I've had for a succession of 13in laptops and is now a little too large large and heavy for the MacBook Air.
I turned to Tom Bihn of Seattle, Washington. A small family concern, Tom Bihn have an enviable reputation in the tech world for high-quality, thoughtful bags of all types. And they are one of the few luggage manufacturers that can claim a "Made in USA" label.
My new Ristretto vertical messenger* for the 11in Air arrived late last week and it has well exceeded my expectations. The 1000 denier Cordura material is strong yet light enough to keep the weight of the bag to a claimed 13oz (without the strap). And the attention to detail is obvious when you look inside. The main compartment contains a fixed laptop sleeve made of 8mm open-cell foam laminated with a 4-ply Taslan interior of soft brushed nylon. The sleeve is equipped with a flap which tucks in behind the laptop for added security and protection.
In addition to the laptop sleeve, the main compartment provides storage space for accessories, a book or Kindle. Obviously, with a case this small, storage space is limited, but it is surprising how much you can get in. In front of the main compartment is a large pocket with organiser for pens, notebooks, an iPhone and cards. In front of the organiser is space for more accessories – it is ideal for the 45w Air charger – while a full-width zippered compartment offers secure protection for papers and valuables.
On the back of the case is a deep slip pocket for newspapers, a book or travel documents. This is a welcome touch and overcomes one of my few complaints with the Crumpler laptop range. The lack of an outside pocket means you have to open the main flap to get a papers. With the Ristretto you can keep your travel documents handy while passing through an airport. It is just so sensible to have an outside pocket. Also on the back are fixing loops for the waist strap which secures the bag if you are using it while cycling. Since I don't need this I've removed it.
The main flap is secured by one snap fastener in the trademark Tom Bihn offset design. If you wish, you can add to the storage capabilities by choosing from a range of accessory sleeves and bags which can be attached to one or more of the three O rings in the main compartment or the one ring in the front compartment. As standard you get a key fob which can be fixed to any of the four O rings. The Tom Bihn website gives full details of the various accessories as well as information on the company's wide range of laptop bags and carry-on luggage.
These days I'm a great advocate of lightweight luggage; far too many computer cases, in particular, are unnecessarily heavy. The Ristretto is so light that you hardly notice it on your shoulder, even when it is full of laptop and accessories. My daily load comprises:
- MacBook Air
- 45w Magsafe charger
- Accessory pouch containing 3G modem, external battery for the iPhone, Apple sync cable, Bose in-ear headphones
- Notebook, pens, cards
With all this in the Tom Bihn Ristretto the bag turns the scales at 4lb 12oz. The old Crumpler, which is a fairly typical 13in messenger bag, takes the shoulder load to just over 6 lb. And make no mistake, this weight difference is noticeable. Of course, the Crumpler is a bigger and can take more so you would expect it to be heavier; the Ristretto, on the other hand, is built around the 11in Air and is more limited, especially if you wish to carry A4 papers and files which just don't fit (the width is ok but the depth is about two inches short). For my purpose, though, it is an ideal day bag and encourages me to take the Air wherever I'm going and might need it.
* I chose the black colour with steel interior; the web site, from which these photographs are taken, offers a wide range of external and internal colour schemes. The cost of the basic Ristretto 11in is $110. There is also a slightly smaller Ristretto for the iPad.