7 laptop bags: How well do they really protect?

We drop-tested 7 laptop bags to find out whether they can keep your laptop in one operating piece -- and we have the videos to prove it.

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Messenger bag: Booq Cobra case

At 5.3 lb., Booq's Cobra case is easily the heaviest bag of the group and costs nearly as much as a budget notebook -- but it does a good job of protecting your technology.

About the bag

Booq Cobra case
Booq Cobra case

Able to hold up to a 16.4-in. Windows-based laptop or a 17-in. MacBook Pro, the Cobra has twice the heft of the Timbuk2 Ram messenger bag and is three times heavier than the Tom Bihn Brain Cell soft briefcase. When I picked it up, it felt heavy before I put anything in it.

Made of heavy-duty nylon with a black leather trim, it has three main compartments, along with a total of 12 pockets that will serve even the most compulsive organizer. Unfortunately, I found no convenient place to stash my smartphone (at least, no pocket with a protective flap). Like the Brenthaven, the Cobra has a clip for keys and a felt-lined pocket.

The case's padded shoulder strap can be removed, which is a nice touch, and the bag had the most comfortable handle of the group. There's also a strap to attach the case to a wheeled bag to lighten the load for sprints between airport gates.

This bag's been designed well for day-to-day abuse, including a rubberized coating on the bottom and waterproof zippers with rubber-coated pulls. It was also the best bag at standing on its own.

How it protects

The sturdy Cobra has sheets of rigid plastic sandwiched between its inner and outer fabric walls. Inside, the notebook compartment is surrounded by half an inch of high-density foam, which has tiny cells that deform to absorb some of the impact. It's lined with soft Lycra fabric.

If your bag is lost or stolen, Booq offers a great recovery program called Terralinq. Inside the Cobra is a metal tag with a unique serial number. If you register the bag and a kind stranger finds it and reports it at the Terralinq site, the company will put the two of you in contact with each other.

Test results

Booq's Cobra did quite well on the tests, cutting the shock of impact to 23.3 g on the 30-in, drop. That's a 26.5% reduction from the baseline.

It did even better on the 60-in. fall, with a rating of 22.4 g, a 30.9% percent drop in the force of impact. This is the best result of all the bags dropped from this height.

Bottom line

At $345, Booq's Cobra case is not for bargain hunters. It's roughly five times the cost of the Samsonite bag; in addition, it comes with a five-year warranty, whereas most of the others reviewed here have a lifetime warranty. Still, the Cobra is well-designed and roomy, and excelled on the 60-in. drop test, which may make it worth its price.

Messenger bag: Timbuk2 Ram Backpack

Don't let the name of Timbuk2's Ram Backpack fool you -- this hybrid bag leads a double life: It is a messenger bag that can quickly convert to a backpack.

About the bag

Timbuk2 Ram Backpack
Timbuk2 Ram Backpack

Made of fine-weave nylon and able to hold up to a 15.6-in. notebook, the Ram has cylindrical rubber zipper pulls and a fold-over cover that can be clipped into place; the cover also has Velcro straps. The bag has three compartments as well as seven pockets inside, one with a Velcro cover that was large enough to accommodate my smartphone. There is a large external section for papers as well as a small zippered pocket for a wallet, phone or tickets.

The Ram has a padded handle and a removable padded strap -- and a pair of shoulder straps hidden in a compartment on the side that let me convert the bag from messenger to backpack in less than a minute. As a bonus for thirsty travelers, the backpack's right shoulder strap has a bottle opener.

All those straps and metal fittings make the Ram versatile and flexible, although at 2.6 lb., it isn't a lightweight. Still, I found the Ram to be quite comfortable in either configuration, even when it was full. The soft Ram bag has the tendency to flop over, though.

The Timbuk2 website offers a nice online fitting guide that can match your computer to the right bag either by model or dimensions.

How it protects

With a soft quilted tricot fabric lining, the Ram's padded notebook compartment seems like a safe place to put your computer. It has one-third of an inch of padding along its sides, but the padding on the bottom is slightly less thick.

Test results

The test results weren't bad in the 30-in. drop, where the case offered a good amount of the impact. The instrumented dummy notebook experienced a 23.1 g impact on the test, a 27.1% percent reduction from the baseline, putting it in the middle of the pack.

However, the Ram provided minimal protection in the 60-in. drop test. It was able to absorb 29.7 g of the impact, or an 8.3% reduction in drop force from the baseline. It was the least protective bag of the six in this test.

Bottom line

The Ram Backpack carries a lifetime warranty. It is well designed, comfortable, and has lots of useful storage sections; it can also do a trick that none of the others can: Change from a messenger bag to a backpack and back again. However, it may not protect your laptop as well in long drops.

Drop tests from 30 in. and 60 in. using laptop messenger bags.

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