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Cheap Laptop Bags Buying Guide

The most important things to look for in a laptop bag are padding for the straps/handle and protection for the laptop. Overall durability also matters, as does ease of access and a design that helps you stay organized.

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Your particular needs and stylistic preferences will affect your buying decision. For example, people who travel a lot might want a laptop bag that provides quick access at airport security or stows easily as a carry-on. Business people might want a bag that looks professional, while a student may want something less formal and easy to carry to class. There aren't many expert reviews on laptop bags, but there are user reviews aplenty.

Laptop Bag Padding and Protection.

Most people carry around lots of stuff when they're out and about with their laptops -- notebooks, files, books, cell phones, power cords, what have you. Laptop bags are specifically designed for laptops, so rule number one is, it should amply protect the target cargo. That translates as protection against everything else you throw in the bag, as well as natural elements like rain, heat, and cold, and the normal jostle and bustle of your life. The better cheap laptop bags have a separate compartment with built-in padding designed to keep your laptop safe. The Kensington Saddlebag Carrying Case (starting at $40), for example, sports a separate high-density padded compartment, which one satisfied user commenting on Amazon.com says does an excellent job of protecting the computer. The Wenger Swiss Gear Synergy Computer Backpack (starting at $65) also has a separate padded laptop compartment and a strap to secure the laptop in place, a nice extra that's usually found in higher-end laptop bags; a review in NotebookReview.com notes that the strap keeps the laptop centered in the bag and not on your back, which affords more protection. The Case Logic Messenger Bag (starting at $30), on the other hand, features a padded compartment that doesn't completely cover the laptop, leaving the top slightly unprotected, but it does have a strap in the laptop compartment.

Laptop Bag Straps.

The carrying straps on laptop bags vary depending on the style of the bag. As hikers and students know, a backpack is the safest bag design because there are two shoulder straps that balance the weight evenly and prevent injury to your neck, shoulders, and back; the Wenger Swiss Gear is one example of an inexpensive backpack laptop bag. This type of strapping is also a welcome convenience because it leaves both hands free. With a messenger-style laptop bag, like the Kensington Saddlebag, the strap goes over one shoulder and comes across your body; your hands are left free, but the lopsided weight can strain your neck, shoulders, and back. Finally, there's the handle-style laptop bag, like the Brenthaven Metrolite 2 (starting at $6), that you carry in your hand with one or two short handles. The disadvantage with this design is that it ties up one hand and may throw off your balance -- but it does look professional.

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Regardless of the style of the straps on a cheap laptop bag, always be sure to check for comfort and fit. The best option is a strap that has some padding and can be adjusted (one size strap does not fit all). The Kensington Saddlebag Carrying Case is unique because it offers several strap configurations in one: it can be carried as a low-riding backpack with hide-away padded straps, converted to a messenger-style bag with a padded shoulder strap, or carried by a foam-padded handle. Other cheap laptop bags are limited to one carrying style. The Wenger Swiss Gear Synergy Computer Backpack has adjustable padded straps and the Case Logic Messenger Bag lacks padding on the strap, although it can be adjusted.

Laptop Bag Fabric.

Often times the quality of a laptop bag can be assessed by the fabric it's made of. Fabric and durability distinguish expensive laptop bags from cheaper laptop bags. The high-priced variety are made of extremely durable fabric that provides waterproofing and some padded protection for the laptop. Cheap laptop bags are often made from lesser quality fabric, which sometimes results in broken straps or snags in the fabric. But this is not a uniform problem.

High-end laptop bags invariably incorporate some sort of protective, waterproof fabric, unlike cheaper laptop bags that don't necessarily use the most protective fabric. A good example of this is the pricier BBP Hamptons Hybrid Laptop Bag (starting at $90), which is constructed with waterproof, 1680-denier ballistic nylon. Incidentally, this is the same fabric used in bullet-proof vests and, as you can imagine, is incredibly protective and durable. The Case Logic Messenger bag, on the other hand, doesn't quite measure up: it's made from cotton canvas that offers little in the way of protective covering. In the middle of these two is the affordable Kensington Saddlebag Carrying Case, which About.com says is made of a dobby-weave nylon that affords some protection and is water resistant. The moderately priced Wenger Swiss Gear Computer Backpack is made out of nylon ballistic fabric, which is a thick, waterproof fabric that adds protective layer and is resistant to snags.

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Organizational Compartments.

Organizational compartments rank high in importance in user reviews of cheap laptop bags. Although this is one of those personal preference features, most user reviewers say they want many organizational options. Who wants to go diving for a business card or a cell phone, or worry about crumpled documents that need to look pristine? And you certainly don't want the plug on your power cord to scratch the surface of the laptop, never mind having the laptop crush those tiny little earbuds for your iPod.

Ideally, a cheap laptop bag will have at least a couple of separate compartments for all the extraneous, but oh-so-necessary items you need to carry with you. The Kensington Saddlebag Carrying Case isolates the laptop in its own zippered compartment and has several additional compartments for files and notes, cell phone, keys, and writing utensils. People who travel light might appreciate the Brenthaven Metrolite 2, which is targeted to the MacBook crowd and features only a front pocket for writing utensils, cell phone, and keys. The Case Logic Messenger Bag has some storage space, but it's limited to a slim file compartment and a few pockets that aren't completely separate from the laptop compartment; the laptop is strapped into a section that's separated from the other compartments by a piece of fabric. The laptop gets its own space in the Wenger Swiss Gear backpack, which also contains a large compartment for books and files and several smaller compartments in the front for keys, cell phone, and the like.

Laptop Bag Size.

The size of the bag matters as well, because (duh) laptops come in different sizes. This is another way in which cheap laptop bags are distinguished from higher-end models. Most are designed to fit the standard 15-inch laptop, with room to spare for smaller varieties, whereas pricier laptop bags, like the BBP Hamptons Hybrid, come in different sizes to accommodate different-size laptops. The Wenger Swiss Gear backpack can hold a laptop up to 15 inches, while the Kensington Saddlebag Carrying Case provides a bit more room and can take a 15.4-inch laptop. Ditto with the Case Logic Messenger bag, although several users posting comments on eBags.com wonder if the bag might be too roomy; they report the laptop doesn't seem secure and the bag itself feels too big and bulky.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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