We often struggle with laptop backpacks. Sure, they're the most comfortable way to carry the weight of your laptop and accessories, but most computer backpacks tend to be so bulky you end up feeling like a turtle, or--worse--a pack mule. Not so with the MetroLite Backpack from Brenthaven ($89), which adds just 4 inches to your profile while still providing plenty of room for your laptop, accessories, and a few other items. True, it lacks some niceties, such as external pockets for a water bottle and a cell phone, and its slender design means some might have to pare down their bag's contents. But the MetroLite Backpack's highly organized interior and slender profile make it a great choice for anyone who wants to lighten their load but still carry a laptop--especially commuters who regularly carry their laptops on a train or bus.
The MetroLite Backpack is made of sturdy titanium ballistic nylon and is available in your choice of black, gray, or red. The bag's front panel incorporates two single-zippered pockets for frequently accessed items. The smaller pocket (8.5 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide) easily accommodates a smartphone and a wallet; the larger pocket (11.3 inches tall and 9 inches wide) has enough room for a paperback, spiral notebook, or even a Netbook. At the bottom of the bag, a long rectangular pocket (4 inches tall and 11.3 inches wide) is the perfect place to stash your power cord so it's out of the way.
A double zipper opens the front flap of the bag to reveal an organizer compartment with a mesh business card/ID holder and multiple gadget pockets in various sizes, two of which include a Velcro strap to secure the contents. There's an attached fob to keep your keys in place and, on the inside of the front flap, a zippered mesh pocket to corral all the tiny items that tend to float to the bottom of the bag. We found this section easily accommodated all the little things we carry on a typical commute, including an MP3 player, cell phone, and thumb drives. And we liked our review unit's bright-red lining, which made it easy to find objects inside of the bag. About the only thing we missed in this area was any dedicated pen loops, though there were plenty of other options for storing pens in the pockets.
The bag's main compartment is accessed via a double zipper that opens a little more than halfway down the bag. This compartment is fairly minimal: there are just two open pockets--to accommodate a travel mouse, portable hard drive, or other accessories--and the padded laptop sleeve, which includes a Velcro strap over the top to hold the laptop in place. We had no trouble fitting the 15.4-inch Gateway M-7818u and even a 16.4-inch Sony Vaio FW270J/W in the sleeve. (Though we didn't have a 17-inch MacBook Pro on hand to try, it should just fit.) Once the laptop is loaded, there's still some room for a spiral notebook and a few magazines.
The bag's back panel features thick padding covered in a breathable material; the insides of the straps, too, incorporate thick padding, making the bag extremely comfortable to carry. If you ever want to carry the bag exclusively by its top grip handle, you can detach the shoulder straps from the bottom and tuck them into a pocket on the back of the bag. This pocket also converts into a strap that slips over the handle of your rolling luggage; just open the zipper at the bottom.
We used the MetroLite Backpack to carry all our necessities around town for several days, and we loved its compact, city-friendly design. We really only wished for two additional features: a pocket for a cell phone on the front of the straps (so we wouldn't have to take off the backpack every time the phone rang) and an external pocket for a water bottle. (However, we also acknowledge that these features would diminish the bag's clean exterior design.) In addition, we know some pack rats who would be driven insane by the MetroLite Backpack's lack of expansion options; it's really designed to carry just your laptop, a few notepads or magazines, a book, and your smaller gadgets. But for commuters and anyone else who likes to travel light, the MetroLite Backpack is a great choice.