Frequent travelers rejoiced when, earlier this year, the TSA issued guidelines for the construction of a bag that would let you zip through security without removing your laptop. The official guidelines suggest a butterfly, trifold, or sleeve-style case that keeps your laptop separate from other travel detritus so that a security screener can get a good look at it as it goes through the X-ray.
The Mobile Edge ScanFast Backpack ($100) falls into the butterfly category; the laptop compartment features a double zipper that zips all the way down both sides of the bag, letting you lay the bag flat for screening. The laptop itself sits in a lightly padded pocket and is held snugly in place with a single adjustable Velcro strap.
The front side of the bag, where your files and accessories are stowed, is impressively large. One deep compartment, with a double zipper that opens halfway down each side of the bag, contains a mesh pocket for discs or travel accessories on one side and an accordion file pocket on the other, with some space left over for books, folders, or other work materials. In front of that compartment is another deep pocket, accessible via a single 9.5-inch-wide zipper, which can accommodate notepads, paperbacks, and other materials. This compartment also contains a zippered pocket for your MP3 player as well as a pass-through for the headphone cord.
On the front, an oblong pocket (nearly 10 inches wide) is the perfect size for most power cords, though larger power bricks might not fit; beneath it an organizer compartment provides pen loops, a place for business cards, and additional pockets for smaller accessories. A zipper on the side of the bag reveals a pull-out mesh holder for a water bottle; a mesh pocket on the shoulder strap can hold sunglasses or a smaller cell phone (though not most smartphones) within easy reach.
All in all, we found plenty of room to stow pretty much anything we even thought to bring with us on a trip. Our only complaint: the compartments are so deep that it can be difficult to access items at the bottom, and we found ourselves wishing the ScanFast's zippers opened wider. Some of this can be chalked up to the nature of the backpack style, which is very vertically oriented, but slightly longer zippers could have greatly improved the ease of access.
For the time being, the ScanFast is available in one size that can accommodate up to 17-inch laptops. As such, the bag is rather large, measuring 16 inches wide, 19 inches high, and 6.5 inches thick. Though we felt a bit self-conscious wearing such a large bag, we did find it quite comfortable for carrying a larger laptop; mesh padding on the back panel and padded shoulder straps helped evenly distribute the laptop's weight.
At $100, the ScanFast backpack seems reasonably priced; it's made of ballistic nylon and feels sturdy enough to endure many an airport screening procedure. Of course, as with all checkpoint-friendly bags, the ScanFast Backpack comes with one major caveat: the TSA issued guidelines for the bags, but stopped short of certifying the final product. An individual agent can still ask you to remove your laptop for any reason, and we suspect that many TSA agents will be unfamiliar with the new bag designs and force you to do just that.