A few weeks ago, Brenthaven representatives showed me a number of the company's new laptop cases and bags; we'll be looking at some of those products in the future. But one of the most interesting things I learned during that meeting was that Brenthaven had worked with Apple to design a bag specifically for some of Apple's "one-student-one-laptop" initiatives. The challenge, according to Brenthaven, was to come up with a protective bag that would hold up to the abuse of school-age kids but that was also inexpensive enough for school districts to buy in bulk. The company settled on a rigid sleeve design that could be put inside whatever bag or backpack each student preferred.
Why am I talking about such a custom bag here? Because Brenthaven has recently made the bag available for retail purchase. It's officially called the MACBOOK SLEEVE and it's priced at a very low $20. Yes, that's right--a Brenthaven bag for $20.
Brenthaven bags are popular around the Macworld offices, and have a reputation for being among the more protective bags on the market; they also come with a lifetime guarantee. So I asked to see one of these budget bags to get an idea of what the company could do for little more than the cost of a CD. After receiving the Sleeve, I was impressed--much more so than I expected to be.
As its name implies, the Sleeve is designed specifically to fit the 13.3-inch MacBook, and does so perfectly; it will also fit 12-inch iBooks and PowerBooks, though more loosely. Unlike most laptop sleeves, which are flexible, the black-nylon Sleeve has rigid panels on the bottom, front, and back; inside those panels is thick padding on all sides, including the top. Taken together, these materials provide Brenthaven's Standard level of protection. The Sleeve itself is similar in size to a 15-inch MacBook Pro, although about twice as thick, so it actually fits in many backpacks and laptop bags with a dedicated laptop compartment. But the Sleeve is protective enough to be placed in any standard backpack or bag; after all, it was designed to let a student throw a MacBook in a backpack along with heavy textbooks.
A thoughtful inclusion--especially useful in a school where everyone has the same bag, but also practical for your average Joe--is a clear pocket on the front for a name tag or ID card.
If you want to carry the Sleeve on its own, Brenthaven has added a few useful features. There's a small nylon-and-rubber handle on top for hand carrying, as well as D-rings for attaching a shoulder strap (not included). A slip pocket on the back can hold a notebook or a thin book.
But my favorite touch is the tuck-away mesh pouches on the front. When carrying the bag on its own, these Velcro-closure pouches accommodate the MacBook's AC adapter as well as an extra battery, an iPod, or other accessories. But when you don't need the pouches--for example, when carrying the Sleeve inside another bag--you can detach the bottom of the pouch panel and then tuck the panel into a zippered pocket. The pouches then act as slimmer interior pockets inside this zippered compartment.
The Sleeve adds only about a pound to your MacBook's weight, yet provides impressive protection and some useful extras for a no-brainer price. On the other hand, given that low price, Brenthaven had to cut a few corners. For one, the Sleeve's nylon is a bit thinner than that used in Brenthaven's other bags. The Sleeve is also not as attractive as other models, and if you want something other than basic black nylon, you're out of luck. Finally, as I mentioned above, you don't get a shoulder strap; just D-rings to which you can attach your own, if desired. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a more protective MacBook sleeve for this price, and you still get Brenthaven's lifetime guarantee.