Laptop bags and cases come in all shapes and sizes, but if you're toting around a 13-inch MacBook or MacBook Air, you're going to want something designed specifically for your system. We've skipped the generic nylon briefcases (which are usually designed for 15-inch laptops) and oversize backpacks, and instead picked some of the best recent laptop cases that are perfect for a 13-inch laptop.
Some of these are more traditional messenger-style bags, others are sleeves designed to fit inside some other piece of luggage. They all have one or more unique features that make them stand out from the crowd.
We've reviewed our fair share of laptop cases over the years, and in the past year and a half we've seen (and reviewed) a good number of cases designed for Apple's iPad tablet. We've seen people shove laptops and tablets together into backpacks and messenger bags, but the $69 Cocoon CLS456 is the first case we've seen specifically designed to hold both a 13-inch laptop and a tablet at the same time.
The idea behind the thick, rubberized case, with a crisscrossed pattern on each side, is to not only cushion the laptop, but also absorb the force of any impact. To do so effectively, of course, requires more than just simple foam. G-Form says its cases are made from a material called Poron XRD, which is in turn described by its manufacturer as working like so: "When stressed at a high rate or impacted quickly...the material reaches the point when the urethane momentarily 'freezes'--like water freezing into ice." Essentially, the material these cases are made out of stiffens on impact to absorb the energy, instead of transferring it to your laptop.
The Caseable 13-inch laptop sleeve (like Caseable's iPad and Kindle cases) is a clear case of style over substance, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For $69.90 for the 13-inch laptop version, you get to customize your purchase with a nearly infinite number of color and pattern variations, all controlled by a simple online editing tool on the Caseable Web site. After picking the colors for the front, back, side, and zipper, you can add one of 14 overlay patterns, adjusting the size of the pattern and even applying different (or multiple) patterns to the front and back panels. Custom text and images, including photos and artwork, can also be uploaded and applied to the sleeve.
As a practical laptop sleeve or case, this sleeve is perfectly serviceable, if frills-free, but for those looking to use their laptop case as a form of personal expression, it's a great virtual playground.
This Jack Spade bag isn't specifically designed to be a laptop case, but it works almost perfectly as one. It'll fit most 13-inch laptops, and I often use it for 11-inch ultraportables, an iPad, or sometimes both at the same time. There's a generous front pocket with room for AC adapters or other accessories, and the interior is lined with canvas. Although there's no additional padding, the leather is thick enough to protect your laptop from minor bumps and scrapes.
This bag is on the pricey side at nearly $400, but fashion-sale site Gilt.com has frequently offered this bag at a steep discount.
One innovative case maker has a solution for bibliophiles who want a little more book in their MacBooks. Pad & Quill, known for its iPad cases, has a new case called the Cartella, designed to fit either the 11-inch or 13-inch MacBook Air. Inside is a carefully machined piece of plywood that holds the MacBook Air securely thanks to some thin rubber bumpers, and there are strategic cutouts for all the ports and connections on the laptop.
This case seems the most useful for covering up a gadget that will be kept around the home, especially if you hate the look of high-tech laptops laying around, or perhaps just want to create the impression that you read more books. Still, it's a unique, well-made, and very protective case, and definitely something a little different from the norm.