We're fans of the sling-style laptop bag, which combines the shape of a backpack with an across-the-chest strap more commonly seen on messenger bags. The end result: a bag that sits high on your back but distributes the weight across your body instead of all on one shoulder. While many such bags borrow the backpack's top-loading design, the silver-and-black Brenthaven Sling II ($99), which features long zippers down one side of the bag as well as a front flap that opens to reveal small pockets, is more like a messenger bag turned on its side. In general this design works, letting you swing the bag around your body to access the interior without removing the strap; however, we do wish the zippers opened a little wider to allow fuller access to the bag's contents.
The outside of the bag features four easy-access pockets to keep frequently-used items close at hand. One at the top of the bag is the perfect size for a wallet and keys, and another on the outside of the front flap is large enough for a paperback, a smartphone, or a handheld gaming device. A zipper on the side reveals a collapsible mesh pocket designed to carry a water bottle, and a narrow Velcro-enclosed pocket on the front of the bag's strap keeps an MP3 player or cell phone handy. (Though some smartphones will prove too wide; our Treo 650 fit in this pocket, but our BlackBerry Curve did not.)