A laptop bag lives or dies based on its shoulder strap. Even a great-looking bag, with plenty of useful pockets and extra padding, will sit disused in the corner if the strap isn't comfortable, or is prone to sliding off your shoulder. The $49 Mobile Edge Ultra Portable Netbook Messenger Bag scores big for a heavily padded, very comfortable shoulder strap, plus an airport-friendly zip-open compartment.
We were less impressed, however, with some of the visual elements, such as the puffy black front flap and boxy front pocket. It's fine for college students and casual types, but far from slick enough for the corporate boardroom, or even a fashion district coffee shop.
That said, if you don't mind the look (and it's certainly far from offensive) this has quickly become one of our favorite laptop bags, in part because it's designed for smaller laptops, from 10-inch Netbooks up to thin 13-inch systems such as the Apple MacBook. The outside of the bag measures 15 inches by 10.5 inches and is 3 inches thick, and the latest MacBook just barely squeezed into the interior laptop compartment.
That interior laptop compartment is not padded (but the two outer walls of the bag are). Instead, the laptop compartment has a see-through plastic front face, with the words "Checkpoint Friendly" printed in big, white letters, and the entire bag zips open in the middle, to allow it to pass through airport metal detectors without removing the laptop. Keep in mind you must have the laptop alone, no wires or accessories, in its own compartment to comply with TSA rules.
The opposite face of the interior laptop compartment has a large, flat zippered pocket built into it, while an entirely separate zippered compartment in front of the laptop area has a few small pockets for pens and small items, but is otherwise unadorned. Under the front flap are two small webbed pockets, and a small, clunky looking Velcro pocket sits in the middle of the outer flap. We were pleased to see a plain, flat pocket on the rear surface, good for holding newspapers and magazines--that's always a useful feature in a laptop bag.
The adjustable shoulder strap has a large, gel-like pad in the middle, and was probably the most comfortable strap we've tried. It made the bag easy to carry, even when packed with a laptop plus books and accessories. We did, however, lament the lack of a carrying handle on the top. You'll find these on the vast majority of laptop bags of any size or style, and they make the bag easy to grab--for example when getting out taxis. While it's not a deal-breaker, it keeps the Mobile Edge from being as ubiquitously useful as it could be.