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When we're reviewing a laptop at CNET, it goes with us everywhere. So we've spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to carry our laptop. We enjoy the look of messenger-style bags, but they can be hard to carry comfortably--with many models, the weight distribution strains your lower back or the strap cuts into your chest. Backpacks, while comfortable to carry, can veer into dorkiness if you're not careful. And shoulder-style bags can strain your muscles if you carry anything larger than an ultraportable laptop. So we were excited to try the CODi Sling-Pak, which combines the carrying comfort of a backpack with the across-the-body strap style found on most messenger bags. Both the back panel and the single strap are heavily padded with breathable nylon. And the bag's ample pockets provide plenty of room for all your essentials. Our sole complaint: though the Sling-Pak is designed to accommodate laptops up to 15.4 inches, our Fujitsu LifeBook A6030 was a tight fit; we'd much rather use the bag to tote a 14- or 13-inch laptop. But before you read any further, there's something else you should know: the CODi Sling-Pak costs $148. While that price will seem too steep to many, those who can afford it will get what they pay for--a well-constructed, stylish, and comfortable bag for carrying a laptop and all of life's digital necessities.
We were immediately pleased with the CODi Sling-Pak's compact shape, which resembles a triangle with rounded edges. The subdued black nylon exterior is interrupted only by a tiny red embroidered logo at the bottom of the front panel and red embroidery (blissfully logo-free) on the seven zipper pulls. The front of the bag includes two zippers; one opens a small pocket that's big enough for a compact cell phone, while the other opens a larger pocket that can hold a smart phone or travel documents. Though some might deem the rounded pockets a bit impractical, we liked the interest they brought to the bag's design. Perhaps more strictly practical is the mesh pocket on the side of the bag, big enough to accommodate a 24-ounce bottle of water.
A double zipper that travels about three-quarters down the side of the Sling-Pak provides access to the front interior compartment, which includes two zippered pockets, each large enough to hold a paperback, along the back edge. On the interior of the front flap you'll find a fairly average assortment of organization features: pen loops, pockets for business cards and USB drives, a key fob, and pockets for a travel mouse and digital camera. The bag's main compartment is accessible via an asymmetrical double zipper, which opens nearly all the way down one side of the bag but only a quarter of the way down the other. Though this design minimizes the risk of objects falling out of the bag, we would have preferred a slightly wider opening to make the contents a bit more accessible. On the front wall of the main compartment a file folder keeps papers secure, while two additional mesh pockets tame accessories. A central well provides just enough space for a notepad and a few file folders.
Along the back wall of the main compartment is an amply padded laptop sleeve, cut at an angle to make laptop removal easy. In a step up from most laptop bags, which rely on Velcro closures, the Sling-Pak includes an adjustable strap and sturdy clip to hold the laptop in place. As mentioned above, the bag can technically accommodate laptops up to 15.4 inches in size, but when we tested the bag with the 15.4-inch Fujitsu LifeBook A6030, the corners of the laptop stretched the exterior fabric, adding two pointy bumps along the bag's top edge. For that reason, we recommend that owners of 15.4-inch laptops (other than the compact MacBook Pro) take the Sling-Pak for a test drive to ensure that their computer fits properly. Owners of smaller laptops need not worry; we were very comfortable carrying the 13.3-inch MacBook or the 14.1-inch Acer Aspire 4710 in the Sling-Pak.
We were very pleased with the Sling-Pak's unique carrying strap, which originates at the top center of the bag and terminates in a clip that can attach to either the left or right side for your preferred carrying position. This handy feature means you can switch your carrying shoulder from time to time--a huge plus when you're carrying as much weight as a laptop. The strap itself is one of the most well-thought-out carrying straps we've encountered. The top, which is 6.3 inches wide, includes a zippered pocket for an MP3 player plus a rubber grommet to pass through your headphone cord. This pocket is ideal for a smaller flash player, such as an iPod Shuffle or Nano, but not large enough for a hard-drive-based player. There's room for a larger player further down, though: where the carrying strap narrows to 4 inches wide, an expandable zippered pocket with yet another headphone cord pass-through can accommodate your iPod or cell phone. There's also a strap that can be used to wrap up lengthy headphone cords (the only instance of Velcro on the bag), as well as a mesh pocket to keep your cell phone or sunglasses within easy reach. In addition to its unusual width, the Sling-Pak's strap is very well padded and made of breathable fabric for maximum comfort.
We loaded the Sling-Pak with the Acer Aspire 4710 and its power cord, plus three full file folders, a cell phone, a travel mouse, an iPod Shuffle, wallet, keys, pens, and a magazine for reading. Even when almost completely full, the Sling-Pak rested comfortably on our back and, unlike many laptop bags, its strap didn't dig into our chest or neck. We carried all these goodies to a coffee shop about a half-mile away and back in relative comfort; we could easily see the 2.3-pound Sling-Pak becoming a favorite of commuters and frequent fliers who want a stylish laptop bag that's still comfortable to carry.