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Messenger-style bags can make you look like, well, a bike messenger (or a disaffected hipster), while stuffy business cases look out of place on anyone not wearing wingtips. Our preferred laptop bag style these days is the saddlebag, sometimes called a vertical bag. These are longer than they are wide, and carry your laptop with the side edge facing down. Besides having a slim, attractive profile, these bags are much less likely to bang into people on the subway or knock things off of store shelves as you're walking around. While the Solo Urban Vertical Messenger remains our favorite bag of this style, the $59 Kensington Contour Active Vertical Messenger is a close second and costs around $20 less.
Cast in a sophisticated graphite-gray nylon, the Kensington Contour Active Vertical Messenger certainly has a more button-down look than the canvas Solo Urban, but its material feels stiffer and less comfortable. It's one of the only laptop cases we've seen that pays a lot of attention to the look of the interior, with a pattern of gray-and-blue Morse-code-like dashes printed on the interior lining. Not a particularly important feature, but it shows an attention to detail.
The main compartment has a padded laptop section that should fit all but the biggest 15-inch laptops--although putting a 15-inch model in here will be a tight fit, and won't leave much room for power bricks or accessories. Either a 13- or 14-inch laptop seems like a natural choice. The front half of the main compartment has a few pockets sewn into it, including two nice, deep ones that could hold a digital camera or other bulky item.
The front flap is held in place with magnetic clasps, which we much prefer to the annoying Velcro closures found on so many laptop cases. The front face under the flap has a zippered magazine pocket, along with three smaller, almost hidden pockets that are lined with a velvet-like material to keep delicate electronics safe from scratching. It's a great idea, but even the biggest of these three can fit only an iPod.
On the opposite side, the pocket on the rear face is also magazine-size, but we found the zippered closure annoying--the rear pocket of a laptop bag should always be open, for easy access to newspapers, airplane tickets, or other stuff you want quick access to.