If you think all laptop bags are the same, it might be time to take a look at the $59 Kensington Contour Cargo Messenger laptop case, which pleasantly surprised us with its features and comfort. The green, vaguely bike-messenger look may not appeal to everyone, but if you can get past the earth tones, the smartly placed pockets and wide, extra-padded strap will seal the deal.
Designed for 15.4-inch laptops, the case is a bit on the large size, measuring 16.5 inches wide by 14 inches high by 5.5 inches deep. The main compartment is divided in two by a lightly padded pocket with a Velcro strap meant for holding your laptop in place. The nonpadded section of the main compartment has plenty of room for power supplies, papers, and accessories. A mesh pocket built into the front face of the bag is great for holding MP3 players, cell phones, and anything else that's slightly bulky.
The bag's outer flap covers both of these compartments, and includes its own zippered pocket with tiny pouches sewn into it for pens, memory cards, and other small items. The rear face of the bag, which would be held against your body, has a stiff but padded panel, which Kensington calls a "contour panel," for added protection. Carrying this bag around for several days, we liked how easy it was to access the outer flap pocket, and how useful the mesh pocket inside was for holding larger items that might not fit well into other bags.
On the downside, you'd have to take your iPod out of its case to fit it into one of the two small accessory pockets on the left and right panels of the bag. We like the tiny holes for your headphone cable, but every smart commuter knows that outer accessory pockets like that are a honey pot for pickpockets.
Our favorite part of the Contour Cargo Messenger, however, was the generously padded strap. Nothing is as annoying as a thin strap on a laptop bag, and this one measures a little more than 2 inches across, which helps distribute the weight on your shoulder. A thick pad sits in the middle of the strap and, unlike a lot of laptop bags, which can work their way off your shoulder while walking, this one stayed put, even under adverse urban walking conditions.