The ultralight Skooba Shuttle laptop backpack lets you carry even a large laptop, plus other gadgets and supplies, without the shoulder and lower-back pain associated with other laptop bags. In fact, its thoroughly padded shoulder straps and back panel make the Skooba Shuttle one of the most comfortable backpacks we've carried. Adding to its appeal, the casually styled bag features plenty of external pockets for gadgets and wire control, as well as internal pockets to organize cables and accessories. This will surely help the Shutttle appeal to commuters and conference goers, but we think its ideal users will be college students looking for a way to schlep a computer and research materials around campus. The only catch: the Shuttle's decidedly not-student-friendly suggested price of $140. A quick Google search turns up vendors selling the bag for $100, which is still a bit steep, but more acceptable considering the degree of comfort the Shuttle offers.
The first thing we noticed about the Skooba Shuttle was its large size. The bag alone measures 19.5 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches, making it big enough to accommodate even 17-inch laptops. Its sporty exterior, made of ballistic nylon with neoprene panels, comes in three combinations of contrasting colors: olive with red accents, black with blue accents, and gray with orange accents. On the outside of the bag you'll find an MP3 pocket with rubber headphone pass-through; a semicircular panel that opens to reveal pen loops, a key hook, and other organizing features; and a quick storage panel that's big enough to stash a jacket or sweatshirt. A zipper on the side of the bag unleashes a handy mesh pocket for your water bottle. A Velcro pocket on the front of the shoulder straps keeps your cell phone within easy reach; while many manufacturers make this pocket only large enough to hold a small flip phone, the Shuttle's pocket was roomy enough to hold our chunky Treo 650. Above this pocket you'll find a thin Velcro strip to hold the wires from your headset and headphones close to your body. Two neoprene grips at the top make it possible to lift the bag, but because they're not centered they can't be used for carrying.
Inside the bag's main compartment you'll find an expandable pocket that can accommodate even desktop-replacement laptops. A padded adjustable strap holds your laptop securely in place, whatever its size. The padding inside the laptop pocket, which Skooba calls "Air Square," consists of small air-filled cubes that so closely resemble bubble wrap we couldn't resist pressing on them. (Unlike bubble wrap, the Air Squares don't pop.) The Air Squares cover the sides and bottom of the laptop pocket, while the front and back of the pocket are merely thickly padded. Nevertheless, the sleeve provides sufficient protection for your computer in all directions. On the front interior of the main compartment are two mesh pockets that help corral power cords and other accessories, plus a small zippered pocket to keep your wallet or other small valuables safe.
To give the Shuttle a test drive, we loaded it with the 15.4-inch Toshiba Satellite A205-S6808 and its AC adapter, which together weigh about 7 pounds, as well as a book, hardbound journal, and all the other accoutrement for a morning of work at a coffee shop. We were impressed by the bag's heavily padded back panel and shoulder straps, which evenly distribute the bag's weight for maximum comfort. In fact, we were shocked by how light the bag felt as we walked to and from our destination; we felt none of the usual shoulder pain and pressure that comes with carrying a large laptop on your back. The padded panel and straps are also equipped with moisture-wicking material designed to keep you cooler than the average backpack. Another nice touch are the rubber treads on the bottom of the bag, which help keep it upright when you set it beside your chair at the library or cafe. These kinds of details, along with the Shuttle's remarkably light weight, no doubt are to blame for the bag's eyebrow-raising high price. But for students and others who frequently carry a large laptop, the Shuttle will most likely be worth the cost.