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Many years ago my parents bought me a laptop shoulder bag which had been a free offer from Marks and Spencer. I had only seen one other person with the same soft leather bag and he had suffered the same fault I had found; the main central clasp lock pulled away from the shoulder bag at the front, making the bag useless if it couldnt be locked properly. Of course I searched for a leather/lock repairer and in the end after much research decided to just do the repair myself and keep the bag whenever I need to take lots of books with me to school or to the library when I have my laptop with me. Im glad to say that whilst the lock has now repaired and works well as a bag, the main shoulder clasps on the belt have now bent over and broken away from the original loop design. Simply put, whilst it is made of leather, is water proof and looks classy, this bag from M&S just cant take heavy books and folders when a laptop is also on board.
Recently however I find that I only need to take my 17 laptop with me and very little else since all my work is saved the night before. Trying to find a cheap laptop bag however has not been easy despite the influx of back pack laptop bags which look as if they are about to take over the market for PC/Mac bags. Did I want a laptop soft bag to put into another bag? No. Did I want to invest in a new laptop back pack? No. What about a messenger bag? Well it seems that whilst messenger bags are usually marketed for students who arent going to even try and slide a laptop in, there are a few bags to consider on the market with laptop users in mind. Enter this bag, from Puma which is on sale at Argos at the price of £15-99.
Indeed at £15-99 youre not going to get the best designed bag for a laptop computer but I have been pleasantly surprised by this understated bag which for most people just looks like a unisex shoulder bag rather than housing a laptop on the side at the back or front, therefore increasing the likely temptation of removing something whilst in traffic by a thief or similar! The first port of call is really what kind of protection youre getting here because on this type of bag, you put your laptop inside rather than outside in an additional zipped section older Messenger bags of this style used to feature.
** Design, Colouring & Capacity **
One of the reasons I considered this bag wasnt for the fact that it was cheap but simply it has travelling back pack style black Ski locks with grey webbing located at the front and both of which can be adjusted to pull more of the top flap over.
When I undo the two main plastic slide in locks on the front of the Puma bag, the top lifts up to reveal a small material wall of three pen slots and a stitched pocket for odds and ends. Let it be said here that for the price, what you are getting here is a bag for the basics and little else but the Puma on inspection looks classy but understated enough with only PUMA written in dark grey capital lettering in the centre of the bag at the bottom when the flap is closed over and locked. Infact the whole bag is a silvery grey splash proof material bag with very few accents other than the black locks, black pockets and black interior. To one side of the bag there is also a mobile phone pocket with a reflective strip running down it.
Whilst I dont mind this pocket it took my Nokia phone with ease but as there is no flap at the top, its just as easy to slide a phone in as it is to slide one out and the lack of security here is a slight oversight I use my mobile phone pocket for any unimportant things like my lunch card or hiding stamps.
After the pen slots inside the main opening, the rest of the bag is revealed which includes the laptop compartment section a thin piece of foam like material which opens up from the back of the bag. Here is where the Puma bag manages to swallow up my 17 laptop simply by slipping it into this section and folding the envelope style top over it to lock it into place via one Velcro tab to ensure that it wont move about whilst in transit.
After the laptop is put in I found I could also put in a couple of A4 plastic folders in too in the same laptop section but after the flap is closed over what is revealed is actually very little useable space for any ring binder folder and a couple of other books. In this respect however it is here that I find I can still put in my transformer with the cord rolled up, the main laptops power cable, ANOTHER laptop such as an Apple Mac mini laptop with its associated square power cable and sides taken up with paraphernalia. Of course it isnt always best to over pack a bag but in other respects over the three months from new when this bag was purchased, it has usually seen a lot of files and alternatively two laptops as opposed to one. It is however not advisable to always take two laptops because there is only one laptop pocket and here I have had to invest in a Neoprene protector bag for the school laptop I have received. However the closeness of both laptops together get a snug and tight fit in this bag which suggests that it can take up a little more than its actual size and capacity suggests.
On the outer bag at the back it is obvious that Puma have fitted extra foam into this section which makes up for the protection factor for your beloved computer. It is here that whilst I have never had an accident I also manage to feel warmed up because of the nature of the thermal properties of the foam in the first place. It is a cheap but efficient idea here even though there arent any additional walls of foam you can install for extra protection and peace of mind.
** Downsides **
On the main outer flap of the bag, a thick zip runs all the way from left to right which reveals a secondary outer pocket. Although this pocket has a good capacity and general material is well stitched, it is long but shallow and I have managed to fit a long pencil case and a couple of other grommets in there. However, fill it with say, a cord for your laptop and the pocket at the front fails to zip up properly.
Another downside however is that when I have filled the bag to full capacity, the plastic tabs wont actually meet even though they have adjustable corded belt loops which can be stretched to increase the travel of the plastic lock. Usually it doesnt cover over the bag the way the top half is supposed to and reveals the bottom of the stitched pocket at the inner front. I thought that this was a particularly bad design thought until a thought had crossed my mind that the front pocket may have too much stuff in it to sufficiently close. And here is the reason to, perhaps why the pocket at the front is long and shallow;
By taking out anything which you have put in the front pocket, I find that the bag will close properly if I stretch my hand inside the pocket to push the top flap of the bag down. Then it will close over and properly lock down. Thereafter I can then fill the pocket back up with whatever it had in there before!
It is a great pity that for all it is a Messenger bag in design there is no outer case handle at the top. It would have been good here to offer this on this type of bag even though it is a cheaply marketed bag rather than a wholly inclusive bag for a laptop.
** General Use/Performance **
The shoulder strap on the PUMA is very easy to adjust and as it is a Messenger bag before Laptop bag should ever be applied to it, there is also a runner shoulder pad which can be used in preference to give a bit more comfort. It is also padded but not so thickly but I find that this bag is generally easy to carry and doesnt normally present a tired neck when in transit.
In general use the bag is great at being able to carry my laptops and cords. It is made of 100% nylon material (Argos state that its nylon polyester) so in turn the material is soft and easy to bend whilst the bag inside is lined with similar black material. The Puma bag has also been caught in a couple of rainstorms and although the material doesnt state that it is infinitely water proof, nothing has got soaked in my bag but the grey wash clean material will get slightly damp and rain drop soaked. I find carrying it very comfortable although the general material could have a more quality feel at times.
If there is one other downside to general use then it is the fact that no thick card or plastic sides have been fitted, so for the best part it is loose and lacks integral strength which means it will usually fall over onto its side once the laptop and files are taken out. This is a fact which I dont actually mind, since my bag gets put away under my desk at school or in the staff base away from prying eyes.
The size of this bag is approximately 42cm in height, a diameter of 12 to 16.5 cm (inside bag) general width of 29cm and a capacity depth of 14 litres. Argos as usual have the wrong dimensions!! In this respect through personal experience and use it is therefore evident that this bag isnt going accommodate the same size and depth premium laptop designed shoulder bags offer but it is however competitive and worthy all the same.
** Conclusion **
I dont think £16 is particularly expensive for a Messenger bag which has an understated but slightly fashionable look. Certainly none of my pupils believed this bag can take two laptops until they saw me packing both away! The Puma bag is however cheaply designed and for some people the basic protection may not be enough to fully consider. But for anyone whos looking for a basic travelling bag incognito, the Puma Messenger bag wont disappoint and whilst it doesnt offer much space when everything is on board, it makes sense as a second back up bag when all things are considered. Argos also sell one in pink too! Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2007
www.argos.co.uk (catalogue number 286 0808 not the horrific Camouflage one here on display at Dooyoo!)