To frame for a second just how eco-centric my family is, let me give an example: on our recent vacation to Ohio, we returned with two trash bags full of recyclable materials because we found the recycling in the area we stayed inadequate. Also, a recent report showed that simultaneous to an explosion of ‘green’ advertising, as many as 98% of all ‘green’ product advertisements are misleading. So, when someone claims to make an eco-friendly product, I am immediately skeptical. Therefore the Mobile Edge ECO Messenger gets a double-look here: first and foremost for its utility as a messenger bag, but also based on the claims of being an ECO friendly product.
From the website:
Fits laptops up to 16″
The ECO Messenger is the latest addition to the ‘ecollection’ line of environmentally-friendly cases. Made of all-natural cotton canvas, these cases pack a lot of style, function and features into a minimal carbon footprint!
The ECO Messengers have a modern, contemporary styling that incorporates all the features you need when you’re on the move. A dedicated padded computer compartment keeps your laptop protected, while separate sections for files, folders, magazines and accessories will keep your gear organized and at your fingertips!
Multiple anchor locations for the removable ID Holder provide quick access to your ID cards. Rugged molded clips hold the front flap in place, keeping your gear safe and secure!
Protect your laptop and the environment with the Mobile Edge ecollection!
Review of the (ECO) Messenger as a Bag
This bag couldn’t have arrived at a more fortuitous time: I was getting prepared to go on vacation and wanted to have a whole bunch of stuff at my disposal. Obviously my Macbook Pro, power adapter, cell phone, Dell Axim X51v PDA, Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, iPod Touch, external mouse, digital camera, Flip Mino HD, a few game DVD’s in case there was extra downtime, and of course all of the chargers and connectors associated with all of this.
I have been using a nice Skooba Satchel bag I had won in a giveaway from Chris Leckness last year, and that bag offers loads of storage and is amazingly comfortable, so I knew that having the ECO Messenger become my “#1 Bag” would be quite an achievement. But as soon as I unpacked the ECO Messenger, I saw a potential winner – it was soft to the touch, nicely padded, yet felt slim and efficiently built. But whether or not it was good enough to replace the Skooba … wait and find out!
So I popped it open and got ready to start loading it up. Immediately there were things I liked and didn’t like. I loved the soft material inside the right pocket and immediately put my PSP there facing inwards. I also loaded up a bunch of business cards on the left side and was disappointed that there was no pouch under it to add in myUSB drives and such. In fact, I wondered why there weren’t pouches on both sides as that is a great spot to stick easy-access items. So what you get in the front part of the bag is the detachable Velcro business card holder, the 3/4 height soft-lined pocket on the opposite side, and a Velcro close pouch in the center with pen holders on the outside of the pouch with a small strip of material at the bottom to keep the pens from falling out.
Just above the strip of pen holders is a snap that mates with a strap coming from the very back of the bag, which is how you constrain the entire inside portion. The snap system works fairly well, but easily unsnaps depending on how you load up the bag. When I heavily loaded it for vacation it was a nice strong fit, but with a smaller laptop and less ancillary gear it was fairly useless. Worse still, it was right behind where the tops of the pens are held, meaning that snapping and unsnapping the strap interferes with the pens and vice versa.
OK, just one more thing about the pen holders before I move on – I like having plenty of pens and mechanical pencils with me, typically a few colored Paper Mate sticks, a fine and broad roller ball and a couple of mechanical pencils. While the stick pens and fine-point roller ball pen fit nicely, nothing else would fit in the too-small holders, so I was stuck shoving the rest of my writing tools into one of the pockets.
Behind this front tier is a larger thin pocket that has a Velcro closure. It works pretty well as a general place to keep things relatively confined, but is still just another full-width pocket.
The main compartment has three potential storage areas: the back area consists of a fully padded pocket for a laptop up to 16″ wide. I tried three of my laptops – my work HP 6910p (15″) and Macbook Pro (15.4″ ) both fit great, but my Dell XPS 1730 (17″) was too large. The padding is nicely done, thin but offering plenty of protection. In front of the laptop there is a wide open area the full width of the bag that is a great place to store papers and lose small things under the laptop pocket (I quickly lost a USB drive there for a while). The other internal pocket is an expandable pocket that is about 75% as wide as the bag, and is another great dumping spot.
The fold-over flap has a mesh zippered pocket that takes up its entire area. This is really only a good place for papers as anything else would just rattle around and hinder opening and dealing with the inside of the bag. The front of the flap has two straps that end in clasps to secure the bad closed, and also have Velcro attachment points for the business card holder. I have an aesthetic complaint about the front when fully closed – I can see the sticks of my pens when I lift up the bag. Again, it is a minor thing, but it seems like an oversight that could have been addressed by making the strip of material meant to secure the bottom of the pens a bit larger.
On the back of the bag is another large pocket secured by a flap and Velcro. This is the easiest point of access when carrying the bag over your shoulder, but as such leaves much to be desired. It is a huge pocket with out any smaller tethers or pockets or any way to keep smaller items from getting lost. Given that I like to have quick access to my keys, work badge, and a few other things, I was constantly trying to find a better way to use the bag. The other feature on the back was a nice padded area that makes it extremely comfortable to carry.
Finally, there is a standard strap with adjustable shoulder pad. There is plenty of adjustment available, and the anchor points are large and sturdy, which gives you a secure feeling that you won’t have one break and lose all of your important stuff in the outflow. The shoulder pad, however, was fairly thin and my overstuffed vacation bag felt uncomfortable on my shoulder after a short bit of carrying.
The last thought I have is on the build quality – this thing is very nicely put together, and has felt solid for teh nearly four weeks I have been using it as my primary bag. I haven’t had a tear, a thread pull, or any other signs of weakening or lack of attention to detail. This is definitely one of the best made laptop bags I’ve ever owned – and I’ve had bags to carry laptops for 20 years now.
As a bag I have mixed feelings about the ECO Messenger. Clearly it doesn’t live up to the Skooba, but it is tough comparing it directly to the Skooba Satchel, because that bag is considerably more expensive. So things like the Skooba having a better shoulder pad and more padding in general and a nice bottom to sit firmly on a surface for load or unload are things that come with the increase in price. But there was one area I was consistently disappointed with: lack of small storage areas. I constantly struggled to find places to put all of my stuff that I wanted to access, and too often found myself fishing through the generic pockets that felt over-sized for a general purpose. I know the focus of a messenger bag is documents, and it performs solidly there, but it feels like an oversight to have so little storage dedicated to the common items carried by today’s road warrior – a bit of effort to outfit the front area with more small pouches and adding a smaller inset pocket in the back pouch would have gone a long way in terms of utility.
Review of the ECO (Messenger) as a ‘green’ product
I believe that being ‘environmentally friendly’ means more than putting a sticker on a case, that it represents an end to end commitment that should be apparent to the consumer. So I looked at the included press material and on the website to find out what Mobile Edge was doing to be an environmentally friendly company.
Everything I found is noted above in the ‘hype’ section: the identical phrase “‘ecollection’ line of environmentally-friendly cases. Made of all-natural cotton canvas, these cases pack a lot of style, function and features into a minimal carbon footprint!” is repeated in a few different sections. There is absolutely nothing else on their web site or press material that talks about their commitment to the environment.
One of the first things I had to do was unpack the bag. It came in a box that didn’t require extra packaging material, just a plastic bag to protect the ECO messenger for travel. That is actually pretty standard, as packaging and shipping costs are something all companies try to minimize and doesn’t represent a ‘green’ approach … except in the older sense of thinking of ‘green’ as meaning money.
Once I removed the bag, I was treated to a large amount of packing material. This was all recyclable paper, naturally, but remember that the FIRST word of the mantra is to REDUCE.
From the single press statement, the ECO-push seems to be confined to the fact that the ECO Messenger is made out of cotton canvas. That is very much true. The vast majority of the outer material, the non-stretch straps, and the shoulder pad are all made of canvas. The remaining areas are made of nylon. However, I would estimate that because of the internal pouch structure, the ratio of nylon to canvas is probably ~70:30, or maybe ~60:40 if I am generous.
If it sounds like I was disappointed with the ‘green-ness’ of this bag, it is because I am. The company went out of its way to hype the green nature of this product, but the reality is that they used a material (canvas) that is less energy intensive than the nylon used in most bags. For me this is a sort of ‘1990’s environmentalism’ – touting every little thing you do because every little bit helps. While I applaud the use of alternative materials, it should be a small part of an overall corporate strategy, not the story in itself. I specifically did not contact Mobile Edge about their environmental stance, because that would miss the point – if it isn’t out there, it doesn’t exist.
A Final Thought
Despite the fact that I pretty well tore it apart in terms of both functionality and green-ness, I hope the fact that I like this bag comes through. There are definitely some flaws, and if you are someone with a preponderance of tiny stuff to carry you will want to avoid this, but for most people it is a great bag for a very good price. I also know that a lifetime in the ‘People’s Republic of Massachusetts’ has me on the radical side of the environmental movement, so for many the fact that they are trying is a great step – and I agree. I hope they continue finding ways to make solidly built bags that are truly earth-friendly … oh, and add more small pockets.
Where to Buy: Mobile Edge
Price: $59.99 (introductory price $49.99 as or review date)
What I Like:
– Nicely made, solid construction
– Good price for what you get.
– Good material choice of canvas.
What Needs Improvement:
– Needs more small storage
– No convenient ‘grab & go’ spot for little stuff like keys
– Too much ‘show’, not enough ‘go’ on environmental stance
– Too much packing material for an ECO product.
And here I am with the bag: