It’s not that uncommon for us to review laptop bags that retail for $150+ and to add our own extended battery packs to the mix, but the $199 Phorce Freedom is the first we’ve reviewed that came with its own built-in 15,000 mAh power source. Why should you get this bag instead of creating your own with available components?
That was the question I hoped to answer over the last few weeks while I exclusively used the Phorce Freedom as my laptop bag during CES and NAIAS.
The Phorce Pro, the larger sibling to the now Freedom, started as a Kickstarter project in 2012. The company delivered by 4th quarter last year, and now both the Pro and this, the smaller Freedom are available to purchase from their site.
Here’s the original Kickstarter video for the Phorce Pro, back when you could get the Mac version for $279. I should have backed the Pro back when it was a Kickstarter project, as the Mac version is now selling for $699 (!!).
The Phorce Pro is available in black or red, and the Freedom is available in black only. So what sets the Phorce Freedom apart from any other similarly priced laptop bag you could buy? To start, it is a convertible model that can go from being a briefcase-style bag to a messenger-style bag to a backpack.
The secret to either model Phorce Bag’s versatility is the padded shoulder strap which can either be tucked inside the bag for later use (or left at home if you only want to use the bag as a briefcase), or its metal hooks can be clipped to the attached metal loops in various configurations to create either the messenger or backpack styles.
The strap is adjustable, so it will comfortably tighten or loosen as needed for each desired effect. I decided that the backpack configuration was the most comfortable for my use, but that is a purely subjective thing.
The Phorce Freedom measures (depending upon which way you have it turned) approximately 16.75″ tall x 12.6″ wide x 3.15″ thick, and it weighs about 3.5 pounds with just the 15,000 mAh battery installed.
The Freedom is composed of Phorce’s durable and water-resistant proprietary high-performance fabric. It has magnetic leather handles, waterproof zippers, shock-resistant padding, and display-cleaning microfiber in the tablet and phone pockets. Due to the multiple orientations the bag can have, several of the interior pockets can be opened from two sides.
I ran into a bit of difficulty with the pocket that holds the laptop, which is a separate pocket on the back of the bag which only opens lengthwise. I forgot to zip it up after digging around inside no less than twice, and my MacBook Air came tumbling out each time when I put the backpack on. Of course my laptop bounced off the street and picked up a few new dings, but I can’t blame the bag for this — it’s my fault for not having the Air in its own sleeve (I should know better) and for not making sure the darn zipper was shut. =( If you carry your Phorce bag in briefcase or messenger orientation, then you’ll never have to worry about this happening to you; if you carry your bag in backpack mode, then consider yourself warned.
This is also a good time to mention an issue that Dan ran into:
Judie was so excited about the review sample that was on the way to her, that I ordered one of the bags for myself. Mine actually arrived before hers. I was impressed with so many aspects of it, but I realized that there were some issues. I didn’t find it quite large enough for everything I wanted to carry, and I realized that I already had some large capacity external batteries that I could use to basically create the same type of situation. I emailed the company asking to return my purchase for a refund. It’s worth noting that I hadn’t even taken the plastic off the hardware or strap. I didn’t hear back from the company. A few days later I emailed them again. They told me that they were new to returns and would look into it and get back to me. They did get back to me and told me that all return expenses would be charged to me. I was bummed but still planned to return the bag. Then I discovered that one of the snaps on the shoulder strap was actually broken. I emailed and explained that because the product was defective I believed they should be footing the bill to return it. I’ll keep you posted as to how this plays out.
The Phorce Freedom is listed as being able to hold up to a 13″ laptop; my MacBook Air was positively swimming in the padded laptop pocket (which is all the more reason I should have had it in a slim sleeve), but I also found out that the compartment could easily hold my 15″ MacBook Pro retina. I had thought I would only be able to do that with the much more expensive Phorce Pro bag, so it was a welcome surprise.
The back of the Phorce Freedom has a slide-through so that you can slip it over a carry-on bag’s handle. One of the briefcase handles is kept tucked in there when not in use.
The other briefcase handle is stored in a velcro covered “secret pocket” compartment on the front.
The interior phone and tablet pockets are lined in microfiber; they should be great for cleaning fingerprints from your devices while stored.
The main compartment of the bag is organized so that you can stow larger items in the middle, such as power chargers and other doo-dads, but slimmer items and electronics can be put in the zippered compartments.
Down in the bottom corner is the storage slot for the removable Li-Ion battery. As you can see in this picture, there is a rubber grommet lined pass-through so you can run a cable from one of the two USB charging slots into the microfiber pocket to charge your phone or tablet. A microUSB to USB cable is included for charging; if you are using an Android, Windows Phone, or BlackBerry device with this bag, you can also use it as your charging cable. If you use an Apple device, you will need to provide your own 30-pin or Lightning connector USB cable.
You can pull the battery out to use on its own; it is a solid metal-clad battery, and it appears to be of excellent quality. There are four LEDs on the front to indicate charging status and discharge status when in use.
There is a section of smart pockets on the front of the bag; sized to hold everything from business cards to other small items, it’s a great place to put things you don’t want to get swallowed elsewhere in bag.
It’s important to realize that the Phorce Freedom is meant to be more of a slim-line carrier — you won’t want to overstuff it because it simply can’t hold a ridiculous amount of gear (and it bulges unattractively when too full). Even so, I found it to be perfectly sized so that I could carry exactly what I needed throughout the day (and I rethought things I might have carried in a larger bag just because I could – even though I might not necessarily need them), and it was never so overloaded that it was too heavy to handle.
The Phorce Freedom retails for $199, and it is available directly from the manufacturer. Here’s a first look video review that Dan did about it:
So why would you want to spring $199 for this bag when you could slap a 15,000 mAh external battery into nearly any bag and call it good? Well, to start, the Phorce Freedom is an excellently made bag; it’s very well laid out, and composed of hardy materials. It looks nice when worn; it’s comfortable, and it is just about as all-weather as you can get, and the ability to wear it in three different ways is a huge plus. I’ve spent well over $200 on laptop bags that weren’t nearly as nice-looking, well laid out, or that weren’t as comfortable to carry, so I don’t have any issues with the Freedom’s price; the addition of the two-USB charging pack just makes it even more attractive.
I clocked in well over 15,000 steps per day over the past two weeks while carrying the Phorce Freedom. Even with my MacBook Air, its charger, two phones, cables, and various things I had picked up at either show — and whatever else I happened to be carrying — it was always comfortable when worn on one shoulder or on two. Yes, I leaned the hard way that I needed to make sure that the laptop compartment stayed zipped at all times, but that’s my fault, not the bag’s. In fact, I liked the Phorce Freedom so much that I ultimately sprang for the $599 Phorce Pro — the model which includes a 26,000 mAh battery — which is large enough to charge a MacBook Air or Pro on the go. Good thing I bought it when I did — at some point in the last week the Pro had a $100 price hike! At $700 for the Mac version, it’s a very tough sell.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample; liked it so much that I bought the Pro version (just in time before the latest price hike!).
What I Like: Sleek rectangular design; not a bulky backpack; dedicated microfiber-lined pockets for phones and tablets; separate padded laptop compartment; built-in 15,000 mAh battery that can charge two mobile devices; strap can be removed or reconfigured to allow the bag to be worn in three different ways
What Needs Improvement: Can’t put a lot in the Phorce Freedom bag, so don’t expect to overstuff it for trips; customer service is sub par if you need to return a bag — even if for manufacturing defects (!!)