The Incase Compact Backpack (US$79.95) has been a surprisingly pleasant and functional addition to my commuting around the city with my 15-inch MacBook Pro.
Unfortunately, my MacBook Pro doesn't fit in my beloved Jost leather satchel. So, previously, I'd sling the satchel over my shoulder and put my MacBook Pro in a padded sleeve for my odd excursions out of the house with it (clutching it tightly to my chest with both arms, shielding it from the potential harms of public transport in London).
More recently, my work has required that I'm out and about a whole lot more, and with a few near drops and knocks, I quickly resolved to get a decent backpack.
Specs and performance
The Incase Compact Backpack is designed to be slim and, well ... compact. But it's in no way small. In fact, to me it's the ideal size. Small enough not to be overbearing, yet big enough to fit everything you need on a day trip.
In terms of the exterior, the bag is made from durable nylon. The external dimensions are 18.5" x 11.75" x 4.3". The back and adjustable shoulder straps are well padded. They're also covered with a breathable mesh, making wearing the back really comfortable and easy to adjust.
The front of the backpack has a zippered exterior pocket for small accessories, like a small notebook, keys, pens or headphones, etc. There's also a smaller zippered pocket down the right side of the backpack, near where the strap begins. It's perfect for keys or small items you may need to get at quickly. At the top of the bag, just ahead of the padded top-loading handle, is a dedicated zippered pouch with faux-fur lining for an iPhone or iPod, or something small that needs protection.
Within the bag is a faux-fur lined laptop compartment with breathable side panels. It snugly fits my 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. The faux-fur is only on the back side of the backpack, while the front side of the laptop compartment is made of a padded nylon. It would have been nice if the faux-fur was on both sides of the compartment, but still, I feel confident my MacBook Pro is safe from bumps and drops.
Attached to the front side of the laptop compartment is a further nylon pocket to house an iPad or even an iPad mini. It's not as snug a fit, and there's no faux-fur protection or padding against things within the bag, which is a little disappointing -- especially if you don't have a protective sleeve or case for your iPad -- but I guess most people will already have some kind of protection for their iPad, be it a sleeve, case or one of Apple's magnetic covers. Still, it's nice to have a dedicated place to slip my iPad into.
On the front side of the inside of the backpack are three nylon pockets, one large and two smaller ones. These are more for cables, a power supply, SD cards, USB sticks, etc. The main pocket is big enough to fit my Mac's power supply or a bunch of smaller items.The smaller two pockets are perfect for SD cards, USB cables and the like. There are two dedicated pen holders, but they're not very deep, so maybe they're actually for USB sticks. Finally, there's an additional mesh pocket with an elastic rim. Once more, perfect for SD cards, USB sticks, or tiny accessories.
The interior compartment of the bag is really quite spacious -- more deep than wide -- but even once I loaded my MacBook Pro and iPad in, and my accessories stuffed into the internal pockets, I could still easily fit my coat into the bottom, a bulky hard drive on top of that, and I had room to spare on top of that.
I really like the Incase Compact Backpack. While it doesn't have many frills (and is quite understated in appearances), it's solidly built and is very comfortable to wear. It's easy to use, too, and provides fantastic protection for my MacBook Pro and iPad (though I'd recommend an iPad sleeve, cover or case just to be on the safe side). There's ample additional storage for most day-to-day requirements, with practical pockets within as well as on the exterior of the bag. To top it all off, I found the $79.95 price tag to be very reasonable.
If you're looking for a solid backpack for your MacBook Pro, I'd start by looking at the Incase Compact Backpack. It may be the only one you look at.