We're back with another edition of "What we're buying," which focuses on gadgets and apps that our editors use in their everyday lives. This time, we're looking at the bags and cases that we put our valuable gadgets in. Deputy Managing Editor Nathan Ingraham sings the praises of his leather and canvas laptop bag, Senior Editor Devindra Hardawar fawns over a leather iPhone card case, and Senior Editor Nicole Lee loves the flexibility of her neoprene backpack.
Deputy Managing Editor
Like most other tech journalists I know, I'm kind of obsessed with finding the right bag. We often have to carry a myriad of various devices to intense, week-long events like CES and E3 — that makes choosing the right gear a big deal. Picking the right bag to hold it all is almost as important as the laptop or camera equipment you bring along.
For me, that bag is currently the Staad Attaché by WaterField Designs. I've been buying the company's products since 2003, and I've never been disappointed in the quality. But I've only ever had one other full-sized bag from them before; most of the products I purchased were protective sleeves, wallets and other smaller goods.
The Staad Attaché, however, is the perfect everyday carry for me. It has two internal sleeves for a laptop and a tablet, two slots specifically for pens (or an Apple Pencil), and a number of other pockets for keeping smaller items in line. The main compartment is spacious, but not too big, which is important for an unexpected reason: it keeps me from lugging way too much junk with me when I travel.
Finally, the bag looks and feels wonderful. I have no doubt I can use it for the next decade if I take care of it, and the combination of leather and waxed canvas is a timeless look. The Staad isn't cheap at $230, but it's a case of getting what you pay for. All of WaterField's products are made in small batches in San Francisco — given that these are high quality, made in the US bags, the cost is totally worth it for me.
For years, I bravely wielded my smartphones without cases. That has only backfired on me once, when I dropped my iPhone 6S on a sidewalk in Taiwan, completely shattering the display. When I bought the iPhone X last year, I knew I had to protect myself: It has glass on the front and back, plus there's that exorbitant $279 screen repair fee. I used a nondescript clear case for a while, but I eventually wanted something more useful. That's when I stumbled on the Lopie Leather case.
It's slim, so my phone doesn't feel bulkier than usual when holding it; there's a decent amount of protection; and the dual combination of leather and cloth on the back is surprisingly attractive. And best of all, it's only around $17. While I'm typically against wallet cases (you're basically making things easy for pickpockets by placing your credit cards and ID on your smartphone), I grew to appreciate the single slot Lopie offers. It's a perfect home for my NYC MetroCard, since it's usually easier to reach for my phone than my wallet. It's also a great nook for things like my laundry card and hotel keys. This case is a reminder of how simple changes in the devices we use the most can have a huge impact in day-to-day usability.
The Lopie case isn't perfect, of course. After 6 months, the lustrous light brown sheen of the leather has darkened a bit. And the cloth half of the case is covered in oil stains (I'm always using my phone while cooking). But for the price, I can't really complain. While it might not last as long as Apple's official leather cases, it's a lot more useful.
I first learned about Dagne Dover through an Instagram ad, and as I'm always in the hunt for a good quality bag, the ad targeting was pretty accurate. What really intrigued me about Dagne Dover is that their bags met my two major criteria: they had to allow for a lot of storage (I'm constantly carrying my laptop around) and they also had to look good. Specifically, I didn't want a laptop bag that looked bulky or hideous, or anything overtly masculine.
So I bought the Signature Tote a few years ago, and then the Allyn Tote after that. Both bags are beautiful and lovely to look at, but they were just a little too heavy when loaded up with all my essentials (which include a laptop, a camera, notebooks, and more). A couple years ago, I decided to buy one more Dagne Dover bag, the Dakota Backpack, and it's been my everyday driver ever since.
The main reason: pockets. A lot of pockets. There's one big pocket on the front, one big laptop compartment on the inside, three pockets where I store all my computer cables, two more inside pockets where I put my external battery and additional accessories, two external side pockets for a water bottle and an umbrella, plus two more "hidden" back pockets which I use to store other essentials like a passport or travel documentation. Oh, and the internal cavity is big enough to carry two cameras and a giant telephoto lens along with everything else. It even comes with two extra smaller bags, which you can use for a pair of gym shoes or just stuffing more junk in (mine is filled with, you guessed it, more cables).
All that and I like the look of it too. It's made out of neoprene, which is a soft lightweight material that dries quickly if it gets wet, and it's also insulating and shock-absorbent, which is good news for my precious cargo. Sure, it's expensive at $175, but for me, a good-quality bag is worth it. My one disappointment is that apparently Dagne Dover has come out with a larger, bigger-capacity backpack in the past year. I'm resisting the urge to get that one, because the one I have is still pretty perfect.
"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.