There was a time when I would often use my briefcase to take my laptop back and forth to work and to take my laptop with me when I traveled. Those days began to come to an end the day I started using an iPad, and nowadays I never bring my laptop home from the office or take it with me when I travel. I can do everything that I need to do with my iPad, which is a fraction of the weight, has much better battery life, and is a much more enjoyable device to use. When I need to use a desktop application that doesn't exist on the iPad, I can always connect to my office using Citrix or connect to my computer sitting in my office using LogMeIn Ignition. But how do I take my iPad back and forth to work every day and carry it when I travel? For a while I was using my briefcase, but that is really way too big for the iPad, and now that I try to keep all of my documents in electronic form (usually PDF) on my iPad, I don't even need the extra space in my briefcase to carry papers. What I needed was a small bag that would hold the iPad and some key accessories, including my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, for going to and from work and for traveling. I suspect that many of you have the exact same need.
I visited a ton of product and review websites, asked lots of people for advice (including iPhone J.D. readers) and got some great tips, and finally narrowed down my research to two products. Both companies sent me review units at no cost, and I've been using them both for well over a month now. They are both fantastic and I give them both strong recommendations. Today I'm talking about the BoxWave Encompass Urban Bag, which is less expensive ($48.95) and overall has fewer features, but for many people will be the best choice. In a few days I'll talk about the other product, the Tom Bihn Ristretto for iPad ($110, and around $150 with accessories).
BoxWave's Encompass Urban Bag
The main reason that you get a bag like this is to safely carry your iPad. I wanted something that would fit the iPad 2 with the Apple Smart Cover attached. The main compartment of the Encompass Urban is divided in two. One half is for the iPad. It is well padded for protection, and once your iPad is inside a flap folds down and attaches with velcro so that your iPad won't slide out, even if the main compartment is open. In the other half of the main compartment, I put my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard. (In the first picture below I am using a Kensington PowerLift just to prop open the inside of the bag so that you can see it, but normally I would store a battery like that in the external pouch.)
One side of the Encompass Urban has a large flap attached by velcro. Open it up to reveal two large pockets about 4" x 6" in size. Each pocket can stretch out to hold about 1.5" of items. Inside of each pocket is a secondary netted pocket so that you can separate items within the pockets. I also often put a stylus in the netted pocket, with the clip attached to the netting to keep it in place. There is also loop made of elastic. I found the loop a little large for a pen or stylus; it does a good job holding a marker and I imagine would do well holding a thick stylus. With the large velcro flap closed, items inside of the two large pockets are safe and will not fall out of the Encompass Urban.
The other side of the Encompass Urban has one large pocket on the entire side, about 8.5" wide and almost 8" tall. There is one small piece of velcro in the middle of the top of the pocket that keeps the pocket closed, but beware that smaller items could slip out of the sides. If you just ignore the velcro, you can easily tuck a larger item into this side pocket such as a magazine.
A bag like this has to do a good job of holding items, but it also has to be easy to carry. There are two ways to carry the Encompass Urban. First, there are two small straps that work well when you want to carry the bag in your hand. But I found that I almost never used them, and fortunately there is a small compartment on each side of the bag that allows you to tuck away the handle so that it is out of the way. Instead, I almost always use the included padded shoulder strap that attaches easily to the bag with metallic bindings. (You can easily remove the strap if you just want to use the small handles.) The padded portion of the strap that sits on your shoulder has netting to give it friction on your shoulder to make it harder for the bag to slip off your arm. It worked reasonably well, although after walking a distance I would find the strap slipping down so I would have to push it back up. There were a few times when I was rushing in an airport to catch a tight connection, and I would put the strap on my other shoulder so that the straps were diagonal across my body. That position held the Encompass Urban bag very well. It's not a position I would want to use very often because it is a little annoying to have a strap across my chest, but for those rare times when needed, the position kept this bag secure on my body.
BoxWave makes lots of great products for the iPhone and iPad, including the great BoxWave Capactive Styra and the BoxWave Capacitive iPad Stylus. They know what iPad and iPhone owners need, and thus it comes as no surprise that I have really enjoyed using the Encompass Urban bag. The entire bag is nicely padded so all of the contents are safe. It very easy to store all of my essential iPad and iPhone items in this bag: the iPad 2 with cover, the keyboard, external batteries, power cords, VGA adapter cord, pen, stylus, and other small accessories. Thus, I can carry those items with me, and as an added bonus I always know to go to the bag to find those items. This is also a great small travel bag for when you are on an airplane. You can put it under the seat in front of you and, unlike a briefcase, there is still tons of room for your feet, and in that location it is easy to access your iPad once you hit 10,000 feet.
I find that when you have too many items in the outside pockets, the bag stretches somewhat making it a little harder to close the main compartment when you have the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard in there. It will close, but it can get a little snug. With fewer items in the outside pockets this problem disappears, and if you don't plan on carrying something as long as that keyboard, you won't run into this problem even with full outside pockets.
This bag also lacks some features of the Tom Binh Ristretto that I will be reviewing in a few days, but the BoxWave Encompass Urban Bag is nevertheless a fantastic bag at a fraction of the price ($50 versus $110 for the Tom Binh plus around $40 in accessories that you will want to get). If you are looking for an easy way to carry your iPad and accessories around, you'll love this bag, and at only $50 it is very affordable for what it gives you.