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WaterField’s slim $180 Tech Folio will convert messenger bag haters

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Gadgets for humans

It’s deceptively compact, and stylish to boot

I’ve never fully got on board with the idea of a laptop sleeve – you know, those envelopes that you can slide your laptop into and carry just that. It has no handles, offers little protection, and doesn’t have room for anything else. That’s a difficult trade-off for sleekness, and so I grudgingly lug around a larger messenger bag.

San Francisco’s WaterField Designs might have just hit on the best of both worlds. Its new Tech Folio fits most laptops up to 16 inches, as well as a bunch of accessories, and can be carried in hand or on your person with a comfy strap — all while maintaining a slim, discreet profile.

WaterField’s design language features materials like full grain leather and waxed canvas that weather naturally and develop their own distinctive patinas. After owning several pieces of luggage made of common synthetic fabrics, I’m glad to see options like these which can age gracefully.

With that in mind, I asked WaterField to send over the brown waxed canvas option with chocolate leather and black hardware; you can also opt for black ballistic nylon with leather accents. I love how this looks sophisticated, yet rugged thanks to the prominently textured materials.

The Tech Folio looks deceptively slim; it’s actually roomy enough to fit a 16-inch MacBook Pro, as well as its charger and several other accessories and stationery.

As I mentioned before, that’s been my gripe with sleeves and small bags. Sure, most modern laptops can last a whole workday and let you leave your charger at home, but I hate having to multitask without a mouse. I also carry other gear like headphones and external hard drives when I travel, and I’m happy to report you can fit a bunch of small items like these in the front pocket.

Like WaterField’s other bags, the Tech Folio features a bright gold-orange interior liner that makes it easy to spot your gear easily as soon as you open the two compartments.

There are several little pockets in both compartments to hold your stuff in place — pens, flash drives, and cables, for example. The main compartment, which opens flat for easy packing and unpacking, has a padded laptop pocket, large mesh pockets so you can see what’s stashed inside, and a couple of padded pockets for delicate items you don’t want scratched up.

I had little trouble packing enough gear for a full day’s work, including an HP Envy 15 and its paperback-sized power brick, wireless earbuds, a USB-C cable to juice up my phone. And although there isn’t a dedicated pocket for it, I was fine stashing my iPad Air with a front cover on it in the main compartment along with the laptop.

It’s rather strange reviewing a bag when you can’t go anywhere. Thanks, coronavirus. Still, I do visit family and a couple of friends occasionally, and work out of their homes — and those little outings will have to make do in replicating commutes to my co-working space.

The Tech Folio works great in this regard; I don’t have to leave anything I actually need behind at home, and I’m glad to be able to carry my stuff in a sleek, grown-up bag. The shoulder strap has soft padding that makes it easy to wear across my chest, and I like the option of ditching the entire strap if I’m taking a cab and can simply carry the Folio with its grab handle. And not that I have any flights to catch soon, but if I did, I could slip the Folio’s passthrough strap over my suitcase’s trolley handle and drop the weight off my shoulder.

The Tech Folio is really a gear case disguised as a bag, and its clever design allows it to work well in a variety of situations, whether you’re traveling, commuting, or just storing your gadgets carefully.

It’s also a tasteful design that thankfully doesn’t scream ‘tech.’ The Folio is discreet enough to not draw too much attention, but there are also neat details to appreciate when you get a closer look. And with its slim profile, it brings most of the benefits of a practical messenger bag, without all the bulk.

At $180, the Tech Folio isn’t cheap. But for that price, you get premium materials, and excellent construction and finish in a Made-in-America product. If you’ve tried other popular backpacks and messenger bags and haven’t liked their looks or construction — like the ones favored by The Wirecutter, and The Strategist — this is certainly worth a look.

Find the Tech Folio over on WaterField Designs’ site at $179. The company also makes two smaller (and cheaper) models suitable for devices measuring up to 11 inches, and 13 inches.

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Published October 14, 2020 — 11:04 UTC

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