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APC TravelPower Backpack Review

Highs

  • Well-designed pockets and pouches
  • reduces cable clutter and travel weight
  • universal power.

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 9

Lows

  • Lack of Apple support
  • USB chargers not available for all devices.
The APC TravelPower line of notebook cases is an innovative idea that many mobile professionals will really appreciate.

Summary

It’s not very often that we find it necessary to review a laptop bag. With our reputation of reviewing so many products with what we call “the cool factor” you may be wondering “what’s so cool about a laptop bag?”

The APC TravelPower line of laptop cases does have that “cool factor” that we look for. These are not your ordinary laptop bags. With a built-in surge protector and travel charger for your portable devices, the APC TravelPower lineup shows us how style, function and technology can blend together to make some pretty interesting and useful products.

Introduction

If you travel with a laptop, mobile phone, personal digital assistant or digital media player, you know how inconvenient it can be to have to bring along chargers for each component. What’s worse is having to charge all of those devices in your hotel room the night before an early flight. How many times have you done that – with cables and devices spread out all over the room?

APC’s solution to this is their line of TravelPower laptop bags. With TavelPower, you can charge all of these devices with one source, and even charge them while they are packed away in the bag.

American Power Conversion (APC) is well-known as a supplier for power conditioning and protection in the enterprise computing market. If you’ve ever been in a server room, chances are you’ve seen an APC Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) or a surge protector. APC also has a strong consumer products division and it seems like they have been diversifying their offerings lately. Their consumer products range from UPSes to surge protectors to products for mobile computing. In this review, we take a look at their TravelPower line of laptop cases.

APC TravelPower Backpack
The APC TravelPower Backpack can carry and power your laptop, PDA and wireless phone.

What’s So Special About A Backpack?

The TravelPower cases are notebook carrying cases with integrated universal charging components. The idea behind the TravelPower is that you can charge your phone, PDA and laptop computer all with one charger – and even while they are all still in the case.

APC offers three types of TravelPower cases: a 1000 cubic-inch synthetic leather case, a 1300 cubic-inch nylon case and a 1900 cubic-inch backpack version. The unit we tested was the TravelPower Backpack.

All three variations of the TravelPower cases include the APC TravelPower universal power adapter. The adapter is a power brick that weighs about half a pound and is about 6-inches high by 2.75-inches wide by 1.75-inches thick. Fully unraveled, the cable can reach about 11.5 feet. It comes with three power tips, allowing you to hook it up to a 12-volt cigarette lighter or power source in an automobile, an airline power adapter, and a regular two prong AC plug for standard electrical outlets.

The adapter has a selectable voltage dial that lets you adjust it to the proper setting for your laptop. Included with the adapter are nine tips made to connect to the most popular makes of laptop computers from Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Panasonic, Sony, and Toshiba. It also features built-in circuit protection to protect your equipment from surges and spikes. The power adapter will also automatically shutdown when connected to your car battery to prevent the battery from fully draining.

On the top left-hand side of the power adapter is a USB plug that provides power for the USB charger for your phones and PDAs. Included is a USB power splitter that splits the one USB port into two. From here you can connect a USB charger for your phone and PDA (or other devices) and charge or power them all from the single adapter. All three versions of the case have pouches designed specifically to hold the power adapter, PDA and cell phone and have guides that help you neatly route the charging cables to each device.

APC TravelPower Adapter
The APC TravelPower universal adapter with the attached USB power splitter.

The TravelPower backpack also comes with an APC-branded Kryptonite luggage lock and a removable “spill-proof” pouch. Curiously, the backpack doesn’t have the holes in the zipper pulls that allow a lock to easily be attached. In order to use the lock, you would have to hook it to the ends of the zipper pulls. However, most locks are not allowed in air travel anymore.

Usability and Testing

Forget about the power adapter for a minute, the APC TravelPower backpack is one of the best designed, most useful backpacks we’ve ever used. There are intelligently laid-out pockets everywhere – 24 by our count. The pockets are easy to access and there are several that are made specifically for portable devices. There are also two external pouches for water bottles on each side.

Your laptop fits in a well-protected pocket protected in the main compartment. There are pockets in that compartment for folders, files or papers. This compartment is the one closest to your back and is protected by a thick padding that is both comfortable and functional. It is protected with padding on all six sides and really keeps your laptop safe.

The middle compartment is where your portable devices are stored. There are three mesh pockets made specifically to fit your PDA, wireless phone and the power adapter. Between these pockets are loops designed to manage the charging cables so they are neatly organized.

The front compartment is designed to hold pens, change and smaller items. The removable pouch fits in this section. On the very front is a diagonal zipper pouch with two other pockets.

The backpack is a dark blue tough nylon material and features a carrying handle on the top and two comfortable shoulder straps.

We had no problem fitting any of our devices in the TravelPower backpack. Our desktop-replacement Sony Vaio GRT-250 fit well in the laptop pouch as did the ultra-portable 12-inch Apple Powerbook. Unfortunately, APC does not provide power adapter tips for these particular laptops. In fact, there are no power adapter tips for any Apple laptops.

All phones and PDAs that we tried seem to fit well in the designated pouches also.

We hooked up an IBM T-40 laptop, Motorola i90 wireless phone and a Compaq iPAQ PDA to the travel power adapter. All items fit perfectly in the case and powering and charging them worked great. To select the proper voltage, all you need to do is turn the dial on the power adapter with a coin to match the required setting for your laptop. If you can’t find that information, APC provides it for you in a booklet included with the packaging and on their Website. The USB power adapter automatically provides the proper voltage for your portable devices.

APC TravelPower Backpack
Although this is a diagram for a different TravelPower case, you can see how the cables are routed.

Once we were able to get devices that worked with the included adapters, it was great to be able to use only one power cord to charge all devices. The best part about this is being able to charge all of the devices while they are in the bag. Travelers will appreciate this when they want to be packed in the evening to leave early the next morning. There are no messy cables to worry about since the bag provides a path for all wires to all devices, and the power plug slides right through an opening in the zipper to plug into the wall.

Price and Compatibilty

The TravelPower backpack that we tested can be found online for around $120. That may seem quite expensive for a backpack, but remember, it includes a universal charger that includes eight different laptop connectors and an AC, auto, and air adapter. Considering that a Targus universal AC/DC notebook adapter with five tips is selling for around $129 and we found a Kensington AC/car/air adapter with 10 tips for $119, we think that the TravelPower backpack is a very good deal.

In order to power or charge your PDA or wireless phone with the APC power adapter, you’ll need to purchase a separate USB power adapter for each device. These adapters can usually be found for about $20. One additional bonus of buying a USB charger is that you can hook it up to your computer to charge your devices also. In a pinch, USB chargers can even draw power from a laptop battery if you need to make an emergency call.

APC makes USB power adapters for many popular wireless phones including models from Alcatel, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Panasonic, Seimens and Samsung. They also offer USB chargers for many PDAs made by Compaq, Handspring, Palm and Sony. Other manufacturers also make USB chargers so if you don’t find your device in APC’s list, check around the Web.

The eight tips included with the TravelPower backpack will work with most major brands of laptops, but before you purchase, visit APC’s Website to confirm compatibility with your laptop and other portable devices. They also have an extensive list of USB chargers for phones and PDAs.

While the first two laptops we tried were not compatible, keep in mind that we review the latest products so the products we have on hand are very new. Also, since this is a 75 watt power adapter, it can’t power the desktop replacement laptops anyway. A typical desktop replacement requires a 120 watt or more power supply. If you have a laptop by one of the manufacturers listed, chances are the TravelPower case will work for you.

Conclusion

The APC TravelPower line of notebook cases is an innovative idea that many mobile professionals will really appreciate. Its ability to allow you to decrease the number of cables you travel with, organize all of your travel essentials and charge your mobile equipment with a single device gives it that “cool factor” that we are always looking for at Designtechnica.

The blue color of the backpack may not appeal to all, but we’ve heard that APC is going to start selling them in more colors in the near future. While the other models of the TravelPower cases are black and may be more “professional-oriented” we would have liked to see the backpack in black also.

We’d also like to see APC provide compatibility with Apple notebooks as well as USB chargers for more phones in the future. The first three phones we tried did not have USB adapters available.

If you can find a USB charger for your devices and the adapters work with your laptop, the APC TravelPower backpack is a great way to travel with your devices.

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