Mid-sized briefcase-style laptop bag.
I admit that I am a laptop bag snob. As a result, I don’t show much loyalty to a given brand or style. Although this segment is given primarily to reviewing tech gadgets and such, we also need something to carry them in! So, I am always on the lookout for the next best thing to sling over my shoulder and carry my laptop and work materials to and from the office as well as across the country. For over a year, I have been using the Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 messenger bag, which offers an excellent blend of capacity and durability. During that time, I have also tried out the booq Mamba catch S, but I found it wasn’t big enough to carry everything I need. Recently, I have been using another booq creation, the Cobra brief L, which was given to me by the company. I set out to see if it could unseat the Timbuk2 as my go-to bag.
Compared to the Timbuk2 Commute 2.0’s bold and aggressive styling, the booq Cobra brief is definitely more “business-like.” Similar to the Ford Model T’s of old, the Cobra brief is only available in black. While I lean more toward function over style, that isn’t to say that the Cobra brief’s look is boring. I’ve had more than a few people stop me on the bus and ask about the bag. With the seatbelt straps on the front, gunmetal hardware and leather accents, the Cobra brief does have an understated style all on its own. Perhaps its greatest style point is the fact that the Cobra brief doesn’t look like a laptop bag. When carrying around an expensive piece of technology, being inconspicuous isn’t a bad thing.
The bag’s exterior measures 17 inches by 13.4 inches by 4.7 inches, and it weighs 5.4 pounds when the bag is empty. This is a bit weighty for a bag, considering that Ultrabooks typically weigh less than four pounds and an average laptop weighs around five pounds.
One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to any piece of luggage is an overabundance of zippers. I feel that some luggage makers measure their worth by the number of zippers they use. Luckily, booq isn’t one of those companies. On the front of the Cobra brief is a quick-access pocket with a soft plush lining, which is perfect for a Kindle or Nook. Inside this compartment is a slip pocket and three pen slots. The large back pocket is perfect for document storage. These two pockets are especially nice because they let you store things without having to open the entire case to retrieve them.
Also, on the back of the Cobra brief is a secret zipper compartment, hidden by the handle straps, with a plush lining that is perfect for an iPad or tablet PC.
The other two zippers are along the outside edge of the bag. One accesses the laptop compartment, which is designed to hold either a 15-inch or 17-inch Mac or a 15.6-inch PC laptop. This zipper is rubber-coated, which brought about my only serious complaint with the bag: The rubber is prone to catching, and on more than a few occasions, I thought I had jammed the zipper beyond use. You definitely have to finesse this zipper. The laptop compartment has a padded, quilted lining to protect your precious cargo. It isn’t the thickest padding I’ve seen in a laptop bag, but it seems sufficient enough to do the job.
The other zipper runs across the sides and top to expose the main compartment of the bag. On the front inside of the compartment is a large-format zipper pocket with three elastic pen slots; a slip pocket on the back wall of the compartment is suited for a tablet and another for power adapters and cables; and there is also an easy-access large document pocket on the back wall. While I have yet to take this bag on a cross-country trip, I know I will be able to carry everything I need in this bag. The Cobra brief does an excellent job of balancing capacity with compactness.
The exterior of the Cobra brief is made of ballistic nylon with a water-repellent coating. Furthermore, the bottom of the bag is rubberized for added durability. Overall, the Cobra brief is one of the best-constructed laptop bags I have come across in recent years. This is certainly something you would expect when paying $255.
According to booq, there are three ways to carry the Cobra brief. Most will probably use the shoulder strap, which has a shoulder pad that is one of the most comfortable I have found on a laptop bag. It is also one of the longest, which distributes the weight and doesn’t cut into your bicep or shoulder blade. The leather-strapped handles tuck neatly into the exterior pockets so they aren’t in the way when not in use. The seatbelt straps that run up and down the front of the bag are actually extensions of the handles, which make for an interesting design touch. Lastly, on the back of the bag is another nylon strap for you to pass through your trolley luggage handle. This makes navigating in an airport with your wheeled luggage much easier.
Aside from the troubles caused by the rubber-coated zipper, my only other “complaint” is that the Cobra brief isn’t TSA compliant. This means you will have to remove your laptop when going through an airport security checkpoint, instead of being able to unzip it and lay it flat on the x-ray machine conveyer. This is a feature I have grown to love with my Timbuk2 messenger bag.
One final feature of the Cobra brief worth noting is the booq Terralinq service. Each booq bag with Terralinq carries a unique item number on a gunmetal label. After purchasing your booq bag, you can register its Terrlinq number so that if you ever lose your bag, and it is reported lost and found, Terralinq will contact you with the bag's location and the finder's contact information.
After a year and a half of faithful service, I have found a replacement for my Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 messenger bag. As laptops keep getting smaller and smaller, the super-sized Commute 2.0 became a bit overkill. The booq Cobra brief is that “just-right” bag I have been looking for. It allows me to carry my Ultrabook and iPad—with all of their related chargers and cables—and still have room for important files and documents. Furthermore, the solid construction, though adding more weight to the bag, allows it to withstand the abuse of my daily commute and cross-country travel. While it is easy to find functional laptop bags for only a fraction of the cost, the booq Cobra brief may very well be the last laptop briefcase you ever need to buy.
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.