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jdejesus
10-13-2004, 07:42 PM
I just received my Empire Bag, and I thought I'd share my thoughts after three days, including one business trip. (Pls overlook the typos)

Plusses:
- Perfect size for a traveling lawyer like me.
-Love the combination of the briefcase main compartment with the messenger bag style front pocket.
-really love the magazine/newpaper back pocket
-pockets on the front flap are ideal for quickly stowing wallet, keys, etc. before going through airport security.
-the dividers have proven more useful than I expected (although I only use one right now to separate business and personal docs).
-no velcro

Mixed reviews, wants, constructive criticism:
- No safe way to secure a water bottle or wet umbrella without risking leakage on documents or electronics. My old bag had straps on the bottom and a separate waterbottle pocket on the side
- I would have preferred a Key ring holder on the front side of the flap (maybe in the flap pocket) instead of the inside the front pocket. Everytime I open the flap, the contents of the open flap pocket (and any unzipped pocket) dumps out.
- or better yet, it would have been nice to have either strap loops or d-rings on the front flap to clip a carabiner for a quick way to clip keys, water bottle, or my fancy compass/pocketwatch.
-The internal compartments within the front pocket could have been better spaced. Only one of the compartments -- the one that seems to be designed for my PDA -- can hold a checkbook, but it can't hold both. Two dedicated pen/pencil slots are not enough.
-The position of the open pocket on the front flap is not ideal. Because I usually carry the bag on my right shoulder, the open pocket is toward the back. I'd prefer an option of having the front flap pockets reversed (mirror image for those of us who carry the bag on our right shoulder).
-I'm ambivalent about the strap. The stretchy-ness and rubberized bumps give me the sense that the strap will stay put on my shoulder, but I actually miss the easy adjustment and floating pad of my old messenger bag. If i want to lengthen the strap (to go from over the shoulder to cross-body) or just shift the angle by which I carry the bag, it takes a complicated set of adjustments on both sides. I also worry about the lifespan of the stretchy material
-While I like the size and structural support, I'm not to keen on the fact that the bag stays at its full (or near full) thickness even when its empty. I think I might have preferred the ability to take out the side and bottom stiffeners when I'm not carrying much so that the bag can collapse in thickness.
-Seems heavy even when empty (almost like my leather case, certainly heavier than my comparably sized messenger bag)
-Brain cell takes up more space than it needs to because the clips center the braincell inside the bag. This leaves unusually small open spaces on either side of the brain cell. It would have been better to allow the cell to be clipped in a little off-center to have a more usuable space.
-Finally I was kind of perturbed (to say the least) that the ETA that was quoted to me in my invoice was unilaterally delayed by two weeks. I don't think that's excusable (even for a small company), especially without contacting the customer. On the positive side, Teresa did commit to a firm final delivery date when I complained and the bulk of my order (still waiting for the t-shirt) and it actually came 3 days earlier than that date (although 2 wks after original ETA).

Still I'm pretty pleased with the bag

dcphotoguy
10-14-2004, 09:36 AM
Interesting review. I have one on order. I too am a lawyer. I must say your list of disappointments strikes me as both long and significant to you. I wonder if you really like the bag.

jdejesus
10-14-2004, 06:16 PM
I guess the comments were significant enough to bang out a long list, but I was really trying to be constructive. Also I did quite a bit of research when my prior bag gave out, and I really couldn't find another one that better suited my needs suited my needs.

The most significant gripes may be the thickness & weight of the bag when empty. I'd be interested your reaction when you get yours.

dcphotoguy
10-15-2004, 07:39 AM
My bag shipped yesterday and should arrive late next week. I'll post my impressions after I've had some time with the bag and we can compare notes.

Tom Bihn
10-20-2004, 11:51 AM
Originally posted by jdejesus

Mixed reviews, wants, constructive criticism:
- No safe way to secure a water bottle or wet umbrella without risking leakage on documents or electronics. My old bag had straps on the bottom and a separate waterbottle pocket on the side


Straps on the bottom we've prototyped, but the problem is that the bag will not stand up by itself anymore. Elastic, which will lay flatter than other materials, has a limited life span.

We concluded that a water bottle pocket would look too sporty on the Empire Builder, a bag that appeals mostly to those who want a conservative looking briefcase.



- I would have preferred a Key ring holder on the front side of the flap (maybe in the flap pocket) instead of the inside the front pocket. Everytime I open the flap, the contents of the open flap pocket (and any unzipped pocket) dumps out.
- or better yet, it would have been nice to have either strap loops or d-rings on the front flap to clip a carabiner for a quick way to clip keys, water bottle, or my fancy compass/pocketwatch.


Great idea to have another small d-ring inside the front flap pocket. This would allow you to move the snap hook into the front flap pocket like you suggest. An exterior d-ring to clip things would, like a water bottle pocket, create a sportier look than we are trying to achieve.



The internal compartments within the front pocket could have been better spaced. Only one of the compartments -- the one that seems to be designed for my PDA -- can hold a checkbook, but it can't hold both. Two dedicated pen/pencil slots are not enough.


We will review the placement of those pockets. Thanks for your input.



-The position of the open pocket on the front flap is not ideal. Because I usually carry the bag on my right shoulder, the open pocket is toward the back. I'd prefer an option of having the front flap pockets reversed (mirror image for those of us who carry the bag on our right shoulder).


It's tough to please everyone! One might think left-handed people carry the bag on their left shoulder and right-handed people carry the bag on their right shoulder, but we have found that that is not always the case.



-While I like the size and structural support, I'm not to keen on the fact that the bag stays at its full (or near full) thickness even when its empty. I think I might have preferred the ability to take out the side and bottom stiffeners when I'm not carrying much so that the bag can collapse in thickness.


One of the major design criteria for the Empire Builder is that it retains its shape and stands up on its own when you set it down.



-Seems heavy even when empty (almost like my leather case, certainly heavier than my comparably sized messenger bag)


The additional weight is a result of the elements added to maintain the bags rigidity. The Empire Builder was designed to be a briefcase, not a soft messenger bag.



-Brain cell takes up more space than it needs to because the clips center the braincell inside the bag. This leaves unusually small open spaces on either side of the brain cell. It would have been better to allow the cell to be clipped in a little off-center to have a more usuable space.


Seems like a good idea, however it would change the CG of the bag -- changing the weight distribution -- making it not nearly as comfortable to carry.



Still I'm pretty pleased with the bag


Glad you like it! Hope it continues to work out for you.

jdejesus
10-20-2004, 03:47 PM
thanks for the reply, Tom. A couple of things, however:
1. There are lots of non-sporty brief cases out there. I guess I was looking for this one to be an alternative to the mainstream targuses, etc.
2. Without a lap top, but with all of the stuff I usually have in the fron pocket, the bag doesn't stand up so well, even as thick as it is. Anyway, when I suggested umbrella loops at the bottom, I was really talking about the lower part of the front or the back, and not literally underneath the bag.
3. My concerns about the longevity of the strap have born out. In less than a week, all of the rubber bumps on the bottom of the strap have worn off.

dcphotoguy
10-21-2004, 09:16 AM
Are you enjoying the bag overall? You still sound kind of unhappy with it. Mine is due in Friday.

jdejesus
10-21-2004, 12:13 PM
I'm not in love with it, but I don't hate it. As I said, while there is room for improvement, I haven't found anything else out there that better suits my needs.

dcphotoguy
10-21-2004, 05:28 PM
About the water bottle, why can't the open pocket on the outside flap hold a water bottle? My water bottle fits in fine.

jdejesus
10-21-2004, 06:55 PM
Yeah, I thought about that, but the vertical zip pocket (which I use to hold my Ipod) has to remain flat (no Ipod).

Glad to hear you got your bag. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

dcphotoguy
10-22-2004, 06:08 AM
Originally posted by jdejesus
Yeah, I thought about that, but the vertical zip pocket (which I use to hold my Ipod) has to remain flat (no Ipod).

Glad to hear you got your bag. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

I take it you like to listen to your iPod during your commute?

Have you considered putting your iPod in the horizontal zip pocket and then putting your water bottle in the vertical open pocket?

Darcy
10-22-2004, 10:56 AM
Originally posted by jdejesus
Finally I was kind of perturbed (to say the least) that the ETA that was quoted to me in my invoice was unilaterally delayed by two weeks. I don't think that's excusable (even for a small company), especially without contacting the customer. On the positive side, Teresa did commit to a firm final delivery date when I complained and the bulk of my order (still waiting for the t-shirt) and it actually came 3 days earlier than that date (although 2 wks after original ETA).


I'm sorry for the delay. It looks like we emailed you on September 20th to notify you of the delay. At that time we guaranteed you would receive the bag by the date you requested. Sometimes emails have been forgotten in spam filters, or lost in the shuffle, and we should have called you as well as emailed you to let you know about the delay.

We do our best to predict when the bags will be finished by our factory, but sometimes things happen we can't control, like people getting sick or cars breaking down.

Of course, none of that excuses the delays and that's why we are working on increasing our production capacity -- no, we're not going overseas -- and hope to have it up to speed in the beginning of next year.

I understand completely how frustrating it is to have to wait for something you're so excited about. Keep in mind that every day we are working hard to get you that bag you need/want/must have, and we are making progress.

Darcy
10-22-2004, 11:00 AM
Originally posted by jdejesus
3. My concerns about the longevity of the strap have born out. In less than a week, all of the rubber bumps on the bottom of the strap have worn off.

Wow, sounds like you got a bad strap. The Absolute Strap is very popular and I've heard of this happening once before, but only once before.

If you'll send me an email at darcy at tombihn.com, we can figure out how to send you a replacement strap.

jonhoffm
02-16-2005, 03:13 PM
I received my Empire Builder a week or so ago and have been very pleased. I use or have used all of the bags below and must say that the EB has lived up to my hopes.

I love the divider system. Love it. They provide flexibility I have not seen in any other bag. All my previous efforts to find something like this have left me with a bag that is too compartmentalized or too unstructured.

I find the bag is big enough to carry my laptop (both I own are small) with plenty of room for additional documents, etc. Also, it is not oversized.

Like the author of the thread, I would like to see some work on the back of the bag. Swiss Army has a great back which puts a zipper on the side of the back pocket to stow an umbrella and one on the bottom if you want to put it over the handle to your rolling carry-on.

That is about it so far. Great job.

Tom Bihn
02-17-2005, 01:56 PM
Thanks for the great feedback. We're always working to improve our products.

I agree that more could be done to the back side of the Empire Builder (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/300/TB0730). Right now I'm concentrating on the smaller version of the Empire Builder and will keep these ideas in mind.

jdejesus
02-18-2005, 06:10 PM
I know this is going to sound like player hating, but I've retired the EB and have moved on. I couldn't take the extra weight, hated that I had to carry my wet umbrella in my hand, and all of the contents of the front-under-flap pocket dumped out on the floor when a none-too-careful airport security guard jostled the bag at check in.

I went with the Maxpedition MPB, and without trying to sound like a gratuitous advertisement, it better fit my needs in terms of weight, internal compartment variety, and external hoops for hanging bottles and umbrellas. I don't think durability, protectiveness have suffered, either. On the downside, I had to deal with a scary army surplus store (recall the scene from Falling Down or the pawn shop in Pulp Fiction). I guess maxpedition draws a different ilk of clientelle than Mr. Bihn.

Anyway, dcphotoguy, I guess I wasn't all that happy with the EB afterall, but I know there is no accounting for taste.

dcphotoguy
02-18-2005, 06:31 PM
jdejesus


I just did a Google search for the bag you bought. I must say it looks like a HUGE bag. It looks like something a salesman would carry or perhaps for a lawyer a big litiigation bag. The Empire Builder really fills a different need. It's focus is a more professional look in my opinion.

I remember your initial post about the Empire Bag. I sensed you were trying to like it but deep down you didn't. In my personal experience, first impressions count for a lot.

jdejesus
02-18-2005, 07:38 PM
It expands to a very large size, but note (1) the main compartment is small (think like a wide letter sized redwell), and with the outerpockets the whole thing is only slightly larger than the EB and (2) there is no rigid internal frame other than the exterior pockets on 4 sides, so the bag slinks down in size when not full (solving one of my principle beefs with the EB, while still maintaining the ability to stand on its own). With the bag empty, I can actually fit it *inside* my Litigation Bag. For comparisons, when I was looking at the EB and the maxpedition, I also looked at the Waterfield Cargo Bag -large, and the Booq Cobra XM, too. Their exterior dimensions and carrying capacities are all pretty much the same -- they just slice up the interior space in different ways.

Again, I'm not trying to sell the bag, but you asked about the size. Note: I still use the OpTec Strap on the new bag.

jehingr
04-10-2005, 09:13 AM
I have just recently completed my conversion from button-down corporate supply chain consultant to independent professional wrestling video producer (that is entirely a too long separate story).

Along with this change came the switch from my road warrior IBM ThinkPad to first one, and now two Apple Mac Powerbooks. For years, my road warrior bag has been Victorinox’ Webmaster® bag (Swiss Army Webmaster (http://www.swissarmytravelgear.com/webstore/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=2527&category=130) ). While a bit on the expensive side, it met all of my criteria:

1) Looks good in a corporate environment
2) Protects my computer
3) Rugged
4) Self-standing
5) Holds EVERYTHING I need on the road
6) Organizes well
7) Keeps handy stuff handy
8) Keeps everything secure
9) Travels well
10) Comfortable to carry

The Webmaster certainly met all of those criteria with regards to my ThinkPad for a lot of years. When I bought my first Powerbook (a 15” 1.5 GHz Aluminum) the vendor graciously threw in a free Kensington SaddleBag (Kensington SaddleBag (http://www.kensington.com/html/2517.html) ). It missed criteria 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 – but it was free. And since I was still carrying my ThinkPad to presentations & meetings it was O.K.

But as the new video business grew – we needed more portable computing power. So we added a new 17” Powerbook. This would allow us to cover multiple meetings, multiple live shows for taping, etc. I also decided to leave the ThinkPad at home and conduct the video business solely on the Mac platform.

The Webmaster bag was out of the running. It was a bit too snug for the 15” Powerbook and would in no way accommodate the 17”. And while it has been a tremendous bag, and I don’t mind paying for quality, it is a tad on the pricey side.

I started searching for the correct bag for the new 17” monster. After conducting my due diligence search, I decided to give the Empire Builder® a try. I also bought a size one Brain Cell®, the Absolute Shoulder Strap®, a Freudian Slip®, a pair of Snake Charmers®, and a bunch of Strapeez®.

This worked out beautifully. The Empire Builder holds it all. Starting from the back and working forward:

Brain Cell with the 17” PowerBook and mouse pad
Wired USB mouse and Apple power “rectangle” in the outside pockets of the Brain Cell
Meeting notes, call sheets, etc. paperwork in the file dividers
A LaCie 1Tb external firewire drive (carefully wrapped in a Domke® wrap – thanks to Ken from the Tom Bihn forum)
All of the cables, power supply, etc for the drive in a Snake Charmer

That pretty much fills up the main compartment. Not too shabby. Next, under the flap in the open compartment:

A RadTech BT mini mouse in its snug little case
A pair of PostWorX SpeedBalls (nifty little half round, Velcro-on feet)
Two pens
A highlighter
A PCMCIA firewire expansion card
A Kensington universal power supply adaptor kit

That pretty much fills up the space under the flap. I could jam more stuff in, especially in the zippered compartment, but that makes the bag look a little too pregnant for my tastes – and I’ve already loaded in everything I need.

In the flap, when I’m traveling I add a paperback book in the big zippered compartment, my cell phone in the little zippered compartment, and boarding passes in the open compartment.

It’s a little tricky getting the Powerbook out to go through security – but I’ll gladly trade the minor hassle for the supreme security that the Empire Builder and Brain Cell provide me.

This worked out so well that I went back online and purchased another Empire Builder, a size 4 Brain Cell, another Absolute Shoulder Strap, a couple more Snake Charmers, and another bunch of Strapeez. My 15” Powerbook now resides in a set-up very similar to its bigger brother. The main differences are that the 15” travels with 2 Maxtor 250 Gb external firewire drives instead of the LaCie and the Airport Express rectangle resides under the flap instead of the universal power adapter.

Of my ten criteria at the start of this (I’m sorry it’s so long) review, the Empire Builder gets top marks in 8 categories. The handles on this bag are the best I've ever dealt with. Somehow they are magically always where I want them to be and they are very comfortable even under full load.

While I haven’t seen any problem yet, I have to deduct minor points in category 8 “Keeps everything secure” just because I fear that an overzealous airport security inspector is going to throw the flap open and dump stuff out of the open compartment under the flap. Again, I haven’t seen this happen yet and don’t know that it will. But I still have just the tiniest bit of dread that it will happen.

The other category where I have to deduct minor points is category 9 “Travels well”. And these few points are the sum total of my dislikes about the Empire Builder.

1) I want a water bottle pocket! I know that Mr. Bihn has decreed that a water bottle pocket would be sportier than the Empire Builder is intended to be. And I agree – I don’t want to walk into a client meeting with a water bottle hanging off of my bag. But on the way back to the airport after a successful meeting I want to celebrate with a cold, soft beverage that I will probably nurse all the way onto the plane. So I want a discrete, disappearing water bottle holder – like the one on the Webmaster.

2) I don’t want to suggest outright intellectual property or design theft, but take a look at the back pocket on the Webmaster and make the back pocket on the Empire Builder work like that. Put a zippered slot in the bottom so that I can slide the back pocket over the handle of my rolling luggage. And put a slot in the side of the back pocket so that I can stick an umbrella there – particularly a wet umbrella.

That’s really it. Score it as a 95 out of 100. My bottom line analysis – if you need to carry a LOT of stuff and look like a professional instead of a backpacker or bike messenger while doing it – the Empire Builder is the winner. For a smaller laptop than the 15” Powerbook the Webmaster might be a slightly better bag – but at nearly twice the cost the Empire Builder is still near the top of the list. And for a larger computer – there is no competition.

jdejesus
05-28-2005, 06:42 PM
Just thought I'd let folks know that I'm back in the TB fold. I got sick of the fact that the Maxpedition couldn't hold legal sized folders. Now I am a proud owner of a Super Ego bag (Black, Black, Blue) which satisfies nearly all of my gripes about the Empire Builder (more collapsable structure, water bottle pockets, multiple key ring locations, external loops, AND it arrived in a very timely manner -- overnight). While it's got non-office-standard styling, it's all-black exterior makes it fit in well in business environs. I'll keep the Empire Builder and Maxpedition around as backups, but the Super Ego will now be my primary bag.

With that said, there are a number of things I would suggest to improve with the Super Ego -- largely borrowing from the better parts of the Empire Builder:

1. Having now experienced the Absolute Strap, and learning to like it, I would prefer that to the messenger style strap of the Super Ego. I like the swivel-ability and replaceability of the Absolute Strap of the Empire Builder. Alternatively, if you want to keep the messenger style strap, it would be good to incorporate an adjust on the fly cam-buckle (such as those found on Timbuk2 bags). Either would be an improvement on the Super Ego strap.

2. The main compartment of the Super Ego would be improved substantially if it had the shorter height and wider width of the Empire Builder. As it is, the Super Ego can't stand up under the airline seat in front of you, thus taking up precious legroom on airplanes. And I'm not exactly sure what the function of the squarish profile of the Super Ego main compartment -- for people who carry x-rays?

3. The underflap pockets of the Super Ego are teriffic, but it would be good to have the flap pockets of the Empire Builder, too. Why not both?

4. Convert one of the Super Ego water bottle pockets to a functional Ipod/Blackberry pocket. I was using one of them for that purpose that way right now, but I found out the hard way that they have holes in the bottom -- lost a pair of earbuds. Anyway, I love having one water bottle pocket, but I think only a camel would need two.

5. The male part of the seat belt buck could be better designed. It is always slipping when unbuckled,a nd I'm constantly having to tighten it down.