2013: Holiday Gifts for kids of all ages!

On Sunday, December 1, 2013 0 comments

Okay, you know someone that has everything or nearly everything but you still need to get them a gift and need some help. Well, each year I strive to put together a nice line-up of things people "wouldn't mind" getting for the holidays. So let us get started...

I always recommend a fun advent calendar and mention the 2013 Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar set that comes out each holiday. This years Lego set is priced right at $39 and includes a great set of mini-Lego figures. But this year I also want to mention a new Angry Birds advent calendar from K'nex that might be fun, different and attractively priced at under $30.

Share some fun and laughter!

Every holiday season brings out a slew of new movies to see and this year is no different. And some of our favorite recommendations includes the sequel Despicable Me 2 available in Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD download. I can't say enough about how hilarious this film is...as funny as the original. Great characters and the minions are just cool!

Speaking of the Minions...how about picking up a Dave Talking Figure for yourself? This Dave is something special with 55 sayings and sound effects. Careful though...one of those sounds effects is him farting! :-)

Another family-friendly animated Blu-ray/DVD for the holidays is Disney's Planes. This movie brings you back to the Cars universe...but now it is planes racing. Truth be told, the movie is very formulaic but the kids will love it and laugh...and that is all that matters.

In quick succession I will also recommend the dark Superman reboot...Man of Steel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Blu-ray to help you brush up on what happened so you can go see the second Hobbit movie coming out in December and Star Trek Into Darkness.

Bringing the family fun!

Collectible playing card games like Magic the Gathering and the like make for great gifts and for those that are new to playing these games, a starter set is just the thing to get them going. Be sure to pick up two sets so they can have another one for their friend or family member to play with. Magic the Gathering has been around a long-time now and is a favorite in my household and something I can highly recommend.

And if your gift recipient is a comic book fan, perhaps DC Comics Deck Building Game would be a nice surprise. This game requires 2-5 players, takes 30-45 minutes to play and brings together all the fan favorite heroes and villains. Play as Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern and yes...even Aquaman. Definitely worth checking out.

What about some toys?

Well if you ask any child nowadays or toy manufacturer for that matter, it is getting harder and harder to find a toy that will keep the attention of a child as well as a smart device. Sad but true. But toys are trying to fight back with some pretty clever solutions. These include toys that interact with game systems like the latest Skylanders SWAP Force or the new Disney Infinity. These toys interact with videogames to bring the characters to life.

There are also toys that have been updated to work with a smartphone like the new Furby Boom. The app unlocks an entire world where you can hatch a whole civilization of Furblings to enjoy. The app also includes a series of games you can play with your your Furby including Furbish soccer!

And if your little one is ready for their own smart device a first option could be the very nice LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra. This has been a popular tablet that hosts a slew of over 800 optional education and entertainment software in a durable package. The 7-inch tablet features a high-resolution screen and Wi-Fi. The LeadPad Ultra includes 11 apps including an art studio, photo app and has both a front and rear camera. Great for ages 4 - 9. Available for $149.

Okay...what about videogames?

This list could go on forever but I'll just quickly list some great titles for current systems:

3DS: Pokemon X or Pokemon Y (Pokemon Y is on my personal list because my son took my Pokemon X right when it arrived), Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the latest Zelda game and definitely worth playing through and lastly Mario and Luigi: Dream Team.

Consoles: LEGO MarvelMario 3D World and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag are all highly recommended but be sure to pick up the right version for the recipients game system.

Now a great gift would be one of the new, powerful gaming consoles like the Sony Playstation 4 or Microsoft Xbox One but those are a bit hard to obtain. You can check the different bundles on Amazon to see if any of these consoles are available in one configuration or another.

Other tech worth getting?

Yes, the new iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina are great products and are highly recommended. These are substantial updates with improved processing power thanks to a new 64-bit architecture.

Let us not forget that Amazon is in this fight with several great Kindle options including with their wonderful Paperwhite 6" ebook reader as well as the impressive Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" that is a highly competitive offering to the iPad for less.

And to keep all your gear working throughout the day, I personally rely on this small USB external battery pack.

We have found that streaming services are taking up more and more of our TV viewing time. And while I'm sure Apple is due for a substantial update to their Apple TV product at some point in the near future, I would have to say that the Apple TV is one of the best products to deliver streaming content to your TV. Yes, the Roku 3 is a great product as well but the seamless integration of iOS products and the Apple TV give it an edge.

I mentioned the Bose QuietComfort 20i Noise Canceling headphones in my "Wouldn't Mind "Getting into the Mood" Holiday Wish List 2013" piece a couple weeks ago but they warrant another mention. These are great travel companions with wonderful noise cancellation features as well as great audio quality.

And sometimes you need to share your tunes with others, so be sure to check out Bose's highly-rated SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker.

And for those over the ear headphone fans on your list, you have probably heard them mention Beats Solo HD headphones. These are very popular and come in a wide variety of colors. And check out my "Wouldn't Mind "Getting into the Mood" Holiday Wish List 2013" for some other great audio listening offerings including some impressive wireless headphones!

A holiday list from me needs cameras!

As I have mentioned on several occasions on this blog, with the improvements in camera technology in your smartphones many people are using their phone to take pictures. And there have been some phenomenal improvements in phone-camera technologies like the Lumia 1020 with its 41-megapixel camera. And yes, the Samsung's and Apple's out there take "good enough" pictures.

So if you are going to carry a camera it needs to add value to your life. It needs to provide something that your phone isn't delivering on. That is the challenge camera manufacturers have been facing over the past few years.

One thing a smartphone camera suffers from is its small lens and sensor. So a point-n-shoot pocket camera needs to provide improvements in those areas. Another area of weakness is phones do not have much in the way of telephoto zoom capabilities. So a camera should improve on those aspects and deliver a much better picture. Smart-devices benefit from being connected to the internet or your home network so hopefully the cameras can start to fill the gap there to help transport your photos out of the camera and get the online as painlessly as possible.

The two brands I have found to be the most trusted for me in the mass-market category are Canon and Sony of late. You should be pretty confident if you are purchasing one of these brands. That is not to say that you can't get a lemon from them but I have found them to be of well-constructed, have a solid list of features and typically deliver great pictures for whatever price point you are looking at. That is not to say that Nikon, Panasonic, Fuji and others don't make great cameras...but as a general statement for someone going out to just "pick up a camera" as a gift or order one online, those two brands have served me well these past few years.

My current camera favorites are:

Canon S120 is the latest PowerShot camera is the storied line of market-leading image quality in a pocket size camera. This camera takes beautiful pictures, provides all the flexible a knowledgeable photographer would want all in a rather small size.

I have mentioned the predecessors to this camera before. What makes it unique is while still being small, it features a larger sensor than the ones found in most point-n-shoot cameras. This combined with fast (f/1.8) high-quality optics, an impressive 12.1 sensor and 1080p video. Highly recommend this camera priced under $400.

A great reason to buy a camera to compliment your phone's camera is to get something that can zoom into distance targets. The new Sony HX50V is a wonderful camera to do just that. With its 30x optical zoom and image stabilization, you can get some amazing pictures. You also have a camera that can rapidly take 10 pictures per second to make sure you catch the action. This camera includes full HD 1080/60p video recording capabilities. Definitely a great travel camera!

Another thing a smartphone camera cannot do is swap out lenses to change out the dynamics of your photography. This is why we have seen a huge uptick is people buying digital SLR cameras. A great new product from Canon in this category is the EOS Rebel SL1. This is the smallest and lightest DSLR camera on the market and supports a great range of Canon lenses. And while it is small, it still features a large APS-C sensor to give you high-quality pictures that will look a lot nicer than a camera phone picture. Even though this is an entry-level DSLR, it is packed full of features, is simple to use and will make you glad you brought this camera with you on a trip or family event.

Computer Gear?

Absolutely! Yes, I am a fan of the Apple products and I'm sure you don't need my help in this category but I will tell you the Retina-based Macbook Pro's are awesome!

But there is some great complimentary gear to go with your Mac or Windows computers.

Anyone can benefit from some extra hard drive space. And Western Digital is the brand I have had the most reliability with. The WD My Passport Ultra Portable External Hard Drive is an excellent option. It supports USB 3.0 for faster transfers and leverages WD My Personal Cloud Storage as well.

How about a high-performance gaming mouse for their computer. Check out Razer's Naga 2014 MMO edition. Or Razer's BlackWidow Ultimate Mechanical PC Gaming keyboard!

And last but not least, a new wireless all-in-one printer like the Epson Expression Premium XP-810 color photo printer, scanner, copier and fax makes for a great gift to print out all those wonderful holiday pictures!

I hope these suggestions help you lock down those holiday gift ideas! Be sure to check out my "Wouldn't Mind "Getting into the Mood" Holiday Wish List 2013" for more great ideas!

LarryLarry Pacey, award-winning designer tracks the latest news on consumer products, electronics, appliances, smart devices, networking and the gadget lifestyle.For the latest news follow me on:

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Please comment below and share your thoughts. If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com.

Just my 2-cents,

Wouldn't Mind "Getting into the Mood" Holiday Wish List 2013

On Wednesday, November 13, 2013 0 comments

It is time for my annual "Wouldn't Mind Holiday Wish List". I thought I would start out with some ideas to help get everyone into the holiday spirit! And this year is probably the richest trove of awesome gear I have ever amassed in one season. If you haven't noticed, this has been a great year for new and innovative product offerings from a wide range of sources. Mobile technology, photography, commuting, entertainment, toys and novelties are all covered here. So let's get started.

The Big Ones

I'll just start out with the "biggest" for the season right off the bat and the bad news is some of these are already going to prove hard to not impossible to find. But I am putting everything here and letting the cards land as they may.
The very thin and light iPad Air

An iPad Christmas? That is what Tim Cook (Apple's CEO) is calling this holiday season. And why wouldn't he be confident!? Apple just dropped the bomb of an all-new iPad Air. This 9.7" iPad still features the amazing 3.1 million pixel Retina display and is packaged in a new smaller and lighter form-factor. As a matter of fact, the new iPad Air weighs just 1-pound which is 28% lighter than the previous iPad! And that weight-loss combined with a device that is 20% thinner creates an incredibly new user experience. It is so much easier to hold one handed now for extended periods of time. Great for reading a book or surfing the web.

And if that wasn't enough, the iPad Air has some new magic inside with the inclusion of Apple's new A7 processor. What is most important about this processor is its support of the 64-bit architecture in the newly released iOS 7 operating system. You can immediately sense the boost in performance from the previous generation. And last but not least, the thing I have been griping about for quite some time, Apple also deemed to provide us with a 128 gigabyte(gb) storage option. Previously they had limited their devices to 64gb of storage which as time has gone on it has made it hard to have enough space...I know I spend a fair bit of time managing my iPad's storage just to accommodate my travel videos and the like. Now I have a refreshing 60+gb to fill up! :-)

And not to be outdone and to further help ensure Apple is having an iPad Christmas, they also released a new version of the iPad Mini with Retina display. The previous introduction of the Mini was limited to the original iPad 1's resolution but this new device is much cleaner and crisper with the same resolution of its larger iPad Air incarnation. It also benefits from the new, fast, 64-bit A7 processor and the option to get 128 gigabytes of storage. It should be noted that while the iPad Air will probably be in fairly good supplies, the Retina iPad Mini may be limited in availability. If you want one of these...you better get your order or get in line quickly.

Speaking of hard to get, I would also be remise if I didn't mention the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Truth be told these will be hard to secure at this point but they are great systems and should be a wonderful gift for those avid game players on your list. I am not going to go into great lengths here, you know if you have a video game player in your life and if you need to get one of these things most likely. But I did want to mention start looking now or consider it an uphill battle to find it in time for the holidays!

How about something to get us into the holiday spirit?

How about the 2013 Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar to kick it off and count it down! This is an annual tradition at our home and is fun for every "sci-fi geeky family" holiday. This year you will find a slew of very cool mini Star Wars Lego character figures and vehicles. Another nice surprise is that last year many complained about the limited number of Lego pieces and a big price increase. Well this year I am pleased to report that the number of pieces have increased and the price has come back to the traditional $39 vs $49 last year. Definitely a must for the Lego or Star Wars fans at your place.

Perhaps some nice holiday songs will get you into the mood?

I don't know about you but it is nice to pick up some new Christmas music every year or two and Michael Bublé knows how to make the season bright with his album creatively titled Christmas. In this album Bublé delivers his classic "rat pack" voice but modernizing those familiar songs with the help of Puppini Sisters (Jingle bells, Frosty the snowman), Shania Twain (White Christmas) and Thalia (Mis Deseos / Feliz Navidad). This is a must have for the holidays to get you in the spirit.

This year we also have a new entrant with the introduction of Kelly Clarkson's Wrapped in Red. A holiday album full of familiar as well as some new pieces from the songwriter herself like "Underneath the Tree". Definitely worth checking out.

And let us say you want to take those holiday tunes with you no matter where you go and you read my blog, you know I am always on the lookout for the best solutions to untether me and my music. I don't like the constraints of wires...especially when you look at how mobile your media is nowadays with everything on your smart-device.

Well Jabra is always looking to help and this year's REVO wireless headphones are a great start! These new wireless headphones unshackle you from your audio device via a high-quality Bluetooth connection and provide enhance sound thanks to its use of Dolby Digital Plus. Jabra worked with Dolby to offer this powerful sound with the help of an exclusive Sound App on your mobile device that helps deliver a rich, full-spectrum of sound. The app allows you to preset playlists, share music and adjust the graphic equalizer to your listening preferences.

The headphones themselves feature a turntable type setup on the side to interface with the device. Pause, play, volume, take a call, skip songs all in easy reach. You can also leverage the included Near-Field Communications (NFC) to help pair the device with other NFC smart-devices. You should expect up to 12 hours of listening time from my experience and 10 days of standby.

I was able to walk away from my iPad and roam into the next room and still make connection. And you can also use the provided cable if and when the rechargeable battery dies. The Jabra REVO's are definitely one of the finest all-around wireless headsets I have experienced to date and well priced at just around $200.

Another stylish and premium set of Bluetooth headphones is the Parrot Zik. I mean if you are going to wear something on your head in public, why not wear something designed by famed French designer Phillipe Starck? :-)

These headphones features four active microphones to provide up to 98% noise reduction. The right ear cup is touch sensitive and controls the volume, song selection and the like. This clever device knows when you put them off and automatically pauses the song. Zik also provides the Audio Suite App to adjust your audio settings.

Those last two headphones are not small but they are very high-quality products that deliver amazing sound. Yet I quite often talk about trying to travel as light as possible and sometimes I need to find a more "portable" solution. With regards to my music listening preferences, my latest favorite earbuds are the Bose QuietComfort 20i Noise Canceling headphones.

What sets these guys apart from other earbuds is their impressive noise canceling solution. The system can actively cancel out surrounding noise or be dialed down to partially cancel some out in an "Aware mode".  You are also provided with an assortment of StayHear tips (S, M, L) to further help isolate the sound as well as improve comfort. These amazing earbuds do come with an amazing $299 price tag...but you won't be sorry you got these for yourself or a wonderful gift. I do wish they were magically untethered from a cable but they are still small and pretty amazing.

The Bose QC20i are available with a standard inline microphone or in a more advanced iPhone/iPad microphone control pod.

Making that holiday gift list?

How about a pen that takes all your handwriting and stores it on your smartphone, tablet or even into the cloud via Evernote or Dropbox? Well that is what the latest Livescribe 3 Smartpen can do for you!

For those of you unexperienced with Livescribe pens, it is a normal looking pen for writing but when you use special paper you can purchase or print out of your printer...the pen records your writing and can store it to your mobile device or online service. Other clever applications include the ability to record audio while you write and have to two synced up on the computer. This is great for finding out what was being discussed while you jotted something down in the notes.

Unlike previous Livescribe pens that syncs via a cable or wifi to your computer...the new pen goes straight to your mobile device and from there your writing can go pretty much anywhere. The smartpen syncs to your smartdevice via Bluetooth Smart for live, real-time syncing of whatever you write or draw.

As much as you would think it would be great to just use a pen to write directly onto a tablet for note-taking but so far that experience hasn't been as flawless and easy to use as the old pen and paper. Whereas this combo gives you the best of both worlds. I really recommend the Livescribe 3 Smartpen which is priced at around $150 for the standard edition or $200 for the pro edition that includes a Leather Smartpen Portfolio as well as a one-year Evernote Premium Subscription. I use a Livescribe pen every day.

While I love using the Livescribe for note-taking and some light doodling. The artist in me does love to sketch and paint on my iPad when the inspiration strikes. My latest favorite product to help in this pursuit is the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus of iPad. This very advanced stylus will work with iPad 3, 4 and Air as well as the iPad Mini. Wacom is the leader in graphic tablets for artists and this new stylus introduces 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity for amazing detailed accuracy and a robust palm-rejection solution to prevent the side of your hand from smudging the image as you rest your hand on the iPad as you draw.

This new stylus is well integrated in many popular creative apps including Sketchbook, PSTouch, ProCreate, ArtRage and Bamboo Paper. One thing to keep in mind is that if you get this stylus, you don't pair it via the normal Bluetooth process but instead within the apps themselves.

This is a professional level graphics solution priced at less than $100. Definitely a nice gift for the artist you know!

Before I forget, I have been talking about a lot of gear to use with your smartdevice. And for me and many people, that tends to be iPhones, iPads and the usual Apple gear. But I do want to talk about another awesome smartdevice, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The Note 3 is a different type of smartphone. It is a large phone with a 5.7 inch screen. The iPhone screen is only 4 inches and truth be told...it is a starting to feel a bit small to me. Almost cramp. Maybe my older eyes are feeling the strain but whatever the reason...bigger is probably better.

Now the Galaxy Note 3 is running Android and I am still firmly in the camp that the Android app universe is a distant 2nd to Apple. And the Android user experience is much more confusing overall. But the Note is a quality constructed piece of gear and for the most part is totally livable. So instead of talking about its limitations...lets start out with why it is great.

That 5.7 inch screen gives you a lot of real estate to view important information. The display is very bright and high resolution. The phone feels fast. Much faster than previous Android phones I have used. This is probably because the Note 3 is one of the few Android phones to give you a full 3-gigabytes of system memory. That extra memory must give the operating system plenty of room to breath.

But the coolest thing about the Note 3 is a hidden "S Pen" that when pulled out allows you to write and draw on the screen. It is a very nice experience that is great for taking notes on the go. And yes, this phone is chuck full of all the latest must-have features. A 13-megapixel camera, Voice Control, 4G LTE network speed, etc. All and all, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is very nice smartphone as long as you are okay with the size. Check it out!

Worried about putting on some pounds over the holidays?

A popular gift in my circle of friends over the past couple years has been the amazing fitness trackers made by Fitbit. And this year is no except with the introduction of the Fitbit Force Wireless Activity + Sleep wristband. Like previous versions, the Fitbit will track your steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed, active minutes and a sleep monitor. These stats are wirelessly synced to your mobile device and available for your review on the Fitbit app or online.

What is unique about this years offering is the inclusion of an actual timepiece to help "tell the time" but also to provide new services like a silent vibrating alarm to wake you up in the morning. The gift of health is a very thoughtful gift and I really like what Fitbit has refined over the years. Quality construction and inspirational guidance to help anyone and everyone get more active. Available at Fitbit.com for $130.

Does someone not reach out and call enough?

Perhaps the gift of free home phone service will help? I don't know if you have been following the phenomenon of "voice over IP" technology but the Ooma Telo is a device that you hook up to your internet broadband connection and to your regular home phones to create a new type of solution that can call anyone within the U.S. for free! You only have to pay the applicable taxes or fees with telecommunications. Businesses have been leveraging the cost-saving of voice over IP for years but Ooma has successfully brought about a product to bring it to everyone.

The voice quality is pretty amazing. Be sure to check out the Ooma Telo Free Home Phone Service for less than $120 on Amazon. Also note the over 3,500 reviews on Amazon with an overall score of 4 1/2 stars. Very impressive!

Speaking of cool technology that leverages your home internet connection. You should check out the Dropcam Pro Wi-Fi video monitoring camera. The Dropcam provides wireless monitoring of a home or office. The video footage is streamed to the cloud and is accessible via your smartphone, tablet or computer.

Some nice features include the mobile app, intelligent alerts if motion or sound is heard, night vision and two-way talking from your mobile device to the camera on-site. Dropcam also offers optional services including a cloud-based recording solution that can capture a month of video footage. Check out the $199 Dropcam and give someone the piece of mind of being able to check on their home, children or pet while away.

Another way to keep an eye on the house as you are busy getting ready for the holidays is the new Nest Learning Thermostat. Here is a replacement to your old and tired thermostat with a high-tech, wirelessly connected device. The Nest will auto-schedule itself to remember when you come home and leave the home to help save costs. It is a wi-fi device that sits on your home network and allows you to adjust the settings with your smartphone, tablet or computer.

Nest is very easy to install, typically just takes 30 minutes to get going and will pay back its $249 cost in no time with the potential energy savings of such a smart device.

How about some help setting the mood?

Okay these next two items might be "unusual" gifts but I always believe that a great gift is something that the person will enjoy but probably will not go out and immediately get for themselves. And the Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting really falls into that gap. This is not your normal set of lightbulbs...Hue does just that...it changes the color in your life.

These lightbulbs are connected via Wi-Fi and work with a mobile app to adjust the color of your room. Before you count these out, think about it. You can set the lights to a more relaxed setting when appropriate or to a more bright setting when you need to get to work.

Now lets talk about even the more practical applications including the ability to set the lights conveniently on a timer including the ability to have the lights gradually brighten over time to wake you up in the morning. Or to be able to turn the lights on and off when you are away from the home.

The Philips Hue wireless lights are starting to sound neat...huh? You can order a started pack with the wireless bridge controller and three bulbs for $200. Individual bulbs run $60 each. The bridge can control up to 50 bulbs throughout your home.

Okay, let's say you like the idea of setting the mood but the entire room lighting system might be too much. How about a beautiful set of Philips rechargeable candles. These soft flickering LED candles provide 20 hours of light and include their own charging cradle. A set of three runs $39 and can really change the look and feel of a room. A very nice gift.

Is that all the holiday gift ideas?

Nah, did you see any cameras, much talk about video games, audio/video or mobile storage solutions mentioned? Would this be a Wouldn't Mind blog post without them? The previous list was just the ideas around getting you, your life, your friends and your home "in the holiday spirit". We'll cover the rest in the next post.

Hope this helped get you started! Let me know if there are any categories of gift ideas or anything specific I should cover in the follow-up.

LarryLarry Pacey, award-winning designer tracks the latest news on consumer products, electronics, appliances, smart devices, networking and the gadget lifestyle.For the latest news follow me on:

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Please comment below and share your thoughts. If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com.

Just my 2-cents,

Sleek bags to haul your gear...just in time for Back-to-School 2013

On Thursday, August 15, 2013 0 comments

Each year about this time I go on a quest to perfect my "on the go" lifestyle by looking for the best ways to optimize what gear I need with me and the best way to bring it along. This year I've set out to pursue an almost minimalist approach to hauling my tech with me.

So let's talk about the stuff I want to bring with me on a day to day basis or for slightly longer trips.

Macbook Air 13" laptop - While I have the latest iPad, I still find that I need my laptop with me for a wide range of tasks. These tasks include "work stuff" like Excel, Word and Powerpoint documents, downloading my photos and organizing them via Apple's Aperture or iPhoto applications or any task that will require a good bit of typing such as detailed emails and the like.

I also typically have my iPad for web-surfing, watching a videos and engaging with the wide-range of apps I have onboard.

My daily "carry around" camera gear of choice today is the Sony RX1. My logic is if you are going to carry a camera, it needs to offer a substantial benefit over your smartphone's camera. This would include either meaningful image quality improvements through better imagining sensor or lens, speed of operation and/or better zoom. And as I've talked about the Sony before, it totally delivers on the sensor and lens category in spades.

And an assortment of cables and accessories. To keep the cables and chargers accessible but in their place I use the Grid-It organizer. Works great. 

So let's look through the bags I took through their paces over the past couple months to see what shook out.

Backpacks & Slings

Thule Crossover Sling Pack
I really wanted to like the Thule Crossover Sling Pack. It is extremely well engineered and quite attractive. It is good sized for this project...not too big and not too small. But I'd have to put this specific Thule bag in the category of design aesthetics over functionality. Several aspects of the bag just didn't sit well with me.

This product is a sling, a single cross the body strap design. I do like the concept of a sling as sometime I will have a Black Rapid camera strap over my other shoulder. But the Thule Sling strap was way too wide at the top of the shoulder for me. I felt it constantly rubbing against my neck or lifting up when I would move my arms.

But lets say you have very broad shoulders and like this well padded strap. The nice thing is there is a zipper compartment on the strap that "just barely" holds an iPhone 5. It really didn't hold my large Samsung phone though.

Other nice features included some well thought out layers of compartments. With my only real internal storage issue being that the oddly shaped bottom of the bag caused my Macbook to sit at an angle and sometimes shift within the bag during a day of walking around. Now the compartment for the laptop will hold a 13" notebook computer just fine and is nice and well padded. The exterior is water resistant fabric and comes in some very cool color schemes. I really love the exterior design, finish and aluminum hardware features. Exterior dimensions: 19.3in x 14in x 8.3in. Priced just under $100.

Pacsafe Camsafe Venture V16
I regularly talk about hauling camera gear when I am looking into bags and this bag affords me some greater flexibility in bringing any one of my cameras as well as the items mentioned above. Not only can I bring a laptop up to 13" housed in its own padded compartment, but the main compartment can accommodate an assortment of items based on how you configure it.

A novel aspect of the Pacsafe Camsafe Venture V16 is a side zippered opening that allows you to easily access an area designed to hold a digital SLR camera with addition accessories (lens, flash, etc.) that sits at the bottom of the main compartment. There are velcro walls which are adjustable to handle larger camera gear those walls can be removed to give you full access to the entire (16 liter) compartment for times you are not needing the larger camera gear. The main compartment also has a nice draw string divider that allows you to separate or hold down items to prevent movement.

Another thoughtful aspect of the Pacsafe products is their focus on security and safety. The V16 features they a slew of their anti-theft solutions including smart zippers that lock into place making it hard to simply open a zippered compartment, RFID blocking pockets to protect your wallet newer credit cards and passports that can be read electronically, the straps on the bag have slashproof carrysafe straps with metal wires within to prevent the bag from cut loose as well as eXomesh slashguards throughout the bags exterior to protect the contents from spilling out if the bag is torn or cut open.

The bag also has a front zipper compartment where you can locate the RFID blocking pocket, a place for pens and a secondary mesh storage compartment. You will also find a built-in rain cover, an option to house a 3 liter hydration bladder within the laptop storage area and an exterior side compression strap and stretch pocket for a water bottle or tripod.

As you can tell, this bag is quickly becoming my favorite for the times I travel with my larger camera gear while still maintaining a minimalistic profile. This bag measures 18.1in x 10in x 7.9in and is priced around $180. One of the larger bags I looked at but not too much larger to be bulky or inconvenient.

Messenger and Reporter Bags

Crumpler Skivvy (S)

I have had a ton of luck with Crumpler bags over the years and this year was no exception. I spent a good bit of time with their small Skivvy messenger bag and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like other Crumpler pieces I’ve reviewed before, their bags consistently provide a lightweight offering while still providing enough structure and padding to protect your valuable gear.

The Skivvy (S) included an easy to access front zipper compartment with a built-in organizer for your immediately accessible small items. As you continue inside the bag, you find a large velcro area as well as two smaller areas to hold your items securely. On top of all that, you get a padded 13-inch laptop sleeve area that also includes a velcro faster. Everything sounding protected and well organized? It sure is! The bright, clean interiors make it quite easy to locate what you are looking for.

The wide 50mm shoulder strap includes an air mesh shoulder pad to distribute the weight more evenly proved to be comfortable with my gear fully loaded into the bag. A clever handle is integrated into the back of the bag, which is well cushioned for one-handed carrying, but this handle is also a good size to slide onto your wheelie luggage.

The Skivvy is water resistant and includes oversized flaps with corner rain guards to protect your interior. Exterior dimensions are 14.1in x 11.4in x 3.9in. The Skivvy is also available in a Medium format for 15” laptops as well as a Large to accommodate those huge 17” notebook computers.

A Crumpler bag simply feels solid and well constructed. The small Skivvy is priced at $110.

STM Linear Small Laptop Bag
Love this bag! If I am out and about and need to travel super light but with my notebook, this is it! Laptop, iPad and accessories are not a problem as each has their own dedicated storage locations. One caveat is that the STM Linear Small Laptop Bag did not handle my entire gear set mentioned above and as such I needed to downshift my camera to my smaller Sony RX100 as the Sony RX1 was a bit too beefy and proved to be problematic...but everything else was great. 

The outer zipper pocket with nice soft fabric interior for some easy access items. Another immediately accessible zipper pocket inside which included storage compartments for pens, cards and other small items. In this inner pocket you also find a convenient key leash. And lastly, three dedicated pockets (laptop, tablet and accessories) make up the main interior space.

What makes this bag so great? A thought-out package for the person on the go featuring water resistant nylon, swivel mounted strap, wheeled bag strap on back, well constructed zippers and pockets throughout. A sleek and easy handling overall bag. 

The STM Linear's exterior dimensions: 13.9in x 10in x 3.1in and attractively priced at $65.

Note: There is a medium -sized option that will accommodate a 15" laptop available as well but this bag also wasn't really going to accommodate my mirrorless camera.

Tumi Alpha Bravo - Benning Deluxe Messenger

Another great messenger I had the pleasure to test out was made by Tumi. The Tumi Alpha Bravo - Benning Deluxe messenger is available in two shades of Tumi's well-regarded ballistic nylon and in an attractive Anthracite color I test drove which was made with a pretty durable polyester fabric.

You'll find several well thought out compartments throughout the bag. Including an exterior pocket on the outside face of the messenger flap. This outer section has a small holder for business cards and the like. My iPhone would fit but I found my larger Samsung S4 wouldn't go in the slot and allow the zipper to close. The phones did fit in the overall pocket...just not in the secure slot within.

Also on the outside is two side pockets. One is labeled as a water bottle pocket and the other similar pocket is called simply "the side pocket". 

When you open the flap, there is an exterior exposed pocket for some loose papers and the like and behind that is another zipper pocket with more organizers as well as your key leash. I do wish the key leash was in the outer zipper pocket to afford easier access though. I kept most of my accessories within this inner zippered compartment.

Then the main section is subdivided with an area for your laptop and the rest of your gear. I do wish the laptop section was "slightly padded" and there is not separate compartment for a tablet like I have found in many other bags (I stored both my iPad and Macbook in the laptop compartment with ease) but beyond that this bag hauled all my necessary gear and then some. The strap is thick and adjustable but does not have any of any padding. With my bag fully loaded, I still found it comfortable to carry all day.

Along the back is a zippered sleeve that allows you to open them and mount the bag on the handle of your wheeled luggage. Exterior dimensions are 15in x 12in x 4in. All this luxury comes with a steeper $275 Tumi price tag.


If I want to go really light with a small point and shoot camera, tablet and laptop, I would definitely rely on the STM Linear Small laptop bag! If needing to haul more gear like I mentioned above including a mirrorless-sized camera everyday, I would go with the Crumpler Skivvy product. The Crumpler is the right kind of durable for hauling everything you need, everyday. And when it comes to style with a bit of a professional appearance, I really enjoyed the Tumi Alpha Bravo - Benning Deluxe messenger. And lastly, I have found a new favorite for when I am hauling my full-sized Digital SLR camera and laptop...the Pacsafe Camsafe Venture V16.

I did look at some other bags but for various reasons they didn't strike as much of a cord with me as several mentioned above. The other bags including the Crumpler House of Horror did not enough storage compartment separation for my taste but love their naming convention and quality construction, STM Impulse backpack was a bit too big for what I was looking for but a wonderful, though well organized bag 15in laptop backpack, Booq Mamba Courier 11in laptop was too small but they make a more conventional slightly larger version I didn't receive which might have worked and I went through the very cool online custom ordering process from Timbuk2 but haven't received that item year. When I do, I will update the report to include my experience with it.

What am I taking to work tomorrow? The Tumi Alpha Bravo - Benning Deluxe messenger.

Which bag am I taking on my two-week trip to Europe? The Pacsafe Camsafe Venture V16.

LarryLarry Pacey, award-winning designer tracks the latest news on consumer products, electronics, appliances, smart devices, networking and the gadget lifestyle.For the latest news follow me on:

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Please comment below and share your thoughts. If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com.

Just my 2-cents,