Since my iPad first arrived, my poor MacBook has been increasingly neglected. The iPad goes with me everywhere. So the iPad needs a bag. Not just a bag for the iPad but one that can also hold the stand, the bluetooth keyboard, and the other bits and pieces; A throw it over your shoulder, get-some-work-done bag.
Apparently I’m not the only one looking for such a bag because there are a lot of them out there. I received a Tom Bihn Ristretto for iPad ($110) review bag and, after beating it up for six weeks, am reporting in.
The Ristretto, made at the Tom Bihn Factory in Seattle, started life as a netbook grade computer bag. It is a vertical messenger bag with a built-in padded compartment for your iPad. Empty, the bag measures 12” x 9.25” x 4.75”. As a matter of coincidence it is perfect for the iPad and an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.
The bag has an inner compartment that contains a large bay, a zippered compartment, several smaller pockets, and the iPad compartment. It is all covered with an asymmetrical flap and sturdy plastic buckle.
The padded compartment is made with quarter inch open-cell foam laminated with durable 4 Ply Taslan® on the outside, and features an interior of brushed nylon. The foam surrounds the iPad. There is a correct way to insert the iPad, with the glass facing in and the aluminum facing the back of the bag. Once you put your iPad in the padded compartment, there is a top flap that can fold over enclosing your Precious.
The large compartment is the perfect height for an Apple Bluetooth keyboard. It has three O-rings that you can use to attach your keys or optional pouches. It is also a good place for a pocket leatherman. The stock bag includes a key strap. The built in pockets are the right size to hold pens, a wallet, and an iPod. (Your phone is in your pocket, right?) There is a slanted open pocket on the back of the Ristretto. It is too small for papers (unless folded in half) but does prove handy for envelopes and mail.
The Ristretto ships with waist straps to secure it to your body. This works great for bicyclists. More importantly, the waist strap hardware unclips and disappears when not in use.
The Ristretto ships with the standard shoulder strap, a 1.5” wide heavy nylon webbing strap with a foam pad. For an extra $20, you can upgrade to the Absolute Shoulder Strap. At first blush it seems kind of silly upgrading a strap on an iPad case but after using the Absolute Shoulder Strap for awhile, you’ll get it. The Absolute Shoulder Strap uses a neoprene pad with an all metal snaphook (see note below regarding The Squeak). If you carry the bag for any length of time, it is a lot more comfortable. I’ve also found myself repurposing The Absolute Shoulder Strap with all my various bags.
After using the bag for about a week I began to notice a subtle squeak when carrying it around. The source of the sound is the metal snaphook from the strap rubbing against the metal eyelit on the bag. The connectors are both metal. I used some silicon based bicycle chain lubricant and it went away. I spoke with Tom Bihn and they recommend rubbing a graphite pencil on the offending pieces. I tested their fix and it worked. Tom Bihn reports they are aware of this and are working on it.
Usage and Recommendation
I beat the hell out of this bag. Over the last six weeks I carried it through the Canadian wilderness and down the Las Vegas strip. Its been thrown in trunks, dragged by kids, and schlepped around everywhere with me. It still looks like new.
More importantly, it has performed just as advertised. The Ristretto is a great solution for the iPad and just a bit more. If you routinely use Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard, it’s perfect. I liked it so much, I bought another one for my wife.
A Note About the Pictures
All of the pictures in this review were taken after I spent 6 weeks usage. Full size images are in my Flickr feed here.