Timbuk2 Control Messenger Bag Review
- -Problem-free at airport security
- -Stylish and lightweight
- -Can piggyback on extension handles
- -Not waterproof
- -Too many velcro closures
- -Front buckles have no function
If you travel by air either frequently or occasionally, a TSA- or checkpoint-friendly laptop bag is worth the time investment to research. These types of bags save you the hassle of having to take your precious laptop out of the bag and possibly handled as it goes through airport security. Timbuk2 currently produces four such laptop bags of varying shapes and sizes. While no longer the trendy and hip brand (see Chrome), Timbuk2 still makes quality bags, and its slender and stylish Control Messenger TSA-Friendly Messenger Bag (MSRP: $89) is a solid entry in this sub-category.
The Control Messenger is a modern messenger bag aimed at gadget heads who are used to carrying multiple mobile devices wherever they go. It’s made for smaller laptops in the 11″ to 14″ range and features a second pocket specifically designed for tablets. Let’s see if it lives up to its billing as “TSA-friendly.”
Not a Carry-All Bag
I tested the medium bag—only small and medium sizes are available—which measures 16.1″ (top width) by 9.8″ (height) by 3.5″ (depth) and a 11.6″ Macbook Air fit inside with room to spare. The MBA would’ve fit the small size as well, but medium afforded some extra roominess for accessories like cables, power brick, Bluetooth mouse, laptop stand, Kindle and/or tablet—all of which I packed inside except for a tablet. Medium is barely larger than the small and is definitely recommended if you’re planning to pack additional items.
However, the Control did not hold its shape particularly well (3″ deep for both small or medium) when packed with more than a laptop and tablet. While it does have a second zipper compartment next to the main laptop compartment, the bag still works best as a lightweight, on-the-go bag, rather than one you’re going to lug around a bunch of your gadgets and accessories.
The ballistic nylon model (cold blue/grey) that I tested has a classy / rugged feel but it’s definitely not a waterproof bag and isn’t suitable for heavy duty use or inclement weather. The waterproof inner flap feels more like a standard Timbuk2 design cue as it doesn’t appear to offer a lot of protection. The Control is definitely aimed at users hopping a flight somewhere rather than biking through the rain. The carry handle and removable shoulder strap are also pretty standard, but it’s good to have both.
One excellent feature of this bag is the wide flat pocket on the back’s exterior (see picture at right) that can be opened up on the bottom to allow the bag to be piggybacked to the extension handle of rolling luggage.
The biggest design miscue would be the front buckle loops which seem somewhat useless and basically get in the way when you want to pop open the main flap, which is already secured by Velcro, and access the two front pockets (which are an otherwise good place for a phone).
Up in the Air
The TSA-compliant laptop compartment zips open like butterfly wings so the bifurcated bag can lie flat on the airport conveyor belt and so the view of the laptop is unobstructed as it goes through the X-ray scanner. On one side of the laptop compartment is a padded pocket that can hold a laptop up to 14″, and on the other is a pocket deep enough for a tablet, Kindle or similar mobile device. The red quilted tricot interior is a nice touch and allows for scratch-free and effortless insertion/removal of your laptop.
My test bag did not have the dedicated power brick / cord pocket stitched next to the tablet pocket as in the photo below, but according to Timbuk2, newer versions should have it. If having that pocket is important to you, ask Timbuk2 customer service to double-check your order.
I tested the bag through airport security checkpoints and on only one flight did I get a question about accessories obstructing the view of the laptop. Once the agent saw the flip-open compartment, there were no other questions or delays and I did not have to remove my laptop from the bag. I just unzipped the laptop compartment, laid the bag flat on the conveyor, and it sailed through without any problems. I’ve also used another TSA-compliant Timbuk2 bag, the larger Commute Messenger (MSRP: $119), with similar success.
Because the hinge is on the bottom of the bag and the zipper is on the top next to the other zipper compartment, it can be hard to tell which compartment is which when you’re rushing through airport security, but it didn’t seem that much of a problem. However, as the NY Times’ David Pogue points out, the Timbuk2 Command (MSRP: $139) actually does feature the butterfly hinge on top and the zipper on the bottom.
Overall, the Timbuk2 Control is a appealing laptop bag for air travel, and with its light weight and small footprint, it also makes a good companion for jetting around town. Plus, if you look around, you can usually find a good deal on this bag for a lot lower than its $89 sticker price.