The new school year is beginning soon, and if your old laptop bag is falling to pieces, it might be a good time to start thinking of a new one. Back when I was an undergraduate student (not that long ago), almost no one brought a laptop to school. Today, not only do you bring your laptop, you bring your tablet and smartphone as well. These things have to fit somewhere, and a good laptop bag to protect your gear and ease the load is essential.
There are endless options to choose from out there, but today we’re going to look at one that’s trying to be unique: the Timbuk2 Power Q laptop backpack. This $199 backpack is not much different than any old bag, aside from the fact that it comes with a built-in USB charger. This means you can charge any USB-charging device, such as a smartphone or a tablet, inside your backpack, without needing access to a wall outlet.
The Power Q is pricier than most Timbuk2 backpacks, and is $100 more expensive than the almost identical Q backpack that’s missing only the power pack. Is this combination between a bag and a charger worth the markup? We tested the Timbuk2 Power Q backpack, and we have the answers. And as always, one of you will be the happy new owner of this Power Q backpack without paying a dime! Read on for all the information.
Before we jump into what the bag can do, it’s important to understand what the Timbuk2 Power Series is all about. The Power Series is a cooperation between Timbuk2, a well-known bag maker, and Joey Energy, a company that develops power solutions. The Power Series are regular Timbuk2 bags, designed for the purpose, that come with a separate Joey portable power pack. The series includes a backpack, which we tested, as well as a messenger bag, the Power Commute.
The Timbuk2 Power Series are by no means that only bag+charger combination. Powerbag makes a variety of bags that come with a battery pack, which you can get for anything from $50 to $140. Urban Junket has its own partnership with Joey Energy, cumulating in the stylish Power Trips bags, which are generally aimed at the ladies. These bags will cost you $228-$268 — paying for style, as always. If you really want to go all the way, Voltaic offers the Voltaic Generator Solar Laptop Charger which is a $300 laptop briefcase complete with a solar panel for charging your various gadgets.
If you’re willing to wait a while, funded Kickstarter project Phorce wants to give you a power-enabled bag that can also communicate with your smartphone and transform from a messenger bag into a backpack or a briefcase. The Kickstarter project is already funded and closed, but the bags are not officially for sale yet. It might be a product worth keeping an eye on, if you’re into power bags.
Getting To Know The Timbuk2 Power Q Backpack
At first glance, there’s nothing too special about the Timbuk2 Power Q backpack. It looks like any old backpack, albeit a well-made one. The bag’s exterior is made from durable and waterproof fabric, which will protect your gear even when walking in the rain or snow. The hidden zipper on the power compartment (where the battery pack resides) protects it even further, and also makes it harder for crafty pickpockets to reach your zipper, open the bag and snatch your phone.
Looking at the back, the Power Q backpack sports a sturdy back support, which should make the bag easier to bear when loaded. It also acts as a barrier between your back an the contents of the bag, and if you’ve ever used a cheaper backpack that doesn’t have this, you know how annoying its absence can get.
The straps are well padded, except for the very top, and are adjustable only in length. The padding for the straps is of the breathable kind, so it should feel less sweaty when lugging the bag around in the heat. In reality, you’re going to sweat no matter what, but the breathable material makes it a little bit nicer.
To make the load even easier to bear, you can connect the straps over your sternum using a third adjustable strap. You can even use the straps to open your beer bottles.
Surprisingly, the Power Q backpack is a little sparse on pockets. There are all of five compartments, with the power compartment also containing some smaller pockets for your phone, keys, and other knick knacks. The rest of the compartments are pretty much as is, but the bag makes up for it by its sheer size.
Right on the front of the bag, you’ll find a spacious and accessible pocket which can be used for various items. Just keep in mind that this pocket is very accessible, and not only to you, but to anyone walking behind you. Although it’s right there in the open, it’s sealed well enough to keep out any moisture.
The front also includes another pocket, made specially for your laptop’s power brick (I tried both of them for the power brick, and both work great for this purpose). This bottom pocket is a little less accessible, and is nicely out of the way until you need to pop your power brick out.
Moving on to the three bigger compartments, we’ll first look at the power compartments, where the Joey charger resides. As mentioned above, this compartment has a hidden zipper for extra security, and some extra smaller pockets for your odds and ends. The zipper is present only on two sides of the compartment, meaning you can never really open it all the way. I found this a bit annoying. It also made this compartment a bit hard to photograph.
Moving up, you’ll find the bag’s main compartment, with one extra pocket for a tablet, a book, or even a smaller laptop. There are no extra pockets in here whatsoever, so you pretty much have to pile your stuff in. This compartment also opens from two sides only, but since it’s so big, it’s less of a problem here.
It does come with a plastic hook for cables, which you can use for your headphones, or any other cable, although personally, I don’t store small gadgets or cables in my bag’s biggest compartment.
It’s hard to see from the photos, but there’s truly a lot of room in the Power Q’s main compartment. I managed to stuff some study material, a pack of DVDs, 4 small lunch boxes, a tablet and a small camera in there, and there was still plenty of room to spare.
The last compartment to look at is the one made for your laptop, which is lined with soft, shock-absorbing padding. This side compartment can be used for up to 15″ PC laptops and 17″ MacBook Pros, but there is no way to strap them down or hold them in place if they’re smaller. Even so, the extra padding and the provided buffer zone from the ground made me feel pretty relaxed about my laptop’s safety. The compartment opens from the side only, which makes it easily accessible while still wearing the bag on one shoulder.
Last but not least, the whole thing can turn into a briefcase of sorts in one fell swoop, by grabbing it from the side handle on top of the laptop compartment.
Give Me Power!
The Timbuk2 Power Q backpack is a solid bag, but it’s the Joey charger that’s supposed to make it really special. You’ll find the charger in the aforementioned power compartment, wrapped in bubble wrap, and not at all ready to use.
What do I mean by “not ready to use”? The Joey charger arrives empty, and will need an initial charge before you can really start using it. It also comes with a micro-USB cable which you can use either to charge your micro-USB devices, or to charge the Joey itself through your computer. If you want to use a wall outlet for this, you’re going to have to use your own adapter or micro-USB wall charger. According to the attached booklet, charging the Joey from a wall outlet is much faster than from your computer, car, or plane USB ports, so if you don’t have a wall adapter, it might be worth getting one.
The Joey charger sits in its own specifically marked pocket, but you can easily remove it for easier charging. Your smartphone fits comfortable in the nearby pocket, for on-the-go charging.
So how does it work? After charging your Joey charger, you’ll have about enough power for two full smartphone charges, depending on your phone, of course. It’s mainly aimed at those times when your battery is absolutely drained, and you need a quick pick-me-up until you can reach a wall outlet. The charger itself is not very powerful — only 800mA output — so don’t expect miracles out of it.
The Joey charger comes with two jacks: USB and micro-USB, as well as three LEDs that will help you gauge how much power is left in your Joey. These can be covered up nicely with a rubber cap when not in use.
Naturally, you can use any cable at all with the Joey. So as long as your device can be charged via USB, it’s most likely to work with the Joey charger.
The charger is pretty quick, even compared to charging straight from a wall outlet, and is powerful enough to charge your phone while charging itself. This way, you can charge both your device and the charger itself when you have access to only one wall outlet. For this purpose, it’s recommend to use the provided cable, as different cables may not be powerful enough.
I tested the Joey charger with both my Nexus 4 and iPad, and while it’s not a very powerful charger, it did managed to charge both at about the same speed as my wall outlet. It’s important to note that if you don’t use the Joey charger for “a long period”, it will go into hibernation mode. To get it out of hibernation mode, you have to plug it into a wall outlet for 1-30 minutes. This can prove very inconvenient if you actually need to use it and find that it’s entered hibernation.
Living With The Timbuk2 Power Q Backpack
The Power Q is a great backpack, and I definitely felt safe carrying my expensive gadgets in it. It feels very durable and strong, and is a bag that can withstand any wetness or spillage you’ll throw at it. There were, however, several issues that marred the experience somewhat.
First of all, I couldn’t get comfortable with the straps when the bag was heavily loaded. 5 seconds after putting it on my back, the straps were already digging into my shoulders, making them hurt in a way my much cheaper backpack doesn’t. This wasn’t an issue when the bag wasn’t loaded heavily, but the Power Q provides so much space, it’d be a shame not to use it. Granted, this could be a personal issue, and not something everyone will experience.
I was also sorely missing a place to stow a water bottle or a coffee mug. I like to take water with me wherever I go, and I don’t enjoy the idea of shoving it in the same compartment as my books and gadgets. The bag’s description claims it has “stretchy water bottle pockets”, but honestly, I couldn’t find any.
After looking around and discovering that a standalone battery pack, and a much more powerful one at that, can be had for $30-$40, I started eyeing the Timbuk2 Q laptop backpack which doesn’t come with a charger, seems to have many more useful pockets than the Power Q, and comes in a better variety of colors. For $99, you can get two battery packs to go with it and still not pay $199.
Should You Buy The Timbuk2 Power Q laptop backpack?
The Power Q is a great backpack, but the additional charger is not worth $100.
How do I win the Timbuk2 Power Q Laptop Backpack?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 23. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email.