Here is a personal, unbiased, and opinionated review of the STM Alley Medium Shoulder Bag 15″ – Carbon from GearZap. I am in no way affiliated with GearZap. GearZap has not provided monetary support for this review or any advertisements, other than providing a free sample of the STM Alley laptop bag. Acceptance of the product does not guarantee a review.
Who is GearZap?
A little background information
A couple of months ago GearZap contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing a laptop bag because they had noticed that I have a couple of laptops in my arsenal and wondered how I was transporting them around. After speaking with them and letting them know that I have used another product for years, they offered up the STM Alley Medium Shoulder Bag 15″ – Carbon for me to review. The interesting thing here is I had previously tried to buy this same bag at an earlier time from a local store, but was unable to find one. I decided I would be more than happy to check the bag out and offer a review. At the time, I had planned on getting the bag and writing up a typical review in a few days time. After I started to write this review initially, I thought it would be unfair for me to review the bag without even using it. So I spent the past month doing exactly that. I have used the bag while commuting on a bicycle, the train, a car, and on foot. I have abused the bag just like I would any other bag that I have used in the past. After beating up the bag for the past month, I realized it was time for a review.
The STM Alley Laptop Bag Review
As you can see from the above image, the bag is good-looking, but does the good looks equate to a quality bag? The bag is a messenger style bag however it holds the laptop vertically instead of the typical horizontal way. I tend to ride my bike everywhere, and because of that I prefer the messenger style bag over everything else. In the past I always used the horizontal style bags as they lay across my bike nicely while pedaling my way through Chicago traffic. Concerned at first, I can now say that this vertical bag actually lays a bit nicer across the back than the horizontal bags I have used. I had to tighten up the strap so it would be held tight while riding. Now, you might be saying, “Well why don’t you use a backpack if you are going to carry on the back anyways?” Simple, a backpack tends to throw my balance off and I have never been comfortable riding my bike with a backpack. When I ride, I don’t tend to do 10MPH (or 15KPH for you non-imperial people) but ride as fast as I can. In Chicago I am typically faster than the traffic, so losing my balance while riding is dangerous. So far a messenger bag hasn’t posed this risk for me, and after using this STM Alley now for around a month, it hasn’t been an issue either. The only issue I have witnessed is dependent on the top layer of clothing that is resting against. If the material is a slicker material, such as nylon or spandex, it will tend to slip because there is just one strap holding it in place. Even when it tends to slip it hasn’t caused an issue for me at all while on my bike. The first time though it caught me off guard and scared me a little, but it didn’t throw off my balance.
I have a similar bag to this one that I used for a netbook over the years. That bag simply had just enough storage to fit the laptop, an MP3 player, and barely the power cord. This STM Alley laptop bag has enough room that I can actually carry a 15.6 inch laptop, its power block, some notebooks, pens, and more. I was even able to throw in my netbook and its power block alongside the laptop. For the bag’s size, it can actually hold a bit, and do it comfortably. In the image below, you can see the inside of the bag with plenty of places to hold pens, business cards, and more.
Mobile Device Pouch
Previously I briefly spoke about the bag I used for my netbook. The one feature I loved was the pouch that held a portable media device and had a nice zippered strap that you could run the headphones through. This STM Alley laptop bag has the portable media or cell phone holder, but doesn’t have something that can carry the headphone cable nicely. What is nicer with the pouch on the STM Alley laptop bag is that it can hold various sized devices, as the pouch can stretch to accommodate even today’s larger mobile phones. Below are 3 images that show off the pouch, with the last 2 showing my Droid 2 inserted into it comfortably.
Laptop Storage Area
An issue I have had with pretty much every bag that I own, is the storage bay for the laptop is usually larger than the laptop. This is fine if you aren’t riding your bike, but if the laptop can shift inside the bag, this is what will throw your balance off while riding a bike. I can honestly say, this is not an issue with the STM Alley laptop bag. The laptop fits snug inside the bay and there is no way possible it can shift. The next few images show one of my laptops inside of the storage bay. The laptop is an older Compaq that is thicker than today’s laptops. My newer Dell fits in as well with a little room to spare. This room though shrinks up a little as you start throwing other items inside the bag.
This following image is yet another storage compartment that will fit a few notebooks with ease, or even the power block and mouse for the laptop.
A feature I have come to enjoy on laptop bags is a spot to securely hold your keys. The key fob in the STM Alley laptop bag is much nicer than any other bag I own or have owned. Once attached, the keys are held within yet another storage compartment that once zipped give added security.
The following image is the zippered compartment that the key fob is within.
On the front panel of the STM Alley laptop bag is yet another zippered storage compartment. This compartment is perfect for a notebook, some business cards, or anything else that you would need to have available easily. Inside this bag I keep my Moleskin, a pen, business cards, and my digital camera. The following image shows this front panel compartment.
On the back of the STM Alley laptop bag, the part of the bag that will rest against your side or your back, depending on how you are comfortable carrying it, has yet another zippered storage compartment. At first use and glance, I didn’t even recognize it and missed it for well over an hour or so. I had taken the pictures of the bag, and then started filling it up. It wasn’t until I started to use it that I had noticed the compartment. The storage ability of this compartment is smaller than the internal compartments, and a bit smaller than the front compartment. Even though it is smaller, depending on the size of your power block, it will more than likely fit in here. If I am not riding my bike, I will put the power in this compartment. If I am riding a bike, I will either leave it empty, or it will hold a larger notebook so that it will lie flat across my back. The following images show off the back and the storage compartment.
First off, I would like to thank the wonderful people over at GearZap for contacting me to do this review and for sending me a really great laptop bag. I probably haven’t been the easiest to work with, especially during the months leading up to the holidays, as it is one of my busiest times of the year. I am on a few boards and committees that have taken up a bit of my time, but it is these committees that have allowed me to use this bag often over the past month or so.
Back to the STM Alley laptop bag. After using this case for the past month or so, I am happy with it. It serves its purpose as a laptop case, and serves it well, as well as it looks good. I have actually had a friend of mine, who was visiting from the UK, ask about the bag and where to buy it. I can now say that my friend is also a happy owner of this bag thanks to the wonderful folks over at GearZap. The size of this case is perfect for pretty much every use I have for it. The only time it doesn’t work for me is when I need to transport a change of clothes, a 6-pack of beer, and more. When I need to carry that much stuff, I have a Chrome bag that I use, however I feel a Chrome bag is probably frowned upon when meeting with prospective clients in a much more professional atmosphere. Luckily for me, I have this wonderful STM Alley laptop bag that fits the bill perfectly.
Now, before I wrote the review and even received the case itself, I had read many reviews online from people who owned the case. I would say that more than 95% of those reviews were 5 out of 5 stars. The only complaints that I had found online were about the fact the bag is far from waterproof and that the velcro fasteners are loud when you are late to class. In response to the bag not being waterproof or where the flap folds over on the front can allow water inside the case, this is true. I haven’t used the case in a down pour, or used it for long periods of time out in the rain. When it is raining, I tend to either wear a rain poncho with the bag underneath, or use an umbrella. During those times my laptop did not get wet, nor did the contents inside. I wouldn’t recommend having the bag out for extended periods of time in the rain without some sort of protection. I wouldn’t recommend this with any laptop bag for that matter. As for the velcro fasteners being loud when you are late to class, DON’T BE LATE TO CLASS! No really, don’t be late to class. Everyone of my bags have velcro fasteners, and if you want to know loud, the Chrome bag is by far the loudest. If by now you haven’t figured out how to undo velcro fasteners quietly, well let me just tell you that you don’t pull them like they are band-aids. The slower you open, the quieter they are. The faster you open, the louder they are. I tend to get to my meetings on time, so while everyone is talking is when I normally open up the bag and get everything I need out.
So to reiterate over the last paragraph, do not be late to class and do not go swimming with this bag.
Unfortunately for my non-European Union friends, GearZap does not ship to you. For those of you in the EU, they have everything you will need when it comes to transporting a laptop, portable media, and pretty much every small digital device that you would carry. Their shipping prices look reasonable and their shipping times are good. I’m impressed at just how fast the shipment was to the US so I can do a review on it.
Reiteration time again. Overall, I am very happy with this bag and I am very happy to give my stamp of approval on the bag. If I were to do a star rating system, like everyone else does, I would have to give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. 4.5? But you just raved at how great it is, and you only gave it a 4.5? You are nuts! Yes, you are correct, I am nuts. The reason for the 4.5 is simple. As I stated, I ride my bike darn near everywhere. Because of this, being seen is important to me. With that said, being seen means I like being lit up like a Christmas tree, especially around Chicago. If the bag had a spot to safely attach a bike light to, I would have then given it 4.75 out of 5 stars. The other .25 of the star is the mobile device pouch. If you actually read this review, and didn’t fall asleep during it, you would have noticed I talked about another bag I own and how the strap allows me to run the headphone cable through it so it isn’t out and about getting hung up. If I was able to do this, and have a spot for my bike light, it would have easily gotten 5 out of 5 stars. I do have a bit of remedy for both cases though. I attach a light to the strap near the case itself. This isn’t exactly the best place, but it does allow me to have a little more light in the back when riding. As for the headphones, I use a velcro strap, and loop the headphone cable with the strap. I keep the pouch as close to my head as possible, so this actually works well for me.