For several years now, companies like Dell have offered customers the ability to personalize their computers the way they like. Each order is customizable both internally and externally, with users able to pick out colors and artwork alongside processors and memory. Enter SLAPPA's new M.A.S.K. system, which promises to bring that level of customization to your notebook's bag. Read on for our review.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price of this review unit is $129.99.
In addition to the sturdy build materials, all of the seams and zippers feel fairly strong. The zippers themselves are composed of a high-quality plastic with solid metal pulls. We filled the M.A.S.K. with a number of notebooks, accessories, hard drives and even a small desktop (yes, it's that roomy inside) and then ran around the office. Even slinging the bag back and forth revealed no particularly faulty seams, rips or tears. A hard sleeve is fitted around the top handle of the backpack just as two long rubber bumpers sit on the bottom to provide stability and impact protection when you orient the backpack on the ground vertically.
Suffice it to say, the M.A.S.K. is engineered to last, with solid build quality, hearty stitching and metal and rubber accents. Now that that's out of the way, however, let's talk about the design of the system, which is really what sets the M.A.S.K. backpack apart from the competitors. As we mentioned earlier, SLAPPA designed this bag to be customizable in the way manufacturers have been customizing laptops for some time. Just like with laptops, the company offers one base configuration with a number of optional areas where you can choose a panel to customize.
With the M.A.S.K., there are three distinct spots where users can choose how to express their individuality. The front, or face, has two options: the 'High Five' and the KOA M.A.S.K. The High Five shows off a flat stitched SLAPPA logo on top of a thin, zippered pocket. There's a second vertical pocket beneath it, which unzips to reveal a number of zippered pouches and velcro pockets, with a ring that snaps to your keychain. The KOA face features three curved pockets arranged around the front, and it sticks out much further than the High Five model. Which version is right for you? It depends on what you need - if you want a slimmer profile more than you need some spacious extra pockets, you might want to go with the High Five. If you need to carry around a few more chunky objects (like a medium-sized camera lens) that could fit in the pockets of the KOA face, it's probably the one for you.
The rear of each face offers a zippered pouch perfect for your power cords or mice, as well as two more velcroed pockets and two elastic loops. There's a big zipper that borders the face where it attaches to the main body of the backpack. The liner visible here is part of the customizable detail that SLAPPA offers. When ordering, you can choose from one of twelve different designs:
The liner attaches via several velcro tabs present on both the liner insert and the main body of the backpack itself. Once the liner's in place, it's secure enough that you won't have to worry about it being pulled off by components moving around inside. SLAPPA suggests this middle pocket is large enough to handle gaming systems like the Xbox 360, including power supply, controllers and games. That's fairly accurate; like the TARDIS, SLAPPA's new M.A.S.K. system seems bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
The third major part of the backpack is the notebook section toward the rear. For the final customization option, SLAPPA offers three different lining colors for the material in this section: blue, black and red. There are several more pockets here, including another zippered pouch as well as a velcro strip that can be rolled around something like a pair of headphones or a tripod to keep it firmly in place. While there's already half an inch of padding on every exterior wall of the backpack, the padding around the notebook compartment is even thicker.
On the outside of the bag are eight metal rings secured tightly to the backpack by nylon loops. These can be used to attach any number of add-on devices or straps. You can also use them to keep the M.A.S.K. tied down to a compartment or vehicle. Wearing the system felt comfortable even when weighed down; pressure on the back is relieved by a comically-large overstuffed SLAPPA logo in the middle rear of the bag.
The customization of the new bag, obviously SLAPPA's main marketing push, is almost secondary to just how nice the bag is on its own. Externally, the black-on-black design is understated enough to blend in no matter the situation, while internally, users can pick the color and artwork to suit their tastes.
The only real complaint I have with the setup is that once you buy the backpack with its face and liner insert, you're stuck. SLAPPA doesn't make the alternate liners or face available on their website. It would be a smart option to let users buy additional components and swap them out as they see fit - tastes change over time and damaged pieces need replacement.
The SLAPPA M.A.S.K. backpack system is hands down the nicest notebook backpack I've ever used. It's not just limited to use as a laptop bag, either - with the sheer storage space and number of pockets available, it becomes an attractive solution for anyone looking to move a lot of gear, from photographers with an extensive array of lenses for their camera to DJs who have to bring along just one more mixer.
Hopefully the new M.A.S.K. backpack is just the first in a series. We'd like to see SLAPPA offer further options in the line with interchangeable parts - imagine buying a backpack and a messenger bag and using the liner in both of them. You could even buy several faces and pack them ahead of time - one storing lenses for a shoot, another with first aid materials for a camping trip, etc. - then just zip on the one you need.
At $130, the SLAPPA M.A.S.K. backpack is on the high-end of the mainstream lineup of laptop bags, but its durable construction and varied feature set make it a worthwhile buy.
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