WaterField tries out a tougher canvas version of its standard Muzetto bag. (July 9th, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: WaterField
- Tough, well-crafted
- Attractive design
- Comfortable to wear
- Quick access to bag's contents
- Plenty of storage space
- Main pouch and lid flap don't seal shut
- High price
- Low shock protection
- Openings may allow snow, water to get in
For a lot of people an iPad by itself is a luxury, never mind the sheer number of accessories you can buy for one. That makes the products WaterField creates even more extreme -- not only are they handmade in the US, they're often crafted with material like real leather, which is safe to call overkill if all you care about is protection. Recently the company put out the Muzetto Outback, a variant of its existing leather Muzetto bag. Although the Outback comes in several different sizes like its sibling, we tested the 10-inch size, which is aimed at tablets and netbooks.
The Outback is a shoulder-slung bag with an adjustable strap. Instead of leather it's primarily made out of waxed cotton canvas, which naturally gives it a kind of military surplus look -- for some people very desirable, although those wanting something professional (quote unquote) might be disappointed. It's in fact only available in tan as the main color, though you can pick from one of six accent colors for the material under the flap. I chose black.
Durability, arguably, is the reason to pick the Outback over the regular Muzetto, or many other luxury bags for that matter. Leather needs to be maintained, and even minor damage can ruin its look. Canvas is meant to be abused; WaterField points out that you can actually repair cosmetic damage to the Outback by taking a hair dryer to it. The waxing also makes the bag highly water-resistant. In a test, I poured a glass of water directly onto the lid, and the liquid simply beaded across the surface. The accent material should likewise be able to withstand any rain or splashing.
The main pouch in the 10" Outback has ample space for an iPad, even when using a relatively thick case like the SwitchEasy Canvas. I would argue that the pouch might have enough space for two iPads, though that would probably be pushing it. I should caution that while there's plenty of padding on the side facing outwards, there isn't any to speak on the side that rests against your body, so don't expect to get much in the way of shock protection.
The pouch's biggest problem is that there's no way of sealing it -- no zipper, not even velcro. You're simply expected to close the lid flap, which is also missing a way to latch it shut. To WaterField's credit perhaps, the lid is long and heavy enough that this is rarely an issue. It seems ludicrous though that such an expensive product can still leave you worrying about turning it upside-down, or letting water or snow seep in. It's even more bizarre when you consider that there's a zippered pocket inside.
The tradeoff is that that it's very easy to slip things into the bag or take them out, since you can flip it open at any time. The lid rests on top of two external pockets: a small one holds items like smartphones, while a larger one is good for objects like pens, books, or notes. Still another wide pocket sits on the bag's back, but since it's resting against you, it's only really handy for things like magazines, small keyboards, or possibly e-book readers. It's also lidless and zipperless, potentially exposing anything inside to the elements.
The best thing about the Outback is how comfortable it is to wear. The strap on it isn't made out of anything special, but the D-rings are deliberately clipped lower than on most bags, meaning that the Outback should lay flat against your side instead of angling out slightly. If you throw the strap over your head and position the bag just behind your hip, everything stays in place; this frees up your hands in a way that makes it easy to forget you're wearing anything.
A smaller but significant nod should go to build quality. None of the materials used in the bag feel cheap. The stitching is immaculate, and important parts are double- or even triple-stitched, which might make it nigh-on indestructible. Of course, all of this should be par for the course with a luxury product.
For me, in fact, the only major drawback of the Outback is cost. The 10" model is $159, and even the smallest, cheapest option is still $149. A similar STM bag, the Scout 2, is just $55, which raises serious questions about what the Outback is offering in comparison, especially since the Scout has crazy features such as a way of sealing the iPad compartment.
Regardless, if budget isn't an issue for you -- or, for that matter, the chance of tipping your bag upside-down -- it's hard not to recommend the Outback. It's extremely well-made, and I can't stress how comfortable and convenient it is. For toting an iPad around town it's hard to beat. It's just a shame that such an obvious design issue could be glossed over.