By: Jonathan Kwan
January 24, 2008
Things change rapidly in this world -- this is especially apparent in the technology world. The center of attention shifts focus on the latest processors, motherboards, chipsets, video cards, and just recently, form-over-function laptops. ;) Hey, just kidding. Speaking of which, what do you carry your laptop in? The laptop case market is bigger and better than ever, especially with the widespread use of computers in this form. If you are one of those carrying your laptop in those classic business laptop bags that's almost like announcing to the world you have an expensive computer equipment in your bag, and looking for something with a lower profile, or simply searching for something that's more stylish to carry your laptop your laptop in (And of course, less geeky), we've got something interesting today that seems to fall within all categories -- the Spire Dart -- which is like a sleeve, but with a little more. I've been searching high and low for a sleeve that, at least on paper, meets all my requirements -- the Dart being one of the rare ones. How well does this bag step up against the rest in real life? Let's examine this product closely today.
Our review unit of the Spire Dart came from Spire's offices in the States. With a surprisingly large box for a laptop bag, it was shipped in a corrugated cardboard box using United States Postal Service Express Mail International. It was then transferred to the Purolator courier in Canada, I would have known because the same friendly Purolator man who came almost weekly had yet another package in his hands. Everything arrived in perfect condition; even the box itself was not beat up.
Out of the box, is the laptop bag itself contained inside a plastic bag for protection during shipping. The Spire Dart is available in three sizes; with the Dart 13, Dart 15, and Dart 17 for 13.3", 15.4", and 17" widescreen laptops, respectively. Just a short note, you won't be able to get any standard aspect notebooks into the sleeve -- the only time you may be able to is to buy a size larger.
Before we move on, let's take a look at the specifications of the Spire Dart before we take a look into the details:
- Available in 3 sizes, perfect for Macs and widescreen PCs.
- Tough Ballistic nylon exterior
- Removable key fob
- YKK zippers with glow-in-dark zipper pulls
- Padded, comfortable carrying handles
- Removable, padded shoulder strap with unique "push button" swivel buckles
- Dart 13: 13.0" x 9.50" x 1.25"
- Dart 15: 14.5" x 10.25" x 1.25"
- Dart 17: 15.5" x 11.25" x 1.25"
In addition to the three distinct sizes to accommodate different laptops, Spire also offers the Dart in gray or black. I preferred the black one, and since my Dell Inspiron 6400 has a diagonal screen size of 15.4", the Spire Dart used in this review is a Dart 15 black.
Located at the top of the Spire Dart is a double section, padded carrying handles. The slim wrapping over the default attachment to the bag itself connects to the back, with the second one located between two zippers as shown above. Two distinct compartments are designed within the Spire Dart, as enclosed by the dual main zippers on the bag itself that extends full length. The rear compartment is fully padded to hold the laptop itself, while the front compartment is half padded (Because of the partition between that and the laptop section) to hold accessories such as the AC adapter and mouse.
The zipper for the laptop compartment extends about 9cm down the both sides of the laptop bag and reaches the shoulder strap swivel buckles. The front compartment's zippers extend approximately 5cm down the side of both sides of the bag.
The shoulder strap is also padded with a sliding shoulder pad as shown in the photo above.
The YKK zippers feature a glow in the dark zipper pull attachment, with two pulls on both main compartments and a single pull on the front half height compartment. The zippers are thick and relatively strong, and should be more than adequate for this usage.
As described earlier, the zippers to the main laptop compartment and secondary compartment extends a certain length down the side of both sides of the bag. At the end of the longer one is the what Spire calls the push button swivel buckles; used for the shoulder strap on both sides of the bag. This attachment allows the strap to be rotated around this location. It works very well, but on the other hand, we would have definitely appreciated more if these clips were made of metal instead of plastic for durability concerns.
As mentioned earlier, the Spire Dart is separated into two distinct full length compartments; with the one near the back fully padded for containing the laptop. The nylon surface is fairly easy on laptop surfaces and won't scratch it up all that easily; but it doesn't rip apart easily either. Padding is located on all four sides of the compartment, with the side walls being a bit thinner than the larger back padding and middle partition that separates the between the two compartments. The front compartment is for holding other accessories; and extends full height of the bag with a detachable key fob inside near the top.
How well does this bag work in real life with regards to practicality? In packing my portable computing equipment, I slipped my 15.4 Dell Inspiron 6400, a fairly older -- but common -- laptop, into the Spire Dart. The fit is actually very snug and secure -- a little too snug, to be honest -- I had to take a bit of effort to get the zipper around the corner of my Inspiron. While this may not be the case with every laptop in the market, this is certainly one of my biggest concerns. If only the Spire Dart was built a little taller, or a little wider, or maybe just a bit more generous on the corners, then it would not be a problem. This is certainly something we would love to see improvement on.
Edit: Due to the physical attributes of different laptops, Spire generally recommends the user to step up one size for better accommodation of larger laptops, even if it has the same screen diagonal measurement.
In addition to the two main full height compartments, a half height zipper side pocket is located at the front of the bag. The single direction zipper is the same type used throughout the bag that demonstrated excellent toughness -- and as to complete the series, the glow in the dark zipper attachment is part of the package as well. I slipped my AC adapter into that compartment, and my laptop mouse and mousepad along with a couple of cables went into the full height accessories storage compartment that's next to the laptop compartment.
Residing at the back of the laptop bag is a Velcro enclosed flap. This thin, full height pocket is designed for storage of papers and other documents -- which is one feature I've always found handy in most laptop bags and sleeves I've used. I was delighted to see this in the Spire Dart laptop sleeve as well!
Generally speaking, the Spire Dart is one sweet laptop sleeve. The "tough ballistic nylon exterior" actually works very well in terms of durability, even during a little tougher than regular usage -- and despite the Spire Dart's thin and light profile, it has done a reasonably good job in protecting my mobile computing equipment during transport. One of the biggest reasons why I liked the Spire Dart so much is not just for the reasons listed above -- but also because it is not limited by its physical attributes of being a thin and light sleeve. Spire has incorporated pretty much all the features I wanted in a regular laptop bag, in the smallest physical dimensions and weight possible. The only complaint is that, despite its excellent quality and design, the Spire Dart a bit too tight on my relatively common 15.4" laptop in terms of corners -- and if Spire made improvements to the bag in improving its laptop fitting without stepping one size up (It's just a really simple change to accommodate more users), that would make the Spire Dart one all round sweet bag!
Special thanks to Cory over at Spire for making this review possible.
APH equal.balance Award | APH Review Focus Summary:
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.0/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The Spire Dart may be classified as a laptop sleeve, but in its thin and light design also has pockets that contains everything else -- the Spire Dart is surely a full featured laptop bag, but with many of the benefits of the thin, low profile, common sleeve.