Top positive review
45 people found this helpful
SOLO *fixed* issues in this newer run of the same model. Also, possibly wide quality variation from bag to bag.
on August 24, 2012
An excellent bargain at $90 if you find one of the better examples, considering the variation in leather and build quality within this bag model. It isn't for everybody considering the additional care that the (*real*) leather warrants and the additional weight, as well as the aesthetic design. The design puts it mainly in the business/office scenario, but it's casual enough to maybe pass for fashionable everyday carry (but it may be too casual for navy/charcoal suit, formal business meetings). There were some user-fixable issues with the earlier runs of this model, but SOLO has since updated the newer runs to fix those issues at the factory.
First off, great looking bag for work, styling is a bit rounded/curvy but very fitting for a satchel. It almost looks like a motorcycle/horse saddle bag than something for the office, which I think gives it a handsome, somewhat outdoorsy look. I think another reviewer described it as academic or professor-like?
The functional design has the 2 main compartments fixed to both sides of a stiff cardboard or plastic load-bearing center panel which itself hangs off what seems to be a metal rod which the handles/straps attach to. Functionally, this means that (1) the bag holds its shape even when standing empty or carried by the shoulder straps, unlike messenger bags which can crumple if you don't add something stiff in there. This design in 2 main compartments separated by a stiff board also means (2) less chances of bulging at the bottom when stuffed with gadgets, etc. It'll still bulge when overpacked, but given the design and the leather body it won't be as noticeable.
It's primarily a hand-carry design, but it can do shoulder-carry even if it may not look as neat as a messenger bag style (straps coming up from the sides). The stiff shape-holding rod does make a more awkward shoulder carry than a crumple-able messenger bag though.
The inside is polyester but I think this is a positive as stuff slides more easily on the material. Anyway, I've seen many long-lasting leather women's purses with similar combo of soft outer leather and polyester lining (but this is certainly no purse!).
Given the design using (real) leather, the support panel, and support rod, it's already somewhat heavy even when empty, maybe about as heavy as an empty attache briefcase. For me, it's still a worthwhile tradeoff to have its looks and ability to hold its shape (messenger bags are not for me unless I want minimal weight and easy access. I'm still a backpack guy first, but I'd go with a satchel before I go messenger bag. And yes, satchels are different from messenger bags).
I focus on negatives when I evaluate a product based on reviews from previous customers, and the following stood out:
1) Strap/handle ring comes out due to screw loosening (pretty major, until you realize you could just unscrew it, add super glue, then carefully put it back in so it doesn't set with the rod, only with the screw and ring).
2) Color rubbing off/running.
3) Non-adjustable (main compartment) straps
4) Only a magnet closure on the document side (snap-buckle secures the laptop side--the belt-like buckle is purely cosmetic).
Additionally, and most of this is specific to my preferences:
5) I wish they made this in a smaller size. Same thickness in the compartments, but just big enough to hold Letter size (instead of Legal size which this can hold), and just big enough to do 13" laptops instead of 16". Sizing like this could make it more usable as a casual man bag as well as shave some weight while also making it a better fit for someone with netbooks/tablets instead of a full-on laptop.
6) There is an alarmingly wide range in quality of the build and the leather itself even within the same model. I checked Staples (where this can be seen in person), and even discounting mishandling by store associates I saw nicks and blemishes in the leather that's too noticeable to be attractive. Natural leather has blemishes that came with the original animal skin, and they do add character, but these just seemed like damage *after* the leather was made. There were also some leather sections that was stretched a bit too much for me.
Also, some of the blemishes from the original animal skin stood out a bit too much for my taste (like oval marks). Aside from the unacceptable (to me) blemishes and damage, the leather pieces also had a good variety, from fairly smooth to more full-grainy, and from the softer side of soft to the stiffer side of soft. My only niggle with this variety in the leather properties is that it may be noticeable, in an annoying way, if the pieces of leather on the same bag were too different.
All told, it took me 6 bags across 3 different Staples stores to find the only one that was acceptable to me--but it was in top form, I'd say, so I counted myself quite lucky, although again I suppose there was some mishandling by Staples or by customers picking through the bags.
Build quality ranged a bit too, a couple of the 6 bags I examined had uneven stitching, like somebody's hand wavered at the sewing machine. No loose threads though, but some of the uneven stitching seemed to get too close to the edge of the material to be secure over time. 5-year warranty, maybe, but might as well pick the sturdiest and best-looking of the bunch if you can.
7) I already noted the weight even when empty.
8) The earlier version had an extra sewn-in divider in the document section that was removed in the newer version (the document section has the same overall size). This is like the laptop pocket on the laptop section, but with the bottom open. Not sure if this is a negative really.
9) Not really rainproof. Then again, it's leather and shouldn't be wetted anyway, but the flaps do leave some holes for raindrops to get into.
10) Mainly flap closure, with only 1 thin zippered compartment. Not as secure from prying eyes/hands.
My thoughts/responses on the negatives:
1) I already mentioned that the screw can simply be glued in by the end user, but SOLO has actually already done that at the factory on the newer runs. I can't even budge the screw with a screwdriver on the newer version. I know for sure that the change was made because I picked up an older version with the same model number at the thrift store, and compared it with a newer version of the same model. The older model really did have screws that came loose disturbingly easily over time. (BTW, $15 at the thrift store! But it already had 1 missing strap ring, some scuffs, and a loose thread at the bottom--all easily dealt with or accepted as nice character/aging, except for the missing strap ring).
Additionally, SOLO actually narrowed the base of the rings a bit so that there's less room to slide the rings sloppily side to side on the rod. The extra space on the older run wasn't noticeable until I compared the two versions, and even then the older version was still no problem at all in this regard. On the whole, if you get good leather and stitching on a bag, I'd say SOLO tightened up the design.
2) Color running? It's leather, it'll do that a bit when new (and maybe a bit more depending on the leather piece and the variance in quality). It'll do it even more when it gets wet--I gave the used one I found a good wipe down with Ivory soap and a bit of moisture, and I rubbed off some brown (still, I only got a little brown on the paper towel despite the good rubbing, but then again, this was already somewhat used when I found it, and it does seem slightly lighter than the brand new).
I'd probably recommend the end user to give the leather a good cleaning before use, just to minimize the risk of color rubbing off on good clothes. I'm not an expert on leather care, but I did read several methods and alternatives to care for leather. Considering the relatively low cost of the leather bag but relatively high cost for a bag in general, I decided to do:
> Seasonal or annual cleaning with just Ivory soap and a moist sponge followed by pat-dry and using Lexol leather conditioner (maybe Sno Seal or similar waterproofer). Cheap alternative to conditioner would be minimal mineral oil or petroleum jelly but I read that stuff breaks down to leather-damaging solvent over time.
> Daily or weekly brushing to get the dust off.
> Maybe monthly polishing with brown shoe wax. Key thing is to buff off the excess so color won't rub off in use.
Then again the used bag I found probably was never given any care beyond dry wiping down, and while it looks a bit weathered it still looks great. Leather's leather though, might as well give it some proper care.
3) The straps to close the compartment covers decorative, their function limited to providing a handle to lift the flap up (although considering how they're stitched to the outside of the leather flap and not all the way through, I'd be wary of them coming loose after a few years and being hard to sew back on). Adjustable straps might be nice to keep the compartments snug, but they keep their shape well enough. The only reason to have adjustable straps would be to compress the bag a bit when non-full, but then again, considering how well it already holds its shape, it probably wouldn't compress down that much without stretching leather.
4) The magnets holding the document side is snug enough, and since the flap isn't tensioned between the handle and the compartment like on a messenger bag (another reason I disfavor messenger bags), the flap really doesn't need to hold back much. It just needs to keep the compartment covered and pulled in so it's not bulging, and as long as you're not stuffing more than say 4 inches worth of stuff in there it should work admirably.
5) I would very much prefer a Letter-size/13" laptop size version of this same satchel. But this size is still very appropriate for business, and can probably pass for casual use. Really I just want a casual bag that errs away from being a manpurse and leans more to Indiana Jones adventuring satchel.
6) Not much getting around this one besides shopping for yourself. Amazon unfortunately doesn't do free return shipping, but maybe you can talk them into a free exchange to roll the dice again? Or find an alternate online seller that does do free return ship? Really surprising though how much difference there could be, bag to bag. Staples is the only place I've found this in person, and theirs is $140 (but an Android Staples checkin app eventually spits out a coupon that brings it to about $90-95).
7) Weight is weight, and again, to me, the look and function are worth the weight for something to carry a laptop and about 2-3 notebooks worth of papers from home to ride to a desk.
8) I thought the divider might help keep the document compartment from bulging out, but the leather and magnet closure already do a bang up job. Removing that divider also gives a bit more room.
9) Already mentioned, it's leather and shouldn't get wet, but waterproofing conditioners do exist (Sno Seal, although that darkens lighter leather). The holes the flaps leave are still at risk though. Just keep it out of the wet and maybe have a lightweight cover on hand (e.g. a plastic bag).
10) If you kept sensitive documents you'd probably want a lockable attache case anyway. There are bags with zippered compartments, but it's rare to find them in combination with flaps to cover the zippers, so you're stuck with accepting visible zippers, going with unzippered flap bags, or the other type of briefcase that is more like a tote with open top, just held shut by the handles. Just be wary with your bag, chances are the bag itself is desirable enough to be stolen just for the bag without having to worry about the contents anyway. Pickpockets could still be an issue though.
Notes on additional changes on the newer run (besides the permanently-glued screws on the strap rings, the narrower opening on the strap rings to reduce sliding, and the removed document section divider):
> SOLO changed the shape of the laptop compartment sides a bit so it's more enclosed with the flap down. The laptop compartment necessarily sticks out quite a bit, so the older run which had a uniformly horizontal pocket left a roughly triangular gap/opening in the side with the flap down. The other effect of the updated design besides enclosing the pocket better is that the side profile of the bag keeps its rounded shape at the top instead of being leaner at the top when the laptop area is empty.
> More prominent branding, as in deeper impression of "SOLO" in the leather. Considering this is leather, it really is branding in the classic sense. The lettering is pretty much the same font and size, located in the bottom middle of the laptop flap. The older run had visible brand but shallow enough that it could probably be invisible from across a room. Not so with the newer run. Really more of an aesthetic issue. Considering the vintage look of the bag it'd be nice to really embrace the illusion of a weathered old adventuring satchel instead of being a modern consumer product that the logo suggests. I don't think even actual wear can hide the branding after a few years without ruining the leather first.
Then again, that brand is just the right spot for an engraved plate, and SOLO has a webstore that offers different styles for $6-7 + postage. BTW I think that store is for anyone to use whether or not they have a SOLO bag. I don't know if that's a good price but I offer it as an example.
> The shoulder strap on the older run had a decorative strip of matching brown leather running down the length of the canvas main strap (decorative, since the strap already comes with a leather-lined shoulder pad). The newer run removed the leather strip and changed the canvas slightly to a smoother material. A bit more like a smooth car seat belt strap and less like a duffle bag coarser handle/shoulder strap.
Notes on (leather or leather-like) alternatives (Amazon does a good job presenting specific examples):
> There are very few in this functional style, with the handle attached to a rod, and the rod carrying a stiff panel that the main compartments hang onto.
> There are quite a few that have the handle attached to the load-bearing flap (and most seem to be messenger bags which almost always use this style). The flap must have a good buckle/closure, and most of these styles rely on the material to provide stiffness if any. The main flap also cannot be opened while carrying by hand.
> There are a few with a messenger-bag like design but the handle secures to the main compartment, not the flap, by going through a "porthole" in the flap.
> I definitely envy the $200+ satchel models from Vagabond Traveler and ($300+) Saddleback Leather. Those only have the handles on the load-bearing flap though, so it has to be set down or shoulder-carried to be opened.
> There are cases that look like beefed-up laptop bags. Modern looking, which may or may not be a desired look.
> Attaches I've read are really on the way out. All business and can be anywhere from old-fashioned boxy-big to modern sleek and thin.
> Briefcases that start to look like clothes luggage. Gets the job done, but not really much for fashion.
> Portfolio cases that also have support rods to keep the bag shape but close by drawing the handles together (or by zipper), instead of a satchel flap.
That's about all the styles I've seen that would be good for office/business settings *and* in leather/leatherlike materials. My favorite from Amazon's lineup is still this one, after considering price and my own budget, again, assuming I'm looking at one of the better examples of this model.