Burney's Legal Tech Reviews - Gadgets for Legal Pros: Tom Bihn Brain Cell Laptop Accessories and Compact Power Strips for Travel

Use Your Brain to Carry Your Laptop

I am a dedicated fan of Tom Bihn laptop bags because they are innovative, they exhibit superior quality, and they're completely manufactured in Seattle, WA. Judging by all the folks I've seen struggling with an over-burdened, seam-busting laptop bag, no one gives much thought to what they use to carry their precious computer. But a well-crafted laptop bag can make a world of difference, especially if it's from Tom Bihn.

Brain Cell

I've raved about the Empire Builder laptop bag from Tom Bihn in a previous column, and today I'm talking about the Tom Bihn Brain Cell that can be used in conjunction with the Empire Builder, or on its own. The "Brain Cell" is a clever name for this laptop sleeve that is stylishly smart from top to bottom.

First, the Brain Cell comes in several different sizes to accommodate just about every laptop on the market today. You can choose either a horizontal or vertical Brain Cell depending upon your specific need. You can also select from several colors including Steel, Crimson, and Wasabi.

Protecting your laptop from bumps, scrapes, and pokes is the top goal of the Brain Cell. A 4mm hard corrugated plastic shell provides an inner layer of protection while an 8mm layer of foam padding wraps around the outside. That may sound bulky, but you feel the Brain Cell exude an air of security when you slip your laptop inside. (Be sure to check out the "Brain Cell Egg Drop Test" linked from about the middle of this page starring Tom Bihn himself.)

The Tom Bihn Website reports that the Brain Cell "closes on the top, like a cereal box." That analogy didn't exactly come to mind when I first saw the bag, but it appropriately describes the closure. The two flaps are tightly secured together with Aplix strips which is very similar to Velcro.

The Brain Cell has two rings on each end to accommodate a shoulder strap, and two non-padded handles are provided for easy carrying. The front of the Brain Cell is covered with a stretch-mesh pocket that doesn’t look like much, but it can hold your laptop's power cord along with a few other small items.

I thoroughly enjoy using the Brain Cell on its own, and it works perfectly when I just need a small bag to take my laptop down to the local coffee shop. But the true design of the Brain Cell shines when you slip it inside one of the Tom Bihn bags that happily welcomes the Brain Cell, including the Empire Builder, the Brain Bag, the Smart Alec, or the ID. All of these bags feature small internal plastic clips that perfectly slide inside a strip of webbing found on the back of the Brain Cell. Those clips secure the Brain Cell providing an unbeatable combination of protection for your laptop. I've been using the Brain Cell inside my Empire Builder for quite a while now, and I never worry about my laptop getting damaged from the occasional bump, nudge, or drop. Plus when I'm traveling and just want to take my laptop to a meeting without lugging around my full briefcase, I simply unhook the Brain Cell from inside the Empire Builder, and I'm on my way.

The Tom Bihn Website offers a handy Laptop Bag Fit Guide that lets you match bags for any laptop. This is an example of the excellent customer service that you'll find from Tom Bihn – if you have any questions about a bag or what's appropriate for your use, just give them a call.

Tom Bihn bags are only available online (or at the Seattle Factory Showroom). I've heard comments that their bags are slightly more pricey than other similar bags, but I am a witness that you're paying for better quality. And when it comes to your laptop, shouldn't you make sure your investment stays as safe as possible?

A Monster Idea for Portable Plugs

Have you ever arrived in a hotel room and run out of wall outlets to charge up your bevy of electronic appliances that usually includes a laptop, cell phone, Bluetooth headset and BlackBerry? I customarily find a single plug on the desk for my laptop and my cell phone typically ends up in the bathroom next to the hair dryer. All the other plugs in the room are occupied by the TV, the bedside radio, and various ambience-inducing lamps.

Outlets to Go

I've often thought about carrying one of those bulky beige power strips around with me so I could maximize the use of a solitary plug, but they take up way too much room in my briefcase. Thank goodness I found the ingenious Outlets To Go from Monster Cable Inc., the makers of high-quality audio and video cables.

Clued by the name, Outlets To Go are compact power strips that travel well and pack light. When you see one you'll ask why no one came up with such a brilliant idea before now. You can buy an Outlets To Go with either 3, 4, or 6 outlets.

I chose to go with 4-outlet model which measures a paltry 6.25" long by 1.8" wide and only 2.25" thick. The 4 outlet model comes in either black, silver, or white. The 3 outlet version only comes in black and the 6 outlet version is only available in white.

The body of Outlets To Go contains the individual outlets which are generously spaced far enough apart to allow even the bulkiest power adapters to fit comfortably next to each other. The outlets are spaced better than the majority of "regular" power strips I use in my office. All of the outlets are of the 3-prong variety to accommodate electrical plugs that include a ground prong.

The power cord on the Outlets To Go is very short, but it easily wraps around the body to ensure a compact profile for your trip. The head of the power cord conveniently plugs into an empty outlet on the body so that it doesn't flop around inside your travel bag. It's good to see a company pay attention to the small details like that. Even the head and cord itself are flattened to take up less room

The head of the power cord appears to contain a gratuitous "Monster Power" logo, but it turns out to be a functional light that glows blue when the unit is plugged into a powered wall outlet. This may seem unnecessary, but many wall outlets in hotel rooms are controlled by a light switch on the wall. You'll be able to tell immediately if a wall outlet is receiving power with Outlets To Go so that you don't wrongly assume you're charging your cell phone when the wall outlet is actually turned off.

Outlets To Go also includes a resettable circuit breaker just like the bigger power strips. This protects your valuable gadgets in case of an electrical surge.

If you are regularly frustrated at the lack of available wall outlets in a hotel room when you travel, then pick up a Monster Cable Outlets To Go and make it part of your travel pack of wires, cables, and power adapters. The 4-outlet version officially sells for only $19.95 but I've found it for less at other online retailers.

cover of Monster MP OTG400 SLV Outlets To Go Power Strip (Silver)Monster MP OTG400 SLV Outlets To Go Power Strip (Silver)
Binding: Electronics
List price: $19.95 USD
cover of Monster MP OTG400 BK Outlets To Go 4 Outlet Travel Power Strip (Black)Monster MP OTG400 BK Outlets To Go 4 Outlet Travel Power Strip (Black)
Binding: Electronics
List price: $19.95 USD
Amazon price: $14.30 USD

cover of Monster MP OTG600 WH Outlets To Go 6 Outlet Travel Power Strip (White)Monster MP OTG600 WH Outlets To Go 6 Outlet Travel Power Strip (White)
Binding: Electronics
List price: $29.95 USD
Amazon price: $17.99 USD