Hard Graft Flatpack laptop bag review

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  1. Vogelbung

    Vogelbung I R Judgemental

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    HARD GRAFT FLATPACK Review

    June 2013
    By Notebookreview.com member: Vogelbung


    [​IMG]

    Specifications
    Approximate unladen dimensions: Width 40.6 cm (16") Height 30 cm (11.5"). Depth: 4.5 cm (1.75")
    Laptop compartment size: 36.4 cm (14.35") x 24.9 cm (9.82") x 2.41 cm (0.95") - i.e. the size of the non-retina MacBook Pro.
    Weight: 710g / 1.57lbs complete


    Materials
    Metal fixtures: Steel / aluminium
    Leather: 'Italian'
    Other areas: Wool Felt
    Internal laptop compartment: Cloth lining


    Options
    Leather colours - "Heritage", "Shore"

    Hard Graft Flatpack - Heritage | Product Link
    Hard Graft Flatpack - Shore | Product Link





    The Hard Graft Flatpack is a minimalist bag, advertising space for only the laptop and the essentials. I like to travel light, and since it’s often been more practical to travel with the Retina Barbiebook Pro due to my ongoing partial reliance on OS X, I decided to check out the Flatpack.

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    In terms of style and the general market positioning, it’s intended very much for the Apple-toting, immaculate-fixie-riding, beard-sporting, eminently-punchable, cookie-cutter-template (and now pretty mainstream) hipster. Indeed, you can see hipsternip themes running throughout their range on their website. The price of the Flatpack will vary with country, but in the US it will be around $350 + delivery. High for a laptop bag obviously, but not really that high for a mostly-leather bag.

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    The Flatpack comes in two options: Heritage – a light brown leather that’s similar in hue to traditional English bridle hide, and Shore – a grey finish. I chose Heritage, to complement my deluge of actual English bridle hide luggage.The leather is complemented by a lining of wool felt on the backside of the strap.

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    The bag ships with fairly minimal packaging – beyond the cardboard, there’s a plain yet quite fetching grey Hard Graft cloth bag. The initial impression is excellent. The leather is supple, the stitching is uniform and there’s a general whiff of high quality. There are some nice details, as on the zip - someone’s sweated the ‘immediately visible’ details.


    STORAGE IS LIMITED, OBVIOUSLY

    There is literally only room for the notebook plus a few, well, flat-pack accoutrements. Two unpadded pockets fronted by thin cloth line the back of the bag, and the laptop compartment itself is minimally padded - there's a thin layer of what feels like some elastomer material inside, and that allied to the leather + the gathered X detail on the bag acts as a bumper in effect.

    What I found is that after I’d stowed just my wallet, keys (in a key sheath, since bare keys would be a problem due to the lack of padding), a couple of phones and accessories (tubes of moisturizers for hands and face, manly compact multitool, manly wet wipes, manly tin of mints) - I ended up with a somewhat lumpy bag at the back, and the overall effect while in portage was basically a bad massage from someone wearing oven mittens.

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    This means that everything you carry with you needs to be… well, flat. Trying to carry something like a PSU will result in this look, and the item poking you in the back.

    [​IMG]


    NEEDS MORE THINKING

    The 15” model has an expanding side gusset which allows you to insert and extract the notebook without struggling.

    [​IMG]

    However the metal zipper, while it looks ‘premium’ and activates with a pleasing action, is a pretty big problem – as it can easily contact the notebook when being inserted and extracted, and scratch it. So you say “I’ll get a sleeve” – and in that case, not only does it get a lot more snug in the bag leaving you even less room for other stuff, there’s problems inserting/extracting the sleeved notebook out easily.

    STRAP ARRANGEMENT NEEDS WORK

    In addition, the gusset (not present on smaller models) arrangement results in the strap attachment point pulling away from the bag as the gusset moves when you wear the bag with the strap on your right, meaning that the 15" model looks a bit lopsided when worn with a full load. You'll notice that the website model is wearing the bag on the other side, which lessens this issue since the other strap attachment point is more solidly anchored (and I suspect he's not actually wearing it with a ~2.5kg full load, since the strap does still splay out in a way that spoils the lines a little when worn on the left as well).

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The strap - which features a hipster-friendly aged-look alloy buckle and a small strap retaining tube which slides up and down the length of the strap - also features a very odd threading arrangement, which makes the whole thing equally ungainly for different reasons whichever way you wear the strap.

    Worn on the left as with the model, the strap retaining tube ends up sliding down the strap with any real movement, which means that you have a flailing length of strap pointing in an inverted u-shape towards your crotch. Worn on the right, the strap buckle ends up where your shoulder with be - which means no padding, and a different strap flailing issue since when worn this way, you have to move the strap retaining tube right up against the buckle assembly. Very beta. Almost alpha.

    Should you consider carrying anything but the prescribed notebook with this bag, it’s incapable of keeping its shape without the exact host notebook. E.g. if you wanted to carry a Yoga in this thing instead of a 15” MBP it’ll bulge strangely when it’s on your back. It is completely dependent on the fitted notebook for maintaining its look, and in fact you can see that carrying the thinner retina (as in the non-website photo above) is causing the bag to deform ever so slightly already. The same, I imagine, goes for the 13-inch model when you’re carrying an iPad or Surface for example. Granted, likely >90% of the people considering rocking this bag will have Apple-on-the-brain and will never carry anything else but the prescribed model of notebook, but for such a visually-led piece of luggage, not a great feature.

    ROUGH EDGES

    Apart from the zip, another metal-based issue is the rough burrs on the strap swivel assembly screw head - they can abrade clothing over time. Fine for your "vintage" thrift finds or some equally disposable piece of social-identifier straitjacketery from A&F perhaps, but not really for the sort of stuff I usually wear.

    [​IMG]

    ACTUALLY NOT THAT GREAT LEATHER

    Also, the leather’s not that brilliant once you start using it – supple in feel as mentioned at first, but arguably not really ‘luggage-grade’. I’ve had e.g. Knomo bags that have worn slightly better than this, which I’ve had to warranty after they partially fell apart. I really wouldn’t lay bets on this leather lasting a long time without obsessive levels of TLC. It strikes me as that kind of halfway point between the crap stuff and the genuinely high-grade stuff, reminding me as it does of the ‘not that cheap, but still fairly cheap’ leather shoes - a grade above the rock hard leather cheapo shoes - which are soft, but wear out very quickly.


    ______________________________________________


    Pros:
    - Looks cool
    - Fairly reasonably priced for something a little out of the ordinary
    - Has an impression of high build quality- at first.

    Cons:
    - Almost completely impractical, not even as a ‘half day bag’.
    - Made perhaps with more care for ‘out of the box’ happy points than for longevity
    - Very beta in many of the design & engineering elements


    CONCLUSION

    [​IMG]

    Would I recommend it? In a word, no.

    There’s no doubt that the Flatpack does cut a certain stylistic dash – and that is why you’d be interested in the bag. But the functional and other limitations of the product does IMO outweigh the looks, unless you’re really committed to rocking this style.

    In general, the Flatpack just feels like a compromise too far for the (also somewhat compromised, as pointed out) aesthetic benefits. The overall standard of and approach to construction seems to be more about initial outward appearance than thoughts given to living with the thing, and furthermore it feels definitely like a work in progress - like they seem to be learning on the job. And that’s OK as long as you know what you’re getting into, because this bag doesn't feel fully finished.

    Hard Graft appear to be positioning themselves along the lines of the mid-premium market for newly-affluent hipsters - and this may be such a guy’s first foray outside mass marques. From that viewpoint, I can’t help feeling that you’re being short-changed – as for only a little more, you can acquire a long-term companion and not that season’s piece du jour, which I feel this is.

    Some other pieces in their lineup they have may serve that role better, but from what I’ve seen of Hard Graft’s craftsmanship in this and other offerings, I’d have to say you can get better-made bags with better leather for the long haul (literally) elsewhere for not much more, or maybe even less if you step back down to the more well-known makes.

    If on the other hand you don’t mind a relatively disposable item for the sake of looking a bit different over the next couple of seasons, it’s certainly worth a try – though due to the practicality issues, I’m not entirely sure that you’ll still be using it once the novelty’s worn off.
     
  2. OtherSongs

    OtherSongs Notebook Evangelist

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    "1.57 lbs" for the 15" size seems unlikely. But I might believe that for the 11" size.

    Did you weight this yourself?

    Perhaps another thing to add to the "con" list, might be the high price? And what's the price spread from the 11" to 13" to 15" unit?
     
  3. Vogelbung

    Vogelbung I R Judgemental

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    Othersongs,

    As I've said before in slightly different ways, give other people the benefit of the doubt of being right...

    ...especially as you're often not until after the fact.

    Pricewise, anything that's not total junk made of leather front and back will be $150 and over. How much it goes beyond that depends on the nature of the item. As I said, the price isn't very high for the nature of the bag, which is why I've spared it more outright rippage despite the multitude of issues. If it was $500-$600 on the other hand for example I'd have given you a far shorter review.
     
  4. OtherSongs

    OtherSongs Notebook Evangelist

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    Seemed reasonable comments and questions.

    re "being right", you've been sloppy with weight figures before.

    Posting in NBR isn't pas seul. :)
     
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