capsule review

JanSport Alt Pack

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At a Glance
  • JanSport Alt Pack

(The following review is an excerpt from a Playlist article on iPod apparel; you can read the full article at the link below.)

JanSport's $299 Alt Pack holds a bit less cargo overall than the $100 Audio Pack, also reviewed on Playlist, but has gadget cache to spare; in fact, you could get lost in all of its pockets, pouches, and compartments. Made of slightly thicker nylon than the Audio Pack, the Alt Pack is available in black and weighs 2 pounds, 11 ounces empty. The rear-most compartment includes a rigid, removable laptop sleeve that accommodates laptops up to 15.4-inches (screen size), although the sleeve isn't quite long enough for 15-inch widescreen laptops and is a bit loose for Apple's thin MacBook Pro. (If you have your own favorite laptop sleeve, you can use it instead.) With a laptop in the sleeve, there's still room for magazines and files, or a thick book. In front of the laptop section is a second large compartment with a generous organizer panel and two wide pouches (one zippered). In front of that is a smaller padded pocket for a non-iPod portable player, a mobile phone, a small digital camera, or even a Sony PSP. In front of that -- I told you there were mucho pockets -- is another larger pocket, padded and divided into two sections, perfect for larger gadgets, laptop batteries, and AC adapters. Finally, in the very front of the bag is another large pocket with two elastic mesh pouches inside; this pocket is sizable enough to hold a small pair of shoes or a folded jacket. On the right side of the pack is a vented, soft-lined pocket (I'm not sure what the vent is for), and on the left side is a similar pocket with a mesh extender; when open, the latter holds a good-sized water bottle. A nice bonus: A zipper on the very bottom of the Alt Pack reveals a "rain coat" that covers the entire outside of the bag -- after all, if your pack is full of gadgets, you need to keep them dry.

The Alt Pack uses the same iPod connections and controller as the Audio Pack: You place your dockable iPod in a zippered pouch at the top of the bag. Two plugs -- one for your iPod's dock-connector port and the other for its headphone jack -- connect your iPod to the bag. (You'll want to enable your iPod's Hold switch to prevent bumps to the Click Wheel from affecting playback.) Near the top of the right-hand shoulder strap is a standard stereo miniplug, into which you plug your headphones; lower on the strap is a set of soft-button iPod controls: Play/Pause, Volume Up, Volume Down, Forward, and Back. These buttons worked well and were easy to use, while resisting minor bumps -- I was surprised how infrequently I accidentally hit a button while using the backpack. Another feature that I really liked was the small elastic pouch at the very top of the right shoulder strap (near the shoulder) that can be used to store your earbuds. The pouch is too small to fit your earbuds and all of their cables without some effort, but for quickly stashing the earbuds themselves, leaving the cables free, it worked well.

But the Alt Pack also includes Bluetooth connectivity. Why would a laptop backpack include Bluetooth? If you're listening to your iPod, you can't exactly be expected to pause playback, remove your headphones, take your phone out of the bag, and answer it, can you? (JanSport's answer would be "no," by the way.) Instead, you pair your Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone with the bag -- a small Bluetooth button and indicator light can be found on the left-hand shoulder strap. When your phone rings, press the Bluetooth button and your iPod pauses, your phone's audio comes through your headphones, and a microphone hidden near the Bluetooth button picks up your voice. Press the Bluetooth button again to hang up; your iPod resumes playback. A small (2-by-3.5-inch) battery/Bluetooth pack fits in a pouch in the laptop compartment of the bag; Bluetooth functionality requires 3 AAA batteries.

Although the Alt Pack's Bluetooth support worked well overall, I did experience one minor issue. Like most Bluetooth "headsets," the Alt Pack's Bluetooth LED blinks regularly to indicate that Bluetooth is on and the bag is paired with a phone. However, sometimes I heard a faint noise through the headphones whenever the blink occurred; a sort of low "blip." (JanSport told Playlist that this isn't normal. The company is sending another Alt Pack for us to test; we'll update this article with the results of that test.)

There are also a couple minor improvements I'd like to see in the bag in general. Unlike the Audio Pack, the Alt Pack's iPod pouch isn't padded; given that the pocket is on the outside, it should offer more protection. And considering how expensive the bag is, and how many (possibly heavy) gadgets you can stuff inside it, better padding on the shoulder straps (similar to that of the Audio Pack's straps), along with chest and waist straps, would make this a killer backpack for the gadget-laden road warrior.

UPDATE 8/27/06: A minor glitch with Bluetooth functionality was mentioned in the original review, above. JanSport has since provided Playlist with a second Alt Pack, and this second sample did not exhibit the issue.
--Dan Frakes

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At a Glance
  • Laptop backpack with iPod and Bluetooth integration.

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