Ever since the 11-inch MacBook Air debuted just over a month ago, readers have been asking us about bags, cases, and sleeves made specifically for Apple’s smallest-ever laptop. Sure, the 11-inch Air will fit in any MacBook case, or even most cases for 11-inch netbooks, but unless you want your computer to be sliding or bouncing around inside, a case tailored to the super-thin Air is more desirable. The first one we’ve received is Booq’s $50 Viper Hardcase 11.
As its name implies, the Viper is a rigid case that aims to provide more protection than a neoprene or fabric sleeve. The outside of the case is made of water-resistant, 1682D ballistic nylon over a quarter-inch, molded-foam shell.
The combination won’t protect your MacBook Air if you step or sit on it, but it will keep it safe from minor bumps and impact. The nylon also feels tough enough to absorb a good amount of abuse from sliding the case in and out of luggage, around on desks, and through airport-security x-rays.
The inside of the Viper 11 is more functional that you might think, in part because the Viper is noticeably thicker than the Air it protects. The bottom half of the shell hosts your MacBook Air inside a sleeve that has soft, lightly padded fabric on the shell side and stretchy neoprene on the other. The Air slides in easily, and once inside, the “lip” formed by the bottom half of the case keeps the Air from sliding out. (When you close the case, this lip also keeps the Viper’s YKK zippers from ever touching your laptop.)
The other half of the shell sports three neoprene pouches: one full-size pouch for storing documents or a couple magazines, and, on the front of that pouch, two smaller, half-width ones. (There’s also a loop for storing a pen.) Booq claims you can use these pockets to store “your power adapter, phone and other small items,” but I found that when I placed the MacBook Air’s power adapter in one of the pouches, I couldn’t zip the Viper closed. With an iPhone in one pouch and a thin, portable hard drive in the other, I was able to close the Viper, but it was still a tight fit. The pockets seem more appropriate for smaller, thinner items such as a notepad, some business cards, and a few cables and adapters. (Not to mention that you don’t want anything in these pockets that might place concentrated pressure against your MacBook Air.) Still, the pouches do come in handy.
Update to answer a reader’s question: The larger pouch does fit an iPad, which means the Viper Hardcase 11 can be used to carry both an 11-inch MacBook Air and an iPad simultaneously, although it’s a tight squeeze—you won’t be able to fit anything else inside.
This rigid construction and extra storage space does come with some drawbacks, however. The most obvious is that the Viper is quite a bit bigger than a bare Air: 12.8 inches wide, 8.6 inches deep, and 1.7 inches thick for the case, compared to 11.8 inches wide, 7.6 inches deep, and anywhere from 0.1 to 0.7 inches thick for a MacBook Air by itself. The Viper also adds about 11 ounces of weight—nearly one-third of the weight of an Air. But in fairness to the Viper, it’s designed to be used inside a larger bag, pack, or suitcase—places where your Air is more likely to get bumped around and you’re willing to put up with a larger sleeve to gain some protection. (Indeed, the Viper doesn’t even have a handle—a feature I wished for more than once when carrying the Viper—or even when simply removing it from a bag.)
If you’re looking for a sleeve for protecting your new 11-inch MacBook Air inside a larger bag, or a case for carrying the Air and a few small items between meetings, the Viper Hardcase 11 is a nice option that offers quite a bit more protection than the typical sleeve—at the price of un-Air-like bulk.
UPDATED 11/26/2010, 8:46am: Added information about iPad fit.