If you’re a fan of Tom Bihn’s Ristretto for iPad, chances are you’ll love the Ristretto for 11-inch MacBook Air, as well. Designed about an inch taller and an inch wider than its little brother, the 11-inch Ristretto is light and well-built, and it can carry most of your daily extras—as long as you don’t mind Tom Bihn’s unique approach to storing accessories.
The Ristretto line is based on a vertical-messenger or satchel design, with a couple of interior compartments protected by a plastic-buckled flap. The sleeve for the MacBook Air, inside the bag’s main compartment, uses quarter-inch, open-cell-foam padding lined with soft, brushed nylon, and sports a separate protective flap. I’m on the fence about this internal flap: On the one hand, it’s a welcome second layer of protection; on the other hand, if you don’t manually tuck in this flap, it prevents the bag’s main flap from closing.
The rest of the Ristretto’s main compartment has room for a book and a magazine or two, or even an iPad. Be careful when setting down the bag with an iPad in this area, though, as there’s no padding on the bottom. Three small O-rings around the top edge of this compartment, designed for attaching the included 8-inch key strap or any of Tom Bihn’s other attachable organizer pouches, help make up for the bag’s lack of numerous accessory pockets (more on that in a moment).
A second, smaller compartment on the front of the bag houses a tall, zippered pocket; two pockets for extras such as an iPhone or point-and-shoot camera; storage for pens; and a small open space good for power adapters and other small gadgets. There’s also another O-ring at the top of this second compartment, but this is all you get for internal storage options.
The Ristretto also has a document slip-pocket on the back for thin items such as plane tickets or a magazine; unfortunately, this pocket isn’t quite tall enough to completely cover 8.5-by-11-inch documents. You also get a carrying handle at the top of the bag, a detachable shoulder strap, and a removable waist strap—this last one keeps the bag steady when cycling around town.
During my testing, I wished Tom Bihn had included one or two more accessory pockets for the kinds of random items I like to carry, such as an iPhone battery, sunglasses, my wallet, a cable or two, a cleaning cloth, and the iPad Camera Connection Kit. Fortunately, Tom Bihn’s attachable organizer pouches are reasonably priced, ranging from $8 to $14. I can also see the perks that this O-ring-focused design offers, including the flexibility to arrange your internal pockets as you prefer, and the capability to quickly hand off a bag of cables to a friend in need. But if you’d prefer a few more built-in pockets and pouches, as I do, you’ll have to pay a bit more than the Ristretto’s retail price to get the bag you truly want.
Philosophical debates about pockets vs. detachable pouches aside, Tom Bihn’s Ristretto for 11-inch MacBook Air is a great bag. And at just under a pound, you can get out the door with just your MacBook Air with nary over three pounds on your shoulder. (I recommend opting for Tom Bihn’s Absolute Shoulder Strap—the best I’ve used, period—for an extra $20.) If your daily grind doesn’t require you to bring along the metaphorical kitchen sink, I don’t think you can go wrong.