San Francisco-based accessory maker WaterField Designs has long made cases, bags, and sleeves for each and every “carry-able” Apple product, and the company has recently released not one, but two excellent travel cases for the latest MacBook Air: the $79 MacBook Air Travel Express and the $89 MacBook Air Wallet. (I tested the 11-inch version of each case; each is also available, for $10 more, in a version sized for the 13-inch MacBook Air.)
The Travel Express is a messenger-style case made of black ballistic nylon; as with many of Waterfield’s bags, you can pick one of six colors for the case’s accent strip. The Travel Express is sized specifically for Apple’s latest-generation Airs—none of that “It’s good enough for Acer’s 2-inch-thick netbooks, so it’s good enough for you” sloppiness here—and it’s about as thin as any notebook case designed to also hold a few accessories should get. The case is designed to be used as either a sleeve inside another bag or by itself as a (minimalist) horizontal messenger bag. However, the latter route requires you to purchase an optional shoulder strap ($12 or $22, depending on the comfort level), or at least to opt for the $5 D-rings and clip on your own strap.
Since the Travel Express is so thin, Waterfield made it easy to get to your accessories by extending the zipper along two full edges—the top and a side. This allows you to open the case up a little more widely than your typical messenger. Inside, your Air gets its own custom-fit pouch, with both sides protected by rigid plastic inserts. You’ll also find five stretchy pockets of various sizes, some suited for Apple’s Magic Mouse or an iPhone, with the largest capable of holding Apple’s external SuperDrive or a Magic Trackpad. There isn’t a whole lot of room or flexibility for anything thicker than the MacBook Air’s power adapter, and even then I felt like I was pushing it. (Yes, I wrap my cord around the adapter’s flip-out wings, which adds a little thickness.) If you’re looking for a little more breathing room from your MacBook Air case, you’ll want to check out the slightly larger MacBook Air Wallet.
The vertically oriented Wallet is a made of the same durable ballistic nylon—save for a strip of leather along the bottom—though the entire bag takes on your color choice: black, copper, flame, green, pearl, or pine. Inside, you get the same number of internal stretch pockets, though one of them spans the entire width of the bag for larger accessories such as Apple’s Wireless Keyboard.
Besides its vertical orientation, the Wallet’s main difference compared to the Travel Express is the Wallet’s larger internal storage area that fits a couple of magazines, an iPad, or both. The extra internal space also helps prevent the bag from feeling like you’re stretching it to its limits when packing some of the essentials—even if, like me, you wrap the Air’s power cable around the adapter.
In other words, as long as you don’t have a strong preference for horizontal or vertical orientation, the main difference between these two bags is cargo space. If you need a bit of extra space, the Wallet is the way to go. If you look to the MacBook Air as the ultimate in minimalist travel, the Travel Express will help you keep your pack-rat tendencies in check. But for a streamlined, quality MacBook Air case, you can’t go wrong with either—Waterfield typically builds high-quality bags, and these are no exception.
Updated 7/1/11, 9:00am to correct price information.