Since the release of the 11-inch MacBook Air last October, we’ve seen a bunch of bags and cases designed specifically for Apple’s 11-inch laptop, ranging from the sleek and thin to the ornamental. WaterField Designs’ $79 MacBook Air Smart Case doesn’t grab the eye the way some of the flashier options do, but it nevertheless may be my favorite yet.
The Smart Case is a rectangular sleeve made of water-resistant nylon (available in Green, Flame, Copper, Pine, Pearl, or Black), with leather accents on the edges and a layer of padding on the inside. It manages to preserve the MacBook Air’s slim form-factor while packing on layers of protection. The entire interior is covered in “Ultrasuede,” keeping your computer free from scratches, and rigid-plastic inserts sewn between the suede and nylon layers provide a bit of impact protection. The result is a case that’s neither completely rigid nor floppy, but with the MacBook Air inside, it feels as sturdy as a sleeve twice its size. When empty, it keeps its shape admirably; in fact, if you’re working on a desk that’s a bit too low for your laptop, or you want to keep the Air off your lap, the Smart Case makes for a nice cushion.
As the Smart Case has no flap or strap to keep your Air from sliding out, the sleeve is designed to fit the laptop quite snugly—which, as we’ve discovered with several other 11-inch sleeves and cases, can make it difficult to remove your computer. WaterField’s solution is to adorn the bottom edge of the sleeve with a thick, brown-leather loop made of the same leather as the edges of the case. You grab your laptop with one hand and pull the sleeve off, using this loop, with the other. On the occasions when I found my laptop too difficult to remove by top-tugging alone, the loop was of great service.
The Smart Case also offers a small amount of storage in the form of a mesh pocket on the outside for carrying a few cords, a set of headphones, or some business cards. WaterField advertises this pouch as a place to store the Air’s power adapter, but in my experience, this works only if you use the AC adapter with its basic wall plug. Adding the adapter’s long power cord makes it too bulky for the mesh (and the sleeve) to handle.
Like the other WaterField bags and sleeves we’ve tested, the Smart Case is impeccably designed, with no stitch out of place. It may not be the flashiest case out there, but it more than makes up for its simple design with fun accent colors and solid protection. And—much to my surprise—it remains slim enough to slide easily into my (relatively small) 11-inch-wide satchel, which means that for the first time, I don’t have to worry about carrying an additional bag if I want to tote my laptop to and from work.
(I tested the 11-inch version of the Smart Case, but it’s also available in a version for the 13-inch MacBook Air for $89.)