I am a commuting college student, with a part time job. I am a veteran at lugging hundreds of pounds of books with me, on a daily basis, since the mid-90's (thanks dual-curriculum!) So when it comes to backpacks, I can tell you, I know what I want, and what I need. Right now, I have a laptop, and am taking four mechanical engineering classes. I need a backpack that can hold most of these things on a given day, plus the standard supplies that get me through a school semester. The Targus Citygear Chicago backpack (Model TCG650) is the best solution I have yet come across. However, it could be better.
Recommend this product?
The backpack is mostly black. There is some silver and gold trim.
The shoulder straps are neoprene, with an outer layer of fabric for strength. There are straps sewn into the straps to be used as things to hang carabineers on. On the right side strap, there is a rivet for a snap on cell phone holder, that is included, which also connects to the backpack with a hook that connects to a plastic ring sewn into the strap on the right shoulder strap. The shoulder straps are comfortable, and can be adjusted to be small enough for just about anyone over the age of 12. I am a big guy (size XL tee shirt), and I can comfortably wear the backpack with a full down winter jacket over a sweater.
The entire back of the TCG650 is lined with neoprene.
The right side of the backpack is the ever important drink holder. The drink holder is a mesh-fabric material, ideal for holding cold drinks that have condensation on them. There is a zip-shrink cord to secure the drink. The largest bottle I can fit in this holder is a 32oz PowerAde bottle.
The left side has a zipper pocket with a single zipper. The pocket is lined with felt on the inside, so you can put something in there, like a pair of glasses, with less worry. The pocket is stiff, but not rigid, so I wouldn't recommend it for that. Sewn on the outside of that pocket is a mesh pouch similar to the drink pouch, but much much smaller. The pouch serves almost no purpose, as it is too small for a drink, and too loose to put anything small into.
There is a handle on the top of the TGC650. A fabric strap is sewn into a rubberized handle. The handle is rigid, and about an inch thick. It makes for a very comfortable holding experience, even when the backpack is fully loaded, and it feels strong and secure.
There are three main pockets, a CD-Player pocket, and two mini pockets, in addition to a snap-shut jacket-holder, with an additional mesh zipper pocket sewn in.
The featured pocket is of a double-zipper design. It features a padded compartment for your laptop, up to 15.4", and a space for some papers or accessories. I would not recommend putting the AC adaptor in this compartment, as it could press against the laptops, the books in the other compartments, and make for an uncomfortable wear, as well as put the laptop in a potentially damaging situation. There is also a CD-storage pad built into this compartment. It is held in place inside of a pouch. The CD-storage pad is rigid, and can hold eight CDs individually, or up to 16, if you double them up. There is even a yellow pull-tab to make it easier for you to pull the CD-storage pad out in a hurry. The laptop compartment can secure the laptop with a elastic Velcro strap. The non-padded part has space for a single 400 page hardcover textbook.
The second pocket is the most useful one for general storage. It is a double-zipper design. Most of your textbooks will probably find there way into this pocket. There is a rigid divider separating this compartment into two parts. The divider is two unconnected horizontal slats, witch is ideal for placing a smaller paperback textbook with minimal damage. It can easily accommodate two 1000 page hard cover textbooks in this compartment.
The third pocket is of a double-zipper design. There is a mesh divider built into the pocket that comes up about 1/3 of the way up the backpack. I don't like this divider, as it just gets in the way of what I put in the bag. It will most likely rip off soon. There is enough room for a large 500 page hardcover text book and a smaller 500 page textbook. This is the compartment I would recommend that laptop accessories are stowed in.
The jacket-holder is an interesting addition. I have actually made use of it. It is an adjustable-length double snap-latched open compartment, that is held in place by two adjustable rubber/fabric cords. The cords are durable, but they are hard to re-string the cord after it has been removed, as mine had when being caught on something. The cord weaves into the third pocket in the backpack which might be an issue if you want a more watertight place for things in your backpack, should it snow or rain. As previously mentioned, there is a mesh single-zipper mesh pocket. I use it for a tie I keep on me, just in case I need one ;-)
The CD-player's pocket has a hole on the top to route a headphone cord. I do not own a CD player (hello 21st century, meet the digital media player!) However, even if I did, I am not so sure that this configuration is practical unless you walk or jog long distances with your backpack. I find myself always taking it off, and my cord is never long enough to reach me from all the way down there... There is a padded compartment for the CD-player, that can be secured with a yellow fabric Velcro latch. There is what appears to be a place for an ID badge sewn on to that padding. There are three elastic pen holders, and a hook for a keychain. There is plenty of space for a couple of graphing calculators, and other electronics, and school supplies.
There are two single-zippered mini-pockets suitable for things like small medicine bottles, mini-staplers, spare change, or a small phone.
I highly recommend that with all double-zipper designed pockets that you always stow the zippers to a single side rather than leave them both in the center. If you do, you may have your backpack suddenly and unexpectedly open up on you.
The zipper handles are rubber, and colored black, with 'Targus' imprinted in yellow on them, and 2 metal studs built in to each one. So far not one of them has failed, and they are easy to grab.
There is a lifetime warranty, but I have never tested this claim. However, I have had other Targus items, and RMA process was easy.
What I Would Change
The zippers all seem fairly sturdy, although I would have preferred metal zippers instead of the plastic ones, but I have yet to have a problem.
I wish there was another drink holder on the other side, and another pocket under the drink holder on the right side.
It would have been nice to have a zipper-pocket on the arm straps.
I think the backpack's main compartment should be zipper expandable, so I can increase capacity for large research school loads, and gym-shoes.
It isn't machine washable.
It is not quite big enough to be a gym-bag. I can't fit my shoes in there.
I use this backpack for everything. During school and work, it is my briefcase. For hikes, it is my backpack, and it is my cary-on for my flights and bust trips. It is roomy enough for almost everything, except perhaps a pair of shoes.