gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Alienware Orion Backpack Review

The astute Gadgetoid reader will notice that my search for the ultimate gadget bag has been slow but ongoing. Most of what I’ve looked at thus far has been centered around a 13-15″ laptop, but the Alienware Orion Backpack is different.

Those who have, for some reason, owned a ridiculously excessive Alienware Laptop (although to call it a laptop is something of a misnomer, as placing one on your lap would most likely lead to serious injury) will be intimately familiar with its… well… behemoth size. The top-end, 17″ gaming laptop is no small beast, and this, coupled with a plethora of peripherals, is exactly what the Orion Backpack is designed to birth.

It does just that, too, this backpack is huge. Enormous. Gargantuan. For a gadget bag. Your average, well-travelled backpacker would, of course, scoff at its diminutive size and lack of restraints for attaching a packed tent, but in gadget-bag terms this thing is massive. It not only fits my 13″ MBP, it swallows it whole like a zip-fastened whale swallowing a small fish, and could easily fit at least 3 more laptops of a smilar size within its confines. Not to mention, it’s robust enough to transport them… even though you probably wouldn’t want to be lifting that sort of weight.

I’ve successfully hauled all manner of things inside this big, with it’s insatiable hunger for gadgetry. At one point I actually did carry two laptops and an iPad, alongside a tangle of cables, adaptors, a couple of phones and a ridiculous number of spare iPhone cases to feed my vanity. The weight of this much gadget crud would be overwhelming in a shoulder-bag, but a regular rucksack such as the Orion keeps everything close to my back, and distributes such absurd loads across the two well-padded shoulder straps, making it much more comfortable to haul a heavy load.

The Orion consists of three main compartments, two of which fit a MacBook Pro like a bin-liner fits a marble, and the front-most (or rear-most depending on whether or not you happen to be wearing it) contains a plethora of compartments designed, for some reason, to hold jewel-case encased CDs. I’m not going to question the infinite wisdom of the designers who created this magical Tardis-like bag, but I was under the impression that CDs were fairly obsolete in the PC-gaming world, and lugging them around when they can, if necessary, be ripped and mounted to a virtual drive. With so many games either pay-to-play and this intrinsically rights controlled, hooked into or Steam, or simply laden with absurd DRM that requires an internet connection to even play the single player campaign the need for CDs has waned somewhat, which isa good thing because I can never seem to find anywhere to store the damned things.

Anyway, these CD-shaped pockets are fortunately easy enough to repurpose for storing gadget paraphernalia, and I’ve tucked everything from battery chargers to mice to spare cases and screen protectors into them without trouble.

The main feature of the front compartment is a very peculiar phone pocket. Pandering to the whims of those who construct themselves tin-foil hats, and never look skywards in fear of being identified by satellites that track their every move, the Alienware Orion backpack contains a tiny woven Faraday Cage phone pocket. Yes. This pocket blocks all phone signals to your phone… something that, in my opinion, seems slightly redundant for something that has both an airplane mode and an off-switch, and is usually kept in a trouser pocket. But, hey, it’s cool, in a battery-murdering sort of way. Indeed, I’m only theorising when I say this, as my intimate knowledge of the workings of phone signal acquisition is, well, not at all intimate. I can only imagine that placing a phone in this pocket leads it go “Oh crap! My signal’s gone, better pump up the antenna gain with some more juice,” and results in the battery draining faster than an olympic sprinter being chased by lions on rough-terrain Segways, with whips. This is simply an observation, which may be something to do with the Nokia N900 battery level not being particularly great in the first place, but I placed this phone in the pocket fully expecting the loss of a signal to prolong its battery life in much the same way as switching to Airplane mode would… sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case, so being lazy and shoving your phone in this pocket will likely just result in a dead phone. Still, it’s a faraday cage in your bag, that’s got to count for something!

Aside from its peculiar superfluous features the Orion is a cracking bag, I’ve often thought it to be a little too big, but when I realise just how much stuff I sometimes ferry about, its gargantuan size is quickly appreciated. The other two pockets are fairly unexciting in their construction, with the “main” pocket containing a transparent plastic pouch that’s 4 sizes too big for my lowly 13″ MacBook Pro, but fits it, and a slip-case, horizontally. Leaving a cavernous amount of space above my laptop for storing the odd box, CD or other review sample that’s landed on my desk and needs ferrying home.

The third pocket, seated comfortably in between the other two, is a bonus. It’s big enough to fit a laptop again, but I typically use it to hold the iPad, my headphones and my lunch. Probably not the wisest combination in the world, but there haven’t been any accidental cases of the two mixing yet.

The only real problem with the Orion is its reliance on zips to hold everything together. The rear laptop compartment zips all the way to the bottom and can fully open. Meaning the front of the bag will often unzip and flop to the floor if you neglect to fully zip up this compartment and attempt to lift it by the handle. The construction is solid, however, the zips are huge, easy to grasp, and extremely solid. There’s a headphone cut-out if you listen to shuffled playlists and prefer to keep your music player tucked safely away, and there are even additional, small pockets hidden away to conceal your guilty pleasures… unfortunately they wont fit a bottle of bourbon and there’s no cut-out for a drinking straw, so I’m scuppered there.

Overall, it’s the best gadget bag I’ve tried thus far and is, in fact, a true gadget bag, making it breeze its way to this top spot. If you have a ridiculously enormous laptop, or simply carry as much nonsense around as I do, then you’ll find it perfect. As much as I love stylish, leather messenger bags, I’ll find it hard to go back to their general uncomfortableness and lack of capacity.

Sunday, September 19th, 2010, Gadgets, Personal Computing.