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Review: Kensington notebook roller well worth the cost

Story Highlights

• Laptop case offers comfort and flexibility
• Kensington Contour Balance Notebook Roller retails for $100
• Bag rolls like a suitcase, so you don't have to carry it around
• The wheels roll quietly and smoothly, even on uneven surfaces
By Michelle Thatcher
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(CNET.comexternal link) -- Whenever we've reviewed a shoulder-style laptop bag, such as the Mobile Edge Milano or the Timbuk2 Soma, we've mentioned that most 15.4-inch (and even some 14.1-inch) laptops are far too heavy to carry on one shoulder.

The $100 Kensington Contour Balance, which can hold a laptop with a display size of up to 15.4 inches, solves that problem with a set of wheels and a telescoping handle so you can roll the bag as you would a suitcase.

Though this design may be overkill for some (and could prove problematic on crowded urban transit) the compact and maneuverable Kensington Contour Balance can take the work out of schlepping your laptop through an airport or during your commute.

Made of water-resistant microfiber and measuring 17.5 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep by 7.5 inches thick, the black Contour Balance is sized more like an airplane carry-on than a typical laptop bag.

In exchange for the bulkier shape, though, you do get three roomy compartments to carry all your stuff.

On the front, a double zipper opens to reveal organizer pockets for a MP3 player, cell phone, flash drive (or lipstick), three pens, business cards, and discs.

Two handy concealed zipper pockets--one on the outside of the front flap and one above the front flap--offer additional security and are large enough to hold more discs, a wallet, keys, a passport, or plane tickets.

Inside the Contour Balance's main compartment, easily accessible via a double zipper that opens three-quarters of the way down the sides of the bag, you'll find a padded laptop space with a Velcro strap to secure the computer, as well as an expandable pocket to hold file folders or magazines.

When we stuffed the compartment with a Dell Latitude D630 and two bulky file folders, there was still room for a thick bound journal in the middle.

A double zipper on the back opens to reveal where the telescoping handle attaches to the bag. Kensington included two mesh pockets in this space that could be handy for power cables, and an additional small pocket for your (if you choose) Kensington security lock.

We were psyched to have this bonus space until we noticed that opening the cover to extend the telescoping handle leaves the compartment exposed.

Though the gap is not huge and is mostly sheltered while you're pulling the bag, we've suffered through enough soggy San Francisco commutes to be wary of placing electronics in that back pocket. On the positive side, we love the Velcro strap on the back of the bag that can slip over a suitcase handle and attach the Contour Balance on top of a larger rolling suitcase.

We loaded up the Kensington Contour Balance with all our requisite electronics (a 14.1-inch laptop, camera, phone, MP3 player) and cords, plus a travel mouse, a thick journal, two full file folders, and a magazine -- far more than we'd ever want to lug with us on a business trip. All these objects fit into the Contour Balance with minimal struggle, and the bag kept its shape. Though the stuffed bag was heavy, the retractable, heavily padded handle on top made it easy to lift the bag to table height (as though going through a security checkpoint) and to carry up a flight of stairs.

The Contour Balance also includes a detachable shoulder strap; the covered clasps, though aesthetically pleasing, made attaching and detaching the strap difficult. While the loaded bag was too heavy to carry on one shoulder for any extended length of time, we carried it long enough to appreciate the bag's contoured shape, which helps transfer the weight of the bag away from your shoulder and closer to your midsection ("your natural center of gravity," says Kensington).

The best way to transport the Kensington Contour Balance, of course, is by pulling it behind you. The telescoping handle feels sturdy and includes a hook on which you can hang a purse (or man bag).

The T-shaped rubberized grip makes it easy to keep a firm hold on the handle. We pulled our stuffed Contour Balance across unevenly tiled walkways and across rough city sidewalks; we also dragged it up and down stairs and over a curb.

We were impressed not only by how quietly the bag rolled but also by its inherent stability; even when going down stairs, the bag never felt the slightest bit likely to flop over.

While the Contour Balance's price is higher than that of other laptop bags, $100 is less than we'd expect to pay for a similarly constructed carry-on suitcase. The price also includes a lifetime warranty on defects in material and workmanship.

If you travel frequently with a large laptop and lots of other materials, we think the comfort and flexibility offered by the Kensington Contour Balance is well worth the cost.

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