Jill-E laptop backpack & camera insert review

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A few weeks ago, I went on an exciting road trip cross country to move my sister from Nebraska to Washington. I had to fly back and then ride with her and my mother in a full car, and I knew I could not bring a big backpack full of stuff like I normally do, since it would be sitting at my feet. As if Jill-E designs knew of my plight, they offered up their 13″ laptop backpack for review, timing it perfectly with the move. They also included their camera insert designed to go along with this backpack. We made it to Washington in one piece; now let’s see how well the backpack worked.


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The backpack has a simple charm to it and I really liked the color and design. It’s not full of hidden pockets and add-ons like some backpacks. On the front, there are two flaps over two pockets and a larger zippered pocket. The front zippered pocket is big enough to hold a Kindle, but not quite big enough for an iPad Air. The dark brown trim all around the backpack is actually faux leather, but it seems very sturdy and well made.

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On the back you have the shoulder straps, a handle for carrying the backpack around by the top, and the D shaped loop to hang your sunglasses or keys. The buckles for adjusting the straps are metal and easy to tighten by pulling on the straps, though it took a few tries to get used to loosening the straps. The handle is reinforced by canvas to make it sturdy and it was easy to carry around using the handle.

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The above picture shows a good view of the closing strap for the front flaps, stitching, and faux leather trim. I was leery of the cutout for closing the strap at first, since it seemed difficult to close. After a few uses, however, the hole became more worn and it was much easier to close the flaps, though not too easy that it would open right away.

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Inside of the backpack you have two small pouches and a zippered pouch on one side, and a sleeve for a 13″ laptop on the other side.  The pouches are good for storing things, but they do get lost in the bottom of the pouch (especially the zippered pouch) if you have the rest of the backpack filled up. If you don’t fill the bag up, they work great. I just wouldn’t recommend putting your phone in there.

I did notice a design change in the website versus what I received. In the description and pictures on the website, there claims to be a strap that hangs down inside with a clasp on the end for your keys. This was not included. I am not sure if I received an older model backpack or they’ve yet to update the website, but I thought it would be good to note.

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When I filled my backpack up for the trip, I put a pair of over-the-ear headphones, a bag of cords, and a throw blanket in the main section of the bag. I placed my phone cord and portable battery pack in one of the small inside pouches, and the 13″ Macbook Pro and iPad Air in the laptop sleeve. In the front flapped pockets I placed my bag of medicine and snacks. In the zippered front pocket, I put the phone, some gum, my boarding pass, and my Kindle. I attempted to take a picture of it all, but packed to the brim, it wasn’t worth it. For being a 13″ x 13″ backpack, it could hold a good deal of stuff! To reiterate, this is a 13-inch backpack, and the 13″ MacBook Pro nearly reaches the top of the bag. Width-wise, it could hold a thicker laptop, but height-wise, it will not hold anything longer than 13 inches.

I have one gripe about the laptop sleeve area. The sleeve is padded on the back and front, but only part of the bottom. Where the faux leather trim is, there is no padding. Unfortunately, that’s where the MacBook loved to go. While on the trip I used the iPad (in a case) as a buffer to keep the MacBook out of that area. It definitely needs padding down at the bottom of the laptop sleeve. That was my one big complaint about the backpack.

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I was excited that they included the optional camera insert that goes with the backpack. The outside of the insert is plain; all black with a zipper that goes around 3 sides, a handle at the top, and the only bit of design in the “J” logos at the top. It felt nice and padded from the outside.

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Inside, there is a customizable bonanza. All of the inserts can be removed and repositioned. I was able to easily accommodate my SLR with 18-55 lens, 50-250 lens, filters, extra batteries and charger,  and still have plenty of room to spare. They were secure when closed and did not move around. I felt pretty confident that my camera and accessories were safe within the camera insert bag.

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I inserted it into the backpack and it fit very well and was easy to remove and replace. There was one big downside in that when you opened the backpack, it does not go all the way to the bottom, making accessing the bottom part of the camera bag difficult. The above picture shows the backpack opened all the way, and as you can see, the camera itself from the previous picture is hidden away.

Also, to use the insert, you cannot use the inside of the backpack for anything else. You still have the front pockets, but it will not hold too much more.

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Overall, I liked the look, feel, and fit of the backpack. I’m 5 ft 6 inches and the bottom of the backpack stops at the small of my back. It fit really well under the seat on the plane, and I was thankful for the extra leg room in the car when I placed it at my feet. When I had everything packed in the right place, it was easy to access the things I wanted. The camera insert is nifty and can be useful, but for the price of it insert and the fact you need to remove it to access all the compartments, I’d rather go out and buy a nice camera backpack.

I really wish they would have put some padding on the bottom of the laptop sleeve, because that’s where the biggest chance for impact comes. I hope they read this and add in extra padding, because if they do, I would not hesitate to recommend this to someone wanting a small laptop backpack, as everything else about it was great.

Source: The samples for this review were provided by Jill-E Designs. Please visit their website for more info.

 

Product Information

Price:$89.99 (backpack) $44.99 (camera insert)
Manufacturer:Jill-e Designs
Pros:
  • - Stylish
  • - Sturdy and well made
  • - Lightweight
  • - Camera insert fits well and is customizable
Cons:
  • - Needs padding on the bottom of the laptop sleeve
  • - Difficult to access all of the camera insert when within the backpack
Posted in: Bags, Camera Gear, Laptops and Gear, Reviews
{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Bob Rockefeller October 11, 2015, 12:05 pm

    How deep is the camera insert on the inside? Their website says 4.5″, but I think that’s the full depth of the insert, not the available depth inside.

    • Ryan Chapman October 20, 2015, 2:31 pm

      You are right. 🙂 The outside depth is indeed 4.5″. The grey inner lining is a little over 3.5″. If I count the zipper it is closer to 4″. The top has some give to it, so I can fit my 4.25″ portable HD and zip it with no problem. Just note that the zipper area is not padded.

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