Ground Diabase shoulder bag

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Sleek, stylish and fresh are the words that come to mind to describe Ground's Diabase shoulder bag. In a sea of hard-to-distinguish messenger bags and technical briefcases, this one swims to the top with an urban look and design, and features that show that Ground thinks outside the, uh, bag.

The Diabase's outstanding performance features are most noticeable at the airport. You'll quickly find, as we did, that tickets tuck easily into a trim sleeve pocket that fits the full body of these documents. In fact, the Diabase lets you store those things you want to grab easily in outside pockets while traveling -- boarding passes, tickets, business cards, organizer, etc. The Velcro shut messenger flap has large and small zip close expandable pockets. It's free of extraneous clips and straps, and the pockets provide the right amount of security for busy travelers and businesspeople who want to get to the goods quickly and efficiently.

But even with outside pockets, the bag looks clean, simple, sophisticated and professional. Empty pockets lay flat, zippers are hidden except for the pulls and only a tastefully few slashes of color interrupt the corduroy-look nylon fabric.

The Diabase is a bag that looks more like a briefcase than a backpack. With a flick of the wrist, it's easy to pull the side zipper open to put away a cell phone. If we were any hipper, this pocket would store an MP3 player. An unobtrusive spy-camera sized Velcro close pocket is hidden behind. It also holds an 8-ounce water bottle or other sundry items. The other side sports a liter-size bottle pouch. Both have bungies to secure your drink.

When we hit security, we easily opened the bag to pull out our laptop. The Diabase is orange on the inside for high visibility. A removable divider/stiffener halves the main compartment, keeping a removable padded computer case separate from the rest of the bag's contents. It's the only bag we've found with a padded case large enough for a 17-inch screen machine. We've tucked several CDs into two pockets designed to hold them with a jewel case or without. When we took the laptop out of the bag, the CDs stay put. Being on the go, we really appreciated the fact that when we hurriedly returned the laptop to our bag as we were running to our gate, the divider kept the papers separate, so they didn't get ripped or crushed.

Reading material was easily stowed and accessed via a rear storage compartment. The back of the Diabase has yet another zippered pocket, this one flat and large enough to slip in multiple file folders, tablets or magazines. Next to it are slits for pens (brilliant! a pen on the outside of your bag where you can grab it).

While most folks will carry the bag using the removable padded shoulder strap, a more subtle yet very useful feature will become evident when you go to heft your gear into the overhead compartment -- the top handle is sewn to an internal stiffener making lifting and stowing so very easy.

The Diabase gracefully walks the tightrope between too many places to store things and not enough distinct storage spaces. It's shapely and well built for form and function. At 925 cubic inches, it might be the ultimate travel and trade show bag.

With all the design features, we fully expected this bag to be expensive (less is more, right?), but it's a reasonable $70 retail. It's equally good-looking sister bag, the Halite (805 cubic inches) holds a standard laptop for $60.

(Of course, this rave review now comes with a bit of bad news -- the company just informed us that the removable padded computer insert for 17" screens won't be available at retail until the Fall of 2005 -- so ya'll will just have to wait for it, sigh. Despite this, it's still a great bag!)

SNEWS Rating: 5 hands clapping. (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested retail: $70
For more information:www.groundwear.com or by phone at 800-553-9370.

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