Practical protection with an eco-friendly ethos
I’ve seen advertising for tech accessories made from recycled materials before, but I have to admit that they’ve never really interested me. I have demanding needs at work and it always seemed like the trade offs in quality and durability were too big to justify.
However, I was intrigued when I got a press release from Solo New York about their new Re:cycled Collection of bags a few weeks ago. I reviewed their Everyday Max Backpack in December of 2018 and liked it so much that I used it as my daily computer bag at work for a year. Based on that experience, I figured if anyone could make a durable, good-looking bag from eco-friendly materials, it would be Solo NY.
So I decided to respond and request review units and the company was good enough to reply back. While I normally prefer backpacks myself, I decided to branch out and review something different this time. I ended up requesting the Re:new Briefcase and the Re:focus Sleeve, both of which are perfect for use with an iPad or iPad Pro or up to a 15.6″ laptop, or in the case of the Re:new, both of them together.
Before I get into the specifics of each of these accessories, let’s talk about what they have in common: their construction and materials. You can see more about this here at Solo New York’s site, but this is a little of what they have to say about how their Re:cycled Collection bags are made:
It all starts with discarded plastic bottles. Through an environmentally-friendly process, these plastic bottles get transformed into a high quality and lightweight Recycled PET Polyester yarn. This process uses 50% less energy, 20% less water, and 60% less air pollution.
The end result? Giving plastic bottles a second life as sustainable bags that don’t compromise style.
I’m all about function first, form second myself, but the fact is that looks do matter. You want both in a product if at all possible. If you can get both with the knowledge that what you are buying was made in an environmentally responsible way, that’s a big win in my book.
Solo New York didn’t stop at their use of materials for the bags, either. All of the printed tags that come with them are printed on recycled paper and are attached with recycled cotton string with a clasp that is 100% biodegradable.
Solo has also established a partnership with the National Forest Foundation to plant a tree for every Re:cycled Collection product that is sold. If you take the company’s Green Pledge on their site, they will plant a second tree in your name, as well.
All of this is positive and I am 100% behind it. But that aside, I wouldn’t be very interested if the bags weren’t up to par. I’m happy to say that isn’t the case. You aren’t sacrificing quality when you buy the Re:new or Re:focus.
It’s in the bag
While a briefcase-style shoulder bag isn’t what I typically prefer, they are popular for a reason. I do try to branch out and review things that readers may like more than me, and this is one of those cases. However, while Solo’s Re:new isn’t my preferred style, it did make an excellent secondary bag for me while I tested it this month.
So I carry a TON of gear around at work and since I am always testing and using different devices for the site, cramming it all into one bag is often impossible. For instance, I have my work laptop and iPad Pro in my backpack that’s full of all kinds of other tools, adapters and cables. But I’ve also been carrying a Surface Pro, which is my new backup work laptop, and my Lenovo Chromebook, along with their chargers and accessories, in the Re:new for a couple of weeks now.
I have another smaller shoulder bag that I’ve owned for a while that I typically use for this purpose. It’s been pretty perfect in that role for the last 8 or 9 years, so I keep going back to it. The Re:new replaced it this month and I have to say that Solo’s bag is a upgrade. There’s more room and the adjustable strap makes it easier to carry along with a big backpack. The Re:new also looks a lot nicer and more professional, in my opinion.
What is a second bag for someone like me who carries a ton of gear around could easily be the perfect daily-use bag for someone who prefers to travel lighter and with a more reasonable number of devices (yes, I am self-aware enough to know that carrying 2 laptops and 2 tablets with you everywhere is not normal). Based on my experience, if you carry a single laptop 15.6″ or under and a tablet or maybe other similarly sized paper accessories, then this bag should be perfect for you.
The Re:new has a pretty typical layout for a tech shoulder bag. The front zippered pocket is open and has plenty of room for small accessories.
The zippered section behind that has plenty of room for chargers and other larger accessories and also has a little structured organization for pens, styli, business cards, etc.
The main compartment is divided in two with a thin mesh divider. You can easily fit a large laptop in here with something else smaller. For example, my 15.6″ Lenovo Yoga C940 and 12.9″ iPad Pro will fit here together.
The 12″ Surface Pro (inside the Re:new Sleeve, as pictured above) and my Lenovo Chromebook are smaller and leave plenty of extra room to spare for other things I may also want to carry.
The rest is very simple and straightforward. As pretty much all shoulder bags do, the Re:new has both briefcase-style handles and an adjustable shoulder strap. The strap’s padding is thin, but it was comfortable in everyday use.
The only other major design detail is the Velcro strap on the back of the bag that allows you to slip the case over a rolling suitcase handle while traveling.
That’s always a welcomed addition for frequent flyers, even those who may be grounded at the moment due to the coronavirus.
So this pretty much it. The bag has held up well in limited testing, but it feels solid enough that I don’t have a lot of concerns. Solo also backs it up with a 5 year warranty, so you are in good hands there.
My only concern with this bag is that it is definitely lightweight. There isn’t a lot of additional padding except on the bottom. I wasn’t too concerned about this because I had my Surface Pro inside the Re:focus sleeve (which was a perfect fit inside of this bag) and my Lenovo Chromebook is in a case, as well.
Many people prefer a lighter bag and the Re:new should suit them perfectly. If you are in a more demanding environment, this bag can still work for you, but you will want to supplement it with some additional device protection.
As for the value, I think $54.99 is a reasonable asking price for a quality bag. I think there’s also something to be said for paying a few dollars extra for an eco-friendly product, especially if the company really stands behind it with tangible actions on their own part, which Solo does. However, I also think this price is reasonable when simply compared head-to-head with traditional bags.
What’s up your sleeve?
While I carry a large backpack everyday at work, I have used sleeves for some other devices for years. In my line of work, we usually upgrade our primary laptops every two years, with three usually being the max. When I started 19 years ago, those older laptops were often at death’s door at that point, so you HAD to upgrade. That, or Windows was so bloated and bogged down that using it slowed you down in your work.
I guess I’ve gotten better with age and the laptops have improved quite a bit as well, because I haven’t killed one off since early 2013. That means I have three older Lenovo Yogas (I stick with what works) that are still alive and kicking as backup machines. And that’s where my use of sleeves comes in. I’ve been keeping the two newer devices in lightweight sleeves that I already had, ready to go when needed.
More recently, I have handed these two laptops off, sleeves, accessories and all, to a couple of guys who have been working with me and learning the ropes in this job. That’s how I ended up buying a Surface Pro as a backup machine for myself recently.
98% of my work is done on electronic devices, with a laptop as my primary tool. There are times when having a second machine to divide tasks or occasionally loan out to a contractor we are working with is needed. Also, I can’t be down for a day if my primary device suddenly fails. Having a second machine with all of our tools licensed and ready to go isn’t a luxury. It’s essential. I can’t deny that’s why I requested to review Solo’s Re:focus. It was exactly what I needed for my still fairly new Surface Pro. I knew using the Re:focus with it at work would be a perfect test.
As laptop sleeves go, I really like the Re:focus. In the past, I’ve owned some sleeves that didn’t offer enough protection, and had others with open pockets that accessories like my laptop’s charger could fall right out of. I’m happy to say the Re:focus doesn’t have any of those issues.
Job one of a laptop sleeve is to protect, and I think that the Re:focus has adequate padding to do that. It’s not a tank, but I don’t have any qualms about taking the Surface Pro into the field in this sleeve.
Job two is to perform its tasks with simplicity. The Re:focus is perfect in this respect. The laptop compartment is zippered and opens from the side.
There is a sleeve-length open compartment in the front. There isn’t a lot of slack, but there is plenty of room for small accessories, pens, pencils, etc.
The is a second accessory pocket in the back, which is zippered and load from the opposite side fro the laptop compartment. This one has a bit more wiggle room, so it should be perfect for chargers, mice, etc. Most of the sleeves I’ve owned just have one big pocket in the front where you have to dump everything else you carry with your device. I like the fact that Solo added separate storage compartments and that both of them securely close.
I’ve been talking a lot about laptops, but the Re:focus is also perfect for an iPad of any kind.
I have grown to love Apple’s Magic Keyboard and keep it on my iPad most of the time now, but it’s still on the thin side for me as a case. If I’m carrying my iPad Pro alone, away from my work backpack, I prefer to keep it in something like this as I move from place to place.
I have a lot more peace of mind with that extra drop protection, especially while walking or standing. I also have more than enough room for my iPad Pro’s smaller charger, cables and accessories in the Re:focus.
The only issue I encountered with the Re:focus was that my 15.6″ Lenovo Yoga C940 won’t quite fit.
Being a convertible 15″+ laptop puts it on the larger side and it definitely isn’t light for this screen size. That’s probably why it doesn’t fit. However, just know that your mileage may vary and that you need to check your device’s overall dimensions before purchasing. For anything under 15.6″, the Re:focus should have plenty of room to spare.
At $24.99, I think the Re:focus is an excellent value. I would pay that for a sleeve with this construction and style just on its merits as a case and would feel like I was getting a good deal. The eco-friendly focus and sustainable manufacturing of the case make $24.99 feel like a real bargain to me.
The final verdict
There’s not a lot more to say than I’ve been very happy with both the Re:new and Re:focus from Solo New York’s Re:cycled Collection. Other than the light padding in the Re:new and the fact that I couldn’t get my large laptop to fit in the Re:focus, I had no concerns with either of these cases. The single color choice is a bit limiting, but understandable considering the materials and commitment to sustainable manufacturing processes. That said, I still think the gray color looks good and is neutral enough to fit in both casual and professional environments.
The Re:new was perfect as a lightweight secondary bag for me and the Re:focus was ideal for use with my Surface Pro and iPad Pro. Both of these new products from Solo New York stand on their own as quality cases in my opinion. However, I applaud the company for the design chops and attention to detail to deliver eco-friendly cases that don’t come with significant trade offs in function or form. They both look good and get the job done. Environmental positives aside, I wouldn’t recommend them if they didn’t.
If you are looking to make a positive environmental impact with your consumer dollars, then look no further then Solo’s Re:cycled Collection. I don’t think you will find many better cases in this price range with recycled materials and sustainable manufacturing methods and construction than these. Even if protecting the environment isn’t your first priority when you shop for tech accessories, I still recommend that you take a look at this product lineup. If you can have a positive impact with a purchase without trading off form or function, then why not?
Solo New York’s Re:new Briefcase is available from their site for $54.99.
Solo New York’s Re:focus Sleeve is available from their site for $24.99
The Re:new Briefcase and Re:focus Sleeve were provided for review on iPad Insight by Solo New York. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the About page.