I like bags. I really do. I like them if they’re messenger types, backpacks, or even a cabin carry-on. I love them all. My excuse to the wife when I bring another home is that none of the rest were ever quite perfect.
But all of the bags I’ve had so far weren’t smart either. This time around, I’m trying the Samsonite Konnect-i Smart Backpack powered by Google’s Project Jacquard.
Project Jacquard, Google’s smart fabric technology, made its debut at Google’s I/O developer conference some four years ago. Google has previously collaborated with Yves Saint Laurent and Adidas and EA to incorporate the Jacquard Tag into their fashion items to add smart functionality.
I guess the question here is, does a smart backpack, make for a smarter user?
Most of my time spent with Samsonite bag have been around their luggage bags, of which I have a few. This was my first try of a backpack from the company, let alone a smart backpack.
The everyday carry backpack connects to the wearer's smartphone to allow users to perform actions and receive alerts while carrying the bag.
You can assign fairly usual and familiar tasks to the gestures, like play/pause or skip music tracks, or to answer phone calls. It seems more intuitive to have such controls on a backpack than say shoes or a hat.
Interaction is handled via Jacquard, which is Google’s technology for adding touch sensitivity to fabrics.
So, tapping or brushing up or down the left strap of the bag activates the smart technology that is controlled by a Jacquard controller tag housed at the bottom of this strap. It is this tag that enables the smart functions of the backpack. Charged via micro-USB, the tag can hold its charge up to two weeks depending on use.
These include standard functions like controlling the music player and receiving and answering calls and texts. The Bluetooth-enabled backpack can also receive alerts for rideshares. Not stopping there, the app can activate a phone’s camera and trigger a photo countdown, offer a summary of the day, and ask Google Assistant questions.
Smart features also extend into the navigation function through estimating arrival times, directions, dropped pins, and saved locations.
Users can also customise gestures, via the Jacquard by Google app on their smartphone choosing from actions like call and text notifications, selfie, navigation and music controls. However, the number of gestures and what they can trigger is relatively limited.
For an added level of interaction, the LED light on the bag’s left strap will light up according to the alerts set. The app is available on both the Google Play and the Apple App Store.
As a bag lover and packrat, I love bags that have multiple pockets for me to store things in.
The Konnect-i backpack come in Slim and Standard variants. Both black-coloured backpacks are made from a polyester water-repellent and easy-care fabric and are finished with a reflective trimming in a matte silver tone. This makes it easier to see what you’re keeping inside.
I used the Standard backpack for this review that has a capacity of 20L while the smaller Slim model can hold 18L.
The padded laptop fits up to a 15.6-inch laptop and tablet compartment in front of it easily held my iPad Mini. There was also a large compartment in the middle for accessories. The bag straps are fairly well padded and comfortable to use. But the backpack lacked a chest strap to make carrying easier.
My Standard backpack also had a wide front pocket for stationery and one below that for papers. There are also external pockets on either side for a water bottle and umbrella.
What is nice is that within compartments, there are a number of different pouches and pockets for added organisation.
In terms of being theft-proof, the larger compartments in the rear and middle are technically lockable, as they have dual zips that can be locked to each other. As for the front and small pockets, they are only single zipped, so you’d need a long lock if you plan to keep things secure inside them.
By and large, I found most of the gestures and controls handy at best, and for me at least, non-essential most of the time.
Beyond an initial “Wow!” that I could interact and control apps through the strap of my backpack, nothing I did at least, was essential enough to really make me use the strap as a default control.
Some users may find access to the bag strap easier than tapping on the side of a headphone, but that boils down to individual choice.
I have heard and seen some fellow users who use it to track the numbers and aid in counting etc, with a swipe up adding and a swipe down deducting from the tally. But for me, the controls didn’t add much value to what I was doing.
The app itself is clear and concise to use. Finding the options available are simple and well laid-out. Assigning the controls is simple and all it needs is that the controller tag is charged.
Overall, I got the feeling that the gestures, for now at least, were a solution ahead of its time. Maybe as apps develop and require more interaction the controls on the Konnect-i will see more use.
I liked the build quality of the backpack. The design and finishing showed thoughtfulness and well thought out concepts. For example, the use of lighter coloured materials inside, making it easier to see what is inside the backpack and the zip pulls are larger and hardier than the norm.
My main complaint with the design was the rigidness of the design. Even with nothing in it, it held its shape and size, meaning that trying to push past a crowd of people or up and down public transport can be difficult. Especially if you’re already of substantial girth like me.