Bluesmart carry-on luggage

Update: So I’m back on another frequent flying binge, mixing both work & pleasure. I’ll keep this update short, but basically the Bluesmart has started to get a bit funky on me. While it’s still a great bit of luggage, something’s gone awry with the Bluetooth connection on it. It simply can’t hold a connection to any iOS device I test with for longer than 30 seconds, effectively making it a normal bag with a battery. Moreover it has a really irritating green LED flashing on the top (which stops me from letting it get back into pairing mode without a complete switch off/on, which just goes back into the same routine). This LED indicator has no meaning to me because the support docs, etc., do not help.

I’ve reached out to support & will update when they give me something concrete but to say I was scathing is an understatement. Their initial reply to my issue was to watch out for updates & to provide feedback through the app (the app isn’t necessarily the problem!). It’s probably the first time in my life I’ve had to threaten a refund policy in order to spur on some actual constructive dialogue.

Wait & see with this product. Below is the original review (unedited from prior version).

IMG_1922About a year ago I latched onto an IndieGoGo campaign for a “smart bag”. I’m a regular traveller, typically on short-haul domestic EU flights. Mostly I fly from Dublin to London and back again, with a few US trips in-between. All for work. For holidays I tend to fly within the EU too. I’ve been known to spend a good bit of time in Germany (mainly Berlin). Over this past year, and going into 2016, I’ll fly to Tenerife a few times because this is where we’ll be getting married.

So yeah, I fly a bunch. Enough to be judgmental about various frequent flyer lounges. Although only once have I had a real disaster with flying.

The main thing to think about with regular flying is the way to pack. I have it all laid out, depending on the number of days. I give a few shirts a vague iron (because you’ll need to re-iron them in the hotel anyway) and try to bring denim or chinos for the most part because they require less work. My job is a “dressy casual” one, so there’s no need to dress like I’m attending a wedding to meetings.

Moreover, little things make a big difference to organisation. I order my taxi to the airport the day before with Hailo. I check into my flight 24 hours beforehand and choose an aisle seat for the journey out, and a window seat for the journey home. In Europe, we can now use credit card sized passports, so my passport nestles into a card area of my wallet, wedged with my frequent flyer card.

IMG_1924For the last few years (probably 3 or 4 years) I’ve flown with a trusty Tripp carry-on bag. My brother used to work for them, so I got it from him at a discounted price. It works. It’s nice, light and can fit a decent enough of stuff so I can fly comfortably. But it’s been getting a bit ragged. I have a little handle-card attached to it to identify the bag as mine (it’s orange – my companies’ corporate colours – and says “get found”) which has torn one side of the fabric on the handle apart. It’s impossible to keep clean, and the worst part is that it’s a two-wheeled bag. My larger luggage for US trips (also a Tripp bag) has four wheels. Four wheels is infinitely easier to deal with.

That’s the genesis to all of this. In 2015 my flying ratcheted up enough to warrant a routine and destroy a bag. Time to upgrade. Enter Bluesmart…

Bluesmart promised to produce a “smart bag,” which would be equipped with a battery that would power a few niceties via Bluetooth. Bluetooth connectivity to a phone would control the TSA lock (though a key is provided), an ability to send the weight of the bag to the phone, a GPS tracker and an ability to send a push notification if I was to wander too far from my bag. Moreover, the battery could be used to charge USB devices (namely phones & iPads). To top it off, the design looked slick, it had four wheels and was light enough to not be cumbersome.

Naturally, with all of this gadgetry I hopped in for the ride.

It’s over a year later and finally, I got my bag. But before I dive into the bag itself, I must outline my experience with customer service. The IndieGoGo campaign sent me a mail in August to say my bag was shipping and to check the details were correct. If they were correct, do nothing. So I did nothing. In fact, I went to the US, came back and in mid September expected to arrive into the office to a new bag. But no, nothing. So I contacted support who said I needed to attach a phone number to the order. That was irritating because a shipping notification was sent, but woe is me. Support said I’d get my back in the first week of October.

The first week of October arrived, and I received nothing. I replied inline to the support thread I already had open to ask what was up, and if I could get a tracking code. This was because the following Tuesday was another regularly scheduled trip to the UK. A perfect time to test the new bag out! Support didn’t get back to me for a few days – which was really irritating. And even more irritating was the response that my bag would be shipped in a few days. In short, I wouldn’t be getting my bag in the first week of October. And I wouldn’t have it for the UK trip.

IMG_1925This wouldn’t be annoying if support had been more transparent about what was going on, but basically after a year of waiting I got the bag about a month from the date they initially said it was going to ship.

But anyway, I have the bag now!First thing’s first, on investigating other reviews after the bag’s release I noticed a lot of people referencing a blog post claiming the bag is bigger than it was pitched; making it bigger than it should be for approved flights. I’ve not noticed a difference in the size and it fits comfortably into those airport “check your bag dimensions” cradles. It’s a little bit bulkier than my Tripp bag – but not worryingly so. I won’t be turned away from flights because of my carry-on.

IMG_1926Let’s compare bags. My Tripp one has been my regular steed for a few years now, and my fiancée recently bought her own one. So I know Tripp haven’t changed their default bag much in a few years outside of some flourish on the designs. In terms of style, neither win points over the other to be fair. Bluesmart is a little fancy looking with the blue flourishes from the Cylon-inspired LED on the front and some touches on the underside of the bag handle and on the extended handle’s bars. Inside both bags are much-of-a-muchness, with them both holding about the same amount in the main areas. Bluesmart wins by being slightly bulkier because it can then hold more stuff (toiletries, shavers, etc. etc.). It has more nooks & crannies. It also has a better system to secure the items within.

IMG_1929The big win for Bluesmart on my end is the front pouch. The pouch is secured with the TSA lock and some velcro, but what’s within is magical for frequent flyers. It’s a small, flat pouch to hold the baby Kangaroo of modern society: your laptop & iPad. Moreover, it has a small USB port within so you can charge your iPad/phone while you commute. The magical part of this is not the mere fact that it exists, but that it’s so easy to open up and slide your devices in/out. This means less time faffing at security lines – and less reliance on an over-the-shoulder bag which requires additional faffing. For frequent flyers, this is almost worth the price of admission alone. And for those wondering (I saw this question come up a lot on Twitter); it comfortably holds my 15-inch MacBook Pro.

So let’s get to the technology. All of the tech on this gets power from a small battery located at th top of the bag. From within it’s hidden behind more fabric that can be unzipped to switch on/off. This is a big deal, because I needed to visit the Bluesmart site to figure out how to set the device up. It worked fine while I was charging it, but I couldn’t turn it on with the button on the back thereafter. I thought I had gotten a dud. None of the materials sent with the bag outline the fact that you need to physically switch it on before it’ll work when not plugged into a wall.

Once I figured all that stuff out, I was good to go. My phone was now paired to a bag, which was telling me various useless stats (useless because I was sitting in a room – not traveling). I calibrated the weight feature which tells me that the bag is about 3kg when not carrying anything, which is remarkably low given it has a battery and is made of sturdy materials. I played with the lock a few times. It feels a little cumbersome because it needs to sync the status over every time, and it makes me not trust a Bluetooth-powered lock. That said, there is a physical key too.

Charging the battery is done by a typical USB-to-micro-USB cable. Most people who have Kindles and the like in their house already have these, and wall adapters to plug them in. Bluesmart provides a pretty smart looking blue cable, but no wall plug. They promise it only takes a few hours to charge (and an LED indicator on the top will tell you when charging is complete, while your phone will give you the precise % of charge the battery is holding) and on a full charge will provide 40 hours of functionality. Presumably, this is without it needing to charge iPads and the like.

IMG_1927

As I mentioned, I haven’t actually gone on a trip through an airport with the bag yet. But I did fill it with beer and drag it across Dublin to another office… where said beer was consumed. This involved unpacking the bag, setting it up, filling it (carefully) with Belgian Trappist beer I got as a gift, and then bringing it to the city center. This trip involved bringing it on a tram, then through cobbled streets in Dublin’s Temple Bar, and finally hauling it up a flight of stairs. So it’s actually a good test for the bag. Durability-wise it was fine. I think the biggest benefit I found was how smooth the wheels where, even when I dragged the bag behind me in two-wheel mode, because I was going uphill. But second to that, the comfort of the handle is quite pronounced. It’s really nice to drag around, and in four-wheel mode a fully loaded bag feels almost weightless. And in the real world I wouldn’t be carrying that kind of weight (my clothes aren’t that heavy!).

The real test will come in the coming weeks when I’ve trips to London, Berlin, Gothenburg, Tenerife and possibly Boston lined up. I look forward to flicking through security with more ease than I do now (again, less faffing).
IMG_1931So the ultimate question arises: is this bag worth it? When I bought it I got it cheaper than the current asking price of $399. But taking the price as it stands now, that slots into in-or-around the higher end travel bags I’ve seen. Not your standard €150-ish Tripp bag. For the features it provides alongside the standard carry-on conveniences I would say this is worth it. But that value is exclusive to those who are regular travelers. Someone who flies once per quarter or only on vacation trips just won’t get the value from it. Someone flying two-or-more times per month absolutely would love this bag.

There are some features I haven’t tested. For example, Bluesmart have partnered with Uber who will collect bags for you or give you a discounted rate to travel from an airport in a new city. Knowing that there are things I missed means I’ll probably return to this post to update it at some stage.

The only question for frequent flyers, and it’s not one I can answer right now, is if this bag is durable enough. Tripp and other companies offer 5 year warranties (e.g. I can get my Tripp bag’s handle replaced and pass the bag onto someone else), which is a sign of confidence. Currently Bluesmart is offering a standard one-year warranty period (two for EU customers since this is an electric device) but I’d love to be looked after if the velcro stopped functioning or if the wheels came apart after 3 years. That said, the polycarbonate frame feels about as sturdy as you’d expect. It feels like it can take a beating. Time will tell, though.

This is just the beginning for Bluesmart and, likely, the high end techie travel industry. This bag is useful enough that I imagine a burgeoning industry will pop up around these new luggage types. And undoubtedly Tripp, Samsonite and other big players will get involved at some stage.

Bluesmart is available from $399 on bluesmart.com. However, they have a referral program so using this link will give you $20 off!