Built-in speaker and iPod controls
Hard to access iPod in bag
Slightly heavier because of speaker
Features you probably won't use
I almost died when I first heard about this product. A messenger bag with a built-in iPod remote on the shoulder strap? And it has a built-in speaker, too? My head whirled with potential ways my life would improve thanks to this bag: I'd be strolling down Massachusetts Avenue in the dead of winter, listening to my music, when suddenly I'd want to adjust the volume or change the song. While other chumps would be taking off their gloves, pulling their iPods out of their pockets, and pressing buttons, I'd be a mere button-press away from sheer audio bliss. The ladies would notice, and they'd all flock to me. We'd then have a dance party, with music provided by the bag's built-in speaker.
Yes, it sounds pretty incredible. Unfortunately, the reality does not quite live up to the scenario described above, though the ladies did still flock to me. (Okay, that's not true either.) After using the bag for a month and a half, here are my thoughts.
The iPod remote functionality comes with five buttons: Previous, Play/Pause, Next, Volume Up, and Volume Down. The placement is not bad, but not terrific. It's accessible while walking, but a bit harder to operate while biking (controls right over the chest would probably have made me happier).
The buttons are "ElekTex Smart Fabric" and incorporated into the bag right where the shoulder strap meets the base. They're reasonably responsive, and the bag correctly responds to button presses even when I had my winter gloves on. However, the biggest problem with the iPod remote is that your iPod is tucked in your bag the whole time. Sure, this is a feature when you're walking around, but when you get home and want to connect your iPod to your computer, or you decide you really want to hear "Total Eclipse of the Heart," it becomes a problem. Now, instead of just reaching into your pocket to retrieve your iPod, you have to open the bag and try to get past all of your books and things to get to it. This was enough of a turn-off for me that after the first few weeks, I just started carrying my iPod in my pocket again, and didn't use the remote at all.
Another annoying "feature" of the iPod remote is that in order to make sure you don't accidentally press buttons, you first have to "unlock" the buttons by holding down the back button for a few seconds, which then activates the buttons. The remote is then re-locked a few seconds later. This leads to a bit of confusion when you want to do a few things at once, like, skip to the next track and turn up the volume, because if you're not fast enough, the remote locks up again.
Next up, the built-in speaker (which requires three AA batteries — not included). This is about as much of a novelty feature as you could possibly have. I literally only found occasion to use it once (and unfortunately, it wasn't for a dance party). Incidentally, the speaker will work with any device with a headphone jack, not just your iPod.
Well, it can't hurt to have that speaker, right? Wrong. It adds weight to the bag, and also constrains the shape of the front pocket to be thin and flat, which is annoying. I'm just not convinced that your average MIT student ever needs a portable set of speakers. That said, if you want to skateboard around town, blasting your opera music, this is exactly what you're looking for. (I once saw a guy doing this in downtown Seattle, I swear. I'll recommend this to him if I ever see him again.)
Last, let's talk about the bag itself. As messenger bags go, I was fairly impressed by this part. The construction is definitely solid — I didn't notice any problems after biking in the rain, and it still hasn't torn at all (which is more than I can say about some other messenger bags that I've used for a month and a half). It has a laptop compartment, which I use with no complaints, and a tiny quick-access pocket at the front of the bag that I like a lot. It's held closed by a magnet, and I'll occasionally keep my phone or keys there. There are some extraneous pockets that I just don't use (like one on the very back; putting anything besides papers there would make them jut into my back), but I have very few complaints here.
The Bottom Line
As far as I'm concerned, the iPod remote and speaker functionality of these bags are just gimmicks.
The bag retails for about $105, which is a substantial amount to spend on a bag, but also not an unreasonable price for a higher-end messenger bag. If you intend never to remove your iPod from your bag, or you often need speakers on-the-go, this is a bag for you. Otherwise, you're just paying for features you're not going to use.
You can find more about the G-Tech's "The Professional" at http://g-techworld.com/.