Xiaomi has been aggressively branching out into lifestyle products, with the manufacturer making everything from smart home lighting to robot vacuums, rice cookers, and even a desk light (which looks really cool).
The common theme among all of Xiaomi's products in this segment is affordability — the brand rose to fame by effectively undercutting entrenched vendors in the handset segment, and it is following the same strategy in the lifestyle category. The Yeelight, for instance, is an $18 bulb that offers the same set of features as Hue for half the cost, and you don't even need a hub for the lights to work.
That's the idea with the Mi Travel Backpack as well. The backpack retails for just $45, which is an absolute steal when you consider what's on offer.
When looking for a new gear bag, I initially had my eye on the $199 Incase Icon, but it doesn't deliver to India, and I wasn't willing to wait. So I looked at products available in this part of the world and landed on Xiaomi's Mi Travel Backpack, which has a similar design but retails for less than a fourth of the cost of the Incase Icon.
Like the Icon, Xiaomi's backpack has a lot of compartments where you can slot your gear — 11 in total. The bag itself is lined with polyester, and the outer material is water-resistant. This being monsoon season where I live, I was able to test out Xiaomi's claims of water resistance. In short, it works. I was out on the road for a few minutes while I was trying to get to my car in torrential rain, and the contents were safe. The backpack has dimensions of 12.8 x 7.09 x 17.52 inches, weighs 2.6 pounds (1.2 kilos) and can hold up to 66 pounds (30 kilos).
Let's start at the front: the Mi Travel Backpack has a pocket at the front that's ideal for storing gum, keys, or hand sanitizer (a must if you're visiting India). Then there are two side pockets — the one on the left has extra lining and makes it a handy location for a power bank, and the right pocket can be used for storing a granola bar or two.
The main compartment has six pockets in total, giving you more than enough room to keep things organized. You get two pockets at the top for storing business cards, small notebooks, or cables. Then there's a zippered pocket where you can store writing paraphernalia or accessories. There's also a pocket at the bottom that can be used for chargers or additional cables. The main compartment itself has enough room for a camera and a few lenses. I was able to fit my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II and Sony MDR-1000X Bluetooth headphone along with its carrying case without any issues.
On the other side of the compartment you get two zippered pockets — the one at the top is lined with suede and is ideal for sunglasses, and the one on the bottom can be used for storing phones.
Round the back, the second compartment is large enough to accommodate a tablet and a 15-inch notebook. I was able to slot in my 13-inch MacBook Pro and a Galaxy Tab S3 with room to spare. And yes, it stands upright when you put it on the floor or on a flat surface.
Another thing I like about the Mi Travel Bag is that it doesn't have any branding, save for a small Mi tag at the back. The shoulder straps are padded, as is the back. I've been using the Mi Travel Backpack for just over a month now, and it has served me very well, particularly when I'm traveling to product launches with a full loadout of gear. The only issue I have with the bag is that it doesn't have a provision for a water bottle.
Finding a good gear bag isn't easy, as there are tons of great options available across price segments. You can pick up a Samsonite backpack for as low as $30, and if you're looking for something fancier, there are bags that easily run into several hundred dollars. Xiaomi's offering finds a great middle ground — it's still affordable at $45, but you get a product that's far superior to anything available in this segment.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.