As someone who’s currently in the midst of planning a ton of traveling, it only seemed right that I would finally take the time to upgrade the ragged and beaten suitcase I’ve been using for the last few years.
To tell the truth, I’ve never given that much thought to the subject of luggage. For a long while I had a dirt-cheap carry-on, our relationship ending abruptly when one of the wheels snapped off while I was walking into a hotel, sending all of my belongings tumbling down a small staircase. My next bag was purchased quickly and out of necessity while on the same vacation, and the quality of the case was far less important in the moment than the main objective of getting everything I had brought with me back home.
In an effort to learn from that previous bad experience, I’ve decided that, before I do more traveling, it’s time to truly consider the suitcase I take with me. Taking it even further, I decided that I wanted a suitcase that was not only durable and long-lasting, but an object that would provide a little bit of joy every time I travel. As someone who loves new tech, I found that joy in the new ‘smart suitcase’ by Raden, the A22.
Raden’s suitcases are of the hard shell variety, with the exterior made out of a very durable polycarbonate material. The A22 is the first bag I’ve owned with a hard shell, and I quickly became a big fan of this form-factor’s convenience. Where a soft-shell case allows its user to easily over-stuff the bag and create a suitcase that has trouble fitting in an overhead compartment, a hard-shell means that you always know exactly how big the bag is going to be. Measuring in at 14″ by 22″ by 9″, the A22 is a perfect size for a carry-on — easily loaded and unloaded with you wherever you go.
The A22 comes in several colors: white, black (matte and gloss, which can now handily match your new iPhone 7), ‘hunter’ (green), ‘navy’ (dark blue), light blue, light purple, and light pink. It’s worth noting that the color is a part of the bag’s shell, not at all a simple coat of paint slathered on top of the exterior. My own matte black bag looks beautiful, and it’s clear that Raden put a lot of thought into which colors were not only most visually pleasing but also the most resistant to wear and tear.
One look at the bag reveals Raden’s minimal design aesthetic, and the bag’s exterior is almost completely bare. The top features a small handle to grip the case and a larger telescoping handle which is easy to extend and close. A (TSA-approved) lock is also embedded near the smaller handle, which works by connecting to the bag’s zippers and easily secures everything you own behind a code of your choosing.
The bag starts to get interesting, however, when you look behind the A22’s telescoping handle. If you were wondering just how a suitcase can call itself a ‘smart’ device, one of the Raden’s major conveniences reveals itself in the form of two USB ports handily accessible in this recessed area of the bag’s exterior. These ports are connected to a battery (which of course requires a charge before your traveling begins), which means that you no longer need to fight over that one single seat with a charger at your airplane’s gate. In fact, there’s no need to wait for a gate at all when your phone is running low — the battery is ready to charge your device whenever you are, meaning that you can get some extra juice while walking through the airport terminal or standing in line at the food court.
This is only the beginning of the smart functionality of the A22. To access the rest, you’ll need to open Raden’s companion app for iOS. It seems clear that the suitcase’s creators hope you’ll see this app as a travel companion instead of just a simple utility. Open it up and the company’s design chops show themselves, as it’s beautifully designed and pleasing to use.
The first time you open up the app, you’ll be asked to set your home airport. From then on you’ll see information related to your home airport on the home screen. Information like the weather and how long it will take to get to the airport by car or public transportation are shown in the app. These are small details but ones which can prove remarkably convenient in a pinch.
Tell the Raden app that you’re starting a new trip and you’ll be prompted to input some information. Which airports are you departing from and flying to? What airline are you flying? Do you have a first-class or economy seat? With this information, Raden can both display information that might be helpful as well as give you an estimated weight limit for the bag — a handy bit of assistance when trying to avoid those nasty additional fees at the airport.
The app’s screen is divided in half, with the top displaying airport information and the bottom dedicated to your luggage. Up top you’re shown the airport you’re departing from, the current temperature, and how long it would take to get there via public transportation or car. Down below you’re shown the bag’s location, its weight, and the remaining charge for the battery.
Tapping on the ‘weight’ section will cause the app to quickly walk any traveler through the process of weighing their bag. The user will be asked to place the luggage on the ground and allow the scale to zero out. Then the app will ask you to pick up the bag by the handle, hold still, and push a button on the app. Just like that, your phone will tell you how much the suitcase weighs. With the bag itself weighing roughly eight pounds, you may find yourself hard-pressed to overpack, but there’s no doubt that this feature is occasionally handy and an extreme convenience for the A22’s bigger sibling, the A28 Check.
The app is a wonderful experience when everything is going perfectly, although I have noticed that it has, on occasion, had trouble connecting to the bag. Further, when you’re not in range of your A22, the app can look a bit broken, and it might have been a better idea to simply gray certain features of the app when your bag was elsewhere. The fact that your suitcase has an app at all, however, is certainly remarkable — and you might feel a bit futuristic as you run a firmware update on your luggage.
Opening the bag reveals an interior that feels just as well thought out as everything else. With the zipper splitting the bag almost perfectly in half, two equally-sized compartments are ready to hold anything you’re ready to take along for a trip.
Each internal compartment can be closed and secured with a zippered flap, each having its own pocket for small items that need a bit of additional security. Opening one of these up, I found a small rolled amenities kit hidden inside my A22, and unfurling it revealed a set of earplugs, an eye mask, and a flat USB cable for charging the suitcase battery. As someone who constantly forgets to bring along a mask for long overnight flights to get some shut-eye, I’ll be keeping this kit in my Raden for the long haul.
Some people may be turned off by the fact that both the Raden’s battery and telescoping handle create a middle-area of bulk within one of these compartments. I find this design better than the alternative, which would have been to create a wall in order to keep this area flat. Going down that road would have reduced the amount of luggage the Raden could carry as a whole, and I’m happy to just pack around the middle section.
Speaking of the battery, unzipping the interior backing reveals a small case which houses the external battery and the A22’s brain. The battery itself can actually be removed from the bag and used as a travel charger. The device is connected to the suitcase through a magnet, which means removing and re-attaching the battery is easy, even when you’re sitting in the airport terminal about to board your flight.
Once everything is packed, zipping up each compartment keeps everything in place as you cart it around. The edition of dual zippers for both the suitcase exterior and the two main compartments means that you can open them from any orientation, and open the compartments from whatever angle you need to reach the item inside.
The Raden’s wheels are also worth mentioning, mostly because they’re so great that you’re likely to forget about them altogether. While any experienced traveler is aware of the benefits of ‘spinner’ wheels (four wheels which allow you to travel with the suitcase regardless of orientation) the A22’s are certainly something special. Cheaper bags I’ve travelled with have had difficulty snagging on hidden bumps on the ground, threatening to topple the bag over and stopping you in your tracks. This won’t be the case while traveling with the A22.
For all the positives, the bag isn’t for everyone. This is not a ruggedized suitcase, and though it’s extremely durable, it’s far from indestructible. Even if you aren’t setting off into the wilderness, those who are obsessive about living scuff-free lives may have a hard time watching an airport handler throw your bag carelessly onto the luggage carousel. In my testing, simply laying the bag out on a wooden floor led to several small abrasions on the side of my bag, though the company insists that these are non-permanent and can be taken care of with a few minutes of cleaning. The Raden is all about minimal design, and you’ll need to decide whether you’re ready to keep it protected from damage or watch it accrue some scrapes that remind you of past travels.
Opening the app and checking it’s location shows you not only where it is currently, but a list of places that it’s been. As I spend the next month traveling, I look forward to watching that list grow, and I feel confident that the Raden will be a faithful companion, by my side.