Away Smart suitcase review: can this smart luggage beat airline ban?
I’ve recently been on the hunt for new luggage, and being the tech blogger I am, I was interested in learning what’s new in the baggage market. Smart luggage is all the rage, with features from charging, self-weighing, GPS tracking and more. Luggage is also becoming better designed, lighter and easier to use. I recently had the chance to try a smart carry-on suitcase from Away Travel.
The Away luggage arrived well packed and nicely wrapped in a beautiful box which is a nice touch that makes the overall package feel special. The case I chose is what’s called the Bigger Carry-on. It’s a touch larger than my current carry-on, and a smidge larger than the ‘regular’ carry-on size, which is also available from Away.
(Actual dimensions: Size 22.7” x 14.7” x 9.6” Weight 7.3 lbs Capacity 46L, dimensions include wheels.)
The colour I chose is Minions Yellow. It’s pretty bold, but I want something that will stand out on the luggage carousel, or be easy to spot if someone should try to walk off with it. The case comes with a charming minions luggage tag which is a nice extra addition. There are a host of other colours available including basic black, white and more.
Size and Colour – Away smart luggage
The case seems bigger, and I think that’s due in part to the fact the edges are squared as opposed to rounded like my old bag. It seems like it makes better use of space. The case itself is more rectangular then it is rounded which I trust will make for a roomier experience.
Initially I was a little bit nervous about the size when I set it side-by-side with my existing Heyes carry-on. My Heyes luggage can fit into the overhead bin on its end and still have the door close securely. While I had no doubt the new Away suitcase will also fit in the overhead, I was pretty sure I’d have to turn it sideways to get it to fit. Not ideal on crowded flights. I guess I could have just chosen the smaller version. Hindsight.
It turns out my concern was for naught, since the bag fit perfectly in the overhead bin on my Westjet flight from Calgary to Palm Springs, California. I have seen some planes with slightly smaller overhead compartments, and I might one day get caught, but in this case, the bag fit just fine.
Exterior – Away smart suitcase
The exterior shell feels very thin and light and is quite flexible. The shell has grooves across the front and the material which is described as ‘Makrolon polycarbonate’. It’s “unbreakable, super lightweight, and has a little give to it,” according to the info pamphlet inside my suitcase. Away says the flexibility means it will bend and not break under pressure, and that it’s a natural shock absorber which is said to make for a smoother ride. Plus it can actually expand a little bit to give you more packing space. The shell is definitely flexible and spongy, and though it feels kind of delicate, I’ll take Away’s word that it’s durable. Certainly on my initial trips with it, I’ve noticed no issues.
Spin, spin, spin – wheels on Away suitcase
There are four ‘spinner’ type wheels on this suitcase and they’re super maneuverable. The case will roll straight when you push it and will spin easily without wobbling all over the place.
One thing I did notice however was that when the case was full, it had a tendency to tip over when I would try to pull it along on all four wheels; it most often wanted to be pulled on its back two wheels, on an angle. That’s fine, and it rolls quite well, but when the bag is heavy I find I prefer to keep it on four wheels so the load is on the wheels, not my hand. I suppose this is a personal preference as opposed to a design flaw. This is where I thought a padded handle might be nice, but Away is without that charm.
There is a TSA approved lock so the suitcase can be secured easily, but opened by the authorities if need be.
The telescoping handle on the Away carry-on slides easily and feels very lightweight. It has two locking positions, high, and low. The tallest setting is significantly higher than my existing luggage. As a tall person with a long stride, this is handy when I’m trying to dash through the airport with my bag. Plenty of times I clipped my own feet with my old suitcase because the reach is so short.
Smart suitcase with built in charging
One of the things I’m most excited about is the built-in charging. Tucked inside a small but easy-to-access flap underneath the handle are the built-in charging ports.
There are two USB ports: a standard USB port with 1A output (designed to charge phones at standard speed), and a USB port with fast charging. Both USB ports can be used at the same time. The battery is a 10,000 MA battery, which generally speaking is capable of charging an iPhone up to five times.
Also under the hood here is a small micro USB port which is where you will re-charge the suitcase (a charging cord with a folding plug is included and is hidden away inside the bag in one of the pockets.) A series of four LED lights indicates at a glance how much power the bag has left.
Away says the battery complies with all transportation requirements and can be checked or carried. But there are rules about batteries in checked bags, and they’re changing as I write this (more on that in a sec). Some airlines won’t allow them. Fortunately this battery is removable (but not easily). If airport security or the airline has questions about the battery, there’s a sticker between the wheels with all necessary compliance info.
If you do need to remove the battery for some reason there is an included screwdriver so you can take it out. The battery is very easily accessed by unzipping the interior lining, though if the bag is fully packed this could pose quite a hassle. It also makes me wonder what would happen if you check the bag with the battery still in it; would it get hauled off the flight and left behind? How would you get it back? Is there someone at the airline in charge of removing screwed-in batteries? I worry about what would happen to my luggage. So best to double check with your airline, or play it safe and remove the battery if you do need to check the bag or if it could pose a problem.
Smart charging suitcases banned by airlines?
Access to the batteries and removeable batteries in smart cases is gaining importance, particularly since some airlines have elected to ban smart charging suitcases if the batteries cannot be removed. (Read more about this here)
I believe the logic is that if a battery caught fire in the cabin, it could, in theory, be put out by flight attendants. Whereas in the cargo, no one will catch it until it really starts a midair burn.
Inside Away luggage – 2 compartments in a clamshell
Inside it seems like there is so much room. The suitcase is divided neatly into two sides: one has a mesh covering that zips closed. It’s made to store hard, bulky, and non-compressible items like shoes, toiletries etc.
On the right-hand side, is the area where you store your clothing; anything soft and squishable. You can pile up your clothes, then buckle the compression pad and tighten the straps to pack it all in and down.
I like having the ability to pack in two distinct sides. I find it’s easier to keep things organized and to get things unpacked easily.
Also inside in a small zippered hidden pocket on the bottom is a removable water resistant laundry bag that you can tuck wet bathing suits into. These Away folks have thought of everything.
Keeping your hardshell case clean
I was a little afraid of getting this suitcase dirty. Full disclosure: that’s why I didn’t choose white. I thought it would be a nightmare. But Away says the suitcase will scrub right up with a soft damp cloth, warm water, and mild soap. I got a chance to test that out, since on the way home from my trip I needed to check the bag, and it definitely got dirty and scuffed up.
I tried using soap and water and a soft cloth and a dish brush to remove the worst of the scuffs. No dice. While some of the dirt did wipe off, the black scuffs are now a permanent fixture of the case. So now I AM glad I didn’t get white.
Away suitcase guarantee
Away says it will guarantee these bags for life; if the bag or any parts break they will repair or replace the whole thing for free. Now, a lot of luggage companies say that, but make it really hard to make a claim. I tried to make a damaged luggage claim once (from another manufacturer) and was told to pound salt. All I can do is take Away’s word for this right now.
Overall review of Away Suitcase/smart luggage
I really like the Away bag. It’s roomy, the wheels roll smoothly and easily, and the divisions inside are smart. Additions like the laundry bag and the built-in charging are convenient. The telescoping handle is smooth and operates easily, and the long reach is handy for taller folks. The bag (on its own) is quite light meaning you can overload it just a bit more and still be able to lift it into the overhead.
If I were to change anything about the bag it would be to pad the handle. I also didn’t care for how easily it wanted to lean over onto two wheels when full. But I can adapt.
I’m glad the battery is removable just in case an airline puts the hammer down, but the fact the battery is screwed into the frame, inside the lining is problematic if you did need to make a last minute change. Yes, I guess you could just pull the battery out to be safe before you pack, but then there goes the whole point of having a smart suitcase, since you wouldn’t be able to access the charging functions. There’s also no way I can see to rig up the battery in a temporary hook up. It’s screwed into the frame and connected to the wires through it, so it doesn’t appear you could unscrew it, but still have it provide power.
My guess is there will be a Generation 2 of Away bags with removeable charging coming down the road.
Overall, if you’re looking for a suitcase with style and smart features, I can definitely recommend Away.
Away is available from Away’s website. The size I tested, Bigger Carry-On, is $245USD.