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When Google finally introduced project Jacquard in a Levi’s jacket in 2017, I was stoked. Man, I wanted one so bad.
Wearables had been a hot topic for only a couple of year at that point, and everyone was wondering what the next step was. We started to see smart glasses, smart rings, and a whole lot of other smart stuff pop up all over, especially at trade shows like CES. But they all had one thing in common. They were bulky.
Google’s Jacquard tech — smart fibers woven into clothing — however, seemed promising. It didn’t add much bulk, just a small tag that could be charged and hidden in a Levi’s jacket cuff. This seemed like the future of wearables, something that was clothing, just a little smarter.
A couple of years have passed since Jacquard’s introduction, and the wearable market has grown a lot. While some accessories like the Focals by North still undoubtedly look like computerized accessories, others, like the Fossil Q Hybrid smartwatch that I wear every single day have evolved to look, well old.
And now, Google has evolved Jacquard, too. What was once a product that only lived in clothing has come to a couple of other accessories, like the Adidas GMR Smart Sole and the Saint Laurent Cit-E backpack. Now, it’s coming to another accessory. This is the Samsonite Konnect-i backpack.
What is the Samsonite Konnect-i?
The Samsonite Konnect-i backpack is a smart day bag made for short commutes or trips. There are two versions: a standard and a slim. The slim model is thinner and has two vertical pockets, while the standard version packs extra pockets in the front.
Both backpacks have plenty of pockets for storage. Inside, they look almost like a school backpack. There are lots of dedicated slots for pens and business cards, as well as mesh pockets for miscellaneous things you might need to carry with you. The main pocket is mostly empty, save two smaller pockets. The rear pocket stores a laptop and a tablet. On the top, there’s a zippered pocket for sunglasses and other small belongings.
The outside is made of a polyester water-repellent, easy-care fabric coated with a Teflon backing. This means you shouldn’t have to worry about anything getting damaged in the rain. There is a lot of foam padding on both the back and the straps, but my back didn’t sweat while walking around Manhattan with the Samsonite Konnect-i for a couple of days.
But this backpack is also smart. On the left strap, there’s a set of smart fibers that are made for swiping and tapping to interact with Jacquard. Underneath, you’ll find a slot for the small Jacquard tag itself.
The tag is made of rugged plastic material, with a copper connection strip and a button for pairing. The button was pretty difficult to press. I needed to really dig my nails in to get it to register. I’d guess this is intentional to stop its housing from unpairing the tag from your phone.
There’s also a charging port, which unfortunately uses micro-USB in the year of our suffering 2020. Google says the tag should last between 10 days and two weeks, depending on your usage.
What can Jacquard do?
The Jacquard fibers on the Samsonite Konnect-i backpack allow you to interact with your phone without actually touching your phone. You can pause and play your music, skip tracks, place a Google Maps pin in your current location, or trigger Google Assistant. Jacquard works best when you have headphones connected, but it can also do other things like… counting things. If you’re into that.
You can set three different actions when programming Jacquard. You can swipe up, swipe down, or tap. There’s also an option for holding your hand over the threads, but that action seems to be locked to muting your device.
There are actually a ton of things Jacquard can do with these gestures. That includes skipping tracks, finding your phone, or triggering the selfie camera. But instead of listing them all, here are some screenshots.
Jacquard also has an LED on it, which can light up red, green, or blue. You can attach these colors to specific notifications so you’ll ambiently know what’s happening on your phone. Once this happens, you can brush up or down for certain actions, like having the Assistant read your text message or hear the car model and license plate number of your Uber ride. This is all legitimately useful, especially if you’re not keen on looking at your phone every five seconds.
For me, the most logical use of Jacquard is music controls, though my earbuds can do this already. Of course, this will be useful if your headphones don’t have touch controls built-in. That being said, I wish Jacquard allowed you to adjust your playback volume with a swipe down or swipe up. These don’t seem to be options, but I would find them more useful then simply playing/pausing or skipping tracks.
I also found the Find My Device feature useful. This will alert you when your phone disconnects from the Jacquard tag on the backpack, and you can also use it to ring your phone if you can’t find it. It’s kind of like a built-in Tile tag. I dig it.
Who is the Samsonite Konnect-i for?
At $219.99 for the standard backpack and $199.99 for the slim backpack, you’re paying a hefty premium to get some tech in your carry-on. Most backpacks in this price range have dedicated features for photographers or hikers, but of course, they won’t have the integrated tech inside.
In my opinion, the first Jacquard product, a denim Levi’s jacket made for bikers, made the most sense. This product gave you control of your phone while you were paying attention to biking, and didn’t want to reach up to adjust your playback with your headphones’ touch controls.
On a backpack, Jacquard is certainly a harder sell. I can absolutely appreciate the ability to adjust media and drop pins in locations without needing to take out my phone. Honestly, it was nice being able to ask for my next walking direction without having to look at a screen too. My Pixel Buds can do this too with the help of Google Assistant, but you don’t always want to be talking to your headset in public.
At the end of the day, the Samsonite Konnect-i is for people who commute every day, and really don’t want to look at their phone while doing it. It’s absolutely a luxury good, and much less of a safety measure than it was in Levi’s Commuter jacket.
Should you buy the Samsonite Konnect-i?
If you’re looking at this backpack, there’s a good chance you have some extra cash to spend, or you’re just excited at the prospect of having some extra tech in an everyday product. Personally, I’m in the latter group. While I could pretty easily perform the actions I need to with just a couple of taps on my phone, I love the prospect of not taking my phone out at all. Ambiently performing those actions is satisfying.
However, I also recognize that $220 is a lot of money for a backpack. For reference, Samsonite itself sells plenty of backpacks of a similar caliber for half the price or less. So really, you’re paying twice the price to get a backpack with three remappable actions and thee ambient colors for notifications. I’m not sure that’s worth the cost.
Regardless, I’m happy to see Jacquard being developed and added to more products. At the time of publishing, there are only about five products that use the technology. If Google is able to shrink this tech even further and make it more affordable, I could see it being the future of wearables that I imagined back in 2017.