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Hands-on Gear Review
Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air Review
Price: $160 List | $123.29 from Amazon - 23% Off
Pros: Budget friendly, tested SIP, easy install without base
Cons: Hard to install using LATCH, heavy, limited stroller use
Bottom line: Best Value that is a good bang for the buck
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is a nice budget friendly car seat for infants. It performed above average in almost every metric in our review and impressed us with its ease of installation without the base and using a belt instead of the LATCH system. It offers an average weight and good ease of use scores with good marks for comfort, quality, and better crash test results. In short, this cheaper seat managed to impress and stand out in comparison to many seats that are significantly more expensive. While it may not be the best thing going, or have all the bells and whistles parents might think are snazzy, it proves it has what it takes to run with the high end products, and it won our Best Value award for offering all of this at a below average price. We think parents can feel good about buying this seat no matter what their budget.
RELATED: Our complete review of infant car seats
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is the winner of our Best Value award due to offering performance that is well above average, and at a lower than average price. It is a solid choice for those on a tighter budget, and the one notable downside is that it has relatively limited options for stroller compatibility compared to the significantly more expensive Editors' Choice winners: Chicco Keyfit 30 and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35.
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air's marketing touts their Air Protect Side Impact Technology and a bigger size range, for children 4-35 pounds and up to 32 inches in height, than many competing products. They claim that Air Protect is an advanced air cushion system to protect baby's head in the event of a side-impact, but Safety 1st doesn't provide any lab test support to quantify exactly what difference the feature makes in the event of an accident. They also market a one click LATCH installation (we found their LATCH install to be only middle of the pack in terms of ease of use). The onboard 35 features a removable hand washable pad, additional legroom, and a 5 point harness with low harness height slots especially designed for smaller babies. The company also touts their Carry Curve™ Handle with an ergonomic design for easier carrying, which we did find larger than most handles and easy to hold.
The Safety 1st crash test results indicate a higher margin of protection compared to many of the other seats we looked at. The chart below shows the results of the onBoard 35 Air from the crash test dummy's head force sensor, as compared to the Chicco Keyfit 30 which had the best results for the head sensor. The onBoard 35 Air had the 3rd best head force results of 15 seats we reviewed, and the results suggest it offers significantly better head protection than required by Federal safety standards.
The chart below shows the onBoard 35 Air's results from the chest forces, with the black line showing the onBoard, and the green line showing the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 which had the best chest sensor results. In terms of the chest sensor results, the onBoard 35 Air performed middle of the pack, but did exceed the Federal requirements by a significant margin.
It is important to note that all the seats for sale in the US offer a basic level of protection by meeting the requirements of the standard.
Ease of Install - LATCH
The Safety 1st earned its lowest installation score for the LATCH method with a 6 of 10, finishing in the middle of the pack on this performance test. We didn't find the onBoard to be too hard to use with LATCH connectors, but many seats were easier in our opinion. We frankly were disappointed on this score, since Safety 1st marketing highlights "one-click" LATCH installation, yet our tests showed other seats to be easier with LATCH. This left the onBoard 35 Air well off the high of 9 earned by the UPPAbaby Mesa, Chicco Keyfit 30, and the Cybex Aton 2. The low score in this metric is a 3 earned by the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect.
This seat sported the easier to use click-in style anchor connectors as opposed to the simpler clip style. Both are equally effective in securing the seat, but we found the click-in buckle style used in the onBoard Air as well as other seats to be much easier to connect, and with the red button push release, easier to disconnect as well. The clip style used on lower cost seats such as the low-end Graco seats require that you reach your hand to find the clip, push to release it, and then push the clip forward further to disconnect which can be difficult if you can't see the anchors.
Connecting the anchors is relatively easy, but far easier on the vehicle anchor points that can be readily seen. Those that can only be "felt" were harder to connect to because the anchors are sort of thick and can be harder to maneuver through dense vehicle cushions. Once connected the straps are harder to tighten than a lot of the competition and equally tough to loosen. It is difficult for us to really pinpoint a reason for the trouble, but in general everything is harder than we thought it should be and much of the competition is easier. The major downside is the seat does not feel very stable and secure when installed this way and we think it really should feel more stable with a method that is supposed to be easier to use to attach the seat to the vehicle.
Ease of Install - Belt
Britax B-Safe and coming in 1 point lower than the highest score of 9 shared by the Phil and Teds Alpha and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35. The low score for this test is a 4 earned by the Evenflo Embrace LX.
Ease of Install - Without the Base
Ease of Use
The Safety 1st earned a 6 of 10 for ease of use, scoring higher than 9 other seats in our tests. This score is above average for the metric and only 2 points below the high score of 8 shared by the Recaro Performance Coupe and Evenflo Embrace. The low score is a 3 shared by the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 and the Orbit Baby G3.
The buckle on this seat is only average for ease of use. It is a little stiff and not the easiest to operate, but it isn't the worst and only requires 1 thumb so there are definitely harder to use options in the group, like any of the Graco options. The chest clip is also about average; the button itself is pretty stiff and the two side parts drag when sliding apart, but this is more annoying than a hardship in operation. The two sides are easy to mate up to put it together, but the sliding together to connect is also stiffer than the competition.
The harness height adjustment on this seat is a rethread style that uses a T splitter in the back for shoulder strap attachment. The loops on the straps are medium sized and fairly easy to get in and out of the slots and reattach to the T splitter. There are 4 shoulder height options and 3 crotch strap positions that help parents get the best fit possible. The crotch strap isn't as easy to adjust as the shoulder straps, and we had a little bit of trouble getting it threaded through the slots, but neither are terrible and both are easier than several other seats in the review. We do prefer the non-rethread harness height adjustment like the one found on the UPPAbaby, but for a rethread option, this one isn't hard to use, even if it does require more steps than the non-rethread version.
There is a dedicated LATCH strap covered storage compartment on base of this seat to keep the straps from interfering with the carrier attachment to the base. The compartment is located towards the front of the base and the belt slips under some retaining tabs to keep them out of the way. There is a chance the straps could escape, but we don't think it is likely that they will get in the way of connecting the carrier to the base.
The padding on the Safety 1st is rather thin but still feels nice. The fabric is very soft and skin friendly, but we do wonder how well it will wear over time as it looked like it might be prone to snagging. The shell quality and fabric fit and finish are relatively average and look about right for the price point, so you won't be impressed, but you won't be disappointed either. Alternatively, the handle on this seat is nicer than average, works well, and is easy to hold.
How much a seat weighs is definitely a consideration when it comes to making a buying decision, but we caution parents about making it the number one factor in the decision making process given that many of the lightest seats failed to perform well in our tests. Instead, we suggest you use the weight of each seat to help break up a tie in the potential seats you narrow down to based on more important factors like crash tests and ease of installation. Purchasing a frame stroller or compatible standard stroller can also help ease the burden by giving you something to attach the carrier to so you don't have to carry it by hand. In addition, we really think baby wearing is a nice option and a great way to bond with baby; with a baby wearing carrier you can keep the car seat carrier in the car.
As previously mentioned this car seat is not compatible with many strollers and it does not work with any of the award winning options in our search for the best baby stroller. In fact, this seat only works with 1 stroller in our review of 21 products, the Quinny Buzz Xtra. The Quinny ranked 20th out of the 21st, making it an option that did not impress us, and the price of the Quinny is likely to eat whatever money you saved buying the Safety 1st. We think if the Safety 1st is your car seat of choice you will be happier pairing it with a baby carrier than a stroller. This is an option some parents choose and are very happy with. It helps increase baby bonding time and most of the carriers leave your hands free for other things. Anecdotally, we feel that babies are happier being carried close, and we experienced fewer crying moments with baby in a carrier than a stroller.
This Safety 1st option is a good seat that scored above average in most metrics with a reasonable price tag. We think it is a good option for parents who are looking for a comfortable seat for baby with better crash test results compared to some of the other seats in the review, and a price tag that won't break the bank. It may not be the flashiest of seats, but we don't think parents will be disappointed. We also think it would make a nice second seat and a good option for a caregiver or grandma's car, if parents already have a higher ranking option from this review.
The onBoard 35 is a good value car seat for infants. It scored above average in our review and still managed to offer a manageable price tag. While not the cheapest seat in the review, it is the cheapest seat that scored well in our tests and we think it has a lot to offer compared to most of the cheaper options in this review. With many of the high end seats in this review costing more than $200, and several coming in with prices closer to $300, this seat is a breath of fresh air.
One caveat for potential buyers to be aware that stroller compatibility is somewhat limited for the Safety 1st compared to some competing seats. While we recommend choosing a car seat is more important than stroller compatibility, this is still an issue to be aware of. Not one of the top 10 strollers in our full-size stroller review offers a specific car seat adapter for the Safety 1st. In contrast, our Editors' Choice award winning car seats, the Chicco Keyfit 30 and Peg Perego, are both supported by 8 of the top 10 highest scoring strollers in our review.
Other Versions and Accessories
Safety 1st makes a few other infant style car seats with the one we reviewed here being their "middle of the road" option.
Back Seat Mirror from Cozy Greens. This mirror is useful not only for keeping an eye on baby while still in a rear facing car seat, but for providing entertainment as well. The mirror is held out a few inches from a flat base that fits against the front of the headrest. It is all kept secure by two adjustable straps that fit around the headrest vertically and horizontally. The surface of the mirror is shatter proof and has a convex shape to provide a wider field of view. Adjustable on a pivot, the mirror can be kept in place by a tightening device on the pivot point. This mirror is only useable with adjustable headrest which allows the vertical strap to wrap all the way around it. Aside from that, Amazon users seem to love this accessory, claiming that it provides a much clearer reflection than many other back seat mirrors.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz, and BabyGearLab Review Team
Most recent user review: October 19, 2015
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