Phil and Teds Alpha offers a lot to impress with a nice comfort and quality score, and some easy installation methods. Plus, what it lacks in ease of use, it makes up for in being lightweight and comfortable, and there are many things we love about this good looking seat. This product offers what we consider to be a basic level of crash test performance, and while safe and exceeding the Federal safety requirements, it did not offer the extra margin of protection we saw in the crash test results of some of the competition. This makes it a compelling option that falls short of the higher ranking choices.
Phil and Teds Alpha Review
Pros: Easy to install, comfortable, light weight, budget friendly
Cons: Difficult to use
Manufacturer: Phil and Teds
Our Analysis and Test Results
Based in New Zealand, the Phil & Teds company has been in operation for over 20 years and includes the Mountain Buggy and Mokopuna lines. The company has won numerous awards and is available worldwide.
Every car seat sold in the US must comply with the Federal safety guidelines outlined in FMVSS 213. The charts provide the test data from the Alpha as it compares to the results from the highest performing seats in the group. The crash tests were performed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing standards, and the seats were compared side-by-side to offer parents a better idea of how each product compares to the standard and other options in the review. Because each must comply with Federal safety standards, they all provide at least a basic level of protection. The seats we tested varied in how many G forces were exerted on the test dummy sensors in the head and chest, and several products seemed to offer an additional margin of protection with fewer recorded G forces.
The Alpha exceeds all Federal safety requirements. However, regarding crash test results compared to most other car seats we reviewed the Alpha provides what we consider to be a basic level of protection. The charts above show the test results for the Alpha compared to the top-performing seat in each crash-test sensor. The car seat with the best data recorded on the sensors located in the head of the dummy is the Chicco Keyfit 30 (shown in green) vs. the test data for the Alpha (in black). The same type of chart is shown for the data on head sensors, with the Cybex Aton 2 test results (again in green) indicating the best chest data for the group.
The Alpha marketing claims it has "high side protection cushioned liner and thick EPS foam" for absorbing some of the energy of a crash, and the seat has a deep pocket for baby's head that Phil and Teds' claims can potentially increase protection in the event of a car accident. We do not have any data to suggest that these features increase the margin of protection, but we do like any attempts to improve safety.
Ease of Install - LATCH
The seat is fairly easy to install using LATCH, and while it can't hold a candle to the higher ranking options, it does an adequate job that won't leave you feeling frustrated. The seat feels stable when installed, and we couldn't shift it around much.
The Alpha has the more traditional anchors that look like clips, as opposed to the push button anchors. The clips are easy to attach but can be difficult to detach. Pushing the clips forward after detaching and twisting before pulling them out can help ease some of the frustration. However, the LATCH straps are easier to tighten and loosen than many we tested.
This seat offers an adjustable foot to help achieve the best angle for smaller or younger infants. However, you might need to use a rolled towel or a pool noodle to find the perfect angle. Be sure to read the manual prior to installing for detailed instructions.
The base has a level located on the side to help determine the proper angle. It has a metal ball that rolls inside a clear plastic casing with indicators of the acceptable installation range. The level works well and doesn't stick like some of the other products with plastic or rubber balls.
Ease of Install - Belt
The Alpha earned its best installation performance for installing using the vehicle belt.
The Alpha has a nice belt lock-off and large threading areas that make threading the vehicle seat belt easier than most of the competition. While the lock-off is easy to use, it can be stiff if you get the belt tight enough (as you should do). The seat feels stable when installed and earned higher marks in this test than much of the competition.
Ease of Install - Without the Base
Installing the Alpha without a base is almost as good as it gets with a near-perfect performance in this metric. This is an important metric for urban parents who expect to ride in taxis or a service like Uber.
This seat has a European belt path that is color-coded. We prefer this style over the American path as the European version feels more secure utilizing the shoulder strap around the back of the carrier. The belt is easy to thread and the seat feels secure when installed.
We also installed the Alpha using only a lap belt with what is known as the American belt path. This is allowable and outlined in the manual in the event that your vehicle doesn't offer a shoulder belt in the desired installation position. It felt just as secure using this method as the European method and both were equally easy to accomplish.
Ease of Use
One of the few metrics where the Alpha makes a misstep is ease of use with below-average performance compared to the competition.
The buckle on the Alpha is easier to use than other options, but not the easiest, and it earned an average score in our tests. We did have trouble with the chest clip catching when trying to buckle it, and this made it a definite two-hand operation, but all in all not too bad considering the alternatives on other products.
Tightening and loosening the harness straps is more difficult than it should be. It felt like we couldn't get the straps tight enough to fit smaller babies, but loosening was a bigger problem during testing and we felt like we couldn't get them loose enough to fit baby under the straps. To tighten the harness you pull on the strap at the front of the seat. To loosen the straps you press the button on the foot of the carrier and pull the harness toward you. The button is under some padding but it isn't deep. The button itself is easy to press and we aren't sure why it is so difficult to get the straps loose.
Adjusting shoulder strap height is better than average, but it is a rethread style, and we prefer the non-rethread due to the convenience of adjustment with a baby in the seat. The Alpha has a T style splitter with 2 large loops on the shoulder straps that fold over and Velcro together to keep the excess strap out of the way (possibly why it is hard to loosen?). The process is about as easy as any rethread in the group. The crotch strap is a little more difficult because the rethread needs to go through two layers of padding, but it isn't a deal-breaker given that you will only need to change it a few times. The shoulder straps have four height positions and the crotch strap has three.
The handle is better than average and is easy to operate. It rubs less on the canopy than other products, but it still rubs a little. The handle operates by depressing buttons on both sides near the pivot joint and rotating to the desired position. It has four possible positions, and only the carry position is allowed for driving.
Carrier and Base Connection
Installing the carrier onto the base isn't particularly hard, but compared to other products it isn't the best. The carrier fits on the base, and we didn't have any occurrences of thinking the carrier was attached only to find out it wasn't. It doesn't fall into place like the competition, and there is no visual indicator of a complete attachment.
Our main squabble is that the release handle is located on the base as opposed to the seat. The release handle on the base is awkward to use and means you have to lift the carrier off the base with one hand while you pull the release and then you use both hands to get the carrier out of the car. It is unnecessarily complicated.
LATCH Anchors and Manual Storage
For LATCH storage the Alpha offers a large storage pocket located on the base near the foot. We think children could easily open this pocket and mess with the straps which could lead to them potentially being in the way of the carrier attaching to the base, so we caution parents to check the straps regularly.
The Alpha scored the highest in the metric. One of the first things you notice about the Alpha is how nice and cozy it looks. The padding is extra thick and the fabric is soft. While there might be a few places that could collect crud, it is a small price to pay for comfort. The shell of the seat feels durable; there are no rough edges or bendable plastic. The overall fit and finish are nice with the padding and fabric fitting well to the frame of the shell.
The canopy on the Alpha is a disappointment. It is one of the smallest sun shades in the group, and it lacks a window. While most of the carriers lack a window, almost all of them offer a larger canopy.
The Alpha weighed in at 8.35 lbs almost a full pound under the average for the metric and lower than most of the competition. That makes the Alpha kind of a standout. While weight should not be the only, or first, factor parents should consider when making a buying decision, it could be a factor at some point. If you have narrowed your choices to a couple of seats, then it is a good time to let weight weigh in (pun intended).
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz