The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is a nice budget-friendly car seat for infants. It performed above average in almost every test 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 stand out in comparison to more expensive products. While it may not be the best thing going, or have all the bells and whistles parents 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.
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air Review
Pros: Budget-friendly, tested SIP, easy install without base
Cons: Hard to install using LATCH, heavy, limited stroller use
Manufacturer: Safety 1st
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is the winner of our Best Value award offering performance that is well above average 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 more expensive higher ranking options like the Chicco Keyfit 30 and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35.
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air's marketing touts their Air Protect Side Impact Technology. 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 lab test support to quantify exactly what difference the feature makes in the event of an accident. The onboard 35 features a removable hand washable pad, additional legroom, and a 5-point harness with low harness height slots designed for smaller babies.
This graph shows a quick comparison of every seat tested in this review ranked in order of overall score. The Safety 1st is shown in blue.
Details in the sections below explain how the Safety 1st performed in our tests for each metric. Metric scores were used to calculate the overall score and rank for each seat.
The Safety 1st crash test results indicate a higher margin of protection compared to many of the other seats we tested.
The chart below shows the results of the onBoard 35 Air from the crash test dummy's head force sensor, compared to the Chicco Keyfit 30 which had the best results for the head sensor. The onBoard 35 Air head force results suggest it offers significantly better head protection than the Federal safety standards.
The chart below shows the onBoard 35 Air's results from the chest forces (in black), and the green line showing the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 which had the best chest sensor results. Regarding the chest sensor results, the onBoard 35 Air exceeded 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 onBoard isn't too hard to use with LATCH connectors, but several options were easier in our opinion. We frankly were disappointed with this score, because Safety 1st marketing highlights "one-click" LATCH installation, yet our tests showed other seats are easier.
This seat sported the easier to use push button style anchor connectors as opposed to the simpler clip style. Both are equally effective in securing the seat, but we found the push button style to be much easier to connect, and with the red button push release, easier to disconnect as well.
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 are harder to maneuver through dense 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
Ease of Install - Without the Base
It tied with 3 other car seats in our tests but didn't quite match the high score of 10 earned by the Peg Perego and UPPAbaby.
This seat uses the American belt path method and the belt path is not color coded. The Safety 1st is easy to thread the belt through the lower portion of the seat, and it did not require a towel or pool noodle to obtain the right angle for a proper installation. We sort of preferred the European belt path because it feels more stable overall, but the installation of the Safety 1st is a quick process that goes smoothly without any hiccups or trouble along the way. In general, it feels relatively stable and secure installed 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 for the Recaro Performance Coupe. 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 the 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 Safety 1st earned a 6 for comfort and quality tying with 3 other seats. This score is two points lower than the Phil and Teds Alpha and the Peg Perego each of which earned an 8 in this metric. The low score for this metric is a 2 earned by Graco SnugRide Classic Connect.
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.
The Safety 1st seat weighs in at 9.46 pounds, which is almost the average for the seats in this review; it is neither excessively heavy or really light. The heaviest seat in the review is the Orbit Baby weighing a whopping 12.5 unapologetic pounds that will likely prevent most parents from lugging it around and will necessitate purchasing their overpriced heavy stroller just to have some way of getting it around easily. The lightest seat is the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect that boasts a weight of 7.06 pounds.
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 babywearing is a nice option and a great way to bond with your 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, the Quinny Buzz Xtra. The Quinny 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 a 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.
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 offers a lot of seat for a little price. It managed to earn a higher score than some of the more expensive brands in our tests, and it earned an above average score in most metrics. While it might not have all the bells and whistles of a more expensive option, it does have all the essentials and a little bit more. With a weight capacity up to 35 pounds, and tested side impact protection, the Safety 1st is a good choice for parents on a budget or those looking for a second seat for Grandma. We found this car seat to be easy enough to use and comfortable for baby, making it a car seat that parents and baby can be happy with.
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 award-winning car seats, the Chicco Keyfit 30 and Peg Peregos 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.
- They also have a Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air+ that does not have side impact "air" protection and costs about $30 less than the one in this review,
- The onBoard 35 Air+ which costs about $20 more on average and sports "air protect +". We didn't find any information on the Safety 1st website describing what is special or different about the + side impact over the regular, so it is hard to say if it is worth the extra money. Given that we didn't review that seat it is also difficult to say for sure how it stacks up against the product we did look at, but we are intrigued that it might be marginally nicer and offer more features, making it potentially worth the extra $20 in our minds.
Cozy Greens Back Seat Mirror from Cozy Greens is an accessory we highly recommend for when your child is still rear facing. 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 mirror itself is made of shatterproof material as well as having 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 usable 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