This is a followup to my preview of the Graco Smartseat. The preview actually turned out to be pretty comprehensive. The main things missing were photos, videos and discussion. You can find all of these on my Q&A thread at our Car-Seat.Org forums. You can preorder the SmartSeat now at Babies R Us:
In this blog, I’m just going to add a few of my own photos showing some measurements. Kecia will then post a full review later this month, with plenty of photos and comparisons to other models, especially in booster mode! So, please checkout my preview and the Q&A thread for tons of information, impressions, video demonstrations and photos, too! Below, you can browse some additional shots:
The base system is very impressive. Four solid 1/2″ steel bolts attach the steel reinforced base to the steel seat frame. The base installs solidly in both our vehicles, with LATCH and lap/shoulder belt. It really is a great alternative to typical convertible seats that can take time and effort to install in either direction. With the Smartseat base, you can easily install it once and it can be used front or rear facing! You can also get another base, though they are fairly pricey at $99. I have no doubt this feature alone will appeal to a lot of parents looking for something that is easy to put into their vehicle. My only wish is that premium LATCH hardware with push-button releases had been included, since it can be a bit difficult to reach deeply recessed vehicle anchors with one of the attachments and also to remove the hooks on a tight install. The included lockoff works well for seatbelt installs. Rotating the knob to lock the base takes a little wrist strength, but is not difficult once you have positioned the seat correctly in the base. The indicators are pretty foolproof. If any of them are yellow or if the red stick-up indicators are protruding up into the seat cushion, then you know it isn’t locked!
As far as the seat, it is a competent convertible child restraint overall. Like many convertibles, it won’t fit most newborns well, but should be fine for older babies. Also, it tends to push the child’s head forward more than some other products and that could be a comfort issue, though it may be offset by generous recline settings. On the plus side, that design allows it to fit very well in vehicle seats with fixed head restraints that can cause some installation incompatibilities with other tall child seats. The harness goes up to 17.5″ shoulder height front-facing and that is pretty generous for a 3-in-one product. The height adjustment system works very well and also automatically adjusts the harness length to some extent, though you must still tighten it with front adjustment strap. The strap takes a little effort to adjust, as does buckling the harness tongues into the buckle. The recline system is also very easy to use and works very well, though it doesn’t go particularly upright. It can be reclined on the go, even after installation. A handy level indicator is built into the seat. The 40 pound rear-facing weight limit is nice, but the rear-facing height limit is only average. While it doesn’t compete with the best convertibles in this area, it should get most kids to 2-years old and many kids beyond that (You can see photos of a 3 year-old and a 4.5 year-old in the Q&A thread linked above). Legroom seems to be relatively good for rear-facing.
Booster mode is mixed. Conversion to booster mode is relatively easy, with a handy compartment to stow away the harness system, so that you don’t have to completely remove it! It should fit older kids relatively well, but I will leave this for Kecia to determine in her full review. The wide exterior of the seat can make it hard for smaller kids to buckle themselves in some vehicles. Also, for kids closer to the minimum booster limits (3 years and 30 pounds), the lap belt fit may be marginal, depending on the child and vehicle. Finally, it may not adjust quite tall enough to fit some kids until they can fit safely in an adult seatbelt. Again, please stay tuned for Kecia’s full review for more on using the Smartseat as a booster!
As I’ve mentioned, this is a very large and heavy seat. It should work well in minivans and larger sedans, wagons and SUVs. It’s probably not a great choice for 2-door or compact cars. Plus, it also takes up a lot of room when rear-facing, so it can take away from the legroom of a passenger in front, especially in a smaller vehicle. The SmartSeat and its harness and LATCH components are all made in China.
Overall, I think the SmartSeat has some very nice and innovative new features. I think it is a great choice for parents looking for ease of installation or who are otherwise uncomfortable installing a typical convertible seat. Like every child safety seat, it does have some drawbacks that I have discussed. Whether or not these are a concern really depends mostly on your child, your vehicle and your preferences!