Harmony Defender: Whole Lotta Love! Review and Giveaway

Defender1It’s not very often that a new seat blows me away…but that honour goes to to Harmony‘s new forward-facing only harness-to-booster seat: the Defender.  It appeared in the US quite a while before hitting the Canadian market and we could.not.wait for it to show up here. Our patience, or lack thereof, was rewarded with an exceptional product at a superb price point.

Available online and in store at Walmart, or direct from Harmony, the Defender is $160, and with that comes a tremendous number of features often found only on higher priced seats.

Defender Specs:

  • With harness:
    • For children who weigh between 22-65lbs AND are between 27-57″ tall AND whose shoulders are at or below the top harness position of about 18″ (18.75″ if you remove the foam in the seat area with a child over 50lbs)
  • As a booster:
    • For children who weigh between 40-110lbs AND are between 34″-57″ tall AND whose ears are below the top of the high back booster seat in high back mode, or the top of the vehicle head restraint in backless mode.  The seat belt must fit properly on the lap and shoulder. Highest high back belt guide is about 20″ (20.75″ if you remove the foam in the seat area with a child over 50lbs).

The Highlights

  • Lightweight. Move your seat often? Save your back!
  • Use of UAS to a child weight of 46lbs (unless your vehicle indicates a lower limit)
  • Long-lasting by torso height, often the measure by which a seat is outgrown
  • No-rethread harness – adjust on the fly for multiple children
  • Excellent price point of $160
  • Harness pads for added comfort at the child’s neck
  • Lots of bum padding
  • Two crotch buckle positions
  • Easily adjustable up-front recline adjustment to mesh with vehicle seat
  • Smooth harness adjuster – no fighting to tighten adequately
  • IMMI buckles, and non-twisty harness
  • Narrow and ideal for tight seating situations
  • Ten year expiry period
  • Award for cover name. Whoever named the debut fashion deserves a high five and a plate of cookies (for real, whoever you are, I can bake like nobody’s business, and I will put some in the mail). “Pirate Gold” might be my most favourite cover name ever.

The Lowlight (singular)

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  • Comes partially assembled (scroll down for a picture tutorial) and requires two Phillips screwdrivers (the X shaped ones) at the same time to put it together. Because of that you MUST read the directions and FOLLOW them. Carefully. It is not IKEA furniture. It’s a lifesaving piece of equipment. Take 10 minutes and read the steps and do it properly. It’s not hard, nor time consuming, just important that it is done properly and with care. If you have difficulty following step by step instructions and assembling things…find a friend who can help.

 

Assembly:

Let’s get the potentially scary part over with first, shall we? Assembly. Harmony has worked hard to bring a high-featured seat to the Canadian market at a very good price. To do so the Defender ships partially assembled which saves on shipping. But don’t worry, you can do this. Get yourself two Phillips screwdrivers (the X-shaped ones) and a spot on the floor to spread out and work.

Make sure you have all of the washers and screws and bolts, and the long metal rod.

Defender parts

Follow the step by step instructions in YOUR manual to orient the loose parts, and line up the seat bottom with the seat back.  You are installing a screw set into each hip area, and a long metal rod through the lower back area. Make sure to use all of the parts in the order as indicated!

Hip area: make sure the sticking out bit of the black plastic screw is pointing DOWN and nestled into the space intended for it.

Defender hip screw

 

Lower back area: long metal rod goes here, and is secured with a washer and screw. Tighten both ends simultaneously with a screwdriver in each end.

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And that’s it. Not so bad eh? Even while pausing for photos it only took a few minutes. Now on to the good stuff.

 

Fit to child:

The Defender fits a broad range of kids. Really broad. The littlest here is just big enough to use this seat at 24lbs and 13 months old…and to be honest it’s hard for us to even put a child this little in a forward-facing seat (rear face as long as you can!). The largest child (green jersey) is 7.5, 53lbs, and 54″ tall, pretty close to the top end by height and weight.

The Defender is a nice fit on small kids for those who choose to forward-face that early (not what we’d recommend), and on the upper end there is still plenty of harness length left for the bigger kids. Those who have reached 50lbs but need more torso height can remove the EPP foam pad under the bum for another 3/4″ or so of growing room. The head is well contained within the wings, and while the seat is narrow there is ample room for sitting cross-legged.

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Child fit in harness modeHarmony Defender01

Our kid testers liked the harness covers to make it comfy at the neck, and the cup holder (removable, it swivels, and can attach on either side for convenience). The crotch pad is optional and can be removed (most kid testers pulled it off but that is common on a lot of seats). Most have found it quite comfortable. Although a sore bum is possible in any seat this one is well-padded, and it’s worth experimenting with the recline of the seat itself, in addition to considering foot support if your child complains.  For those who have slept in the Defender it provides nice side-to-side head support and so far no head flop. This will of course vary by child and angle of install.

Our parent testers especially liked the ease of adjusting harness height – squeeze the handle at the top of the head rest and slide to adjust. The handle is a bit hidden inside the fabric cover but it is there. The harness must be at or above a child’s shoulders at all times. The crotch buckle slides along a channel and has two options, at ~6” and ~8”. Choose the position at or just in front of your child’s crotch.

 

Child fit in booster mode

Harmony is well known for having booster seats with excellent belt fit, and the Defender in booster mode was no different. While the belt fit was truly great it’s not as easy to use in booster mode as their dedicated boosters that we love (Dreamtime 2 and Youth Booster). Our 7.5 year old experienced booster rider found it comfortable but had difficulty buckling. The distance from the vehicle buckle to the front edge of the arm rest was greater than she was used to and although she is mature, practiced, and tall, she had difficulty reaching that far to buckle. The space between the arm rest and seat pad is also very closed so she had trouble sliding the seat belt into the space. Once buckled though she found it very comfortable, but struggled with the lack of independence she was used to, and that frustrated her.  The younger booster tester also had magnificent belt fit but as she has no experience riding in a booster all buckling was done by an adult.  The Defender is so great as a harnessed seat but that seems to mean a little bit of convenience is lost when moving into booster mode.

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Converting the seat from harness mode to booster mode and back was tedious and not something I would be keen to do on a regular basis. I’m really much more of a fan of dedicated boosters though, and don’t really consider this a deal breaker. If you do use the Defender as a booster you’ll convert it and leave it. Make sure to save all of the parts and store them clean and dry for safe use later on.  I admit to not taking the extra steps needed to convert from high back to backless mode. It meant removing the metal rod and hardware from the assembly steps above, and I just didn’t want to. I was looking at Harmony’s Youth Booster sitting next to me and my professional and parental opinion is that once you get to that stage of boostering you’ll be pleased to spend $18 for the convenience of a dedicated booster, passing down the Defender to a child who still needs to be harnessed.

 

Fit to Vehicle:

We tried the Defender in a wide variety of vehicles and are very pleased with the ease of installation. If you have lower anchors in the seating location of choice you can use UAS up to a child weight of 46lbs (unless your vehicle states a lower limit).

The Defender requires use of the top tether at all times, as does every other forward facing seat in Canada, NO EXCEPTIONS.  The Defender’s tether adjuster mechanism is slim and easy to use and should not be a problem at all in vehicles where the tether must be passed through a small space.  If you vehicle’s head restraint interferes check your manual to see if it can be removed and stowed.

Harmony Defender03

 

Up to 2” of overhang off the front edge is permitted.  Whether you have any or not will depend on the depth and shape of the vehicle seat.

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Experiment with the recline of the Defender using the up-front knob to make it best mesh with the vehicle seat. Aim to minimize gaps behind the seat back wherever possible, as you want maximum contact between vehicle seat back and Defender seat back. If you have overly large gaps either at the lower back or upper edge of the seat take a photo and send it to Harmony; they are best positioned to advise consumers as to what is acceptable.  Those of you with fixed and forward-leaning head restraints might run into issues, but unfortunately this is the case with most forward-facing seats in vehicles with that unfortunate design feature.

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Harmony Defender05Seat belt installations and UAS were both successful. Pro tip: most seats have some way of exposing the belt path. Doing so will make installing infinitely easier. On the Defender this can be accomplished by separating the cover at the lower outside corner and peeling it back. Tighten the belt from the inside of the seat – this works for the UAS strap as well as the belt. Clever body positioning means you can get maximum leverage without requiring herculean strength to tighten.

Will it install perfectly everywhere? Of course not, but no car seat will.  It was a nice fit in the vehicles we tried it in though, using a mixture of UAS, lap/shoulder belt, or lap belt (not all at the same time of course — pick one!)

  •  2009 Dodge Grand Caravan – installs well in all seating positions with a tether anchor (captain’s chairs and 3rd row centre)
  • 2012 Ford Focus
  • 2003 Honda Civic
  • 2003 Honda Odyssey – installs well in all seating positions
  • 2012 Ford F150 Super Cab (extended cab with suicide doors) – installs well and just fits on the vehicle seat without too much overhang.
  • 2011 Honda Odyssey- fits like a glove in the middle ‘8th’ seat 2nd row centre, leaving room for the passenger side seat to flip forward
  • 2010 Jeep Patriot – works well centre, not so much outboard with the really protruding and non-adjustable head restraints. A nice option in a 3-across!
Defender 3 across

2010 Jeep Patriot

Defender middle seat

2011 Honda Odyssey

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2009 Dodge Grand Caravan

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2003 Honda Odyssey

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2012 Ford Focus

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2012 Ford F-150 Super Cab on the ’40’ side of the 60/40 split

Removing the Cover

I followed the manual to the letter to remove the cover for cleaning, something I like to try with new seats to see how it washes up and how the process goes.  The manual directs a parent to remove the harness and then remove and wash the cover…but I had a lightbulb moment and after conversation with Harmony they are behind this alternate method and intend to update their manual or online FAQ with this simplified method for cover removal.  This method avoids re-threading the harness at the shoulder and is much easier for parents to accomplish.

1. Lay the seat on its back and locate the rectangular metal plate that holds the harness under the hip.

2. Gently separate the harness from the metal plate with a flat-head screwdriver.

3. Use the screwdriver to carefully pry up the metal plate from the plastic base. The metal plate is now hanging loose from the shell.

4. You’re then going to pop that metal plate up and through the bottom of the seat. To start fold it like the below photo shows.

5. Insert the metal plate into the slot in the seat pan.

6. Pull it through to the other side and it’s free!

7. Now the harness is still attached to the seat at the shoulders, but is loose at the hips. The cover can now be quickly and easily slipped off around the harness; wash per manual instructions. Reverse the process when putting it back together.

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Overall impressions:

Harmony aimed to produce a long-lasting, comfortable, easy to use seat at a very attractive price point. They nailed it, absolutely, and it positively shines as a harnessed seat.  The biggest potential issue is assembly, but don’t let that scare you. You get enormous bang for your buck here if you can round up two screwdrivers and few minutes of your time. We love it in our house and has been the main ride in our vehicle for the last month.

Are you super pumped about the potential of this seat? Yay! Win one for yourself or grab one at Walmart. Thank you to Harmony for providing a giveaway prize to one lucky winner, in your choice of fashion, subject to availability (Pirate Gold or Raspberry) – all opinions here, however, are our own. To enter use the Rafflecopter widget below. For your entry to be valid you MUST comment on this blog, answering this question: what feature of the Defender do you find most appealing?  Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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