With subways being crowded spaces, with gaps to get over, escalators and steps etc., what types of stroller, and what functionality in a stroller should I be looking at for my newborn/infant?
When navigating subways and escalators with a toddler or older infant with good head, neck, and back control, you want a lightweight, compact umbrella stroller that you can quickly and easily fold closed and open, and a hinge, hook, or clasp that you can engage to keep it shut when carrying it closed. You can even carry your child and the folded up stroller at the same time up flights of stairs that way.
When navigating subways and escalators with a newborn or infant under 12 months, I've found it easiest to just wear them in a front carrier (most convenient and comforting for the kid, plus less germ exposure and more protection from accidental bumps and jostling).
When in Manhattan (NYC), San Francisco, Munich, and Disneyland, the above 2 options have served me well when traveling with the baby or toddler and while solo navigating subways, escalators, and stairs. You can also bring both for long days out and about.
My favorite wearable carrier for an older infant or young toddler is the ERGO baby carrier which distributes the baby's weight really well if you're going to be doing a lot of walking or on your feet all day. Your back will thank you at the end of the day for spending a little extra to get that additional distributed weight support. I've done entire 8 - 12 hour days that way. However, for a newborn or younger infant, I'd recommend a wearable cloth wrap such as the Moby.
A nicer than basic umbrella stroller is also worth spending a little more for. Those are usually a bit taller and hence more comfortable for people over 5' to push, have a small basket under the seat for simple storage, offer a slight reclining option for the seat (for napping without head-slumping), and a basic sun shade canopy top.
My own umbrella stroller, chosen after much deliberation and floor trials, takes up almost no trunk space as it folds nearly flat very compactly, has as small a footprint and maximum maneuverability as any you can find above the most basic umbrella strollers, is a lightweight dream for travel (about as light as you can go beyond the basic ones that only offer a fold-up seat & wheels), has easy to engage/disengage brakes, includes a removable parent console with a zippered compartment and ability to hold up to 2 drinks, has tons of mileage on it including any number of air flights using just a cheap thin nylon cloth bag with a drawstring for gate check protection, has the essential extras and nothing you don't (such as kids' snack trays that just add weight and bulk), is STILL holding up well after 2 1/2 years of frequent usage, AND only cost me about $40. http://www.amazon.com/First-Years-Stroller-City-Chic/dp/B002WB2G9I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360695740&sr=8-1&keywords=my+first+years+jet
It opens and closes like the basic models (very quickly, simply, and easily) and has a clasp hook you can engage to keep it closed. As long as I hang it near the back, I can even hang my backpack diaper bag over the handles and it won't tip if the kid wants out. If you are clever and motivated, you could even rig up a shoulder strap for it for easier carrying of it closed if you need to do that a lot. At that price point, I would also be OK if it got stroller-jacked or damaged in transit, but it hasn't.
(Tomy's The First Years also has a handsome Ignite model that's ~3 lbs heavier, heavier-duty, 1 inch wider, and has a somewhat taller seat for about $60 - $80. Also more forward tippy, but not an issue unless you have a heavy diaper bag and a kid who likes to hop in and out.) http://www.amazon.com/The-First-Years-Ignite-Stroller/dp/B002WB2GB6/ref=sr_1_1?s=baby-products&ie=UTF8&qid=1360700934&sr=1-1&keywords=the+first+years+ignite+stroller That model looks more expensive, more solid, and can fit a big kid for longer, but is still fairly portable if you don't mind maybe 20-25% more size and weight.
Maclaren also makes travel-fabulous, equally maneuverable, lightweight, and featured umbrella strollers, but they are pricier and not quite as simple or intuitively easy to open and close.
Hope that helps!
user3896 already gave some very good hints - we also like the
To your question:
What we always find very important is a horizontal one-piece hand-grip, which also lets you steer the stroller quite comfortably with one hand (having the other hand free for whatever-you-need-it-for). Very often the light-weight strollers have 2 handles (one left, one right) with not connection between them. Those are nearly impossible to steer with one hand only.
Useful "standard" features:
We traveled extensively throughout Asia, going to Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Beijing, for several years. We used public transport exclusively. Mostly subways. Early on we ended up getting a Silver Cross Pop stroller for our baby for four main reasons:
A) we could hang a baby/travel bag off the handles and the stroller wouldn't tip. We tried Maclarens, for example, and these always tipped over backwards, even with baby in it;
B) the Pop also had a large net under the seat within which we could place some more items. Not every stroller has a large net under the seat. You might think it adds to the weight, but in fact it was handy because it got bags off of our backs and shoulders. It is actually the baby gear bags we carry which end up being more in the way than a stroller. And the subways almost always had elevators too so we rarely had to carry the baby and stroller up or down stairs;
C) the sun shade could be pulled way over the front to act as a noise shield for when baby was napping. Very handy also to keep admiring faces away and not up close to disturb the dear sleeping child;
D) the wheels were some kind of durable rubber, sort of like an actual car wheel. Many other brands have rigid plastic wheels (they break easily), or overly soft rubbery wheels (wear out quickly). These wheels had excellent grip, the ride was smooth, and the brakes held even when wet.
The other mentioned features are useful, such as pivoting front wheel, reclinable seat, sun shade (not necessarily the umbrella, that was one extra item hanging around which was too much hassle to worry about)