If you have Amazon Alexa in your house, and you have young children, you’ve got a dilemma: How do you make sure your kids aren’t using Alexa in an inappropriate way while still using your device to the fullest? One ready-made solution is the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition, a variant of the company’s Echo Dot that’s configured to be child-ready out of the box, setting Alexa to an age-appropriate mode by default, with an exterior decorated in playful colors and patterns.
Amazon first started selling its kiddie Dot in the spring of 2018, and in June 2019 it released the “All-New” version, this time based on the third-generation Echo Dot, which has a larger physical footprint and greatly improves the sound. Apart from the color pattern, the Kids Edition of the Dot is physically identical to the regular Dot, but by default it comes set up with FreeTime for Alexa (FreeTime is Amazon’s name for child-friendly content and services) and costs $70. FreeTime for Alexa limits some features (like forbidding access to news and explicit songs) and tailors Alexa’s interactions for a younger audience (for example, answers to questions tend to be more educational, and interactions sometimes have an emphasis on politeness).
Amazon lent me a new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition, which my two kids (6 and 9 years old) have been using for a few weeks now. It comes with a year of FreeTime Unlimited, a large library of kid-friendly content (games, books, TV, and movies) that typically costs $2.99 a month for Prime members and $4.99 for non-Prime members. Amazon devices — like Kindles, Fire tablets, or Fire TV dongles — grant easy access to that content, but you can also get it from the web or Amazon apps on your phone (iPhone or Android).
The FreeTime Unlimited subscription is ostensibly what justifies the $69.99 cost of the Kids Edition, $20 more than the regular Echo Dot. If you buy more than one Kids Dot, you can’t “stack” your subscriptions, but your subscription will extend to a year from when you activated your most recent unit.
Some parent groups recently took Amazon to task for how it handles voice recordings from the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition, though there has been no clear misuse of data, let alone any kind of breach (data or trust). Moreover, there’s a reason Amazon hasn’t gotten much flak for “coming for your kids” in creating the Echo Dot Kids Edition, at least not in the same way, say, Facebook has been grilled over Messenger for Kids. Amazon’s kid-friendly Echo solves (or at least attempts to solve) a real issue: A child living in an Alexa household will inevitably find him or herself interacting with the digital assistant. And the first time that kid hears a gory news report or orders 30 cases of cat litter could force the parent to reconcile the convenience of a smart home with the sensibilities of their child.
The Dot Kids strikes that balance fairly well, though before you get one, you should know a few things:
1. Your Other Echo Devices Can Be ‘Kids Edition’ Too
If you already have an Echo device (or buy a regular one), you can make it kid-friendly in just a couple of minutes. When setting it up, you can put it in FreeTime for Alexa mode, which makes it functionally identical to the Echo Dot Kids Edition. There are a few models that aren’t compatible with FreeTime, namely the Echo Tap, Echo Spot, and all versions of the Echo Show.
You won’t get the year of FreeTime for Alexa or the Kids Edition colors, but otherwise your device is ready to tell happy stories and give kudos for saying “please.” By the same token, when your kids get older, you can set your Kids Edition Dot to become a regular one.
2. Sound Quality Is Much Better
The second-gen Kids Edition is actually a third-generation Dot, whose sound was a considerable upgrade of the previous Dot. Instead of a glorified intercom, sound is full and robust — more than enough to fill your average kid’s bedroom. Not only will it seed an appreciation for good sound in your kids, it makes a big difference to parents’ ears: Since Kids looooooove to play songs over and over and over again, you may as well hear them from a quality speaker instead of something that’s only marginally better than a transistor radio. You can also turn two Dots into a stereo pair if you want even better sound.
3. Your Mileage on FreeTime Unlimited May Vary
The selection of content in FreeTime Unlimited is big, but it’s not necessarily everything your kids want. A lot of material from major franchises (e.g. Marvel) still costs extra. Also, if you tend to limit your kids’ screen time, they probably won’t make as much use of it as you might think. In other words, if you’re getting the Dot Kids Edition for the FreeTime content, weigh what’s there and your kids’ screen habits vs. just buying a regular Dot and setting it up as a kid unit.
4. Alexa Is an Effective Companion for Kids
My two kids have been using the Echo Dot Kids Edition since it came out, and — while they made more use of the features in the early days — the kid-enabled Alexa units have kept them entertained in many ways. My 6-year-old daughter often asks Alexa to tell her a story, which keeps her occupied and sometimes gives her the reassurance to be alone on one of the floors of my house, something she’s still a little skittish about. My 9-year-old son used to play verbal games with Alexa (like Lemonade Stand) but has since taken to playing songs and asking questions, both of which I worry less about on an Echo Dot Kids Edition with tailored answers for kids and filtering of explicit music.
5. It’s the Only Way to Get a Blue or Rainbow-colored Echo Dot
If you figure the regular Echo Dot with FreeTime for Alexa enabled is the way to go, you’re going to be limited to the pretty blah colors of black, gray, and white (which Amazon calls Charcoal, Heather Gray, and Sandstone). The only way to get your Echo Dot in blue or the not-very-rainbow rainbow pattern is to get the Echo Dot Kids Edition. Sure, you can always get a case, but there aren’t many of those anymore since Amazon designed the current Dot to not need one, so they’re only available from a few third parties.