In order to lend strict verisimilitude to the product testing flow, I unboxed the Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition when my toddler discovered the box sitting on my desk.
As cries of “Pink iPad? My pink iPad?” filled the air, I faced a split-second decision: Hide it, explain that not everyone gets everything they want all the time, and deal with the nuclear fallout as the four-month-old screamed in sympathy and dinner burned on the stove? Or take the path of least resistance and hope that the arrival of food would distract her?
Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition (2017)
My toddler loves it. Small, convenient size. Worry-free two-year guarantee. Tons of content with FreeTime Unlimited, but also plenty thanks to Amazon Prime.
Tinny sound. Need to be connected to Wi-Fi to make the most of kids content. Parental controls are bizarre and irritating.
The choice was clear. I sliced the box open, plugged it in, logged in, popped the kid in a chair and ordered Alexa to “watch Peppa Pig”. The whole process took three minutes, which left me 17 peaceful, tranquil minutes to get dinner on the table.
No matter your personal feelings on kids and screen time, most parents will admit that a screen is a fast and effective way to pacify these miniature personifications of pure id. The criteria for a child’s tablet is different from that of an adult’s. A kid’s tablet has to be bomb-proof, it has to have easy controls for the kids (and for the parents), and it has to be able to summon child-friendly content in no fewer than six seconds. The Fire 7 Kid’s Edition meets those requirements, and it does so at the reasonable price of $100.
You might ask: In what universe is $100 a reasonable price for a child’s toy, especially when the regular Fire 7 costs only $50? First, there’s the kid-friendly case, which runs for about $10. Also, each Kids Edition comes with a year’s free subscription to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited. FreeTime is the default home screen on the device and comes with a limited amount of kid-friendly content. You can monitor the child’s usage via the FreeTime app in the parent profile, or online. But FreeTime Unlimited costs $5 per month ($3 if you’re a Prime subscriber) and has unlimited age-appropriate content for kids between the ages of three and 12, including books, videos, games, and curated websites.
In addition to those savings on content, you also get a two-year, worry-free guarantee. If your kid breaks the tablet, Amazon replaces it free of charge. In three days, my daughter covered it with a mysterious miasma of toddler goop, a sticky substance that uses either strawberry jelly or spaghetti sauce as its base. She dropped it off tables. Dogs stepped on it.
A four-year-old acquaintance discovered that a great way to get Daddy’s attention was to smash the tablet’s screen onto a tabletop corner. Amazon replaced three tablets in three consecutive months. If you think $100 is a lot to pay for a kid’s toy, imagine how much you’ll have to shell out when that kid gets his hands on your iPad.
You Know, For Kids
Many of our criticisms of the adult edition apply. The rear-facing speaker is terrible, and made much worse by the fact that the sound has to emerge from a tiny tunnel through a half-inch of protective pink foam. Grand-père and Daddy Tiger’s deep growls in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood were buzzy. The Fire 7 also does not come with an HD display, which was noticeable with some of the sharper computer-generated animations in FreeTime. 11.1 GB of usable internal storage also does not seem like very much storage, although you can add a memory card.
However, while these limitations would be pretty irritating to an adult, they just don’t apply to the Fire’s target audience. The tablet’s small size (the 8.7 by 5.5-inch measurements apply with the puffy case on) makes it ideal for tiny hands. And I don’t think four-year-olds care if Angelina Ballerina’s whiskers look a little fuzzy. The FreeTime cartoons were bright and easy to see, both indoors and outside in natural light.
While 11.1 GB of usable internal storage might not be that much storage for an adult who wants to enjoy all the spectacular scenery in Mad Max: Fury Road, a best-quality episode of Tumble Leaf only takes up 0.15 GB. There’s room for plenty of beautiful, intricate, stop-motion animation, and that’s only if you download the highest-quality video.
It took me eight hours to run down the battery by playing videos and surfing the web, but again, this factor seems irrelevant on a child’s tablet that, thanks to the FreeTime nannyware features, cuts off after an hour’s use and is locked from 8 pm to 7 am. Over three days of toddler use and parent fiddling, we ran down the battery down to 54 percent.
Of course, even with severely curtailed expectations, some things are unsatisfactory. For instance, you enable parental control, Alexa is blocked—even on parent profiles. It’s also hard to tell what content you’ll be able to access at any given time. For example, if you know you’ll be traveling and offline, you can download books and apps off FreeTime, but not videos. To download a video, you have to switch to a parent profile, download content off Amazon Video and then whitelist it into FreeTime. Then those videos expire after 48 hours if you’re not connected to the internet. It seems like a roundabout way of preventing your family from going to a remote cabin on vacation.
I found the constant switching between profiles to access this content or that content to be tiring, with the additional wrinkle that all this switching back and forth, relaxing some restrictions and putting them back up again, requires both your parental password and your parental PIN. Get used to your significant other or caregiver texting you a lot for help with the Pink iPad.
So I’m holding back from a full endorsement. Also, as with the adult versions of these tablets, the $130 Fire 8 Kids Edition is a more enjoyable experience overall. But for $30 less, the Fire 7 Kids Edition is a perfectly serviceable device for children under six. It’s portable and durable enough to shove into a diaper bag on your way out the door, and a few minutes and megabytes was all it took to entertain the three-year-old long enough to get seated, order food and wait for it to arrive.
We ate together! In a restaurant! As a family! For the first time in a month! It’s hard to put a price on that.