In families with kids who are my daughter’s age, the great debates are no longer over breast over bottle, or daycare versus nanny. It’s not even nature versus nurture. Now we all argue over which device to use to distract our kids on painful long plane rides, or the (very) occasional dinner out. The Amazon Fire Kids? Or a kidproofed iPad Mini?
It’s a tough call. As with any parenting debate, both answers are fine. Last year, I noted that with the Fire HD 8 Kids, the price covered many features in addition to the actual hardware. Those same features are also all included with this year’s edition: You get a two-year worry-free replacement guarantee; a protective foam case; and a year’s subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, Amazon’s kid’s content platform that lets you filter the books, apps, and movies that your kid can access through the parent dashboard.
And yes, an older kid might wonder why you get to slide your hands over the cool, smooth, aluminum-and-glass exterior of an iPad, while they’re stuck with the much cheaper plastic Fire. Yes, you can get the new Fire HD 8 for a little cheaper. And finally, yes, I don’t think this year’s minimal changes add very much to the user’s experience.
But the user in this house is a three-year-old. To write this review, I had to dig out the tester from the closet, where I hide it when she’s at home. Then I had to wipe yogurt fingerprints off the screen. Her review: She loves it. Am I, her parent, willing to pay a little more for convenience and a little more peace and quiet? Does James Brown like to get down? Obviously, yes.
As with the new Fire HD 8 and last year’s Fire HD 8 Kids, this new kid’s edition is a small tablet, with a plastic body and glass screen. Unlike the Fire HD 8, it comes in a puffy protective case that increases the tablet’s total dimensions to 9.6 inches wide and 6.1 inches tall. But at under 20 ounces, it’s still small enough for a toddler to hold comfortably in her lap.
It took the full six hours to charge the battery from 0 percent, which is painfully slow when you’re traveling and you need just enough juice to make it one more hour on this flight. The battery life was noticeably shorter on this edition. We recently went through an unusually social weekend where I let her play on the Fire for an hour or two during dinner every night. After three days, the battery was drained completely.
That’s partly due to Amazon including hands-free Alexa this year—a feature that is useless in the kid’s edition, since it doesn’t work when the parental controls are activated. In Amazon’s defense, my toddler has also developed a penchant for playing more games this year, which drained the battery quicker. Last year, she was more interested in flipping through books.
Amazon hasn’t updated anything—processor, RAM, or graphics—inside the Amazon Fire 8 for a few years. This is less irritating with kid content. I’ve played a few of my daughter’s favorite games with her, like Toca Boca’s Pet Doctor, and a truly horrifying one that involved picking high-heeled shoes for a giraffe in a hair salon. They didn’t have any hiccups or lags.
Amazon’s FreeTime selection isn’t perfect. I set my other child’s profile to 9- to 12-year-olds, and found a few books and games that seemed better suited for a younger audience. Nevertheless, I found the Lego Harry Potter game enjoyable, even if the resolution wasn’t great.
The Fire HD 8 also includes several necessary kid-friendly features. In addition to 32GB of storage, it also has a microSD card slot, in case you’ve stored movies elsewhere to watch on long flights. It also has a 3.5-mm stereo jack for volume-limiting, kid-sized headphones. Amazon also included a 2-megapixel front-facing camera in addition to the rear-facing one, which is great for an almost four-year-old who loves taking pictures of herself.
A Whole New World
The Fire for kids works mainly as a portal to Amazon’s wealth of kid-friendly content, filtered by someone (Amazon) who has a lot more time and energy than you do. The process of figuring out what kinds of things your kid can watch or play is exhausting, and a crapshoot. It’s never as simple as turning off R-rated movies or in-app purchases.
On other devices, I tend to find myself babysitting my daughter, watching over her shoulder as she browses YouTube Kids. This minute-to-minute monitoring negates the purpose of getting her a tablet, and it’s not a problem with FreeTime. Even if the books, videos, and games that she picks aren’t always what I’d choose for her (while writing this, I took a minute to remove all the Barbie books, movies, and games from my daughter’s profile), I never worry that she’s going to stumble onto anything gory or traumatizing.
And while the Fire OS in the parent profile can be hard to navigate, Amazon has recently updated FreeTime to be even easier to navigate, for both me and my almost four-year-old. This year, Amazon has also added Spanish-language books, movies, and apps to FreeTime, a helpful inclusion for a toddler who occasionally asks for “agua” instead of water. Over 1,000 books, like Peter Pan, will also be available as audiobooks soon.
As with last year’s edition, you can check what your child is doing in the online Amazon parent dashboard. You can add or remove content; enable or disable the web browser or camera; block games until they’ve done a certain amount of reading; or link your smart home devices or Spotify account through Alexa. You can also check what apps or books your child has opened and how long they’ve spent reading books or watching videos over the past seven days.
The changes that Amazon made to the Fire HD 8 Kids this year are very minimal. The only one that I noticed was the change in battery power, and the addition of Alexa—which was especially annoying because you can’t use Alexa when parental controls are on, even when you’ve switched over to the parent profile.
Still, I think the Fire HD 8 is a great choice for families with kids under six or seven years old. The extras that you get—the foam case, the two-year warranty, the parental controls of FreeTime and all that Amazonian content—still make it well worth the price, even with slightly diminished battery life. They also go on sale quite frequently, and we here at the Gadget Lab will be helping you keep a heads-up! Personally, I’m looking forward to a little less stress on our holiday flights this year.