In its never-ending quest to bring entire families into its ecosystem, Amazon has announced a new smart speaker/video chatting device called Glow. It’s meant for kids to video chat with other folks with Alexa-enabled devices in a controlled environment. Amazon says it “reimagines the way kids can connect with remote family and friends.”
The Amazon Glow—not to be confused with the Echo Glow, a smart lamp for kids—packs a vertical smartphone display in a giant speaker case that looks like a comically large ‘90s-era cell phone. It has an 8-inch LCD screen, and it projects a touch-sensitive area that’s about 19 inches across. Kids can share their “virtual space” in real-time using the Amazon Glow app. Folks on the other end can use Alexa on an Android or iOS device, and Amazon will bring Fire OS compatibility soon.
Each Amazon Glow device comes with a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+, unlocking Glow’s many games and apps. The app includes “hundreds of hours” of interactive activities, including object scanning, so kids can make virtual stickers to send out or even completing a jigsaw puzzle with Grammy on the other line. Kids can also read along with an adult, play a simple chess game or Go Fish, and draw along with someone else.
Amazon said it collaborated with Disney, Mattel, Nickelodeon, and Sesame Workshop to make interactive content for Glow. It’s opening up development to a “limited set of partners” in the first half of next year to create more content for the Glow platform. It will also be selling Glow Bits learning kits for unlocking additional content. The first Bits kit is a Tangram puzzle game, and it comes bundled with the purchase of Glow.
Of course, the biggest question top of mind for parents is what the parental controls are like. Like on the Echo Show devices, parents can set up the Glow so that kids can only call contacts that parents have approved beforehand. There’s also a privacy shutter on the camera, and a hardware mute button to shut off the microphone. The Glow isn’t Alexa-enabled, so Amazon says it doesn’t collect voice recordings.
Amazon Glow appears to extract some child-centric abilities available in similar devices like Facebook Portal, which has Alexa built in. In addition to enabling video chat, your kid and someone else can read through a virtual book together using Story Time. However, the parental controls on Facebook Portal are limited, and the device has access to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger when it’s unlocked.
Amazon Glow also integrates some of the add-on abilities of tablets like the iPad. You can buy a third-party accessory like the Osmo Projector to get a similar experience of the physical-meets-virtual world of learning and play.
If you’re interested in checking out the device, you can request an invitation to be part of the early access Glow program. The Glow is currently available for an introductory price of $250, though it will retail for $300. Glow comes with a mat and a mat case, too, as well as a two-year guarantee. Amazon says if it breaks, you can return it, and it will replace it for free.
We’ll have to test out the Glow to vet its privacy claims and see how it stacks up to Portal (and FaceTime on an iPad) for connecting kids and family. Stay tuned for a full review.