Amazon's Echo for Kids Is a Dot With a Case, Cuter Responses, and Parental Controls

Illustration for article titled Amazon's Echo for Kids Is a Dot With a Case, Cuter Responses, and Parental Controls
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The age of digital assistants is already here, and with them, we have easy-to-use disembodied voices that attempt to answer our every beck and call. However, sometimes those answers aren’t exactly things you’d want a child to hear (Warning: NSFW audio), so Amazon went and created a version of Alexa specifically meant for kids.

Starting at $80, the new Echo Dot Kids Edition is, at a hardware level, basically just a standard Dot that comes with a durable, colored sleeve (available in red, green, and blue). It’s also bundled with a one-year subscription to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited and a two-year “worry free” guarantee, so if your Dot for kids breaks, Amazon will replace it for free.

FreeTime Unlimited’s main benefit is a collection of child-friendly content that includes kid-focused skills, over 300 Audible books, and a number of ad-free radio stations and playlists from Radio Disney, iHeartRadio Family and others. There’s also a new Parent Dashboard app that can be used to limit what kids can do with the device, restrict how long or at what times they can use Alexa, prevent the Echo from playing music with explicit lyrics, and more.


But perhaps the biggest change is that Amazon’s digital assistant has a new way of interacting with children thanks to new kid-friendly programming for Alexa. According to Buzzfeed, some of these new features include some kind of reward every time kids say “please,” and more forgiving voice recognition that allows kids to say “Awexa” instead of Alexa.

Amazon even changed the responses to certain questions so that when asked where babies come from, Alexa will reply ““People make people, but how they’re made would be a better question for a grown-up.” Or if a kid is having problems at school and asks Alexa “Why are kids mean to me?” Alexa will respond by saying “People bully, or are mean, for many different reasons. Bullying feels bad and is never okay. If you or someone else is being bullied, please know that there are lots of folks who can help you. You should talk with your parents, a teacher, or another trusted grown-up about it.”

Having Alexa defer to parents is a small but important change, as it shows that Amazon recognizes that a digital assistant shouldn’t be the one giving advice to kids, while also encouraging children to talk about the issue with their parents.

For people who already have a spare Echo lying around, the good news is that you don’t need to buy a whole new device to have access to Alexa’s kid-centric programming. Starting May 9th, parents can get FreeTime on Alexa for free, which includes the new parental dashboard and kid-centric responses, or pay $3 a month for FreeTime Unlimited to access the whole collection of kid-friendly Alexa content.



Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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Alexa had incredible trouble with my TV. Every time an Alexa commercial came on, it responded, but it had a 50/50 success rate when my wife or I talked. We sent it back in the end - it didn’t bring anything remotely useful to the house.

I’ve found you have to be ultra-specific to get anything meaningful out of these assistants. “What’s on my calendar this weekend?” draws a total blank, but “What are my appointments on saturday” works.

I’ve also found that if you pause even slightly, they tend to stop listening so they get half a question or half a sentence. Dictating a text or email is an exercise in futility because I always end up having to go and manually fix all the mistakes.

Asking genuinely useful things like “what time is my flight on saturday?” or “what are the showtimes for the new Avengers movie at my local cinema tonight?” are - in my experience - beyond all of these assistants right now. They don’t seem to be able to deal with context or complex multi-part commands. 

With Siri (I’m English) I had to set it to Australian before it caught even 25% of what I was saying. When I had it set to UK English, or US English, it’s hit rate was almost absolute zero.