Kindle Fire Pros:
Parental controls (flawed but the best I’ve found)
Kindle Fire Cons:
Back in February Calvin dropped our iPad2 one time too many times and it finally died. I am impressed by how long it lasted and, in general, have been fairly satisfied the iPad2. The one glaring exception to this is Apple’s parental controls. Because of this, I decided it was time to try out another tablet and see if it worked any better. I briefly considered a Windows tablet and discarded it fairly quickly. Their parental controls are significantly better than Apples but the apps just aren’t there. Android was the next obvious choice which I seriously considered for a while but eventually decided to try out the Amazon Fire Kids Edition1.
Parental controls were the main reason I decided to give the Amazon Fire a try. That, in combination with the very low price and generous replacement policy (for the kids edition), made it worth gambling on a new software ecosystem2. I debated going with the basic tablet instead of getting the kids edition specifically. The advantage of the Kids edition is it comes with a protective cover, a 2-year no questions asked replacement, and a year subscription to Amazon Freetime.
The Fire arrived a little over a week ago. I plugged it in and waited about an hour for all the downloading, updating, and configuring to finish. Once it was read, I added a 64 GB MicroSD card and then jumped right to setting up a profile for Calvin.
In general, the parental controls do what I want. There’s a Bedtime start and stop feature as well as time limits for three categories: books, videos, apps. There are two major downsides with Amazon’s implementation: it’s definition of “books” and lack of Audible support.
The biggest downside to Amazon’s time limit categories is they’re tightly tied to the Amazon ecosystem. So, when it says “books” it means Kindle books. There isn’t a way to designate the Overdrive or OneClickDigital apps as “book” apps. The same is true with videos. In retrospect I was disappointed but not surprised. The tablet is obviously meant as an entry-level drug to further enmesh people into Amazon’s store. However, Calvin spends at least 75% of his time listening to audiobooks so it was very important I find a way to provide unlimited audiobook listening without allowing unlimited app usage. My first solution was to disable Freetime and remove all apps except Overdrive. However, later I realized a better work around existed: I created a second profile for Calvin. The first profile only has Overdrive and OneClickDigital and allows unlimited use outside of bedtime hours. The second profile has Freetime enabled and only allows 1 hour of usage. Neither profile is locked so Calvin is free to switch back and forth as long as he hasn’t run out of time in the Freetime profile. So far this kludgy workaround does what I need.
I was very disappointed to learn that Audible books cannot be added to a Kid profile. I am strongly in the camp that audiobooks count as reading. In addition, the Kindle app I have on my phone has an absolutely fantastic feature where it highlights the individual words as the audiobook is read. I was flabbergasted that this isn’t an option in the Kids profile.
The other fascinating bug I’ve found is Overdrive audiobooks do not turn off at bedtime. Calvin is locked out of the profile and can’t stop the audiobook or switch to another one but the existing audiobook keeps playing. The easiest way to stop this is to choose to login as another user. While this isn’t ideal, I think it’s something I can live with.
Meh. The apps don’t meet the standard I would normally use but realistically they’re fine, particularly if used for only an hour a day. However, I won’t renew the subscription after the first year.
No videos on the SD Card can be added to the child accounts. In order to let Calvin watch non-Amazon movies we own I have to switch him to my profile. Also, as mentioned above, he has to be switched to my profile to listen to any Audible books or use the read-along feature.
Storage Space and WiFi requirement
There are so many problems with storage that I don’t know where to start. I knew 8 GB was not enough space to do anything with. I naively assumed I could deal with this by having most things on the MicroSD card. I do have “Install Supported Apps on Your SD Card” as well as “Store Photos and Personal Videos on Your SD Card” but it’s not enough.
When you run out of storage Wifi is disabled. However, deleting any apps in the parentally controlled accounts, including apps downloaded by the child using Freetime, requires Wifi. In addition, in order to modify “add content” to a child’s profile it can’t be in airplane mode.
There’s also a huge number of required apps that I can’t delete and 1) take up storage space and 2) clutter up my display.
I prefer iPads. The Kindle is meeting basic requirements and we can usually force it to work but it’s a huge pain to deal with. Not finding Calvin playing apps in the middle of the night is a big plus but the Kindle is enough of a pain that in the future I’ll probably just go back to using the iPad.