(Pocket-lint) – Previously available in the US, Amazon has now launched a UK version of the latest Echo Dot Kids. The hardware is exactly the same as the 4th generation Echo Dot (2020) – which we said was more like an ‘Echo Mini’ rather than the underpowered speaker of old.
An Echo Dot for Kids has been around in the US since 2018. The reason for the delay in bringing the Kids experience to the UK is simple, says Amazon: a lot of localisation work needs to take place. So was it worth the wait and do we really need a voice-controlled organiser for our kids?
What do you get?
- Tiger or Panda design, aimed at 3+
- 1.6-inch speaker, 3.5mm audio out
- 2-year guarantee
The Echo Dot Kids is for kids aged three and up, costing around £10/$10 more than the standard equivalent because it features either a fun Tiger or Panda design – as you can see from our pictures.
It comes with Amazon Parent dashboard parental controls and a two-year guarantee that, just like Amazon’s Fire Kids tablets, means you can get a no-questions-asked replacement if the worst happens. However, to break one of these would mean some serious abuse – they’re quite weighty and should survive bumps no problem… but you know what kids can be like.
The Echo Dot Kids also comes with a year’s subscription to Amazon Kids+ – essentially a safe space with a collection of filtered content.
The Kids device is the same as the standard Echo Dot (2020) internally, so it’s actually pretty decent for music and voice. That said, its 1.6-inch speaker isn’t a patch on the standard (and larger) fourth-generation Echo, but it’s certainly more than enough for a bedroom. There’s also a 3.5mm audio line out to connect it up to other speakers should you want.
As with any other Echo device, setup is a relatively simple process that takes place using the Alexa app. When you plug in newer Echo devices, they’re automatically detected by the app and you can apply the Wi-Fi settings already stored if you have another Echo device already.
Once the basic Echo setup has taken place, any updates will download. The app will ask you to agree to the year’s trial of Amazon Kids+ as well as Amazon storing this information about your children – all the information about your children will be connected to your own Amazon account.
You’ll then be shown a few more screens of how you can explore Kids+, though the box has both a booklet for you and one for your kids to take them through some basic commands.
Alexa and Amazon Kids+
- Simple commands for children
- Age-appropriate Alexa responses
- Alexa Announcements supported
- One-year family-plan subscription to Amazon Kids+ included
Amazon says it has put a lot of work into making Alexa child-friendly. You might have heard of Alexa’s ‘positive reinforcement’ where it says “thanks for asking nicely” if you follow up requests with “please”.
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There’s also been a lot of further work to localise Alexa’s kid-friendliness for the UK, including a lot of real-world testing. There are also several things children can say to get started with suggestions about what to do, including “Alexa, I’m bored”, “Alexa, let’s play”, or “Alexa, let’s go”. You can also ask to play a game/quiz or hear a song. So children don’t necessarily need to know other commands to get going.
That’s quite good in our book, although you’ll probably find that children tend to fall back on the Alexa commands you use yourself – that certainly happened to us – so Alexa is asked for music, and so forth.
Amazon makes the point that Alexa is designed to make age-appropriate responses to questions on this device – an example is asking how many planets there are. Asking Alexa on a standard Echo will give you a factual response – “eight in our solar system, but many more beyond that” – whereas the Kids response gives them more context.
Announcements are supported – i.e. the ability to send recorded audio to be played back immediately on a compatible Alexa device without the household account – so you could, say, call up when it’s time for dinner. But it’s also worth noting that your children can also make Announcements… we certainly aren’t planning to tell ours that this is a possibility.
Amazon Kids+ is the service that’s previously been available on other Amazon devices, but is now available on Alexa in the UK. This gives kids access to 170 Audible children’s books – including titles from David Walliams, C S Lewis and Michael Bond – 10 ad-free radio stations from Fun Kids, plus a bunch of skills from Disney, Harry Potter, Gruffalo, Alphablocks, Numberblocks, Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place Kids, Bing Time, Gruffalo Move, and more. You’re also able to set an alarm call from one of their favourite characters, too.
After your Kids+ trial ends, you’ll be charged $2.99/£1.99 a month to keep it going – providing you’re already a Prime member (it’s more if you’re not). Amazon says more than 20 million children worldwide are using Amazon Kids.
- Everything is controlled in the Amazon Parent Dashboard
- You can set bedtimes or turn off access completely
- Voice purchasing turned off
- Explicit lyrics blocked on Amazon Music, Apple Music or Spotify
Privacy is obviously a key concern with anything you have in your child’s room or playroom. It’s always going to be a leap of faith as a parent that your child won’t be able to access stuff they shouldn’t be able to.
The Amazon Parent Dashboard is your friend here as – like with Amazon’s Fire tablets and Kindles aimed at children – you can restrict access times and the types of content and Skills they can access. You’re also able to see what activities they’ve used and for how long.
Some standard Alexa stuff is off permanently, including voice purchasing. Children can, however, make announcements to other Alexa devices in the home and they can call other devices. You’re also able to set specific contacts they can call if you want to, such as a grandparent – you can set this up in the Alexa app. Explicit lyrics on Amazon Music, Apple Music or Spotify are also blocked (yes, not just on Amazon Music) even if you don’t have this setup yourself on your music service account.
And, should you want, you can also mute the microphone on the Echo Dot Kids just as you can on other Echo devices. You can enable or disable Smart Home Access in the Parent Dashboard, meaning children can command your home’s Alexa-enabled devices with their voice. Note that you can completely suspend use of the device in Parent Dashboard if you need to further restrict access.
The Echo Dot Kids is designed as a safe space and, really, portal into a Kids+ subscription for all the age-appropriate content that brings.
Whether you would like your kids to have a smart speaker is up to you entirely. But if that particular parental minefield/floodgate has already been opened then there’s no better way for your children to use a smart assistant.
And even if you don’t intend to renew the Kids+ subscription after the year-long bundled trial, the extras such as the explicit music filter, kid-friendly Alexa responses, and two-year worry-free guarantee bring added peace of mind.
The tiger or panda designs are pretty cool, too, but we do think they’re unlikely to appeal to older children – and that could be an issue for would-be purchasers. Indeed, those may opt for the cheaper and better-sounding Echo Dot instead, which could be more fitting for the whole family.
Amazon Echo Dot with Clock
For older kids, the standard Echo Dot is probably a better choice than Echo Dot Kids. However, our favourite version remains this one with a clock on the front. OK, so having the time displayed on something is hardly an incredible tech achievement, but it makes a lot of sense when you’ve got it on your nightstand.
Google Nest Mini
As smart as the Echo Dot, but with Google Assistant, the Nest Mini is compact and also features perfectly reasonable sound quality. However, it lacks the child-friendly aspect.
Writing by Dan Grabham.