(Pocket-lint) - Besides being a gateway to adventures and the discovery of new worlds and experiences, giving children access to books is one of the important aspects of early years development: it develops not only language skills, but imagination and empathy too.
We've always said that the Amazon Kindle is no replacement for the visceral feel and smell of a book – but it's a mite more convenient, as a library in its own cover, and is fantastic for reading when you can't access a ready stream of paperbacks.
With the Kindle already offering a range of features specifically for kids, can the Kids Edition go one better?
A great Kindle, with added protection
- Based around standard Kindle
- 6-inch 167ppi E Ink display
- Front illumination
- Weeks of battery life
- Comes with a case
The Kindle Kids Edition contains the entry-level Kindle – which we've fully reviewed here – so there's a strong starting point for this new offering from Amazon. It has a 6-inch display with front lighting and uses E Ink, so this isn't a tablet, it's designed for reading books.
The lighting on the front is a great addition. It's now a standard feature across Amazon's full range of Kindle devices and it means that the device can be read whether there's any light in the room or not.
When it comes to kids, that could be a slight disadvantage. You might turn off the bedroom light, but this Kindle's illumination means they can still read after lights-out time. Is that a bad thing? Is extra reading a negative? We'd argue it's nowhere near as negative as playing on an iPad instead of sleeping, but the advantage of illumination outweighs the downsides.
We've often used Kindles when camping and travelling – and front illumination means there's no need for a torch. When it comes to camping, that's a huge advantage. Yes, again it might mean they're quietly reading in the dark when they are supposed to be sleeping, but it also means they can read on a long flight without an extra light, or in the back of a car after the sun has set.
There's no waterproofing on this model of Kindle (and we've had one Kindle dropped in a paddling pool and one in the bath over the past few years), but there is a two-year warranty. There's also a cover – in blue or pink (in the UK); or with space station or bird designs (in the US) – which provide a degree of protection for the display and the rest of the device. The cover simply clips over the Kindle and while it's recommended that you use it, if you decide that you no longer want to then you can swap it for any other Kindle cover.
The Kindle battery lasts for weeks rather than hours. Thanks to the efficiency of the display technology, this isn't like a tablet that constantly needs charging, but at the same time it doesn't have all the functions that you'd get from a Fire Kids Edition tablet either.
A complete Kindle experience
- Secure area for kids to read
- Parental controls
While we've outlined that the hardware you get is essentially the same if you bought the regular Kindle, you'll find that the software is too.
That's a good thing: it means that while there's a lot in the Kindle to cater for children and making sure they can only access appropriate content, this isn't like buying a kid's toy – the software on this device is the same as you get on other Kindles. It's the complete experience.
So you might be buying this for a child, but it's perfectly capable of giving any adult the full Kindle experience too. That means access to the Kindle Store for buying books, it means support for Audible books, listing via Bluetooth headphones, and all the dictionary functions that Kindles offer.
Beyond that, there's the secure space you can use to put this in your kids hands and know that they can only access the books you want them to read. Called Fire for Kids in the UK, or FreeTime in the US, this creates a separate space for a child (or children) that's password protected, so that when they turn on their Kindle, they get the experience that's designed for them and they can't get to the "adult" side of the device. That means kids can't buy anything on your Amazon account or get to your copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.
There's one difference to "normal" Kindles and that's the wallpaper you get in standby. On a normal Kindles you get various scholarly scenes – some pens, typesetting sorts, some folded newspapers – but on the Kids Edition you have kids characters and cartoon drawings, which gives it a bit of a lift.
With that in mind, there's nothing to stop you opting for the cheaper Kindle, setting up FreeTime or Fire for Kids, and being done with it – but what you're really buying in the Kindle Kids Edition is the bundle.
- 1-year subscription
- Access to lots more content
- It's hassle-free
A big part of the reason to buy the Kid's Edition is the included year of FreeTime Unlimited (in the US) or Fire for Kids Unlimited (in the UK) subscription. Why Amazon can't just align its naming, we don't know.
This subscription is bundled into the price and gives you a year of access to content that's age-appropriate. When you set up your kids' profiles you'll be asked their ages and then content that falls into that age range is made available through the Unlimited subscription. It's the same as Kindle Unlimited for adults, but it's tailor-made for kids.
There's a huge advantage that comes with it, too, because it gives the child access to that content without the adult having to be involved. That means they can read the Harry Potter novels and then go on to find something similar and carry on reading, without you having to search for it and make it available to them.
So that's really two advantages: firstly, slightly older kids can find their own content and read it without you having to do anything; secondly, you're not having to pay for each piece of content they want to read.
Again, as we've pointed out previously, you don't actually have to have the Kindle Kids Edition to get access to Unlimited – it's a subscription you an opt into on any Kindle device – but the bundled year of access does add some value to this Kindle. We've found in our review device that we have access for up to four kids for the year – and that would normally cost you £49 if you're a Prime subscriber, or £79 if you're not.
Content, as they say, is king – and Amazon's gamble here is that you'll continue with these subscriptions after the first year is up. What's hard to assess is whether there will be enough fresh content on an ongoing basis to make that worthwhile. Our experience is that often kids find content and read it so it feels worthwhile – and there's the bonus that it applies across Amazon devices, so will also apply to the Fire tablet too, if you happen to have one.
Do I need to buy a Kids Edition Kindle for my kids?
Just so that we're clear, we're addressing this point as a standalone. No, you don't have to buy the Kindle Kids Edition to get access to the controlled reading environment designed for kids – that's available on all Kindle devices. Equally, you don't have to have the Kids Edition to get access to the Unlimited reading option either.
Built from an already strong device – that's the latest Amazon Kindle with its front lighting – there's little to criticise about the Kindle Kids Edition. It's effectively the same with a subscription package aimed at kids, and comes with a good quality case and warranty too. So it's a great reading device, offering a great experience whether that's in the hands of children or that of an adult.
From a software standpoint this is the same overall experience as any other Kindle, but the included year of Fire for Kids Unlimited/FreeTime Unlimited tips the balance – it means lots more appropriate content without you as a parent having to constantly buy and share that content with your child. It puts them in control, while fencing off stuff that's not age-appropriate.
If you're looking to get a Kindle for your child or children, then the Kindle Kids Edition is a no-brainer. Unless you happen to have recent Kindle devices lying around that you're not using, then this is the one to buy.
It's no surprise that the only real alternative to the Amazon Kindle is a different model. This is the Kindle that comes in the Kids Edition bundle. It's a cheaper initial outlay than the Kids Edition, so provides an alternative route to getting into the Kindle groove.