(Pocket-lint) - Kids love tablets. They love the interactive games, they love having access to video to watch and they love all the apps. The big problem is that most adults have a tablet setup for themselves, meaning you're only a few clicks away from content or buying temptations that you don't want in the hands of your child.
One of the best tablets for kids is the Amazon Fire, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the price, secondly, Amazon has put a lot of effort into providing parents with controls to ensure that the Fire is a safe place for kids.
Which Fire tablet should I buy?
Once you've accepted that children don't need the latest and most powerful tech, there are few choices to be made. Amazon sells different versions of its Fire tablet and we'd heartily recommend the basic Fire 7 model, as it's ideal for younger children.
All the Amazon Fire models run on the same user interface and offer the same software features, including all the controls you need to make it safe for your kids. This is an advantage over a regular Android tablet, which doesn't (although Google Family Link has some uses), and it's at least £290 cheaper than an Apple iPad, although if you've bought a lot of iTunes content or have iOS-specific apps in mind, that might be a barrier to your choices.
The regular Amazon Fire 7 tablet is a 7-inch tablet, powered by a quad-core processor and offering Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a microSD card slot for memory expansion. It's a plastic build, but if you're buying it for a child, you'll want a case to provide all-round protection.
The Amazon Fire comes in 16GB or 32GB storage options, and with or without "special offers". Special offers means lock screen advertising and if you really want to protect your kids, opt for no special offers, at £10/$15 more. If you want more storage, that's £10/$20 more too - so you're probably better off with a microSD card.
You'll also want to put it in a case. There are lots of options on Amazon.
Amazon Fire Kids
However, there's a special model specifically for kids and this is an Amazon Fire tablet that comes in a foam bumper cover. It's the same spec as the Amazon Fire above, it comes with 16GB storage and no "special offers", so the tablet itself worth £49.99 and about £5 for the cover. It also comes with a 2-year no quibble guarantee if you/they break it (pictured above in blue).
The big kicker here is that you get a 1-year free subscription to Amazon Kids+. This is a subscription service that provides access to loads of content specifically for children. We'll talk about it more below, but bear in mind that at the end of the year, you'll have to pay, or lose the access it provides.
There are actually now two versions of the Kids version. The regular version is recommended for ages 3-7, while the Fire 7 Kids Pro is for 6-12. The Pro version has a different case so looks a little more grown up, but that's the only real difference.
How to setup your Amazon Fire for kids
Now to the specifics. When you buy an Amazon product, it needs to be registered to an Amazon account. With Amazon allowing Households, it's best to have any child's device (Fire or Kindle) on your account, with a child profile.
This way you don't have to create a new Amazon account for them, you don't have register an email address for them or provide payment details for them, and Amazon knows that the user is a child and can create a space specifically for them on the Fire tablet.
Amazon Fire tablets - like the Kindle - can be split into two areas. The first area is the full interface with full controls, which you'll have access to as an adult, with access to all your content. The second is Amazon Kids (previously Fire for Kids).
How to set-up Amazon Kids
Although the service is now called Amazon Kids (you may still find reference to Fire for Kids or FreeTime on Fire devices, which were previous names for the service). Amazon Kids is a safe area where you can control all the content, set time limits and daily goals, turn off the web browser, turn off the camera and gallery, and so on.
As we said above, you'll need to sign into the tablet with your own Amazon account. That registers the device to you and gives you control of that tablet via Amazon's Parent Dashboard. This means that once setup on the tablet you can control it from another device.
Here's what you need to do on the tablet:
- Once you have registered your tablet, click on the Amazon Kids icon on the home screen. You'll be prompted to setup a password if you don't have one already.
- You'll see the child profiles available to use in Amazon Kids from your Household, or you can setup a new child profile. Tap "continue" when done.
- You'll get to a page that gives you contol over filtered browsing, downloads & purchases, announcements and calling - you can toggle any of these off.
- Alternatively you can use the sliders at the top to select limited, moderate or full access.
- You'll next be asked to device if you'll let your child users see and request content that might be outside their age range - this includes things like Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming apps.
- You'll then be able to select some popular apps for kids to install so there's some content for your child.
- You can then confirm the email address you want to notifications - for example if your child requests an app they don't have access to.
Once you have been through these initial stages, everything is setup for a child user - but Amazon Kids isn't actually running yet. You'll end up on a screen showing the child profiles available. Tap on a child and it will launch into Amazon Kids for that child.
Or, you then have the option to tap the settings cog and drill into all the settings available. That includes removing camera access, setting time limits and daily goals, changing the age filter available to them, and moer granular management of accessible websites, or adding content you might want them to have access to which otherwise isn't included in the normal selection that Amazon Kids offers.
As Amazon Kids is designed for children, it's a safe place and instantly recognisable, changing the design so you can see at a glance that they're in the right zone.
To exit Amazon Kids, they can opt to exit a profile, returning to the lock screen with all the user profile icons on it. This is why it's essential that you have a password on all the adult accounts, to stop them then entering your area and getting full access again.
Adding apps and content to Amazon Kids
One of the things you'll need to do in the regular Amazon Kids app is nominate the content that your children will have access to. This gives you complete vetting, as you'll be responsible for allowing access to various apps and games - unless using Amazon Kids+, which we'll get to in a second.
It's easy enough to add content, but you have to follow these steps:
- In the adult profile, head to Amazon Apps and find the app or game you want, download and install it.
- Open the Amazon Kids app, and open up the settings for the child you want to add content to.
- Tap "Add Content" and you'll get the option to share content on your tablet, add websites or add videos from the web.
- Select the content you want to add. If it's content you have, you'll get to pick apps, books, Audible; if it's websites you get to add the URL; videos takes you to YouTube so you can select videos to allow access.
- Sign back into the child's profile to access the app or content.
This arrangement gives you plenty of freedom to add things you want your child to have access to. While Amazon Kids has some access to content included, divided into themes or characters, you'll likely have some content you want your child to have, especially as they get older. Allowing access to apps and games is within your control, so you can make a decision about what your child has access to - beyond the protections that Amazon provide.
Note that if you install something like a movie streaming service so your child has access to it, you'll have to be responsible for setting any parental controls within that app itself.
The option to add websites or videos from the web means you can find content they specifically like. That will let you add, for example, an educational website, or YouTube you want them to have access to without giving open access to everything on YouTube. Note that you have to do these individually, so it can take some time.
What is Amazon Kids+?
Amazon Kids+ is a label that Amazon applies to further subscription content. This was previously called Fire for Kids Unlimited, or FreeTime Unlimited in the US. As we've mentioned, this is a service that comes free for 1-year with the Fire Kids Edition tablet, but you can also subscribe to it separately, if you'd rather buy the standard tablet.
It has tiered pricing: it's £1.99/$2.99/€2.99 a month for Prime subscribers for 1 child, £4.99/$6.99/€6.99 a month for Prime subscribers up to 4 children. For non-Prime subscribers, it's £3.99/$4.99/€4.99 a month for 1 child, £7.99/$9.99/€9.99 a month for up to 4 children. There are options for monthly or yearly subscriptions. Amazon also offers a free 1-month trial, if you want to give it a go.
Amazon Kids+ provides a couple of benefits over the regular Amazon Kids offering that comes with all Fire tablets. Amazon curates content and makes it available to children through the Fire tablet, so that they have access to age-appropriate books, apps, videos and web content.
This opens up the range of content that's available to children, allowing them to make some additional selections, like accessing more books, without parental intervention. Unlike the content you might assign, this is all verified appropriate by Amazon. You retain the ability to add more content, as above, if you want to.
The Amazon Kids+ content is broken down into different age ranges, something that you can nominate in the child's profile and if you have older children who want more content, opting for Unlimited is a good way of knowing they have access to content without constant requests to buy or grant access to more stuff.
Whether you think that Amazon Kids+ is worth it will very much come down to how much content you think your kids need, how much time they spend pestering you and whether you think the subscription will outweigh the amount you spend on buying fresh content for them.
It's worth noting, however, that books that you download through Amazon Kids+ don't then appear on a Kindle linked to that child's profile.
Of all the child-friendly devices out there, Amazon's approach is one of the most comprehensive. There's a range of sensible options for parental control, from setting time limits to options to grant or provide age-appropriate content.
Best of all, your child's account remains under the umbrella of your Household and you are firmly in control, whether that's through their own tablet, your tablet, or from your web browser.