(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, but we'd recommend the MoKo Shockproof Defender (pictured above in pink).
Amazon Fire Kids Edition
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.
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, setup 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 will still find reference to Fire for Kids or FreeTime on Fire devices (at the time of writing). 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.
Here's what you need to do:
- Setup a child profile in your Amazon Household - you can find that in your Amazon Account settings, under Amazon Household
- That child profile will appear on your Fire tablet, you can switch users by tapping the icons on the lock screen, or by swiping down from the top to change the user.
- In your (the adult's) profile, click on the Amazon Kids icon on the home screen and pick the child profile you want to edit, by tapping the settings cog.
- You'll get the menu to change goals and time limits, manage content, remove content, turn off the web browser, turn off the camera, show or hide the profile on the lock screen.
- You'll be prompted to setup a password on your own profile - or your child can just exit the protected area and switch to your profile instead.
As Amazon Kids is designed for children, it's a safe place and instantly recognisable, turning the background blue, 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.
Children don't get to change settings themselves, so that all has to be handled from the adult profile.
Importantly, when in Amazon Kids mode, there's no access to purchasing from Amazon Apps at all.
Note that you don't have to have a separate Fire tablet to do this, you can use Amazon Kids on any existing Fire tablet you might have.
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 the profile of the child you want to grant access 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. There's no access to in-app purchases, however.
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 - for example within Netflix.
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 $/£49.99 tablet.
It has tiered pricing: it's £1.99/$2.99 a month for Prime subscribers for 1 child, £4.99/$6.99 a month for Prime subscribers up to 4 children. For non-Prime subscribers, it's £3.99/$4.99 a month for 1 child, £7.99/$9.99 a month for up to 4 children. There are options for monthly or yearly subsciptions. 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.