Amazon debuts new Echo devices, including Echo Studio with spatial audio

During Amazon’s hardware event this morning, the company announced new Alexa-powered Echo devices including new Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock models. One of the more notable upgrades is Eero Built-in for Echo Dot, which allows Echo Dot devices to serve as Wi-Fi extenders for existing Eero networks.

The Echo Studio — which now comes in a new color, Glacier White — isn’t getting hardware-level improvements. Instead, an over-the-air upgrade will bring spatial audio processing technology that builds on Amazon’s 3D audio to existing Echo Studio devices, designed to offer greater “width” and clarity than standard stereo audio. (Spatial audio is a feature of the Amazon Music Unlimited service, which costs $8.99 a month.) The smart speaker’s frequency range extension tech, another new addition via forthcoming new software, ostensibly delivers better playback performance by improving the mid-range clarity and deepening the bass.

Amazon Echo Studio

Image Credits: Amazon

As for the upgraded Echo Dot, which does feature new hardware, it has a redesigned architecture that squeezes a larger speaker into housing that’s the same size as the previous generation — leading to clearer vocals and twice the bass. An enhanced, brighter and higher-resolution display on the Echo Dot with Clock model shows more information, including the time. And new sensors — an accelerometer and temperature sensor — and Amazon’s AZ2 neural edge processor enable things like more tap gesture controls (e.g., tapping the top of the device to pause and restart music, stop a timer or end a call), asking Alexa for the room temperature and triggering temperature-based routines.

The new Echo Dot is also the first to ship with the aforementioned Eero Built-in, which adds up to 1,000 square feet of coverage to an existing Eero wireless network. Fourth-gen Echo Dots including the old Echo Dot with Clock will receive a firmware update that enables this in the coming months, Amazon said.

The improved Echo Dot will be available for $49.99, while the new Echo Dot with Clock will be priced at $59.99. They’re available for pre-order today and will ship next month alongside two new designs for Echo Dot for Kids, Owl and Dragon, both of which will come with a year of Amazon’s kid-focused content service, Amazon Kids+.

read more about Amazon's fall event, September 28, 2022

Amazon debuts new Echo devices, including Echo Studio with spatial audio by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

An Echo Dot designed by Diane von Furstenberg? Yeah, sure, why not

Earlier this year, Amazon launched Build It, a fun little program that lets customers preorder concept devices. Think about it like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, where the company will only actually make the product if enough people buy-in via preorder. Obviously Amazon has a significantly larger ability to absorb a misstep than your average first-time hardware startup, but I digress.

This latest round isn’t particularly experimental as far as these things go. The company partnered with fashion mogul Diane von Furstenberg to create new coverings for its popular entry-level smart speaker. The Echo Dot x Diane von Furstenberg is being offered up in three varieties: Midnight Kiss, Ikat or Twigs. It’s not exactly thew new product entries we saw the first time out, which included a sticky note printer, smart scale and Alexa cuckoo clock.

Image Credits: Amazon

Each runs $59 — the price of the Echo Dot with clock and $10 more than the standard Dot. The product looks to otherwise be the same as the latest gen Echo Dot. The company says it will be donating to Vital Voices, a charity chosen by the designer — though it wouldn’t specify how much when we asked.

Preorders open now and close August 13. If the designs don’t hit their goal, customers won’t be charged. Once they’re live, “a select number of successful prints may be available at full price after the campaign closes, while supplies last,” according to Amazon.

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Amazon Echo Dot with Clock review: A mostly aesthetic update

It’s been a busy few weeks for smart speakers. Amazon kicked things off in late September with newer, rounder versions of both the Echo and Echo Dot. Less than a week later, Google updated the Home, after four years, with the rebranded Nest Audio. And then, last week, Apple unveiled the long-awaited $99 HomePod Mini, finally delivering an affordable version of its Siri speaker.

Amazon, for its part, has easily offered the most regular refreshes of the three. Both the Echo and Echo Dot are currently on their fourth iterations. The Echo Dot with Clock is only on its second (having just been introduced), but for all intents and purposes, the device is basically an Echo Dot — but, you know, with a clock.

The latest update to the line finds the company offering a kind of design uniformity across the smart speakers. The Dot really does look like a diminutive version of the standard Echo. I wasn’t entirely sure how large a difference there would be between the two products, but it’s definitely pronounced. The Echo is the size of a large grapefruit and the Dot is essentially the size of a softball.

The Dot’s size lends it a good deal more flexibility in terms of placement. I could definitely see placing them in nooks and crannies throughout my place to create a kind of makeshift sound system (though the in-box cable is on the short side, so you’ll likely need an extension if you’re not close to an outlet).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The majority of the speaker is covered in fabric, though the hard plastic bottom arcs up on the back of the device, occupying a large portion of the back. This allows for the inclusion of two ports (power and auxiliary audio out), though it also limits the speaker surface area on the device, restricting a full 360 approach unlike the older hockey puck design. As such, the speaker is just front-facing, in spite of the round design.

The new Echo devices, it’s worth noting, are one in a growing number of devices from big companies that are included as part of a push toward climate consciousness. I won’t really address Amazon’s larger overall carbon footprint here, but it’s nice to see some of that trickling down into these products. According to the company, the plastics are 50% post-consumer recycled, while the fabric and aluminum (including the capable and adapter) are both 100%.

The setup process is as simple as ever. Tap a couple of buttons on the connected Echo app and you should be up and running. The status light ring has been moved to the bottom of the device — that seems to be more of a practical choice than anything. After all, the standard light ring wouldn’t really work at the top of a round, fabric-covered device.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Whether that’s a net positive kind of depends on where you put the Echo. If it’s around eye-level, great. If it’s below that, it moves the ring out of view, and you may have to rely on seeing how it reflects off the surface it’s sitting on. For my own use, it’s a small step in the wrong direction. The digital clock (the big differentiator between the two Dots) is also a bit low on the ball, leaving a lot of blank surface area up top.

Again, I think Amazon is anticipating people will stick it around eye level, which is certainly the case if you primarily use the clock while lying in bed. The clock itself is plenty bright. And honestly, it’s nice just having a simple digital display sometimes, versus a full-on smart screen. That’s especially the case if you plan to stick it near your bed. That, after all, is supposed to be a kind of refuge from screens. That’s doubly important these days when we’re seemingly never not in front of one.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

That said, the uses for the face are pretty much limited. You get a “Hello” at launch, the time (naturally), the weather when prompted and the volume level. That last bit can be adjusted with voice or with a pair of physical buttons up top. Those are joined by the Alexa button, which fires up the assistant and the always-important microphone off. That turns red when you tap it, along with a red ring on the bottom of the device to let you known the speaker has stopped listening until it’s reenabled.

The sound quality is basically the same — which is to say, kind of what you’d expect from a $50 to $60 smart speaker. It’s good for all of the voice functionality you need, but I certainly wouldn’t rely on it as my default home speaker — even with a couple of them paired up. As an alarm clock, however, sure, go for it. It certainly beats the speaker on your phone.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The $10 price difference between the Dot and Dot with Clock is a bit of a weird one. I’d anticipate in future generations, Amazon will just combine them into one product, priced the same as the standard Dot. For now, however, telling time at a glance is going to cost you a little extra.

The new Echo arrives October 22. The Dot with Clock won’t be available until November 5.

Amazon redesigns Echo Dot as a sphere, adds animal designs and reading feature for Kids Edition

Amazon today introduced a redesign of its best-selling smart speaker, the Echo Dot. The company is bringing a new spherical design to the Echo Dot, Echo Dot with Clock and a new Echo Dot Kids Edition — the latter which now features colorful animal character designs. Instead of a flatter, hockey puck-shaped device that can better be hidden on shelves, the updated Dot designs mean consumers will have to think more about where they’re placed in the room.

The Dot and Dot with Clock will come in Charcoal, Glacier White, and Twilight Blue colors. The Kids Edition will now be available with either a tiger or panda design to also make them feel more like room décor.

The devices will also include a 1.6-inch, front-firing speaker, producing crisp vocals and balanced bass for full sound, Amazon claims.

The actual functionality provided by the new Dot hasn’t changed as much. It still offers access to the Alexa smart assistant, music, skills, news, reminders, lists, alarms and more.

Kids Edition devices also come with kid-friendly responses, and allow kids to listen thousands of Audible books from brands like Disney, Nickelodeon, and National Geographic, among others.

Another new Alexa feature, Reading Sidekick, has been designed to complement kids’ reading routines, and helps them build fluency.

When this launches, Alexa will take turns reading from a supported book with the child then listen for quality of reading. It will offer encouragement when the child is reading well and support when the child struggles, Amazon says. Reading Sidekick at launch will work with hundreds of children’s books and will be available in preview for Amazon Kids+ families in the months ahead.

In another move to cater to parents, Amazon says the Amazon Kids parental controls will be expanded to work all over the house, not just on their Echo Dot Kids Edition. Plus, parents will be able to create an Alexa voice profile for their kids.

Once enabled, Alexa will shift to the Kids Alexa experience whenever it recognizes the child’s voice—on any device in the household—and then provide kid-friendly responses, games, skills, music, and more. Those families who subscribe to Amazon Kids+ will have access to all the kids’ favorite premium skills and Audible books, as part of that catalog.

A preview of Alexa voice profiles for kids will begin rolling out for Amazon Kids and Amazon Kids+ families in the coming months.

Echo Dot Kids Edition will be available for pre-order today for only $59.99 and will ship later this year.

The Echo Dot will be available for pre-order today for $49.99 and will ship later this year. The Echo Dot with clock option will cost $59.99.

Amazon’s new Echo Dot With Clock is a new Echo Dot that has a clock

Today’s deluge of Amazon hardware kicked off with a new addition to the Echo Dot line, the Echo Dot With Clock. That’s it. That’s the name. It is, as advertised, an Echo dot with a digital alarm clock built into the front, next to the speaker grille.

The new version of Amazon’s insanely popular entry level smart speaker doesn’t replace the current Dot, but will instead exist along side it in the company’s current Echo lineup. It’s available for pre-order starting today, priced at an extremely reasonable $59 — that’s $10 more than the standard Dot.

Like the Echo Spot and Echo Show 5, the Echo Dot With Clock seems well suited to serve as a bedside alarm clock. Though, honestly, the lack of a display and camera could make it even more appealing for that purpose, given the laundry list of privacy concerns the company laid out at the top of the event.

The addition of a built-in clock also gives the product added utility beyond serving as a smart speaker. It’s a clever touch and Amazon’s bound to sell a ton of the things.

Amazon sells over 175M items during Prime Day 2019, more than Black Friday & Cyber Monday combined

Amid worker protests and antitrust investigations, Amazon’s Prime Day sales event carried on as usual — and that means it again set new records for the online retailer. This time, Amazon says Prime Day 2019 was bigger than both Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, as Prime members purchased more than 175 million items during the event.

While last year’s Prime Day 2018 became the biggest sales day in Amazon history, it’s getting harder to directly compare one Prime Day sale with another, because Amazon keeps stretching them out.

Prime Day 2019, for example, was a full 48-hour sale, up from 36 hours last year and 30 hours the year before.

What we are able to tell, however, is that people will continue to shop as long as there are bargains being offered. During Prime Day 2018’s 36-hour sale, Prime members bought 100 million items. During this year’s 48-hour sale, members purchased over 175 million items. (Neither calculation includes Whole Foods sales.)

Amazon has also succeeded in making Prime Day bigger than its Black Friday online sales, thanks to its deep discounts — often at cost or below — on its own hardware devices, like the popular Echo speakers or Fire TV.

This year’s two-day sale was larger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2018 sales put together, Amazon says.

The retailer also notes that Prime Day was the biggest sales event for Amazon devices. Again, the top-sellers worldwide continued to be the Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, and the Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote. The Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick were top-selling devices yesterday, and it’s not surprising to see them again win this title as they have for several years in a row.

The Echo Dot, in particular, hit its lowest-ever price point of $22 and was bundled in with some other Alexa device deals, almost as a giveaway.

“We want to thank Prime members all around the world,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in a statement. “Members purchased millions of Alexa-enabled devices, received tens of millions of dollars in savings by shopping from Whole Foods Market and bought more than $2 billion of products from independent small and medium-sized businesses. Huge thank you to Amazonians everywhere who made this day possible for customers.”

In addition, Amazon claims a record number of U.S. Prime members shopped the site during Prime Day. But given the sale length and the growth in membership — there are now over 100 million worldwide members — this is not the most difficult milestone to achieve.

In the U.S., Prime member bought more than 100,000 lunchboxes, 100,000 laptops, 200,000 TVs, 300,000 headphones, 350,000 luxury beauty products, 400,000 pet products, 650,000 household cleaning supplies, and more than one million toys, says Amazon. They also bought over 200,000 LifeStraw Personal Water Filters and 150,000 Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips Kits, and saved “tens of millions” by shopping Amazon-owned Whole Foods.

Other top sellers in the U.S. included the Instant Pot DUO60 and 23andMe Health + Ancestry kits.

Amazon also sold millions of smart home devices, including iRobot Roomba 690 Robot Vacuum, MyQ Smart Garage Door Opener Chamberlain MYQ-G0301, and Amazon Smart Plug. It doubled the sales of the Ring and Blink devices, as well as Fire TV Edition TVs, versus last year, when comparing a two-day period. It sold 6x the number of eero devices compared with any other prior sale. And it sold more than ever Fire tablets, Kindle devices, and Alexa with screens (Echo Show and Echo Show 5.)

The largest and most important aspect to Prime Day is not ultimately the sales themselves, but the Prime memberships. This locks in consumers to Amazon’s e-commerce ecosystem for a year, and gives Amazon a chance to win their loyalty when it comes time to resubscribe.

This year, Prime Day’s effect on new subscriptions also improved, with Amazon signing up more new Prime members on July 15 than on any other day ever, and July 16 nearly hit that milestone as well.

In total, Amazon says Prime members worldwide saved over a billion dollars on purchases, and millions of items shipped in one day or faster.

 

Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick are again Prime Day’s best selling devices

Amazon Prime members again snapped up loss leaders like the Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick with Alexa Remote on the first day of Amazon Prime Day 2019, which has now been stretched out to a 48-hour sale. This is the third year in a row that the entry-level Alexa smart speaker, the Echo Dot, has been a Prime Day bestseller. The Fire TV Stick was a top seller last year, too, and sold well in years past — including in 2016, when it emerged at the overall best-selling device globally on Prime Day.

Amazon never provides hard numbers on Prime Day sales, but claims “millions” of these devices — the Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick combined — were sold on Monday to customers worldwide during the first day of Prime Day 2019.

Last year, Amazon claimed customers bought “millions” of Fire TV Stick devices alone, for comparison’s sake.

The retailer also said this morning that U.S. shoppers saved “millions” on Prime Day sales on Monday. This includes other bestsellers like the Instant Pot DUO Plus 60 6 Qt, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, and Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitening Strips. The Instant Pot and LifeStraw filter were also two of the non-Amazon top sellers last Prime Day, which says something about the consistency of this sales event as it enters its fifth year.

Though Amazon didn’t officially list the Echo Dot in its round-up of July 15 Prime Day sales, the smart speaker had already been discounted to its then lowest price ever of $24.99 (half off list) before Prime Day even started. As the event kicked off, it dropped again to $22.

echo show 5

Today, Amazon is keeping the Echo Dot at $22 but is sold out of Charcoal, leaving only the lighter sandstone color available for purchase.

Other notable Day 2 Prime Day deals include:

A $49.99 Echo Show 5 (the smaller, more compact revamp of the Alexa speaker with a screen); savings of up to $140 on Fire TV Edition smart TVs; the $14.99 Fire TV Stick with Alexa Remote; a $59.99 Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet (or 2 for $99.98); and the $139 Ring Video Doorbell 2.

A list of the announced Prime Day, day 2 deals are below:

Amazon Devices:

  • $27.99 off Echo Dot, $22
  • $40 off the all-new Echo Show 5, $49.99
  • $25 off Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, $14.99
  • Save up to $140 on Fire TV Edition Smart TVs
  • $20 off the all-new Fire 7 tablet, just $29.99, or get two for $49.98—a $50 savings
  • $40 off all-new Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet, just $59.99, or get two for $99.98—a $100 savings
  • $60 off Ring Video Doorbell 2, $139
  • Save up to $200 on eero WiFi systems
  • Save up to $50 on Kindle Paperwhite, plus get a $5 eBook credit and three months free Kindle Unlimited

Amazon Brands and Exclusives:

  • Save up to 50% on kids and baby styles from Simple Joys by Carter’s, LOOK by crewcuts, Spotted Zebra, and Amazon Essentials
  • Save up to 30% on furniture and décor from Rivet, Stone & Beam, and Ravenna Home

Electronics:

  • Save up to 25% on select Canon Mirrorless and DSLR cameras
  • Save up to 30% of select Sony and Samsung TVs

Apparel:

  • Save up to 40% off Ray-Ban sunglasses
  • Up to 50% off Dockers clothing and more
  • Deep discounts on Champion hoodies and Herschel Little America backpacks

Smart Home:

  • Save up to 50% off select Sony LED Smart TVs
  • Save up to 30% on Tile
  • Save up to 30% on iRobot Robotic Vacuums

Home, Kitchen & Furniture:

  • Save up to 30% on Blue Pure Air Purifier
  • Save on select Winix Air Purifiers
  • Save on Hoover ONEPWR vacuums
  • Save on Philips XXL Air Fryer
  • Save 30% on Keurig K-Café Single-Serve Coffee Maker
  • Save 30% on Crock Pot 6qt Slow Cooker
  • Save up to 30% on Brother Sewing Machines
  • Save on Philips Smoke-less Indoor BBQ Grill
  • Save up to 35% on Dash Egg Cookers

Toys & Games:

  • Save 30% on games from What Do You Meme?
  • Save up to 40% on select toys and games including favorites from LEGO and Melissa & Doug

Video Games:

  • Save up to 50% on Astro A40 TR headset

Tools & Home Improvement:

  • Save up to 30% on CRAFTSMAN power tools

Lawn & Garden:

  • Save up to 35% on Greenworks yard equipment

Sports & Outdoors:

  • Save up to 20% on Skywalker 15’ Jump and Dunk trampolines
  • Save 20% on Bushnell Trophy trail camera
  • Save 20% on Marvel Spiderman kids bikes

Automotive:

  • Save up to 30% on Pennzoil Motor Oil
  • Save up to 30% on NOCO Jump Starters and Battery Chargers

 

Amazon revamps Echo Dot Kids Edition and FreeTime

Announced in April of last year, the Echo Dot Kids Edition got something of a mixed reception, primarily due to privacy concerns surrounding the broader smart speaker category. Amazon is back with a version of the $70 device.

Design-wise, the product looks like a lot more like the latest version of the Dot, swapping the first generation’s plastic body for a curved cloth covering. The brightly colored bumpers, meanwhile, are gone, in favor of new colors form the Dot itself, including Rainbow and Frost Blue. As with the regular Dot, the speaker got a boost here. It’s now 70 percent louder.

The $70 price includes a year of Amazon FreeTime, which bundles in device time limits, activity review and the ability to filter out songs with explicit lyrics. There’s also a quick and easy feature built in that lets parents and kids work on their own Alexa Skill Blueprints.

As for privacy, Amazon has enlisted Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) to help build Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) compliant features into FreeTime. Per Amazon,

To access FreeTime on Alexa, verifiable parental consent is required. None of the Alexa skills included within FreeTime Unlimited have access to or collect personal information from children, and there are multiple ways to delete a child’s profile or voice recordings. Parents can review and delete recordings through the Alexa app or the Alexa Privacy Hub, and contact Customer Service to request deletion of their child’s profile.]

The new Dot is available for pre-order today.

Alexa skills top 80,000 after a big Alexa-powered holiday season

Amazon had a record-breaking holiday quarter, with revenue of $72.4 billion and profits of $3 billion, but it’s not making much money off its top-selling item, the Alexa-powered Echo Dot. While the e-commerce giant said the device was its 2018 holidays best seller across all products, it also reminded investors on yesterday’s earnings call that Echo devices aren’t priced “to make money.”

Instead, Amazon sees Echos as another means of connecting with its customer base – its most avid, engaged customers, that is.

“There are a group of customers who use our devices and then we monetize that in different ways – commitment to Amazon and the video and everything else,” noted Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky, speaking to investors on Thursday.

While some reports have dismissed Echo devices’ potential for online shopping, Amazon appears to be playing the long game with regard to voice computing. With an Echo in the home, consumers are more likely to remain a Prime subscriber, streaming Prime music or audiobooks, or – on its devices with a screen – watching Prime Video. As Amazon advances its e-commerce strategy with Whole Foods and Prime Now, it also sees Echo as a means of getting items to your door within an hour or two, simply by way of voice commands.

That means, for now, Amazon’s goal is to get an Echo into the home – even if it has to sell the gadgets at cost (or even less).

And the devices are selling. Amazon said the Echo Dot was the best-selling item across all of Amazon globally during the holiday quarter, and customers purchased “millions more devices from the Echo family” in 2018 than they did in 2017.

Amazon had also said last month that over 100 million Alexa devices had been sold to date, including the Echo Dot and other Echo-branded devices, along with those from third-parties.

As the company is usually cagey about sharing exact numbers when it comes to things like this, it was a notable milestone.

Google, of course, quickly responded with a note that its Assistant AI will be on a billion devices by the end of January. But it wasn’t a fair comparison, because Google was counting Android smartphones while Amazon’s number, we confirmed at the time, didn’t include smartphones – even though you can use Alexa from within the Alexa mobile app and even within the widely installed Amazon shopping app.

However, Echo devices aren’t Amazon’s only means of introducing Alexa to consumers.

The Echo Dot is the best seller in terms of Alexa-powered devices, due to its low price point and regular discounts during major shopping events like the 2018 holidays, Black Friday and Amazon’s own Prime Day, but it’s joined by a growing number of other Alexa products.

In 2018, the company saw over 100 new products with Alexa built-in launched from third-party manufacturers, bringing the total up to over 150. And Alexa works with over 28,000 devices, like smart home devices and other hardware, from across 4,500 brands.

Amazon, itself, is trying to figure out how to put Alexa into more things. It even jokes about this in its latest TV commercial, set to be aired during the Super Bowl.

The ad references a more offbeat device – the AmazonBasics Alexa-powered microwave – but then makes cracks about the Alexa devices that didn’t work – like an Alexa dog collar and hot tub, for example.

Alexa skills top 80,000

The growing Alex ecosystem means the number of things you can do using the voice assistant, by way of its voice apps called “skills,” is also increasing.

A new number Amazon shared yesterday was that the number of voice applications built for Alexa had now topped over 80,000 worldwide. That’s up from the 70,000 skills Amazon was touting back in December.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos mentioned this figure and other milestones related to Alexa’s improvements in a statement, on Thursday.

“The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, and the results of the team’s hard work are clear. In 2018, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20 percent through advances in machine learning, we added billions of facts making Alexa more knowledgeable than ever, developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018 compared to 2017,” Bezos said.

The company said in November it now has over 10,000 employees working on Alexa, as a point of reference. But it’s challenged in building up a knowledge base of questions and answers – something Google has worked on since the launch of its Knowledge Graph in 2012.

At the end of the day, consumers may not pick a device only because of what facts it can spout off, but rather because of how well it fits into the home in other ways. Alexa can play your music and share the news like any voice assistant, but it also works with other Amazon devices, like Ring doorbells and Amazon security cameras, keyless entry systems, and more. And it can deliver your food and other items.

Google, meanwhile, doesn’t have a successful e-commerce business and just lost a key partner for its Google Express shopping service, with Walmart’s exit from the platform.

That leaves Google at something of a disadvantage as assistants cater more to our needs to not just answer questions or turn on the lights, but to make anything appear at our door. If Amazon has to give away a few million devices to stake out its place in the future of shopping, it believes that’s money worth losing.

 

Hands on with the Echo Dots Kids Edition

Earlier this year, Amazon introduced an Echo Dot for kids, with its $80 Echo Dot Kids Edition device, which comes in your choice of a red, blue, or green protective case. The idea is to market a version of Amazon’s existing Dot hardware to families by bundling it with an existing subscription service, and by throwing in a few extra features – like having Alexa encourage kids to say “please” when making their demands, for example.

The device makes sense in a couple of scenarios – for helicopter parents who want to fully lock down an Echo device before putting it in a kid’s room, and for those who were in the market for a FreeTime Unlimited subscription anyway.

I’ve been testing out an Echo Dot Kids Edition, and ran into some challenges which I thought I’d share. This is not a hardware review – I’m sure you can find those elsewhere. 

Music Filtering

As a parent of an 8-year old myself, I’ve realized it’s too difficult to keep her from ever hearing bad words – especially in music, TV and movies – so I’ve just explained to her that while she will sometimes hear those words, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say them. (We have a similar rule about art – sometimes people will be nude in paintings, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to walk around naked all the time.)

Surprisingly, I’ve been able to establish a level of shame around adult and inappropriate content to the point that she will confess to me when she hears it on places like YouTube. She will even turn it off without my instruction! I have a good kid, I guess.

But I understand some parents will only want kids to access the sanitized version of songs – especially if their children are still in the preschool years, or have a tendency to seek out explicit content because they’re little monsters.

Amazon FreeTime would be a good option in that case, but there are some caveats.

For starters, if you plan on using the explicit language filter on songs the Echo Dot plays, then you’re stuck with Amazon Music. While the Echo Dot itself can play music from a variety of services, including on-demand offerings from Pandora and Spotify, you can’t use these services when the explicit filter is enabled as “music services that do not support this filter will be blocked,” Amazon explains.

We’re a Spotify household, so that means my child’s favorite bedtime music playlist became unavailable when we swapped out her existing Echo Dot for the Kids Edition which had the explicit filter enabled.

Above: Parent Dashboard? Where? Maybe a link would help?

You can disable the explicit filter from the Parent Dashboard, but this option is inconveniently available just via the web. When you dig around in the Alexa app – which is where you’d think these controls would be found, there’s only a FreeTime On/Off toggle switch and instructions to “Go to the Parent Dashboard to see activity, manage time limits, and add content.”

It’s not even hyperlinked!

You have to just know the dashboard’s URL is parents.amazon.com. (And not www.parents.amazon.com, by the way. That doesn’t work.)

Then to actually disable the filter, it’s several more steps.

You’ll click the gear icon next to the child’s name, click on “Echo Dot Kids Edition” under “Alexa Settings,” then click “Manage Music.” Here, you can turn the switch on or off.

If you don’t have a subscription music service, the Echo Dot Kids Edition also ships with access to ad-free kid-safe stations on iHeartRadio Family.

Whitelisting Alexa skills…well, some skills!

Another issue with the way FreeTime works with Alexa, is that it’s not clear that nearly everything your child accesses on the device has to be whitelisted.

This leads to a confusing first-time user workflow.

Likely, you’ll start by browsing in the Alexa app’s Skills section or the Skills Store on the web to find some appropriate kid-friendly skills for your child to try. For example, I found and enabled a skill called “Math Facts – Math Practice for Kids.”

But when I instructed “Alexa, open Math Facts,” she responded, “I can’t do that.”

She didn’t say why.

As I hadn’t used FreeTime in quite a while, it didn’t occur to me that each Alexa skill would have to be toggled on – just like the third-party apps, videos, books and audiobooks the child has access to that didn’t ship with FreeTime Unlimited itself.

Instead, I mistakenly assumed that skills from the “Kids” section of the Skills store would just work.

Again, you’ll have to know to go to parents.amazon.com to toggle things on.

And again, the process for doing so is too many clicks deep in the user interface to be immediately obvious to newcomers. (You click the gear by the kid’s name, then “Add Content” – not “Echo Dot Kids Edition” as you might think! Then, on the “Add Content” screen, click over to the “Alexa Skills” tab and toggle on the skills you want the child to use.)

The issue with this system is that it prevents Echo Dot Kids Edition users – kids and adults alike – from discovering and enabling skills by voice. And it adds an unnecessary step by forcing parents to toggle skills on.

After all, if the parents are the ones signing in when visiting the Skills store in-app or on the web, that means they’re the ones choosing to enable the Skills, too.

And if they’re enabling a skill from Kids section, one would assume it’s for their kids to use on their device!

The problem, largely, is that FreeTime isn’t really integrated with the Alexa app. All of this – from explicit content filters to whitelisting skills to turning on or off calling, messaging and drop-ins – should be managed from within the Alexa app, not from a separate website.

Amazon obviously did minimal integration work in order to sell parents a pricier Echo Dot.

To make matters more confusing is the fact that Amazon has partnered with some kids skill publishers, similar to how it partnered with other content providers for apps and movies. That means there’s a list of skills that don’t appear in your Parent Dashboard that also don’t require whitelisting.

This includes: Disney Stories, Loud House Challenge, No Way That’s True, Funny Fill In, Spongebob Challenge, Weird but True, Name that Animal, This or That, Word world, Ben ten, Classroom thirteen, Batman Adventures, and Climb the Beanstalk.

But it’s confusing that you can immediately use these skills, and not others clearly meant for kids. You end up feeling like you did something wrong when some skills don’t work, before you figure out this whole whitelisting system.

In addition, it’s not clear that these “Premium” skills come with the FreeTime subscription – most are not available in the Skills store. If your FreeTime subscription expires, it seems you’ll lose access to these, as well.

Overall, the FreeTime experience for Echo feels disjointed, and there’s a steep learning curve for new users.

Your FreeTime Unlimited 1-year Subscription

It’s also frustrating that there’s no information on the FreeTime Parents dashboard about the nature of your subscription.

You can’t confirm that you’re currently subscribed to the paid product known as FreeTime Unlimited. You can’t see when that subscription expires, or when your first free year is up. It’s unclear if you’ll just be charged, or when that will take place. And there’s no toggle to turn the subscription off if you decide you no longer need it.

Instead, you can only “modify” which credit card you use with Amazon’s 1-click. Seriously. That’s it.

Above: want to manage your subscription?

Below: hahaha, good luck with that!

I still don’t know where to turn this subscription off – I guess the option to disable it doesn’t even appear until your free year is up? (Even clicking on “FreeTime Unlimited” from Amazon.com’s subscription management page routes you back to this useless Parent dashboard page for managing your 1-Click settings.)

So, ask me in a year, maybe?

That said, if you are in the market for both a FreeTime Unlimited subscription and an Echo Dot, you may as well buy the Kids Edition.

FreeTime Unlimited works on Fire tablets, Android devices, Kindle, and as of this month, iOS devices, providing access to over 15,000 kid-safe apps, games, videos, books and educational content. On Amazon devices, parents can also set screen time limits and educational goals.

The service by itself is $2.99 per month for Prime members (for one profile) or $4.99 per month for non-members. It’s more if you buy the Family subscription. Meanwhile, the regular 2nd gen Echo Dot is currently $49.99. So you’re basically looking at $50 + $36/year for FreeTime Unlimited if you bought these things separately as a Prime member.

The Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with one year of FreeTime Unlimited and is $79.99. So you’re saving a tiny bit there. Plus, you can always turn FreeTime off on the device, if you’d rather just use the kids Echo Dot as a regular Echo Dot – while still getting a free year of FreeTime for another device, like the kid’s iPad.

Still, watch out because Echo Dot often goes on sale – and probably will be on sale again for Prime Day this summer. Depending on the price cut it gets, it may not be worth it to buy the bundle.

Other Perks

There are other perks that Amazon tries to use to sell the Echo Dot Kids Edition to families, but the most notable is “Magic Word.”

This feature turns on when FreeTime is enabled, and thanks kids for saying “please” when they speak to Alexa. Yes, that seems like a small thing but it was something that a lot of parents were upset about. They thought kids were learning bad manners by barking commands at Alexa.

I don’t know about that. My kid seems to understand that we say “please” and “thank you” to people, but Alexa doesn’t get her feelings hurt by being told to “play Taylor Swift.” But to each their own!

This feature will thrill some parents, I’m sure.

Parents can also use FreeTime to pause the device or configure a bedtime so kids don’t stay up talking to Alexa, but honestly, LET ‘EM.

It’s far better than when they stall bedtime by badgering you for that extra glass of water, one more blanket, turn on that light, now crack the door…a little more…a little less…Honestly, escaping the kid’s room at bedtime is an art form.

If Alexa can keep them busy and less afraid of the dark, I’m calling it a win.

FreeTime with the Echo Dot Kids Edition also lets you set up “Character Alarms” – meaning, kids can configure Alexa to wake them up with an alarm click featuring characters from brands like Disney and Nickelodeon.

This is hilarious to me.

Because if you have a kid in the preschool to tween age range who actually requires an alarm clock to wake up in the morning instead of getting up at the crack of dawn (or maybe one who has gone through years of training so they DON’T ALSO WAKE YOU UP AT THE CRACK OF DAWN OH MY GOD) – then, I guess, um, enjoy character alarms?

I’m sorry, let me stop laughing….Hold on.

I’m sure somebody needs this.

Sorry for laughing. But please explain how you’ve taught your children to sleep in? Do they go to bed at a decent hour too? No seriously, email me. I have no idea.

The Echo Dot Kids Edition can also work as a household intercom, but so do regular Echo devices.

You can turn off voice purchasing on the Kids Edition, but you can do that on regular devices, too (despite what Amazon’s comparison chart says.)

Plus, kids can now control smart home devices with the Echo Dot Kids Edition – a feature that shamefully wasn’t available at launch, but is now.

And that cute protective case? Well, a regular Echo Dot is actually pretty sturdy. We’ve dropped ours probably a dozen times from dresser to floor (uncarpeted!) with no issues.

I like how Amazon tries to sell the case, though:


I guess if your kid plans to do CHEMISTRY EXPERIMENTS by the Echo Dot, you may need this.

In reality, the case is just cute – and can help the Echo better match the kid’s room.

The Echo Kids Edition, overall, is not a must-have device. You’ll have more flexibility with a regular Echo and a little old-school parenting.