Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition review: Alexa sure knows how to entertain

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Fun colors
  • Interactive games and Alexa Skills
  • A year of Unlimited FreeTime is included

Cons

  • Some may be wary of a smart speaker in a child's room

Every morning, just before my alarm goes off, I'm woken up by "Alexa, what's the weather?" followed by "Alexa, what's today?" Sometimes, the phrases are repeated, just so my 7-year-old can be sure he heard the forecast and day of the week right.

Throughout the day, he uses Alexa to play his favorite music, tell him stories, maybe a joke, and check the weather (yes, again). So when Amazon reached out and asked if I wanted to take a look at the Echo Dot Kids Edition, the answer was easy.

Design

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

At its core, the Echo Dot Kids Edition is no different from the third-generation Echo Dot. It's the same overall design and technology, only with kid-oriented colors and features.

The Kids Edition Dot is available in Blue or Rainbow, which is white with candy cane stripes rotating across the sides. A light ring that circles the top of the Dot indicates when Alexa is listening and displays the current volume level.

On top of the Dot are four buttons: Volume up, volume down, mic off button, action button. On the back of the Dot is the power connector along with a 3.5mm audio output to connect a bigger speaker to the Dot.

The hockey puck design measures 3.9-inches round and 1.7-inches tall. It's small enough to sit on a dresser or nightstand without getting in the way, and the colorful exterior gives it a playful look for a kid's room.

What does 'Kids Edition' mean?

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Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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Outside of Amazon Prime Day promotions, a standard Echo Dot costs $50, and the Kids Edition is priced at $70. The slight price increase includes a year of Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited, a service that's usually $3 a month. FreeTime Unlimited is Amazon's parental control service and a two-year, worry-free guarantee that can replace your device if it breaks.

During the setup process, the Alexa app will ask you to start FreeTime Unlimited and assign the Echo Dot to a child. With the Dot setup and assigned to a child, the entire experience is automatically tailored toward a younger audience by doing things like turning on the explicit music filter and providing access to skills from Disney, Nickelodeon, and other kid-friendly services.

Visiting the Parent Dashboard, you can set time limits for daily use and enter a bedtime during which the Echo Dot won't respond to its wake phrase.

The Dashboard is also where you can grant access to Alexa Skills, games, audiobooks, and even allow your child to control smart home devices connected to your account, like the light in their room or smart plug.

Overall, FreeTime Unlimited is easy to understand and use. The settings and restrictions give parents plenty of control and options to tailor the experience for a child. But the most appealing aspect to FreeTime Unlimited (and justification for the monthly fee) is access to interactive games.

For instance, my kids loved asking Alexa to "open my toy box" and let the Dot pick a random game for them to play. There's a Disney Dance Floor skill that plays various Disney songs, with hosts walking you through dance moves and asking for input along the way.

I fully expected the novelty to wear off -- as it often does with young kids -- after a few days. And to some extent, it did. However, the appeal of voice access to Apple Music, interactive games, podcasts, and stories to a young child is too much. I've had to tell my kids to take a break from Alexa more than I want to admit.

Is there an Echo in here?

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

I realize some don't feel comfortable placing a smart speaker that's always listening in a child's room, and I get that. Especially considering that Amazon doesn't delete Alexa recordings by default, and even when you delete some recordings, not all of them are eligible to be deleted. It's something my wife and I have talked about and feel comfortable with right now.

For parents who want their child to use Alexa, the Echo Dot Kids Edition is affordable and is sure to provide countless hours of entertainment, laughs, and the morning weather forecast. 

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