Amazon launches its newest product today, but is the Echo Dot Kids Edition worth the $79.99 price tag? My kids, their friends, and three parents weigh in.
Full disclosure: I do not own an Alexa because I know my kids would shout commands at it all day and drive me crazy. We live in an 800-square-foot New York City apartment, so there is no easy way to escape that kind of mayhem. However, I think it's pretty cool to have a device that plays music, looks things up for you, turns on lights, and does pretty much anything else you ask it to do. (I'm convinced Alexa is a better listener than my kids are, which is another bonus.) So maybe I will get one eventually—just not while I have two little kids running around.
So I got a little creative last weekend when I was offered the chance to test out the new Echo Dot Kids Edition ($79.99, on Amazon), which launches today, May 9. Since I needed an Alexa to try it out, I arranged a playdate at my friends Alison and Roy's place last Sunday so we could use their's. Their kids (Connor, 8, and Christian, 6) and mine (Mason, 7, and Poppy, 3) were excited to check out the device and give us their opinions.
The thing that intrigues me the most as a mom is that the Echo Dot Kids Edition offers parental controls. So, yes, it plays music, reads stories, and tells jokes—but it also screens out the stuff you really don't want your kids to listen to (I'm talking about you, old-school '90s rap). I also like that kids can learn about math and science, too, and that so many brands my kids love offer content via the device, including Disney, Nickelodeon, and National Geographic.
Two different functionalities were available for us to test: interactive storytelling and a challenge, and we hung out while our kids interacted with the Echo Dot Kids Edition to watch their reactions and form our own opinions. Here's how it all went down...
An Interactive Story: You and the Beanstalk
First up was You and the Beanstalk, an interactive version of the classic fairytale involving a curious little boy whose magic beans lead him on an unexpected adventure; a cow; and a giant. All four children sat on the floor and listened to the story, and were prompted to answer questions throughout it. (Sample Q: Will you climb the beanstalk fast or slow?) At the end, we were given the option to listen to more stories, go to sleep, or stop. The kids selected "go to sleep" (which is never a choice they would make if it were bedtime!) and a lullaby played. The drawback: There are no visuals, so the kids got distracted a few times while listening to the story.
Kid verdict: “It’s good because it feels like you’re the main character in the story,” said Mason, 7.
Parent verdict: An occasional stand-in for the nightly bedtime book (or three) was pretty genius.
Sponge Bob Square Pants Challenge
Once our fairytale was finished, we checked out the Sponge Bob Square Pants challenge. Instead of passively listening, all four kids were on their feet, clustered around Alexa, almost touching the device. They key here was that it was a challenge and every kid wanted to shout out the right answer first. Here, they were so engaged with getting it right they didn't mind that there was no video or photos to look at.
Kid verdict: "I had to pay attention to get the answer right, so I felt like I learned more," said Connor, 8.
Parent verdict: This was definitely the kind of thing you could use to entertain your kids for a bit during a random day home from school, or on the weekend when you were trying to get work done around the house. It's noisy, so it's best done in the child's room—or another space where you can close the door.
So is the Echo Dot Kids Edition worth the money? Based on what we were able to test, yes. It was entertaining, the kids enjoyed it, and hey, they will probably learn a thing (or many) from it as well. At the very least, parents will get a little help with the bedtime reading—and who can turn any assistance down on a busy weeknight?