This year Santa Claus brought the Lu and Bean Amazon Fire tablets for Christmas. The girls are thrilled with this new pathway to screen time. We have a generous relationship with screen time in our house—we give the girls about 30–45 minutes per day while I prepare dinner, provided they’ve completed their daily responsibilities. Of course, both girls are always trying to sneak in five extra minutes whenever they can convince us.
Despite our general comfort with screen time, we’re also skeptical of such young kids having free-range access to technology—especially when its connected to the Internet. We wanted to provide a tool to help them expand their creativity through drawing apps, e-books, and learning games without having to supervise their every move.
FreeTime Unlimited is a subscription that offers unlimited access to thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games. It offers Amazon-curated content and parental controls so that kids can roam freely while accessing age-appropriate content. After one month using the service, here’s what we think:
- Cost: We bought the Fires because our first-generation iPad broke. We found we could buy two Fires at a fraction of the cost of one iPad. With one free year of Freetime, there shouldn’t be another expense until next year. This is a benefit over constantly being nagged to buy more games, apps and books on other devices we’ve owned. After the first year, the cost is $2.99/month for Amazon Prime members and $4.99/month for everyone else.
- Variety: There is a wide variety of content, including games, books and videos from trusted brands like PBS Kids, Sesame Street, Disney and Nickolodeon. All the content has been vetted as kid-friendly and appropriate by Amazon (although of course each family needs to make its own decisions about what content is appropriate). Character-free content is also available.
- Books: Books! The app is loaded with books, including some popular titles and some that are new to us. I can also make books I’ve purchased for Kindle available on the girls’ devices through Freetime.
- Age settings: You can set your child’s age on the device so that the apps, books, videos and other content that is recommended to them is age-appropriate. The content that’s available for Bean to browse is therefore appropriate for a five-year-old, while Lu’s is more advanced.
- Poor user interface: The Freetime app is easy enough to navigate, but it is extremely difficult to get OUT of the app. This is great if you don’t want your kids to have access to content that isn’t age-approved by Amazon. But it makes it difficult to get to other apps we use together like YouTube or Internet browsers.
- Bugs: We had trouble with both devices on delivery. Lu’s wouldn’t download any content, so we spent the better part of Christmas Eve on the phone with Amazon tech support (literally hours and they eventually did two factory resets before it worked). Bean’s crashed after about one week of owning it and all her downloaded content disappeared. Both problems were fixed, though, and we haven’t had any further problems.
- Short battery life: Our biggest disappointment is the short battery life of the Fire itself. Fully charged, the devices only lasted about three to four hours on our last drive between Minneapolis and Chicago (which, if you’re doing the math, leaves about three to four hours of “I’m bored mom, what can I do?” time en route).
Overall, we’re happy with the purchase and we are likely to renew the subscription once our free trial expires. Hopefully Amazon can fix a few of the bugs that make the devices and the app less than perfect. In the end, though, they’ve got two pretty happy customers.