These days kids spend a lot of time with screens, and that does have a downside, like viewing hours of videos on end. But what about when these devices help kids learn and connect with friends and family they otherwise wouldn't be able to due to long distances? That's what Amazon is trying to do with its latest product designed for kids. While working on this Amazon Glow review, my two children put the device through many tests.
When Amazon announced the Glow at its fall event, I could instantly see the potential for the product. I have two boys, ages six and nine, and they love to play games and spend time with their grandparents. While some live relatively close, not all do, and even still with busy school activities, sports, 4H, and other stuff, coordinating face-to-face time with family can be tough. The Amazon Glow has the tools to do more than an introductory video call thanks to its interactive projection screen coupled with video chat, but does it deliver?
Bottom line: The Amazon Glow is a unique product that offers a one-of-a-kind experience thanks to the Amazon Kids+ library and parental controls, ease of use, and its ability to allow kids to interact with loved ones from a distance in a fun way. While it has some quirks to work out still, and it's not inexpensive, the Amazon Glow brings a lot to the table for families.
- Vibrant and accurate projected display
- The touch interaction is surprisingly accurate
- The long-distance interactivity is fun
- Easy to understand interface
- Glow app doesn't work on all Amazon Fire tablets
- Object scanning was hit and miss
- Needs a large area to use it
Amazon Glow: Price and availability
Amazon announced the Glow in September 2021 during Amazon's fall event. The device is currently part of the Day 1 Edition which means that it's only available on Amazon and by requesting an invitation. If you get invited to buy the Amazon Glow, it is available for an introductory price of $249.99, after which its full price will be $299.99.
Amazon Glow: What's good
When it comes to making stuff for kids, Amazon knows what it's doing. While the hardware is good, as Amazon routinely has some of the best Android tablets for kids, the secret sauce that really makes it all worth buying is thanks to the software. Amazon Kids+ brings the familiar kid-appropriate content that is found on the Fire Kids tablets like the Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Pro and applies it to this new form factor.
Though the Amazon Glow has an 8-inch tablet on the front, the star of this setup is the interactive projection. Pointing downward from the top of the device, the Amazon Glow projects a surprisingly clear and colorful 19.2-inch image that reacts just like a giant tablet. This means that familiar actions like pinch-to-zoom, rotation, swiping, and more all react the way kids expect them to.
|Device Dimensions||5.6 x 5.4 x 14.2 inches|
|Mat Dimensions||18.2 x 12.1 x 0.04 inches|
|Projected Display||19.2-inch touch-sensitive projection|
|LCD Displays||8-inch high-definition touchscreen (1280 x 800 resolution)|
|Audio||10W speaker, 3.3 x 1.3 inches
|Cameras||720p HD profile and projector cameras with built-in shutter|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz)
|Glow app compatability||Android 8.0+
2021 Fire HD 10
After signing in to my Amazon account through the Amazon Glow app on the Samsung tablet that Amazon loaned me, more on that later, the compatible content from my kid's accounts was ready to go. My youngest got the first crack at trying out the "big paper tablet" thing. It got this nickname because, for the best experience with the Amazon Glow, you'll want to use the included white rubber mat for the projection on a flat surface.
After finding his profile on the LCD screen and tapping on it, my son instantly began swiping around on the projected screen, and after a few swipes of too much pressure on the mat, he had it figured out. He looked through a few book options, a couple of games like checkers and memory; he then landed on his favorite — the coloring options.
There are different themes to pick from in the coloring books that have coordinating stickers that your child can place in a scene or blank page. There are different brushes and colors, and then if they want to erase something, they pick a vacuum to suck up the mess to start over. But both of my kids' favorite things about the art section is the object scanning feature.
This lets kids place real-world items on the mat and turn them into digital objects to use with the Amazon Glow. My kids loved finding different toys, things they had colored, and other random things around the house to put into their creations. However, the Amazon Glow does come with a real-world object that adds even more interactivity to play, and that's the Tangram Bits.
These are different shapes that are used for puzzle-solving games. After choosing the Tangram Bits app on the Amazon Glow, kids will pick a custom theme such as underwater, unicorns, dinosaurs, and more. Then they have to choose only a few of the physical shapes that will help inform what digital shapes are available to complete the puzzle. This game is best when playing it with someone else connected via video chat — as are many of the other apps on Amazon Glow.
The Amazon Glow's front-facing 720p camera, along with the four microphones, helps to connect your child with a parent-approved loved one for fun, interactive video calls. Not to worry parents, there is a physical shutter that covers the camera up and disables the microphones. Parents can invite people via the companion Glow app to connect with their children. Contacts will have to use an iPad, Android tablet, or the 2021 Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet, to set up and use the Glow app.
Once the family member or friend has finished setting up their Glow profile, your child can initiate video calls via the 8-inch LCD screen by tapping on the person they want to call or from the contact connecting with the Glow. Kids will see the person on the other end's video feed on the screen, and the contact will see what the child is seeing projected and an insert of the video feed.
My kids could play checkers, Tangram Bits, and memory games with their grandfather that lives a couple of hours away. It was fun hearing them laugh, play, and for a brief time think that they might actually beat grandpa at checkers. But in true Amazon Kids+ form, the checker games even have different themes and animations to make them even more fun — my kids picked the pirate theme.
The Amazon Glow did a wonderful job of connecting family in a moment that otherwise wouldn't have happened. My kids had fun playing games amongst themselves on a big interactive projection screen. Still, that fun expanded even further when the opportunity to play and talk with someone who can't simply pop by for a visit enters the equation.
Amazon Glow: What's not good
As this is a first-generation product, there are bound to be some glitches, and while that was the case with using the Amazon Glow — there weren't any so significant that it deterred my kids from wanting to use it. The product is for children ages three and up, and most younger kids are far more patient than many adults I know. There was really only one thing that frustrated my boys when using it — projection errors.
If the Amazon Glow is on a surface that isn't solid or completely flat, it will give an error telling you to move the device to correct the problem. We would have this error pop up even when on a table with a clean projection mat and everything stable. Getting this error while in the middle of a game or creating a work of art would elicit grumbles from my kids. Sometimes it could be resolved by shifting the device a little or making sure the projection lens was clean. Other times it took a reboot.
Young kids are patient and will generally put up with slow performance, but when errors begin interrupting a game or art, it becomes a problem.
The other thing that would come up from time to time is accidental touches. This would mainly happen if my kids had on a long-sleeved shirt. The Amazon Glow would sometimes think that the end of their sleeve was meant to be read as a touch, and this would cause false input on the screen. This could be solved by pulling the sleeve up, but something to consider.
Another thing to remember is that the Amazon Glow is projecting a 19.2-inch image, which means it takes up a lot of table space. I don't know many people with an area large enough to be dedicated to leaving the device always set up. Plus, at $250 to $300, the Amazon Glow may not be something you want to leave available to be messed with at the whim of a young child by leaving it out all the time.
While it didn't bother my kids much, the object scanning accuracy was very much a feature that works sometimes. I don't mean that sometimes it flat-out doesn't work. I mean that some objects would end up looking like a weird blob rather than even remotely resembling what my kids were trying to scan. We noticed that darker items would more often scan poorly, so for best results, use basic objects that are lighter colored.
The other thing that didn't make much sense when I began setting up the Amazon Glow was that the Glow app isn't available on the Amazon Fire App Store — what?! Ok, there is an exception to that rule and it is available only on the 2021 Fire HD 10 tablet. When asked if I had a tablet to use with the Amazon Glow, I responded yes because I have a couple of Fire tablets. Though not a complete deal-breaker for some, because iPads are extremely popular and there are some excellent Android tablets, I found it very odd that Amazon doesn't offer the companion app for the Glow on its all of its tablets.
Amazon Glow: Competition
A device that projects a large interactive display, with a lot of age-appropriate content, offers two-way video chat and great parental controls — yeah, there aren't really other options out there. The Amazon Glow is a unique device attempting to create an entirely new category. However, there is at least one viable option to pick from, and it's from an unlikely source — Facebook.
If you haven't heard of it, the Facebook Portal devices offer easy-to-use video calling in a variety of form factors. While these products don't offer the same library of content, parental controls, or interactivity, they have excellent video calling functionality that incorporates some apps to connect kids and loved ones.
The Story Time app brings books to life with fun animations, AR, and music that adds a dimension to reading from afar. There's also Watch Together that lets kids watch movies, videos, and shows in real-time with others while on video calls. Facebook has even added a fun Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Curtain Call experience to the Portal. The Amazon Glow has a lot more to offer in many ways, though the Facebook Portal can be had for a lot less money and without an invitation.
Amazon Glow: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- Your child has loved ones that they don't get to see often.
- Your child enjoys interactive games and books.
- You have a space that can accommodate the projection area.
- You want a device with excellent parental controls and kid-appropriate content that is tailor-made for interactive video calling.
You shouldn't buy this if ...
- You want to get it right away.
- You or your loved ones doesn't have a 2021 Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet and don't want to purchase another tablet brand.
- You have limited space to set the device up.
For a product aimed at connecting kids to friends and family from afar by allowing them to video call with each other and interact in fun ways — the Amazon Glow is in a class of its own. It can bring kids closer to people they don't get to see as often. There is also a growing library of content that kids love and parents trust. But the limited tablet compatability can limit some users from using the Amazon Glow, as will the space needed to set it up.
The Amazon Glow is by no means perfect, but it is an excellent device, especially for attempting to define a new category. There are some quirks when using an interactive projected screen, similar to syncing a video call and the interactive game. But as a first-generation product trying to do so many different things, it largely succeeds.
As the Amazon Glow becomes more available and used by more people, I expect many software quirks to smooth out. I also hope that Amazon rolls the Glow app out to all of its tablet lineup. The opportunity to let my kids interact with family members, whom they don't get to see in person that often, while my wife and I cook dinner or help our oldest son with homework, is a wonderful thing. The Amazon Glow is in a unique position to help many families in similar situations, but for a hefty price.
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