Amazon's Kindle Kids Edition combines education with peace of mind

Jason Cipriani, CNN Underscored
Updated Tue November 5, 2019

All three of my kids love to read. And I mean love to read. My 9-year-old just finished the second Harry Potter book. My 11-year-old has read more books than I probably ever will. My youngest is just starting to read chapter books, and listening to him read out loud, making voices for each character as if he had written the book himself, is a treat for my wife and me each night before he goes to bed.

Over the years, I've toyed with the idea of getting one or all of them a Kindle. At one point a few years ago, I even attempted to give my daughter my Kindle, but figuring out how to manage and limit what she had access to was confusing. Eventually, I took the Kindle back and figured that when she was old enough, a Kindle would make a good birthday present.

Then, Amazon recently announced the $110 Kindle Kids Edition. It starts shipping Wednesday, but Amazon sent me a sample about a week ago.

The Kindle Kids Edition is the exact Kindle that Amazon currently sells for $89.99, with the added cost covering a year of Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited parental controls, access to the kid-friendly books, a protective case, and a two-year worry-free guarantee. If the Kindle gets damaged or stops working, Amazon will replace it free.

When the Kindle Kids Edition arrived for me to start testing, I powered it on, signed into my Amazon account, added my daughter's FreeTime Unlimited profile to it, and handed it to her. I didn't give her any instructions or guidance, other than to use it for the next few days instead of the book she had checked out of the library.

A Kindle to its core

There's nothing special about the hardware that runs on the Kindle Kids Edition. It's the same 10th-generation Kindle that Amazon released earlier this year.

Its 6-inch display has a built-in light and the same 167-ppi resolution. The Kindle weighs just over 10 ounces and has 8GB of storage (enough to hold over 1,000 books) and a battery that lasts up to four weeks. A future update will allow kids to listen to books through Bluetooth headphones or a speaker.

When a FreeTime Unlimited profile is active on the Kindle, the software is slightly tweaked. There's an activity button that shows badges your kids can earn as they reach reading milestones, like 100 or 500 pages read. The screensavers are also changed to pictures of animals and other kid-friendly photos.

There's also a built-in vocabulary builder that lists all the words the child has looked up using the dictionary and provides flashcards to help your child learn those words and their meaning. Amazon has refined the definitions for words, putting them in simpler terms that are easier for kids to understand.

When you order the Kindle Kids Edition, you choose one of four case designs: pink, blue, rainbow birds or a space station.

FreeTime Unlimited is the real star here

Setting up FreeTime Unlimited on the Kindle Kids Edition was simple. As soon as I logged into my Amazon account, I was asked if I wanted to add one of my kid's profiles to the device, and a few seconds later a picture on the screen was welcoming my daughter to her new Kindle.

Granted, I already had FreeTime Unlimited profiles set up for my kids, so the process was quick. But from my recollection, setting up a profile consists of picking a profile picture, entering a name, and setting age restrictions.

Over the course of the last week or so, I've been able to pull up Amazon's Parent Dashboard for FreeTime Unlimited and check in to see what my daughter has been reading, as well as how long she's spent reading each day, broken down by the book.

It's fascinating to have a window into her reading habits, as she bounces between books or shares the Kindle with her brothers (as noted by the change to time spent reading "Diary of a Wimpy Kid").

Not only can I see the title of each book she's been reading, but I can also view a summary of the book and the recommended age range, and Amazon even provides a few questions I can ask her about the book, as a way to spark conversation.

In addition to insights, the dashboard also provides controls for your child's account. You can set daily time limits for different categories (more useful if your child has an Echo or Fire tablet), disable in-app purchases, as well as set age limits for the type of books and shows the child has access to. You can also use the dashboard to add specific content to the device, such as books you've purchased from Amazon on your own account.

There's even a pause button that will lock your child out of the device for a specified amount of time, although I wasn't able to pause the Kindle when I tested the feature because the Kindle isn't supported. Pausing will only work with Fire devices and some Echo devices.

Should you buy one?

I asked my daughter what she thought about reading on a Kindle after she racked up eight hours of use in just a few days. Other than adjusting to an e-paper display that's a little slower when it comes to turning a page or refreshing for a settings pane, she's smitten.

In fact, before I could even finish this review, I had to search the house for the Kindle. I found it on her nightstand, ready to take her on another journey.

The Kindle Kids Edition provides kids with access to over 1,000 books that are in the FreeTime Unlimited catalog, as well as books a parent can purchase from Amazon.

As a parent, I appreciate the insights that FreeTime Unlimited gives me into my kids' reading habits. I'm able to set limits or goals and even have questions to ask about the book (despite not reading it myself).

The Kindle Kids Edition will surely make any kid who loves reading happy. And who knows, maybe it'll have an impact on those kids who don't really like reading all that much. There's something addicting about seeing the Kindle's screen flash and reload another page of text.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.