If you have little kids and need an inexpensive, safe source of games, media, and books for them, we’ve got good news for you—Amazon’s Fire Kids Edition line of tablets are all on Black Friday-level sale right now. The Fire 7 Kids Edition is down from $100 to $60, the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is down from $130 to $80, and the Fire HD 10 Kids Edition is down from $200 to $150. (The non-Kids Edition slates are on sale as well, with the Fire 7 available for $40, the Fire HD 8 available for $60, and the Fire HD 10 available for $110).
If you’re already a Fire Kids Edition user, that might be all you need to know. But for new(er) parents who haven’t figured out what electronics to get for their little ones yet, let’s go over some features—and advice—from a father of three who’s been there and done that.
Fire HD—sort of an Android device, but not really
There are only two major tablet operating systems right now: Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. In the technical sense, Amazon’s Fire HD tablets—including the Kids Edition line—are without a doubt Android.
But from the average user or parent’s perspective, that probably doesn’t matter much. Although the operating system itself is a fork of Android, the ecosystem is something else entirely. You won’t be finding and installing apps from Google’s Play store on a Fire HD tablet; instead, you’d browse Amazon’s own app store. Although many of the same apps are present in both stores, the selection is considerably more limited in Amazon’s store, and the prices for the same apps—when you can find them—are frequently noticeably higher.
For this reason, we don’t recommend a Fire HD as a full-featured tablet for an adult user. The device is cheap and makes a perfectly good vehicle for reading Amazon books—but you will get frustrated quickly if you expect to use it the same way, with the same apps, as you would an Android phone.
Fire HD Kids Edition
Under the hood, there’s no actual difference between a standard Fire HD tablet and the equivalent Fire HD Kids Edition device. The Kids Edition costs a few bucks more but includes a big, rubbery bumper case, an unlimited two-year warranty, and a year’s subscription to Freetime Unlimited.
The case is easily removable, which is both feature and bug—on the plus side, it’s very quick and easy to strip the case off of the tablet and thoroughly wash it after a three-year old gets it extra sticky and grimy. On the minus side, your kids may decide it’s “cooler” without the case and learn to peel it loose themselves. We fought constant, moderately successful battles with one of our three children about that.
Aside from that, the bumper case is well-designed and was sufficient to keep any of my kids from breaking a tablet due to dropping or casual tossing. Little kids and USB Micro B ports are not a good mix, however, and that’s not something a case can fix. One of my boys ignored all of Dad’s lectures about gently plugging and unplugging cables, and he destroyed his tablet’s charging port about a year and a half in—and Amazon replaced it under warranty without a peep of complaint.
Amazon FreeTime Unlimited
FreeTime Unlimited is Amazon’s all-you-can-consume buffet of games, videos, and kids’ ebooks. The selection is truly enormous, well age-gated, and in my five years’ experience with the platform, safe as kittens for kids to browse. It’s chock-full of well-known licensed characters (from National Geographic, PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, etc.) and shows that kids recognize and respond to, and there’s fresh content constantly rotating through for kids to explore, install, and play with.
With that said, none of this content is particularly deep. Our kids were absolutely fascinated with FreeTime up to around age five and placated by it up to seven or eight. Although the platform offers content up to “tween” ages, our own three wanted grown-up tablets—which in our house, means Android with Google Family Link—well before age 10.
In addition to the content itself, FreeTime Unlimited offers basic scheduling and access controls for the tablet. Parents can set bedtimes at which the tablets automatically lock, as well as more granular access controls tailored around dividing up kids’ time between “just for fun” and “educational” content, filtered Web-browsing access (if desired), and more.
In our own house, we disabled the Web browsing entirely—and we didn’t find the controls for “educational” versus “fun” content very useful, either, and eventually disabled that as well. If you really want your children to learn from any kind of focused use, you’re better off spending time with your children and helping them navigate content than relying on any automatic controls.
The Kids Edition versions of the Fire HD Tablets come with a one-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited. After the first year, you can renew for $3/month/tablet if you’re an Amazon Prime member or $5/month/tablet without Prime. If you have more than two kids who will be using Freetime Unlimited, go with a Family plan. The Family plan is $70/year for Prime members or $100/yr without Prime, and it covers up to four children.
The cost of FreeTime Unlimited after that first included year is, in our opinion, reasonable—but it should definitely be budgeted for, since without FreeTime Unlimited, the Fire HD Kids Edition falls back to just being a sub-par Android tablet.
Why you want more storage
The great thing about FreeTime Unlimited is that kids can safely explore a vast selection of content by themselves, installing the things they like without needing Mom or Dad to look over their shoulder. The bad thing about FreeTime Unlimited… well, it’s the same thing. Let us explain—the original Fire Kids Edition tablets only came with 8GB of storage, and we saw hundreds of angry reviewers complaining about children who filled that 8GB to 100 percent capacity routinely in an hour or less of playtime.
If your kid fills the storage completely on the Fire Kids Edition, you’re in for a mess. Almost none of the apps will launch, since they have no free space to work with, and your unhappy child is going to want you to fix it. This involves logging into the now extremely sluggish and balky tablet, navigating its interface into the installed apps settings, and manually deleting applications one by one until there’s a usable amount of space left.
We did not use the words “balky” and “sluggish” lightly. Although the Fire HD tablets are normally reasonably quick and responsive, when their storage is overfilled like this, they may take minutes just to get to the right part of the Settings in order to begin deleting apps—and you’re going to need to delete apps one by one by one, likely while consulting with an anxious child over which of the hundreds of things they’ve installed not to delete. It’s not a fun experience.
Happily, the least expensive of the modern versions of the Fire HD tablets comes with the 16GB of storage we paid extra for, five years ago—but that’s still not necessarily enough. All of my kids still filled the 16GB Fire HD at least a few times, requiring Daddy help to delete the bloat and get the devices usable again.
In short, I highly recommend spending the extra $20 to get the Fire HD 8 instead of the slightly cheaper Fire HD 7. Screen size aside, the extra storage is worth it.