Amazon Glow is Amazon’s newest child-friendly device with projected space and camera, that allows young children to communicate with a remote loved one in a way which feels more immersive than a traditional video call using a smartphone or tablet device. The device made its debut on September 26, 2021. In the limited release period from then on, Glow has been available by invitation only for $249, which is 17% off the list price ($299). The day 1 edition bundle includes an Amazon Glow device, a projection mat within a mat case, Tangram puzzle pieces, power adapter, and one year subscription to Amazon Kids+.
The Glow Device Bundle
On top of the 14.2” projector are microphones, with 720p HD profile and projector cameras right below it. A large part of the front consists of 8” high-definition touchscreen with 1280 x 800 resolution, completed by 10W speaker, 3.3” x 1.3” size (83.8 mm x 33 mm) near the projected space. On the top-left corner of the device is the privacy shutter for the profile camera, while the power and volume buttons are arranged in the bottom-left corner. The power port is located on the tail-end. The overall size of the device is 5.6” x 5.4” x 14.2” (141 mm x 138 mm x 361 mm), which weighs approximately 1615 g (3.56 lb).
While the screen on the projector is smaller than some of the popular tablet devices, it is augmented by a touch enabled 18.2” x 12.1” x 0.04” (462 mm x 306 mm x 1.0 mm) white silicone mat. The device comes with a renewable subscription to Amazon Kids+.
Upright tablet with physical restraint
The glow device combines the experience of connectedness with family by Facebook portal devices, but differentiates from that range of devices due to its child-friendly design and activities. Instead of communicating only via a screen, the glow device has two mediums of interaction for children including the 8-inch display where they can view the remote contact, and a 19-inch projected space for interactive activities which makes the experience richer than conventional video-conferencing. While the games and curated content on the device is supposed to keep children engaged while talking to a remote contact, it is designed to be used while seated. The Facebook portal device seems to have a slight edge in that regard, especially for scenarios where children want to move around the house to show stuff to grandparents, cousins or favorite uncle/aunt.
Security and Privacy
The device hosts only content suitable for kids through a subscription to Amazon Kids+, and activities supervised by trusted adults through parent approved contacts and Amazon Parent Dashboard. The shuttered camera also allows parents to restrict a child’s view and voice by disabling the camera and four microphones when they deem appropriate. The glow device is not enabled by Alexa or compatible with Echo Glow, which ensures that the voice and video interactions are not recorded or stored on the cloud.
Glow makes the linear experience of audio or video chatting come to life with its two unique features which claim to blend the physical and digital worlds together. First is the Tangram Bits included with the bundle (7 Tangram puzzle pieces of varying sizes), which can be used to complete a variety of puzzles. The children may choose the puzzle they want to solve with the help of the remote loved ones while they assist and cheer them while they complete it. The puzzles are designed to provide a suitable challenge for young children, with a hint feature to assist them whenever they get stuck. At the end of the puzzle, the object comes to life making the experience delightful for the child. While I was amused with the various puzzle options available to utilize the Tangram bits, my 4 year old quickly became uninterested with it due to lack of physical appeal of the pieces, and the relative difficulty of the task as compared to simpler puzzles (also available within the games section). She was also annoyed by the lack of control on the touch-enabled mat as it kept slipping every now and then.
Another amazing feature for the children (and for a parent like me) is scanning, which allows the child to convert their favorite toy or object into a digital image/sticker to be used within an art activity or for merely being amused by seeing the object turn incorporated into the activity. The newness and magicalness of the experience kept my 4 year old hooked with the Glow, and she kept bringing every possible toy to scan. The danger however arose when she started trying to put her hand and face below the projector in an attempt to convert them into a digital image. She also had some trouble waiting for the object to be scanned while her impatience got the best of her. After multiple attempts of leaving the object unscanned due to being grabbed midway, she learnt the optimal time and cues of the scan activity being completed. I also noticed that there was no verbal feedback offered to the child during the activities, probably because they are assumed to be facilitated by a remote connection. But some voice cues indicating the completion of the scan activity would have been super helpful.
Connecting with a remote loved one
For starters, I tried reading to my 4 year old from a wide range of interactive storybooks while being in another room. The virtual story book has a lot of fun interactive features such as flashlight mode which dims everything else except the portion being read, a rainbow trail around the line being read using a finger, and animated pages in some of the stories. The Disney section has a lot of children’s favorite stories with cool animation which attracts children more than the static versions of the book, but at one point I felt a built in option that reads the books aloud while the child turns the pages would have been much appreciated.
It is important to note that while the Amazon Glow claims to encourage connectivity with the tagline “Be there for bedtime, anytime”, American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against screen-based devices and internet access in the bedroom, rather avoiding exposure to screens at least 1 hour before bedtime. Even with the fact the parents have started being somewhat comfortable with previously frowned screen-time practices, it is practically unfeasible to prop the device against the bed or side-table, which is the basic requirement of use for the device. Some possible uses of the device though can be to occasionally console a child while the parent is away before starting the night-time routine.
Some games (such as Tangram Bits puzzle) can be played by the child alone without being in a video call with someone, but there are others which need two players to function properly. My kid and I tried the two-player games while being in different rooms, which turned out to be a unique experience of parent-child interaction through a connected device. My husband and I often try to ask questions about what she is watching on television to be have an involved co-watching experience, and also play games together using Nintendo Switch, but I felt like we felt more connected this way even while being in different rooms.
Beyond connection with remote loved ones
With an exception of when we had to play some multiplayer games, we used the Glow mostly as a free-standing entertainment device with some extra cool functions, which implied that it does not necessarily need to be used while being on a call with a remote connection. The privacy shutter , curated content and parent approved contacts all help create a safe virtual environment for the child, and I can also see it being used to engage a child through a remote caregiver without compromising their privacy and worrying about threats of exploitation in case of a data breach. With children and parents being accustomed to virtual class sessions during the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Glow device can actually be used for remote learning, where children can participate in a one-on-one session with a tutor or an age mate. Finally, once the children are able to navigate through the various activities and media content offered through the Glow, they can give parents some much needed break where it can serve as an interactive engagement portal for them.
Learning Curve: Will the child teach the remote adult what to do/how to communicate?
It is worthy of consideration if the experience would be so intuitive for the other half of the target users, that is the remote adults, who are assumed to facilitate the child with activities offered to enrich communication. As someone who could read English and is a somewhat adept user of screen-based technology, I was able to help my 4 year old navigate the various media choices as we played along and got accustomed with the Glow. There’s definitely a steep learning curve for older adults such as children’s grandparents who might not be as adept with it. After using the Glow for a few days, the 4 year old was able to show-off her newly acquired skills to educate her father about the various features the device had to offer. I am therefore optimistic that children will be able to teach the ways of this newer technology to their grandparents fairly quickly.
The pros and cons listed below are for the day-1 editions, and are subject to change in subsequent iterations of the device.
- Relatively safe virtual environment for young children (Curated content, no advertisements, no Alexa).
- Novelty factor.
- Large selection of activities.
- Multiple potential uses beyond connection with remote loved ones.
- 2-year worry free use including coverage for hardware breakage through replacement of the device.
- To be used at home (due to design restrictions of putting it on a flat surface and internet connectivity issues).
- Price point.
- Designed for stationary use.
- Cumbersome to handle and store/put away.
- Device and application use restricted to the US.
- Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) WiFi networks.
- No multiparty video support.
- No voice feedback during activities (expected to be done by the remote conversation partner).