Amazon Glow Review

Chris Burns - Nov 18, 2021, 2:20pm CST
Amazon Glow Review
Editors' Rating: 6/10
Pros
  • Limited Warranty includes free replacement
  • Interesting, easy software
  • Relatively easy setup
  • Privacy while inactive
  • Intuitive projection and sensor system
Cons
  • Not very portable
  • Video quality isn't great
  • Android/iOS tablet required for video calls
  • No Alexa
  • Amazon Kids Plus subscription required to function

The Amazon Glow is an innovative, fun product that I would have loved as a kid. That would’ve been back before the internet existed, before tablets and smartphones, and before we had that ominous feeling that Big Brother was always looking for an opportunity to watch us and sell us products and services. Now, as my own kids test this device, the situation is entirely different.

With Amazon Glow, users must commit to the Amazon ecosystem. This sort of situation is not unique to this device, but it’s made very clear from the get-go that without an Amazon account and a subscription to Amazon Kids Plus, this device does not function.

Unlike most Amazon Fire products, this device does not include advertisements for Amazon products. You’re already paying a monthly fee to use the device (with Amazon Kids Plus), so it certainly shouldn’t have advertisements – and it is nice to see that it doesn’t.

Physical specifications

Amazon Glow is 14.2″ tall, 5.6″ wide, and 5.4″ deep. That’s without the mat, which is also required in order to function. The mat is approximately 18.2″ x 12.1″, and it rolls up into a cardboard tube which is included with the kit. You’ll need to keep the device plugged in to a power outlet while it is up and running.

The device has an 8-inch 1280 x 800 pixel touchscreen. Amazon calls his a high-definition touchscreen, but it feels like a sort of baseline quality panel, really. It works for what it’s meant to do, but it certainly isn’t a match for any tablet computer we’re currently using. This touchscreen is used mostly for initial setup and video calls.

Video Calls

Video calls with Amazon Glow are simple to access after all components are set up. The person on the other end of the line must have the correct app to chat, and they cannot currently use an Amazon Fire tablet (only iOS 14+ or Android 8+ on a tablet). The other end of the call must use a tablet to chat with the Amazon Glow.

This device’s true power exists in remote calls with people who are good at using a tablet. This might be second nature to a young person, but part of the intended audience for this device is the remote family member who wishes to converse with a child. If you have a grandmother who has trouble figuring out video calls with you or your child, using an Amazon Glow won’t likely make things easier.

If you can get the entire setup ready and rolling, it’s fun to make art with a person on the other end of the line, and it’s fun to see a person (likely a child) draw a drawing while watching their face on a video call. Because of remote connect activities like these, Amazon Glow can inspire a child to stay seated and engaged with a video call.

At the same time, if your child is used to being able to pick up and carry a device on which they’re speaking to grandma and grandpa, they’ll have a rough time with Amazon Glow. Amazon Glow must remain stationary when in use.

Privacy and Tangrams

Functionality can be shut off with the device’s privacy shutter. This shutter closes off access to the device’s cameras and microphones, physically. It’s quick and easy, but it also shuts off access to the rest of the device. It’s a nice feature for when the device is not actively being used.

Probably the most purely entertaining piece of functionality included with Amazon Glow is Tangram Bits. Amazon suggests that Tangram Bits will be just one of a series of interactive physical object activities called Glow Bits. With Tangram Bits, shapes are shown on the mat and the user must arrange the pieces in a way that fit the shape – just like traditional tangrams.

Projector system

The projector, mat, and sensor setup with Amazon Glow is interesting and fun. It’s not nearly so perfectly reliable as a real touchscreen, but it does provide an intuitive way to present a sizeable play and activity space that’s a sort of half-way point between digital and physical.

Reading interactive kids books, playing checkers, putting together jigsaw puzzles, playing Memory Match, all made me (and my family) wish for a big tablet, or the physical equivalents of the digital presentation. Remote play with the camera makes each activity feel like a unique opportunity, to be sure, but for all things local play, this device mostly seems to solve a problem that’d already been solved by a big tablet.*

*Except the tangrams. Where the physical bits met the projection and sensor setup is where the magic really happens.

Features and activities

My kids played with this device a few times, beyond video calls. We looked at some books, we created some art, played some games, and really enjoyed the Tangrams. This system could be great, in the future. If functionality were more focused on the strong points of the setup – especially the point at which the physical meets the digital – this sort of device could be much more magical.

As it stands, once we put the device away, after the relatively short time we’ve used the device, my kids haven’t mentioned the device once. They’ve not requested to play games, or attempt to make a call, or anything. They’re back on their tablets, playing their own games, forgetting the Amazon Glow with shocking speed.

Wrap-up

The Amazon Glow cannot be purchased here as we review the device in mid-November, 2021. Instead, this device is part of the Amazon Day 1 Editions program, and requires that an Amazon user sign up for a chance to purchase the device. Amazon Day 1 Editions is a program that effectively has you agree with Amazon that you’re purchasing a product before they’re ready to commit to releasing said product to the general public.

The Amazon Day 1 Editions product system positioned as an opportunity for you to gain “early” access to new devices, but products sold through this program carry a slightly different weight and set of expectations than any other average products sold by Amazon. Keep that in mind when you pay anywhere from $249 to $300+ for the Amazon Glow.


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