Amazon is today rolling out a set of new features to its Echo Dot Kids Edition devices — the now $70 version of the Echo Dot smart speaker that ships with a protective case and a year’s subscription to Amazon FreeTime, normally a $2.99 per month subscription for Prime members. Now joining the Kids Edition’s parental controls and other exclusive content are new skills from Disney, Hotel Transylvania and Pac-Man, as well as a calming “Sleep Sounds” skill for bedtime.
There are now four new skills that play sounds of thunderstorms, rain, the ocean or a babbling brook, as well as an all-encompassing “Sleep Sounds” skill that offers 42 different soothing options from which to choose. New parents may be glad to know that this includes baby-soothing sounds like cars, trains and the vacuum (don’t knock it until you try it, folks — it works).
Amazon clarified to us that while there is a version of the sleep sounds skill (as well as the thunderstorms, rain, ocean, and babbling brook skills) available in the Alexa Skill Store today, the one launching on the Kids Edition is a different, child-directed version.
Also new to the Kids Edition is “Disney Plot Twist,” which is like a Disney version of Mad Libs, where players change out words and phrases in short adventure stories. The skill features popular Disney characters like Anna, Olaf and Kristoff as the narrators and is exclusive to Kids Edition devices.
The new movie “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” is featured in another new skill, Drac’s Pack, which includes monster stories, songs and jokes.
Meanwhile, Pac-Man Stories is a skill that includes interactive stories for the whole family that work similar to choose-your-own-adventures — that is, the decisions you make will affect the ending.
Both of these are broadly available on Alexa, meaning they don’t require a Kids Edition device to access.
Stories, however, does appear to be one of the areas Amazon is investing in to make its Alexa-powered speakers more appealing to families with young children. The company recently decided to stop working on its chat stories app Amazon Rapids, saying it will instead continue to adapt those Amazon Rapids stories for the Alexa platform.
Amazon also tries to market the Echo Dot Kids Edition to families by making some kid-friendly content, like Disney Plot Twist, available exclusively to device owners.
For example, it already offers with this device exclusive kid skills like Disney Stories, Loud House Challenge, No Way That’s True, Funny Fill In, Spongebob Challenge, Weird but True, Name that Animal, This or That, Word world, Ben ten, Classroom thirteen, Batman Adventures and Climb the Beanstalk.
But the Kids Edition can also be confusing to use, because the exclusive skills come whitelisted and ready to go, while other kid-safe skills have to be manually whitelisted through a parent’s dashboard. And there isn’t enough instruction either from Alexa or in the Alexa app on this process, at present, we found when testing the device earlier.
Unless there’s a specific exclusive skill that parents really want their kids to have, the savings are also minimal when buying the Kids Edition Dot/FreeTime bundle, versus buying a regular Dot and adding FreeTime separately.