Amazon has never shied away from creating odd gadgets that require some explanation, but the new Amazon Glow could be the oddest in several years. It’s a videoconferencing system with a tabletop projector. Younger children become tired of video chats quickly and wander away, leaving their distant relatives staring at an empty screen. As a result, the Amazon Glow can project games, novels, or puzzles onto a table for youngsters to enjoy with their parents (or grandparents).
When Amazon Glow is generally available, it will cost $299.99, but for now, anyone interested must apply to an invite-only program (for a discounted price of $249.99). It includes a year of Amazon Kids Plus content, a two-year warranty against any breaks and spills, and a set of interactive tangram shapes that children can use to solve puzzles. The first units are expected to arrive in mid-October, initially just in the United States.
The first issue for parents will most likely be setting up the Amazon Glow. It has Amazon’s typical strong parental controls. So parents will log in and create a list of trusted people their child can call to it started.
It does, however, pose the additional problem of not being the only gadget they’ll need to set up. On the other end of each call, the parent or grandparent will need to download the Amazon Glow app to their tablet – it works with iPads and Android tablets, and Amazon’s Fire tablets will be available soon. It can also be used on phones, but it isn’t optimal for them.
So a parent would have to learn how to set up the Glow, teach their child the basics (Amazon says it’s aiming at kids aged three to nine), and then educate their parents or relatives on how to use the tablet apps.
The Glow is meant to be placed on an indoor table, especially away from a highly illuminated window. It has an eight-inch video chat screen and a second screen that is projecting to a flat, 19-inch white mat that comes with the gadget (and which Amazon promises is relatively easy to clean). A child can call a relative by touching a speed dial button on the front-facing screen, and the app will function similarly to any other video chat software.
However, because this video chat program uses a shared display, whatever the child sees projected on the table is a mirror on the iPad in the other room. On that display, you can find a variety of activities like books, games, puzzles, and even basic learning programs. It’s all part of Amazon’s Kids Plus ecosystem, and it’s unclear how much Glow can do once the one-year subscription expires. (Kids Plus is normally $2.99 per month.)
Some of the exchanges appear to be rather interesting. Cartoon characters from Disney’s Frozen, Toy Story, SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, and other shows appear in the books. You can work together to solve riddles. There are also sketching apps – the projector uses infrared sensors to detect a child’s hand so they may tap or draw on the mat. Another camera, this one pointing downward, allows a youngster to enter a toy and scan it, transforming it into a miniature object that may be adding to their drawing.
Games include classics like chess, checkers, Go Fish, and memory match, with Amazon claiming that you can adjust the difficulty level to fit both older and younger children. You can even swap out the components in some games, such as checkers for dragons, pirates, or dinosaurs.
However, this video chat program features a shared display, which means that everything the kid sees projected on the table is a mirror on the iPad in the other room. On that display, you can find a variety of activities like books, games, puzzles, and even basic learning programs. It’s all part of Amazon’s Kids Plus ecosystem, and it’s unclear how much Glow can accomplish when the one-year subscription runs out. (Kids Plus is normally $2.99 per month.)
Amazon will sell Glow add-on packs in the same way, with the bundled tangrams serving as an example of what to expect. When a youngster assembles the shapes to form a shark, for example, it will animate and swim about on the projected display.
For the time being, the Amazon Glow can only call tablets; it cannot communicate with other Glows. Both the child and the adult on the other end of the line operate the screen. On the right side, there’s also a physical privacy shutter switch: pull it down to disable the microphones and cover the video chat camera.
Although Amazon states that the Glow was under development before the outbreak, it looks to be a technology designing for today – a time when it is significantly more difficult for families to meet in the same spot. We’ve had trouble persuading our kids to stay involved in video conversations with grandparents, so we’re curious if they’ll warm up to what Amazon has to offer.