The Amazon Glow is an explosion of something buggy - TechCrunch
I am ashamed that the magic black box on the table does not seem to be able to track my hands.
At the same time, my mind does not seem to be three - year - old at all. He laughs so hard that he can barely breathe as he again empties dinosaurs that his grandmother puts on the table from 200 miles away.
I guess none of that makes sense out of context, so let's repeat a little bit.
We're playing with Amazon Glow - the new one, not to be confused with the other called Amazon "Glow" just two years ago.
Take a touchscreen and make it stand upright by itself. Give him a projector that can explode images on the table in front of him, and two cameras - one to capture video of the person in front of him, and another, marked at the table, to get his -outperform where your hands are and let that image projection act as a touch screen. That's the Glow.
The Glow is about letting kids * play, read and video chat with a tight list of family and friends from long ago. The screen above always shows the person they are talking to. What they see on the table, Grandma - or whoever - sees on their board. When Grandma turns the page in her book, the page at the end of the baby turns as well. When one side pulls, the other side sees it as well.
(* "3 and up", Amazon recommends, but in its current format maybe I should put it at 3-8.)
It's all built around Amazon Kids +, a premium membership service (separate from Prime) packed with children's books, games, movies and TV shows. Only the books and a handful of games work with the Glow; video content does not appear on the Glow, so maybe the right call or my child would just want Blippi 100% of the time. Kids + is free for a year with a Glow purchase, after which it costs $ 3 (or $ 5, if you do not have Amazon Prime) per month.
The book selection seems to be good, especially for a younger audience. The games are all simple, multiplayer-y things like memory matching, chess, a pong style arcade game and a draw app I threw back hard to the days of sitting at my dad's computer for hours until you pull in Kid Pix. Except this time it's on board, and my child is planning a co - op with his grandmother across the state. She puts a dinosaur sticker on the screen; it uses the empty tool (sweeper) to advance it. They both laugh. Rinse and repeat about a million times.
Everyone who can have a child must be clearly bleached by their parent 's account, and they must have an Amazon account. That may depend a little bit on how quiet the other person is - but once it's designed, you don't have to do it again. I like that bleaching system because it means that my baby may not inadvertently talk to a stranger.
Glow is a device born of pandemic, and from a time when he sees a family in person - especially older family members - it can feel like a delusion.
“But wait,” you asked. “If they just want to talk to Grandma remotely, can't they use FaceTime when using a reading app or something? ”
There is! Of course. And yet…
There is something different about the Glow. My baby will handle it completely different from FaceTimes, or Zooms, or whatever. It feels different to me too.
Something about the design gives the person you are talking to… presence? Maybe it’s because you can’t move the Glow around during a call; there is no battery, so wipe it off the second you release it from the wall. Maybe it’s because you’re interacting with something on the table and then looking up at someone on a separate / dedicated screen, almost eye-to-eye. It feels less like looking at a screen, more like sitting at a table around a tabletop.
Whatever the case, it is strangely effective. My child usually spends about five minutes FaceTiming with Grandma, showing her his toys, and then running away to do something else. When I ask if he wants to call Grandma now, he specifically urges them to "glow" (use it as a verb) instead. It will happily sitting in front of the Glow playing and reading with Grandma for a hard hour, spiders get spoiled.
Ah, right, the lice.
The Glow is a bit weird because it is kind of out now, but also kind of not. It's part of Amazon's "Day 1 Editions" program, which is actually a more marketing way of saying "products you buy while they're still in beta." You want an "invitation", Amazon chooses who buys it, and it says that the select ones get to play with things a little early while Amazon chokes. It costs $ 250 if you get it as part of a Day 1 program, after which it will cost $ 299.
In such a program, insects come with the soil. And the Glow, as it currently stands at the end of 2022, is with them. It fails to rub frequently (seems especially iffy when the child wears longer sleeves), makes a “KLONK” sound and throws a mistake (for both users! ) When he is upset. Occasionally books and games fail to load. Sometimes it just resets at random.
There are also some beats that are smaller, more just rough. For instance:
- For some reason, the caller on the Glow screen tends to end up with half the face cut off, as seen in the picture above. I think this is because the Glow screen is in picture mode (higher than it is wide), and the caller is usually in landscape mode (wider than e high). At the same time, the speaker is usually unable to see theirs yourself most of the time - just the child's face, and a view of what the child is expecting - so that they do not know that it is happening. At first I thought it was just that person not knowing how to set up their tablet. Then it happened to someone else. Then I called my baby on the Glow from another room, and my wife smiled at me for finishing with a cut face after maybe three minutes. Amazon should build in some follow-on-the-center style Center for that.
- There are several books in the Amazon Kid library that do not look good on these screens, with words that are too small to read either side. There is a "Bubble" mode which automatically tries to zoom in on these words to make them more readable; more often than not, it just gets ahead. Sometimes this method just turns itself on, annoying anyone who has not experienced it before.
- The UI, overall, can be slow and in weird shape.
All of these things seem like issues that can be fixed. And I hope Amazon does! With a little more polish, and more content added over time, the Glow could be a really sweet little device. But it is not clear what love he will get from this; we’ve been around our house for weeks now and, if there have been pieces, they’ve been… subtle.
But even in its current form, there's a lot I like. The projected screen is nice and bright, picking up a bit of added brightness and tactility from the box’s white rolling mat. I never had to change the lighting of the room to make it work. It's very quick to set up and down if you don't want it to sit out all the time - something that Amazon is clearly considering, since the box is it comes in and acts as a very stable, durable storage device. if you carry out wanted it out all the time, there is a physical shutter version that you can use to cover the camera for added privacy. I also like that Amazon promises to replace it for free if it breaks in the first two years, because, well, kids break things.
But my child doesn't care about that stuff, either. He just wants to empty more dinosaurs.
I like to end my reviews with a simple question: As soon as I return this lender review unit, would I buy it? In this case, I already have that. Or at least I asked for an invitation to buy one. Partly because I think my child would be devastated if he could not "shine with his grandmother" again, and partly because I am honest just like that unique physical presence he gives his grandparents when they say.
Should you? If your child is already satisfied with their grandparents' FaceTiming, they probably aren't. If basic books and pictures and games keep them interested, you probably won't. If you are not willing to put up with a bug or three while Amazon is figuring out what this means for them in the long run, it probably is not. But if that sounds okay, it's really fun.