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Amazon’s kid-friendly Echo works well, but don’t waste your money on the bundle

Alexa tells great jokes (for kids) • Voice-driven kids games are entertaining • Works just like a regular Echo Dot
Teaching manners not effective for Echo veterans • Value of bundle is questionable
Alexa is quite good at catering to an underage audience in the Echo Dot Kids Edition, but since you can enable FreeTime for Alexa on any Echo Dot, there’s not much reason to buy this bundle.

Mashable Score3.25

Amazon is releasing its Echo Dot Kids Edition at a precarious time.

The backlash against social networks and big tech companies, which recently came to a head with Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, has kicked off a widespread re-evaluation of the kinds of information that we willingly, and sometimes unwittingly, surrender to various services. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which just went into effect, has reinforced this awareness.

Add to that the story about how an Amazon Echo accidentally shared the audio of a private family conversation with one of the people in the account holder’s contacts. While that was probably the Echo equivalent of a butt-dial, it does serve as a reminder about some of the more uneasy possibilities that go hand-in-hand with putting frictionless, always-listening tech in our personal spaces.

Given the current climate, it may strike some as kind of a big ask on Amazon’s part to expect customers to buy an Echo device specifically created for kids. But there’s a good counterargument, too: The proper answer to this wave isn’t to overly shield kids from technology, but to design a product that caters to the different habits they have, and do it in a way that doubles down on privacy protections.

And that’s exactly what Amazon has created in the Echo Dot Kids Edition, which my family has been using for the past couple of weeks. It provides a great gateway for younger kids to use Alexa, and, per Amazon, audio files and kids’ personal data are never sent to third parties.

But you still shouldn’t buy it. More on that in a minute.

A colorful setup

If there’s something about the Echo Dot Kids Edition that Amazon doesn’t want you to know, it’s that the device itself is exactly the same as the Echo Dot, just with FreeTime for Alexa enabled by default.

The Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with colorful rubber covers that include green, red, and blue.

The Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with colorful rubber covers that include green, red, and blue.

Image: LIli Sams / mashable

FreeTime for Alexa is basically “parental control mode” for the device, which you can activate on any Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Plus (notably, the screen-enabled Echoes don’t have the feature). The Alexa app makes a distinction between the two products in the setup menu, but it’s really to ensure FreeTime is turned on and some appropriate skills (like some third-party games) are enabled.

With FreeTime, you create specific profiles for your kids. I have two, an eight-year-old a and five-year-old, and they have different profiles on our Kindle Fire Kids tablet. For the Echo, though, you can only have one kid logged in at a time, so you need to pick one or the other. Amazon says it doesn’t partition content by age group in FreeTime for Alexa, so I don’t know how much difference this would make anyway.

The Alexa app has an option for the Kids Edition.

The Alexa app has an option for the Kids Edition.

Some of the options you can tweak with FreeTime.

Some of the options you can tweak with FreeTime.

In any case, I picked my son, who’s older, and after a few taps in the Alexa app, the kids’ Dot was up and running in our house’s playroom, complete with primary-red case.

I’ve had an Echo in our kitchen since the summer of 2015 and have since hooked up a few Dots in various rooms over the past year, so my kids are very familiar with Alexa. They set timers, play songs, and ask questions (“When does Pacific Rim Uprising come out?” was a popular one with my son for a while) all the time.

Connections: microUSB for power, and audio out for external speakers.

Connections: microUSB for power, and audio out for external speakers.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

And pretty much all of that is exactly the same between the regular Dot and the Kids Edition. But I wanted to get more of a sense of what this age-aware version of Alexa could do that was different, so I took one of the suggestions you get after setup and asked to play a game.

Play time

Alexa was down, quickly listing off voice-driven games appropriate for an eight-year-old. The first one mentioned was Lemonade Stand, so we went for that one. It’s very simple: With a few fake bucks to start, you make imaginary lemonade at the cost of 15 cents a glass, and promote your business by buying signs as well. The weather (and thus demand) changes every “day” in the game. Pretty simple money-management-and-profit gameplay.

And my son loved it. He really threw himself into the game over the next day and a half. When I checked in with him, he had turned the initial five bucks into almost $200. (Look out, Jeff Bezos!)

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

My five-year-old daughter found a game she liked, too. Panda Rescue, as she described it, let her teach pandas to prepare them for release into the wild. You can meet “friends” (non-player characters), advance levels and lose levels as you work your way up to Level 10, when presumably the pandas are ready to handle themselves in the “world.”

My kids also appreciated that Alexa on the Echo Dot Kids Edition could grok their humor better than plain Alexa. “Why was the ghost so well-liked by his classmates? He had a lot of school spirit,” might not bring down the house in a comedy club, but my son is a fan.

“Alexa finally tells good jokes,” he told me.

FreeTime for Alexa has a few other features. In response to queries, Alexa is supposed to give more educational answers, and use vocabulary that’s tailored to a younger audience.

The thing is, my kids generally don’t ask Alexa a ton of straight-up informational questions. It’s usually everyday updates like the weather or kid questions that no one would know the answer to, let alone a digital assistant (“Alexa, what’s more powerful: the Infinity stones or the Force?”). Perhaps, if the kinds of answers Alexa gives are to their liking, this kind of behavior will change over time, but it’s not a huge selling point.

With no speakers, audio comes out the bottom.

With no speakers, audio comes out the bottom.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Another feature that didn’t go over at all was Alexa’s “rewarding” of polite behavior. That is, if your kid says “please” and “thank you” to Alexa, it will say something like, “Thank you for asking so nicely.” I don’t disagree with the impetus behind this, but I found that it’s probably too late for my kids. After interacting with the digital assistant in a utilitarian way for three years, they’re not inclined to say “please” to Alexa.

It doesn’t even work all the time. When I tried to show them how it was done, asking Alexa to “Please tell me the weather,” there was no praise for my good manners. Oh well.

The kids Dot does lock the kids out of some key functions to make sure they stay safe. They can’t control smart home devices (although that will change at some point, Amazon says) or access news updates, and no explicit music will play. That worked fine with my kids since their favorite songs — fare like “Hand Clap” by Fitz and the Tantrums and “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten — are pretty family-friendly anyway.

Final thoughts

But I really need to get to the reason you shouldn’t buy the Echo Dot Kids Edition, and it has nothing to do with privacy. It’s because you can get virtually all the same abilities via a regular Echo Dot, which costs just $40.

Image: Lili Sams/mashable

The $80 Kids Edition bundle gets you a Dot, a colorful case, a year of FreeTime Unlimited, and a two-year no-questions-asked warranty. Other than the Dot itself, you don’t need any of that stuff. The only bit that’s arguably worth the extra expense is the year of FreeTime Unlimited ($36 value), but, if you don’t have a Kindle Fire tablet to enjoy the children’s books, mostly means just some extra songs and playlists.

So if you’re looking to extend Alexa to your kids’ rooms, go ahead and just get a couple of Dots, turn on FreeTime for Alexa for them, and put that extra cash into Lego sets or something. That’ll teach them the value of a dollar better than Lemonade Stand ever could.

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Verizon is offering $50 off two pairs of Apple Airpods, and discounts on Airpods *never* happen

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Saving $50 on two pairs of Airpods (or $25 each) is quite literally unheard of.
Saving $50 on two pairs of Airpods (or $25 each) is quite literally unheard of.

Image: pexels

Verizon wants to give you two pairs of Apple Airpods for $270. That’s $50 off.

Y’all.

This is the only way we know of to get Airpods with this big of a discount right now, and Verizon is the only carrier in on the action. It’s only happened once before, and it probably won’t happen again any time soon. This is like, the Halley’s Comet of Apple deals.

For reference as to how huge this deal is, just know that the best deal you could find on Airpods for Black Friday was a puny $9 discount on Ebay.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Add two pairs of Airpods to your cart on Verizon and place your order. Your total will come to $319.94, but that’s supposed to happen. Chill.

  2. After you have completed the purchase, head over to Verizon’s Promotional center, and use the code GET50 to apply for the $50 rebate.

  3. Verizon’s “Spend $200, get $50 back” promotion will do its magic, and you’ll end up paying just $269.94 for both pairs (AKA saving $25 a pop).

If you don’t already own a pair of Airpods, we’re guessing you’ve been eyeing them up for a while — because they’re like the Ferrari of wireless headphones. The Airpods take convenience to a whole new level as they’re constantly on and automatically connect to whatever Apple device you’re using. If you need a hand from Siri, just give one of the pods a double tap. And, due to Apple’s custom W1 chip, you can apparently listen at full volume for five hours on a single charge. 

Image: apple

Okay, you probably don’t need two pairs of Airpods — but the deal is still 100% worth it. Sell them, gift them to a friend, or keep the second pair as a backup if you’re one of those people who loses everything. (Raises hand.) Regardless, you’re still saving or making money somewhere, and that’s what we’re all about.

Take advantage of the deal while it’s still around, folks. Learn more and get two pairs of Airpods for $270 here.

Apple just surprised us with a limited sale on Beats by Dre headphones

Apple has just kicked off a surprise sale across it’s Beats lineup of over-ear and in-ear headphones. This is not the first time a sale like this has occurred, but they usually don’t last for long.

The high-performance Beats Studio3 get a $70 discount down to $279.95 from $349.95. Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling is a key feature and provides real time blocking of background noise. Studio3 comes in white, matte black, blue, red, porcelain rose, and shadow gray. You can see the Beats Studio3 on Apple.com by clicking here.

Amazon has the better deal on the Studio3 depending on your choice of color. You can get them in Blue, Red, or White for just $227.95. In fact they are undercutting Apple in every color but gray. Check out the BeatsStudio3 on Amazon here, plus they are Prime eligible. BestBuy is lowering the price to $309 for some color choices, but they do have price matching as well.

Both the normal and neighborhood collection of the Beats Solo3 are on sale. These are regularly $299.95, but are on-sale for $239.95. Apple’s W1 chip is on-board and makes for easy Bluetooth pairing to an iOS device. The neighborhood collections includes more vibrant colors like “brick red” and “break blue.” While the normal collection includes (PRODUCT)RED and colors to match the iPhone. You can see the Beats Solo3 in classic colors on Apple.com here, or the neighborhood collection here.

Deals on Solo3 differ by color, but they are available for as low as $197 from Amazon. BestBuy has the Beats Solo3 in silver for $197 as well, while the other colors come in at $259.99 or $299.

Apple's limited time sale on Beats is available now.

Apple’s limited time sale on Beats is available now.

Image: screenshot by Jacob krol/mashable

In terms of in-ear both the BeatsX and PowerBeats3 are included in the sale. BeatsX feature a neckband design and get a $30 discount down to $119.95. They are available in white, blue, gray, matte silver, matte gold, and black. PowerBeats3 get a $40 discount down to $159.95 across the original colors and the neighborhood collection. Both the BeatsX and PowerBeats3 feature the W1 chip for easy connectivity. You can see the BeatsX on Apple.com by clicking here. Classic colors for the PowerBeats3 are on Apple.com here and the neighborhood collection is here.

On Amazon and BestBuy, BeatsX in either gray or silver are just $89, plus other colors are still cheaper at $99. Depending on your color preference, the PowerBeats3 from Amazon or BestBuy are as low as $109.99.

While Apple does these limited time sales every now and then, there is a chance we could see a refresh on some of these products at WWDC 2018 or later this year.

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Sorry iPhone users, Apple won’t let you have the Steam Link app

Welp, it looks like the App Store won’t be getting Steam’s newest app after all.

Apple has rejected Steam Link, an app that lets you play Steam games on your iPhone or iPad, even though the company initially approved the app for its App Store.

According to a statement from Valve, Apple “revoked its approval” of Steam Link on May 10, one day after it was officially announced. The app had been initially been approved on May 7, but Apple suddenly rescinded its approval. The company cited “business conflicts” in its rejection and Valve’s appeals have so far been unsuccessful.

The news comes as disappointment to many gamers and to Valve, which says it “spent many hours on this project and the approval process.” 

The exact reason for the rejection of the hotly anticipated app is unclear. In its statement, Valve hints that the rejection may be due to Apple’s objections over how the app bypasses its own App Store.

Valve argued that “the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store,” but Apple was unconvinced. 

We’ve reached out to both companies for more info and will update if we hear back. 

But even though Steam Link functions similarly to a remote desktop app, there are other differences that could raise Apple’s scrutiny. 

Apple’s “walled garden” has traditionally prevented availability of third-party stores, for one. Allowing games that could be downloaded independently of its App Store could set a troubling precedent for Apple, which wants to tightly control all the content on its platform. There’s also the fact that Steam Link’s setup ensures Apple wouldn’t be able to take a cut of any of Valve’s revenue, which likely didn’t sit well either.

That’s little consolation to Valve or its fans who were hoping to be able to get access to the app, which was slated to launch this week. (A beta version is available for Android.)

Valve is apparently not giving up hope on the project entirely, in its statement the company said “we hope Apple will reconsider in the future.”

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Psst: You can get a brand new 32 GB iPhone 7 for less than $300, plus a free Straight Talk gift card

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
You had us at "unlimited data."
You had us at “unlimited data.”

Image: pexels

It’s no secret that iPhones aren’t exactly at optimal performance after a year of use. Apple thinks they’re slick by unveiling a new iPhone just when yours breaks, but…nah. We don’t have a spare $549 laying around to replace our iPhone 7, let alone almost a grand for the iPhone 8 or X.

If you’re desperately in need of a new iPhone, you probably think that the only affordable options are buying someone’s old iPhone 5 on Facebook Marketplace, or this: 

But you’d be wrong. Because we found a deal that can get you a brand new 32GB iPhone 7 and a free $55 gift card for Straight Talk’s Ultimate Unlimited 4G 30 Day Plan for under $300.

Walmart is killing it lately with the tech deals, guys. Instead of paying the retail price of $549 for an iPhone 7 directly from Apple, you can get your hands on one for under $300 when you team up with Straight Talk. And then, Straight Talk is offering a free $55 gift card for a month of unlimited data, talk, and text. That’s $55 that you don’t have to pay, which is basically getting a new iPhone 7 for $244. *Cue heavy breathing*

Image: walmart

We know the spotlight has been on the iPhone 8 and X for a while now, but the 7 deserves some cred, too. It sports a sharp 12 MP rear camera with 4K video optical image stabilization, a 4.7-inch HD Retina display, an awesome battery life, and all the goodies that come with iOS 11.

If you’re not familiar with prepaid plans, trust us — this is way easier than trying to find a pre-owned iPhone that’s on your network without jailbreaking it, which is a whole other pain in the ass. Prepaying with Straight Talk means not being locked into a contract, unlimited streaming at DVD quality, and a monthly auto-refill for data, talk, and texting for just $54 (you can go cheaper, too). Seems like a solid gig to us.

Learn more about the bundle and grab your new 32 GB iPhone 7 in black for $298.99 here, and learn more about Straight Talk’s plans here.