Amazon Glow projector review: an innovative, interactive video calling device

Amazon's latest attempt at entertaining your children is an innovative effort. It combines an interactive projector and Amazon Kids Plus, an excellent collection of child-friendly content. It isn't an Alexa device. However, it does have four microphones and shares a name with Amazon Kids Plus. The $300 Amazon Glow, which is not a part Amazon's open, growing smart home ecosystem, is a manicured, walled garden that your children can enjoy.
The Amazon Glow is an interactive gaming and video calling device that enables children to connect with their family and friends remotely. It's specifically designed to make these awkward interactions easier, more natural and engaging.

Facebook's Portal Go attempts to fix the problem of distracted, wriggly kids by creating a portable device that allows you to have conversations wherever they are. Amazon, however, aims to keep your child engaged with Grandma via a tabletop projector. The projected play area of 19.2 inches encourages active play. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and second cousins can not only watch their child draw, paint or play but also join in, even though it is a somewhat disembodied head format.

Amazon Glow Verge Score: 6.5 out 10 Good Stuff Fun interface

Innovative touchscreen projection technology

Video calls keep kids interested

Games get harder as you get better

If it breaks, you get a free replacement

Good Privacy / Parental Controls Bad Stuff Slow and Buggy

No Bluetooth headset support

Amazon Kids Plus subscription required

You will need a lot of space to put it in use

Everybody must have an Amazon account

Video quality inconsistent. Buy for $299.00 at Amazon

The Glow is too expensive due to its new hardware platform. It also has limitations that make it less likely to be your child's preferred tech toy. Glow is part Amazon's Day1 Editions program which may mean that the company is still trying to decide if they want to invest in it as a holiday present. This is not something you can just buy. You must request an invitation. However, you will get it for a slightly lower price of $249.

An ongoing content subscription costs $2.99 per month, but is included for the first year. Your child will also need a tablet to access the internet. It doesn't work with Fire tablets at the moment, although they can be bought cheaply. Amazon claims that compatibility will soon be available.

Amazon offers a 2-year warranty and a free replacement if the device breaks. This is great as it nearly took our nose dive off the kitchen counter many times. The Glow is also free of ads, which is a refreshing feature for an Amazon device.

The Glow measures in at just over 14 inches high and has an 8-inch touchscreen on its front. To capture the child's actions and to show the remote caller, a 720p camera is located above the screen. A 10-watt speaker is below the screen.

Four microphones are located above the projector-shaped protruding plastic block that allows for two-way audio. The projector beams a touch-sensitive, 19.2-inch projection screen onto a white mat. IR sensors and a second camera allow for interaction. Seven tangram puzzle pieces are included. These can be used to scan special puzzles or play with digitally. It takes up quite a bit of space and can be difficult to find a suitable spot.

The Glow's power source is a removable, short power cord. There is also a privacy shutter that blocks video and microphones. Additionally, there is a power button, volume up/down button, and a power button. It is designed for children aged 3-9 years old to play and chat with their friends and family remotely.

The remote user uses an Android or iPad tablet to play on the Glow device. The child uses the Glow device hands-free. Glow to Glow is not available at the moment. While there are games that can be played alone or with a friend, this game is about interfacing with another person and not adding another screen to your home. This means that if you want your child to use Glow to Glow while you are at home, then you will need to be in another room with a tablet. It's almost as if someone didn't think it through.

This video-calling device is different from other devices because it offers two completely different experiences. Each participant can see the same interface which consists of digital bookshelves, from which you can select books, games, and activities. However, the adult receives more prompts and controls that the child.

The Glow app is designed to help children who are tech-savvy and can intuitively control things with touch. They will not be distracted by a 2D face displayed on a screen and get bored. Tablet users are typically older people who need more text-based prompts or guidance when navigating this new technology.

Although I understand where Amazon is coming off, the stereotyping makes me uncomfortable. This is my main complaint about the Glow: it's too tightly controlled. I'm not referring to parental controls or privacy, although those are present and correct. The gameplay is what I am referring to. We ran into some restrictions after testing it for an hour with my 10-year old daughter and her 74 year-old grandmother.

I refused to win a game of Chess, which was extremely fun and well-executed. The game was declared a draw despite the fact that I had checked my child thoroughly. It was almost like being told by your teacher that you are not allowed to do this until you are old enough. You can also download books from Kids Plus, but only graphic novels and picture books will work.

It was also a surprise to learn that Bluetooth headsets cannot be paired with the Glow, despite it being Bluetooth enabled. Amazon PR informed me via email that this is not possible with Glow. Part of the fun for parents is being able to hear their children speak with a distant family member or friend. They can also join the conversation if they wish. Thank you, but I don't need to be taught how to have fun and enjoy my children.

This device is great for parents who work from home. They can call their children and have them talk to a friend or relative if they need to do some work. This is much more guilt-free than watching another Peppa Pig movie to get through the weekly team meeting. Headphones for your child are a great idea if you live in a small apartment.

My 10-year-old daughter enjoyed many of these games, even though they aren't in the target age group (at least Amazon has not told me that it plans to add more content for older children). The interactive art area was her favorite feature. It allows you to let your imagination run wild without any restrictions and scan real-life objects to create your masterpieces.

Although the Glow is easy to set up, it must be used by adults. It is not a toy. Turn it on, plug it in and scan the QR code on the screen to get the Glow app. Although you can use your phone or tablet, the interactive experience on a tablet is better. The app connects with the Glow via Bluetooth. It allows you to connect to your WiFi network (2.4GHz and 5GHz).

Next, sign in with an Amazon account. One is required for the Glow and companion apps. Select your profile and add children. You can either create profiles for your children or if you have an Amazon Kids account. If you have more than one child, you can add them to your friends and choose the child that they can interact with. You can also change the name of family members to the one your child uses. The Glow app can only be downloaded in the US. This means that you will not be able chat with friends or family members who live abroad.

Glow's tight control is my main complaint

A download link to the Glow app will be sent to contacts when you add them. It gets more complicated on the other side. To enable Alexa calling, Grandma and Grandpa must sign in to Amazon (or sign up) to create an Amazon account. It has been made clear that it is best to do this using a tablet and not a smartphone.

Once the setup is complete, the child can dial a contact by tapping their avatar on touchscreen. The call will be received on the tablet just like an Alexa voice call (though this is not an Alexa device). After answering the call, both parties can see and control their game spaces and each other. The interface is very useful because you can only see your playmate or the games. This helps to limit distractions. This did sometimes mean that the grandparent was not properly in the frame.

The Glow launched with a lot of content. It heavily relies on Amazon Kids Plus books (there is no video), and introduces many new games and puzzles. Bubble Game, where you compete against your opponent to blow bubbles while holding your letter, Paddle Battle, and the card games Crazy 8s and Go Fish were some of our favorite.

It was chess, however, that took most of our testing time. My daughter has been resisting chess since childhood. She was quickly hooked after I showed her how to play and gave her hints. She loved the idea of creating different worlds with the pieces dressed up in accordance to the theme and the animations. If you place a piece in a danger zone, it will start shaking and look scared. It will look more confident if you move it to a safe spot. It's educational and fun.

Glow's best feature is its ability to learn your skills as you play. The games start out simple but then quickly get more difficult as you improve. This keeps the child interested and engaged. Every activity starts with lots of prompts and hints to help you know what you are doing and who it is. This takes a lot out of explaining to grandparents or children how to play a new game. Many of these require that the child can read. However, the interactive touch points and hinting on the adults' side of the device make it a highlight for younger children.

Amazon Glow looks very promising, but it feels incomplete.

Although the gameplay was generally smooth, we encountered some freezing, slow loading, and glitches. It was not surprising that the first-gen product is still in testing, but it was frustrating nonetheless. My daughter threw up in frustration and ran off during a Paddle Battle game. This is a beta product, for which you'll be paying hundreds of dollars.

It is slightly underpowered and could use a bit more power to keep things running smoothly. Video quality was poor on the 1280x800 resolution touchscreen. Audio became robotic and garbled at times. It was most likely caused by a slow internet connection at the other end. However, it is something you should keep in mind.

Although the Amazon Glow looks promising, it feels unfinished and a little rough around edges. It is also too restrictive. Amazon should continue to improve it, as it has a lot of potential for kids entertainment and other uses. When you don't want screens all over your home, touch-enabled projector technology is a great option. Amazon's next generation of smart home technology could be a small voice-activated projector hidden under your kitchen cabinets. It could project onto your wall or kitchen counter when you have a recipe to make or view the feed from your video doorbell.

For now, however, you will probably not want to pay for the beta test. Instead, wait for Amazon to finish this product before you dive in.