Academic Technology @ Palomar College

Kindle FreeTime

Kindle FreeTime

Back when Amazon was announcing the launch of their new lines of Kindle devices I was very pleased to hear about the new function which allows restricted access to content for children. (I was less pleased to hear that this is a 2nd-generation Fire and Fire HD-specific control, as I currently only own the 1st-gen device. Oh well.) However, I’ve gotten ahold of a Kindle Fire HD, and wanted to share some of the abilities I see in this FreeTime system.

First of all, if you have a device that supports FreeTime, chances are it is already installed. Check on your list of apps, and download it from the cloud if necessary. Then tap the FreeTime icon, which is blue with a kite-flying child. When you first launch this app it will ask you to establish a password; I recommend NOT using a complex password, as you will need to type in the password every time you begin working in a controlled area of the application. (Of course, for the extremely security-conscious, you can start out with a simple password, then replace it with something more complex once you’ve configured the rest of the FreeTime system the way you want.)

The system guides you through setting up one initial account, although you’ll have the chance to create other accounts later. Once you’ve made the account, you’ll see it on the screen that appears each time that FreeTime starts in the future.

It is possible to manage profiles so that the different categories, books, apps, and videos, have time limits set, although it is also possible to simply allow for unlimited use.

There are also screens which allow you to select among all available content in those categories, and you’ll just select which content should be available for that account. Once you’ve done that, you can log into the newly configured account and see the main carousel of content:

Or look at the detailed views of books or apps:

Note the blue background, which is present whenever the limited account is logged in. Apparently this is supposed to aid in easily telling if your kids are properly logged in, so if you see the typical black background you know something is wrong.

The beauty of this system is that you’ll choose off a list of all content available both on the device itself already or still up in the Amazon cloud. If you are allowing access to something still only in the cloud, when the user first taps the icon the app or book will automatically download, but you do not need to pre-load all the content onto the device manually.

Now, clearly FreeTime is intended for parental control of time spent and content that can be accessed, and it does seem to do a fair job of this. However, for my own use, I can also see some purpose from FreeTime. Consider, if you’ve a large amount of books up in the cloud, setting up an account to access books for your Monday/Wednesday literature class, so you won’t need to scroll through your whole library to find the specific books you need. Or, should you be the type who loans out their Kindle to others, consider how convenient it would be to ensure that they could not accidentally purchase content from your device. Both those situations become fairly easy by using profiles in FreeTime.

A last oddity in FreeTime (at least odd to my mind) is the Characters screen. This section of the FreeTime account tries to analyze the content available, and generates categories based on that analysis. For example, with the several books and apps I allowed on my demonstration account, FreeTime auto-generated the following three categories:

It does not do a perfect job, but this is an interesting way to allow a kid to find content, should their lists of apps or books on the other screens get overwhelming.

Finally, I wanted to check how tightly locked down the Kindle Fire really was, when logged into FreeTime. Sure, to properly exit the program I have to swipe down from the top, and choose Exit, then give a password. But… what happens if I just power down the device, and boot it up again? It goes right back into the FreeTime account. Not bad. Not bad at all.

If you’re looking for more information about FreeTime, I’d recommend starting at the Amazon.com Help page. But I’d really encourage you to just try it out (assuming you have a newer Kindle Fire, that is); just make sure you don’t forget your password!

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