Thursday, 10 March 2016

Amazon Fire Great with Dash and Dot Robots

Robotic toys and gadgets are great for kids, but they can be expensive. In most cases you require a tablet to operate robotic toys, again adding to the cost of owning tech toys.

We bought Dot and Dash from Wonder Workshop for the kids last year, and discovered our old iPad 2 didn't work as the robots require the newer BLE technology to connect with the tablet. We had a Amazon Fire, and although at the time, it wasn't one of the supported devices recommended by Wonder Workshop, we discovered it worked really well.

Wonder Workshop has now made their apps for Dash and Dot available on Amazon (released on 22 February 2016), perhaps because we requested it. :) We'd like to think so.

Why we use a cheaper tablet?

Tech is expensive, and it's important that children learn to look after tablets, robots, electronics and other tech. We, for example, have a rule in the house, no food around tech and wash your hands before you use it.

The Amazon Fire is a cheap tablet, packed with lots of functionality, perfect for young kids. I'd much rather my kid accidentally drop a $50 tablet than a $500 one.

Using a cheaper tablet gives you peace of mind, when your young child uses it. You'd probably also feel more comfortable taking an Amazon Fire to the park to try out your Ollie or Parrot drone, or sending it to school for a robotic show-and-tell.

My 5 year old recently took Dot and Dash into school to show his class, and we ended up sharing the Amazon Fire tablet around, so others could have a go. I probably wouldn't have allowed the same usage with an expensive iPad.

Currently Dash and Dot together with the Amazon Fire, live out of their box, ready for my kids to play. They confidently operate the robots with the tablet and include them in their normal play. I feel quite comfortable for them to use the tech without constant supervision for fear something might break.

How does the Amazon Fire stack up?

The Amazon Fire 7" HD is, in fact, a great size for small hands. Especially as kids like to move around, it's easy to carry and hold. We've got a protective cover on the Fire, which we'd always recommend when kids use tablets.

Now that Wonder Workshop's apps are on Amazon, it's very easy to download and start playing with your robots.

As the apps weren't available on Amazon prior to the 22nd of February, we sideloaded the apps from the Playstore. They worked fine at the time. When I installed the Amazon apps, I had to uninstall the Playstore ones, so Dash could update properly. After a couple restarts and switching the Bluetooth on and off, we were ready to play.

UPDATE: All the Wonder Workshop Apps for Dash and Dot robots are available in the Amazon Appstore.

The screen size is slightly small, but for a young child, who will not have copious blocks of code in the Blockly app, it is great. I would say the benefit of a smaller tablet in small hands, outweighs the need for a larger screen.  Of course, when you kids are older and they code more complicated programmes for Dash and Dot, it may be worth considering a larger screen-size tablet. (But you can always use the cheaper tablet for out-and-about activities.)

Which App First?

There are 4 different free apps for Dash and Dot on Amazon (US) (UK).

Not all of them work with both robots, for example, "Xylo" is a stand-alone app and only works with Dash using its xylophone attachment. A previous "Go" app (which actually makes it 5 apps on iOS and Andriod) is not available on Amazon, however, it's functionality is found in the "Wonder for Dash and Dot" app.

We'd recommend starting with the Wonder app to get to grips with the functionality of the robots. This app also has a remote control feature, which allows you to drive the robots, change colours and play sounds, without any programming.

The Path app is aimed at much younger kids, we'd say as young as 3 could use this app with some parental support. It's all about learning to sequence.

Once you understand what your robots are capable of, move on to Blockly, where the real programming happens. Here you can also code your accessories, which currently includes the launcher. Blockly is a block-based programming platform, much like Scratch, and allows kids to drag and drop blocks to make their program.

Our Verdict

The Amazon Fire is a fantastic tablet to use with Dash and Dot, even more so now they have Amazon apps. If you're thinking this may be a solution for your family, read this comparison between the Amazon Fire Basic and Kids Edition. We would say, a larger screen size would be better, but if the budget is tight, we recommend the Amazon Fire.

It's always a good idea to use a protective cover with kids using tablets. We bought a comfort grip bumper case, which is simple and easy to hold. Young kids find portfolio type covers tricky to handle, especially if they want to move around with the tablet and use the camera.

NuPro Comfort Grip Fire Bumper Case is available in a variety of colours: USA
| UK

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