Amazon FreeTime is, hands down, the most sophisticated and easy-to-use parental control tool available for tablets. Here’s how to set it up, access the vast FreeTime Unlimited media library, and set time limits for your kids.
FreeTime is Amazon’s version of parental controls. It comes on Amazon’s Fire Tablets, but it’s also available in the Google Play Store for pretty much any Android phone or tablet, too. We’ll cover how to set up each down below.
Unlike other parental controls, such as those available on the iPad, FreeTime isn’t just about locking a kid into one app, locking them out of other apps, or keeping them from accessing the device’s control panel. FreeTime outright reskins the device and turns it into a completely self-contained and kid-friendly tablet with an easy-to-use interface, a totally separate app list just for the child, and individual profiles so each child in your household can have their own age-appropriate dashboard: the toddler can have toddler friendly games and read-aloud apps and the middle-schooler can have more advanced games and their own media library, for example.
Further, with the addition of the very inexpensive FreeTime Unlimited ($2.99 a month for one child, or $6.99 for a whole family with an Amazon Prime account), you gain access to a massive library of hand-curated movies, television shows, and books that are constantly updated and require no extra effort from the parents to maintain or curate.
Since FreeTime is baked into the system on Amazon’s Fire Tablets, there’s no installation required—you just jump in and get started setting up profiles. That’s not true of other Android devices, as you have to run through a semi-lengthy setup process to get the same effect. Here’s what to do. (If you have a Fire Tablet, skip to the next section of this article.)
First, head to the Google Play Store and install the FreeTime app on the Android device in question. Once installed, go ahead and launch FreeTime, then sign in to your Amazon account.
You’ll need to first grant a bunch of permissions, starting with restricting in-app purchases in Google Play. Fortunately, the FreeTime app will walk you through the entire setup process. Tap the “Open Google Play Store” button, then follow the instructions on the following page.
If you want to enable Amazon’s custom kid-friendly web browser in FreeTime mode, then you’ll do that next. Tap the “Enable Browser” button to make it happen, then select which profiles you’d like to enable it on (if you already have one set up, that is).
Finally, select “OK” on the Smart Filters page.
While FreeTime used to be an app that ran on Fire Tablets, it’s now an integral part of the system itself—built into the Profiles & Family Library settings. To find it on a Fire Tablet, jump into the Settings menu by pulling down the notification shade, then tapping the cog icon. From there, tap on the Profiles & Family Library option.
On other Android devices, just launch the FreeTime app.
If you’ve previously set up different profiles (as I have in the below screenshot), they’ll show up here. If not, let’s get started by adding a new one.
Next, create a profile for each child by tapping the “Add a child’ button. Enter the child’s name a birthday, then choose a “theme,” which is defined by the child’s age. Tap the “Add Profile” button when you’re done.
On Android devices, the first time you launch your new FreeTime Profile, you’ll have to do a bit of additional set up. Again, just follow the on-screen prompts here.
You’ll start with allowing usage tracking for the FreeTime application, setting it as the default launcher, and setting your parental PIN. Tap the “OK, let’s do it” button to get started with this portion of the setup process.
First, allow usage tracking. Read the instructions here, then tap the “OK, let’s do it” button again. This will take you into the Usage Access menu—just enable the feature for Amazon FreeTime. This basically allows FreeTime to track usage in other apps, which is basically a must for the application to do what it does. Once enabled, tap the back button.
Next, you’ll set FreeTime as your default launcher. Tap the “OK, let’s do it” button again, then choose “Always” under the Use Amazon FreeTime as Home option.
Finally, set your FreeTime passcode. Once that’s done, you’ll be take into the child profile immediately.
From this point forward, the setup process is identical on Fire Tablets and other Android devices.
After you’ve created the new profile, you’ll add content. You can choose from basically everything in your Amazon content library, but the first tab has all the kid friendly stuff pre-selected in one place. Pick and choose at your leisure, or just tap the “Add all kids’ titles” buttons to let Amazon do the hard part for you. Tap “Done” when you’re finished.
This will throw you back to the Profiles page. This is the default view you will always see when launching FreeTime on Android or the Profiles option in Settings on Fire Tablets. To modify settings for a particular child, tap on their name (or, on Android, tap the cog icon).
There are a slew of options here, including Daily Goals and Time Limits, Content Management, FreeTime Unlimited settings (more on that below) and profile editing functions. These options will vary slightly depending on what type of device you’re using—Android device or Fire Tablet, phone or tablet, etc.—but for the most part the meat and potatoes of what FreeTime offers is the same.
We’re going to start with the most important tools found in FreeTime: Daily Goals & Time Limits. Go ahead and tap the “Set Daily Goals & Time Limits” option, then hit the toggle to enable these features.
Alright! Here you have a few options. You’ll start with setting the child’s bedtime, which will basically disable use of the tablet after that time. You can also set specific educational-based goals with set amounts of required times for educations books, videos, and apps. If little Eduardo is going to spend all damn day on his tablet, he might as well learn something, right?
There’s also an option to set the total amount of screen time allowed, which may or may not be something you’re into. You can set it from one to six hours, but there’s also an “unlimited” option. If you’re not into just blanket-allowing screen time, there’s also an option to allow specific time by activity. That way you can let them read as many books as they want, but only watch videos or play games for a limited time. I love how granular that is.
Once you’re finished setting up times, just press the back button.
There are a few other tweaks you can make here, like add/remove content options where you’ll add or remove new books, apps, and videos; a web browser toggle; and Smart Filters, which basically help create a curated experience for FreeTime Unlimited profiles.
Once you launch FreeTime and select your child’s profile, the tablet doesn’t just superficially become their tablet—it actually completely locks itself down. The lockdown process is so thorough, in fact, we were surprised at what a complete job it does. FreeTime even unmounts the local storage so that even if you have a particularly clever child that plugs the tablet into a computer, they won’t be able to open the folders containing pictures taken by mom and dad, music, movies, or other content on the device.
What the child will see is the screen above, containing a carousel of media. This carousel displays all the (approved) content available in the Amazon owner’s immediate library, by default. As the child uses the device, the carousel will update to include the most recently used media (books, apps, and videos), just like the regular Fire OS interface.
If you tap on the shortcuts at the top, you’ll see a list of just that particular category (books, videos, apps) on the device, as well as all the content available via FreeTime Unlimited (if you’ve activated the subscription).
The same layout repeats itself for videos and apps. In any of the content isn’t stored locally on the device, it will be downloaded from Amazon. All the media (books, videos, and apps) offered in FreeTime are completely free. There’s no chance your child can click on anything offered through the service and accidentally purchase anything.
The last navigation screen, and one we think is particularly clever, is the Characters screen. As any parent can tell you, kids attach themselves to characters. Be it The Cat in the Hat, Dora the Explorer, or just a general love of dinosaurs, kids develop specific tastes.
In the Characters menu, they can easily find content they’re looking for by selecting a character (like the Cat in the Hat) or a general topic (like dinosaurs) they’re really into. Clicking on a specific character icon will show all the available media related to that character:
The entire user experience is completely siloed, and at no point can the child get out of the FreeTime garden and into the rest of the device. Pressing the home button always takes them back to the original kid-friendly media carousel. Searching using the quick-find feature only searches the available kid-friendly content. If they swipe down the top-screen navigation bar like so:
The only setting they can adjust is the screen brightness. Everything else: Settings, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Storage, and exiting FreeTime, requires a parental password.
As of right now, and for the foreseeable future, FreeTime is the most comprehensive parental controls option available in the tablet market. It locks the tablet down tight, it customizes the interface, and with the addition of FreeTime Unlimited, it delivers thousands upon thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, television shows, and apps, all organized in an easy to search and navigate system. If you’re curious about FreeTime Unlimited, there’s an option within FreeTime to give it a try for one month before having to cough up a few bucks a month.