To sum up what I will tell you about in the details below, for just $139 you are getting one heck of a deal on a tablet computer - especially if you compare it to the $199 for last year's first-generation Fire HD this one is replacing and the $500 or more you can spend on a Wi-Fi version of the iPad. Overall, if you consider the price and the functionality I think this is a great tool / toy if you are a first-time tablet buyer, price vs. value is a key consideration, or if you are looking for an affordable tablet for the kids. If you're comparing last year's HD model to this version and last year's model is operating fine, I'd say save your money and continue to get your money's worth out of that one.
My review below compares a lot of the features of this version of the Fire HD to the original Fire HD, but also some of the features for a first-time user.
I will say setup was a literal pain in the neck, and I said a lot of bad words: despite being a brand new product, the Fire attempted to download and install several operating software updates. Software updates on a Kindle are usually in the background, but I quit counting after 13 crashes and manual reboots. It crashed during setup, playing a song, watching a TV show, reading a book, and playing Words with Friends: in other words, it took 3+ hours to get this thing up and running but after the final software update it has worked as expected without further issues.
Screen Display / Video Playback:
The best improvement in this version of the Fire is the screen display. Looking at the technical specs Amazon did not make major changes in the display / resolution, but the picture appears more crisp: I compared the viewing experience watching with my standard test - don't laugh - the first episode of the Wonder Woman TV series from the 70's. The display on this HD Fire was one heck of a lot better in terms of sharpness than last year's model. For you technical folks out there, the display is 1280x800, and maybe the better display is due to either the type of glass on the screen or just the benefit of having a brand new device.
The initial Wi-Fi setup took some time as it had a hard time identifying the radio signal of all of the available wireless routers, primarily identifying all but mine. I had four versions of the Kindle Fire open during my test, and all but this one identified my router so I had to hop onto a guest network. After the final operating software update I mentioned above, however, it was fairly easy to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi.
My standard test for trying out new gadgets is to see how fast they run side-by-side with a known piece of equipment doing the same test at the best place of Wi-Fi in my house and the worst place where it drags. In this comparison, I had this HD version of the Fire sitting next to the previous version of the HD Fire, as well as an 8.9" HD Fire, Motorola RAZR smartphone, my iPad 2 (yes, the Kindle guy uses an iPad for work), and the first-generation 7" Fire (the model from two years ago) all just using a Wi-Fi connection vs. cellular connectivity.
My "normal" website test is to hit the mobile websites of FoxNews, CNN, my personalized Yahoo page, Google, and the Houston Chronicle. The ones that were usually slow on the other devices and were still slow but faster than the other devices (Houston Chronicle and CNN), and for the other sites I couldn't tell a difference in speed at the location closest to my router. When I went to the slowest / worst reception location of my house, the speed did have a noticeable difference in the other devices as this one was a little bit faster than all but last year's model of the 7" Kindle Fire HD, which I would attribute to the dual antennas. On the signal strength bar, I always got one additional bar - meaning more strength - than all of the other devices non-HD devices.
Sound / Music Playback:
The two speakers are located in the back of the Kindle Fire in two not-noticeable ports: one on the top and one on the bottom. My test of this feature was cranking up Van Halen's Panama to maximum volume (I wanted to see if it could really play the guitar licks), and I would alternate covering one speaker up over the other: you have true stereo sound with no degradation of the sound that makes you think you are about to blow the speaker. The Dolby speakers sound nice and you do get to hear the bass. However, I am still of the opinion the speakers aren't going to do very well being placed in the back as I am in the front: I want to be able to hear whatever I am listening to without really having to crank it up and disturbing someone else in the room (that's what happens when you start losing your hearing like I am). While the cover for this version has not shipped yet - I imagine the sound quality might decrease with a cover in the back over the speakers. The X-ray feature is pretty neat as it displays the lyrics on the screen if you are so inclined; if you are not, it is as simple as the tap of an icon to make the lyric feature go away.
Email setup was very easy for my main Gmail account, both with the software came with the Fire but my primary use of an an existing app called Enhanced Email that I purchased here in the Amazon app store. I did setup the email app that came with the program with no problem - it took about a minute to setup my main Google account - and I was able to send and receive emails with no problem as well as synching my online calendar via Google's calendar and contacts. For those of you asking yourself why am I using the Enhanced Email program, the simple answer is like many of you I have more than one email account: you can quickly switch back and forth on the accounts with the tool. The lazy person in me appreciates that as I don't like getting out of the lazy chair once I'm settled in!
New Tabs and Screen Layout:
In addition to the normal tabs Amazon has continued to make tweaks with the look and feel to the overall display such as more things to scroll through to find what you are looking for in an easier manner. Interestingly, I purchased the one with special offers and the only ad I have seen so far is on the main screen saver vs. being overwhelmed with ads like last year's model.
Turning pages is pretty darn easy - just tap the side of the screen to go to the next page or back a page, or you can swipe your finger across the screen to do the same. I really wish they would add the feature to see the book's description for books on your device like they have with the e-Ink Kindle, as I can't remember what each book in my digital to-be-read pile is about. For those of you who have wondered, you still can't organize your books into categories unless you purchase a third-party app here in the Amazon app store.
There is a Bluetooth connection, and I tested this by taking it out to my car and having the Fire stream music through my car stereo. There were no delays or skips with the connection, and it paired up in about a minute. Just make sure you give it a device name so you can recognize it and be recognized.
I purchased the 16GB of memory vs. the standard 8GB. With storage on the cloud, it could be hard for me to fill it up - my kids could fill up 8GB easily, however, so the extra 8GB of storage is nice to me.
There is no camera on this model - I guess that is how they kept the price lower.
Unlike previous models of the Fire, this one DOES include a charger! If you're scratching your head with that comment, in previous models you had to purchase a charger separately for $20 which always seemed kind of silly for Amazon to do.
What I Wish it Had: a case that was ready to go and shipped when the Fire was ready (why are we waiting). A case is very important in order to protect your investment. Also, I'm interested to see how they try to not hurt the speaker's performance I mentioned above due to the speakers being in the back of the unit and hopefully not covered up with a case.
Overall, at $139 for the 8GB of memory model ($169 for 16 GB of memory) I think this is a pretty good deal. Kids will love it as they can read books, play games, watch TV and movies, and a whole lot of other things. Adults should like it for the exact same reasons, but while I try to minimize the amount of work-related stuff I do at home with the business apps that are available here in the Amazon App store and other places around the Internet I can also work on Excel and Word-compatible files when I have to without having to fire up my work laptop or whatever the case may be. If you've never owned a tablet before, or are looking to upgrade from an earlier model Fire, I would recommend this one. If you're comparing last year's HD model to this version and it is operating fine, I'd say save your money and continue to get your money's worth out of that one.