I have been using the Kindle Fire HD tablet for the last 3-4 weeks and am finally in a position to give some preliminary feedback. Justifications for getting the fire included:
So, how has it all worked out?
Replacing Cable: Amazon definitely deserves an "A" grade here, The key programs that our family watches are available both in SD and HD on the fire for $2-$3/episode with free cloud storage for the video. Furthermore, the prime service includes a plethora of educational and interesting programs at no cost which can be streamed at high quality. Lastly, for the small number of movies we've watched on the fire, the pricing has been more than fair and the video quality is acceptable. Blu-ray is better - but not near as convenient. The biggest advantage of the fire for video content is that it makes it much easier to find valuable and interesting content via Amazon's video library....I find the recommendations much better than Netflix and the inclusion of older classics and BBC/History/Discovery channel content is a great touch. The few things missing -- live CNBC and CSPAN....
Portable Multimedia Platform -- Yes, the fire serves very well here. However, one has to rely on cloud or local network storage/content as it just isn't realistic to continously manage the available storage on the fire (although 64GB allows for a ton of content to be cached especially for travel). I use flickr for family photos and vimeo for family video. There are dedicated android apps for both of these services which display well on the fire HD. There are also some nice photo editing and management apps on the fire -- what is missing? Camera connectivity and a real import/review process for downloading photos from a camera during vacations....yes, one could use an eye-fi card for that but eye-fi cards have other limitations that impact cameras that i'm not willing to put up with. I'm also not a big fan of wifi hard drives....it just seems too insecure to put personal storage directly on a wifi network at a public hotel... My near term solution is additional SD cards for the camera, and longterm I hope to get a Nexto DI to do the job properly...:
Getting rid of travel laptop: There are six things that really matter when replacing a travel laptop and those are battery life, security, application availability, durability, size, and wireless internet connectivity. The Fire HD has OK battery life -- not really great for a tablet, but at least as good as a laptop. It does need to be charged for a few hours 1-2 times/day. It can be used while being charged. It lasts a lot longer reading than watching video, but the video lasts through a lengthy movie easily. Disabling the network during a flight should extend battery life to somewhere between 4-6hrs of use. Charging is via standard micro-usb cable, but the amazon charger is much faster than normal USB as it takes advantage of the full wattage allowed by the USB spec, something most other android phones or other USB devices do not need.
Security is somewhat sucky....the version of android that Amazon uses as the basis of the Fire seems out of date, doesn't have the latest android security features, but there is a PIN that can be required at tablet power on and most user data is just cached from the cloud so worse comes to worse -- one may be able to ask amazon to brick it (I haven't inquired to Amazon on what happens here). However, the local device data does not appear to be encrypted in any way and is available for download if connected via USB to any other computer. If you are storing security sensitive data on the device, one needs to make sure that every applicable app encrypts its data on every use. There does seem to be some limited automatic vpn functionality and the wifi connectivity has the normal android multiple security mode capabilities. Amazon definitely has work to do here, but it's acceptable if one is careful.
Application availability is also especially sucky on the fire HD. Amazon apparently has frustrated or pissed off many android developers. One doesn't use the normal google store to download applications and the amazon store doesn't include standard apps such as firefox or gmail (in real gmail mode)... This I think is the biggest weakness of the Fire. Still, I hope that Amazon will eventually improve the situation. On the plus side, one can download the aurora web browser by mozilla and have a near desktop experience when visiting web sites....so worse comes to worse, use the web to replace missing apps. The wifi responsiveness of the fire is impressive. Do not use the built-in silk browser as it tends to crash frequently and ends up triggering the device watchdog timer which results in a tablet reboot.
Durability -- with a proper leather case and clear screen protector, the fire should have a reasonable life expectency. The weakest point seems to be the charging connector, but this has not yet been an issue for me. I trust the fire enough to take it with me as the primary device for a week long trip away from home. I'll have to see if other issues develop. Certainly, compared to a laptop there are fewer things that can go wrong, and the reliance on flash memory rather than hard drive should work well.
Size -- The 8.9" Fire is very reasonably sized...slightly smaller than the older Kindle DX, much smaller than a laptop, but much bigger than a nexus phone. Its thin and most leather cases come with embedded keyboards that let it fold up like a small laptop. I don't see the size being any issue.
Wireless Internet Connectivity -- There is good and bad here. The wifi is excellent, and the specs for it seem to suggest that it has impressive support for newer standards. I've had almost zero visible frame loss while moving around the house and watching video...something an older samsung android tablet could not do well. The more worrying aspect though is the cellular data. Amazon has outsourced to AT&T completely here. One can not choose a provider other than AT&T and the sim card/etc is built into the fire and can not be changed as far as I know. AT&T is supposed to have decent coverage, but the rates are rather crappy..with $15/month for a 3GB/month plan....There is no reasonable data plan, but if one enables the cellular data just when on travel or emergencies and only for those times that one is not connected to wifi, than it is bearable. I get the impression that AT&T is worried that everyone will switch to skype on the Fire and cancel their cell phone service. I can't imagine how much AT&T makes for additional per GB overage charges....Luckily, most Kindle Fire HD apps have options to limit their activity to wifi and you can tell Amazon to download movies/etc only via wifi.
On the last note, as a pure reading device -- the Kindle Fire is impressive. No, it's not e-ink....and that has frustrations, but if one selects a black background and turns down brightness (something that you have to configure manually) than one can read for many hours on the Fire HD w/o noticeable eye strain. Color diagrams and textbooks display perfectly. PDF documents are also good. The newer features specific to later kindle documents are seamless as you would expect. It does generally seem to be an upgrade, even from the prior top-of-the-line Kindle DX.
Overall, I would say the Kindle Fire HD is a success....but whose future depends on how well Amazon can resolve issues with application availability and ever increasing divergence from stock android. Amazon's competition for the fire is other Android devices with its kindle application installed. At the moment, the fire is superior - especially for content consumption, but diverging from Android is going to pose a challenge that Amazon will have to rise to meet. Cheaper pricing for cloud storage would also help...right now, Amazon cloud storage is much more expensive than SD cards/local storage and Amazon has limited the ability to connect to local storage.