Replacement Kindle Fire 8.9″ 4G: first impressions

Replacement Kindle Fire 8.9″ 4G: first impressions

I know some of you are waiting to hear my reactions to a replacement Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE Wireless 32GB I received last night.

It is a replacement because, as explained in this earlier post, the first one I received had power issues (the screen would flicker, turn off, and it wouldn’t start up properly).

I’m giving you first impressions here, and there will undoubtedly be an emotional component to it.

This is the first Kindle (and I’ve had them back since 2007’s first generation Kindle) that I am considering returning as unsatisfactory.

Part of that, honestly, is that I irrationally expect it to work smoothly at $499. I say irrational, because a $69 Kindle should also work as expected…not have the same capabilities of a $499 model, but they both should perform the basic functions expected of them well.

First, let me say that this one does not at all have the problems that the other one did. There has been no flickering: the screen stays lit beautifully. It is a beautiful screen, by the way: it looks very good. Looking at the home screen is like looking at a glossy picture in a magazine, to my eyes.


The first big problem is the power button. It’s extraordinarily hard to push. I say extraordinarily, because I also have the 7″ Kindle Fire HD, which has a similar button. It took me a bit to find that button on the first model, but that’s not what is happening here. It is literally hard to get it to recognize that I”ve pushed it.

It’s sort of like trying to push a thumb tack into wood.

People without reasonable finger strength simply couldn’t do it.

That’s not how it was on the first one: that was easy to push.

This is a significant inconvenience.

I’m hoping, however, that it “loosens up” in the next couple of days. If it does, I won’t return it for that.

I’m lucky that I have a cover that automatically puts it to sleep, though.

Second, I’m paying $200 more for 4G, and the set up isn’t working.

I’m sure that’s because of the unusual circumstance of having returned one after having bought a plan on it. I want that plan to apply to the new one, and it might, but I can’t figure out what options to choose. It now shows that I have two devices on the plan, but the new one doesn’t have a data plan. It asks me if I want to switch to a “postpaid plan”. Prepaid makes sense to me, but I don’t know what they mean by postpaid.

I tried to figure it out based on the information available to me on the device, but I”m going to have to call AT&T and have them walk me through it.

While it’s possible that I’m unusually ignorant on dataplans, I think I can reasonably say that this would not be obvious to many consumers who buy a Kindle Fire 4G.

I generally understand technical instructions well. I can often read a legal document (like copyright law) and have it make sense. I’m a former banker (although that was some time ago).

Hopefully, the call to AT&T will be as pleasant as a call to Kindle Support is, but that is a high bar to meet.

Third, and someone asked me to test this, the sound on my 8.9″ is not as good as the sound on my 7″, which is surprising to me. I took them both out of their covers, and played the same song on both. No question, the sound on the 7″ is certainly richer (I’d also say it is louder, but that’s a bit harder to call…”richer” is subjective, “louder” is objective, and I don’t have a good way to measure it).

I checked my volume settings, and tried it with Dolby both on and off: same result.

Prime video looks good on the device.

When I ran a Netflix video at first it didn’t look good. When I ran it this morning, it looks great. It may have updated the app.

Oh, and this one did perform a general update of the software last night. It’s at version 8.1.3.

I’m trying to answer questions people have asked, so in response to another one: the 8.9″ has both Ivona text-to-speech and Pico text-to-speech on it, which is the same with the 7″. The Ivona TTS, which is really good, is what is invoked by the Kindle reading app on it.

Here’s an interesting discovery some of you might like. When I open a book with the device in landscape mode (wider than it is tall), it defaults to a two page display (like an open p-book…paperbook). That may make your eyes get less tired reading on it. I’ve heard that one reason reading on a computer screen is tiring is that your eyes have to move so far from side to side. You can change it to one column by going to

Aa – More Options – Two Column (Off)

This was a weird thing: one of the apps I consider to be very important, ES File Explorer, wasn’t available for me to download from my archives/Cloud, so I assumed it wasn’t released yet in a compatible version for the 8.9″.

I went to the Amazon Appstore, and there it was, and it was compatible (and didn’t tell me I had bought it previously). I checked both versions they have in the Amazon Appstore, and neither one seems to be the one I had gotten earlier…even though I have that one on my other devices.

Again, I think a lot of people would find that confusing.

I’m going to keep testing it out today, and a lot may depend on how the call to AT&T goes. By the way, I asked somebody yesterday at an AT&T kiosk if I could use the 250MB a month dataplan on two devices (I was just curious at that point). One person emphatically said yes, and the other person looked shocked at the answer. 🙂 I’ll ask them about that as well. That could save people some real money…if they aren’t going to use much data and can pay $49.99 for the first year for two devices, that would be good.

Well, I’ll check back in with you on this later. With my experience up to this point, I wouldn’t be recommending the device to others in my personal circle yet, like I enthusiastically do with other Kindles.

Update: the AT&T folks were very nice, almost effusively so. Everybody wished me a happy day, weekend, holiday…pretty much everything, and thanked me repeatedly for using AT&T.

It took half an hour and three people to resolve the issue.

The first person didn’t understand the situation very well, which is probably because I used the “mobile” option for a topic. I wasn’t sure what to use…later on, they used “session based services”, but I’m not sure how they got me to a tablet person. The first one wanted to discuss voice and texting, which doesn’t apply.

The second person got me to the third person.

The fix was to give me a credit for the $49.99 I’d already spent, and then have me sign up again on the new device.

I got a definitive answer: you can’t use the $49.99 plan on two or more devices.

I’ve now tested the video through an HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cable to my TV: it looks good, much better than my 7″. That’s a plus. I tried Prime streaming and through the Netflix app.

At this point, I’ll keep it, test it on the road (for the 4G element), and hope the power button loosens up and becomes more responsive.

Update: I’ve been using it for most of a day, and the power button is loosening up…yay! While on the road, the 4G connected smoothly. I’ll have to look at the idea of dropping the data on my phone (I’d keep voice and text). Not sure how much that would save. I need to run some more tests on the sound…some comments have made me think it might have been the source material.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

21 Responses to “Replacement Kindle Fire 8.9″ 4G: first impressions”

  1. Bruce Grubbs Says:

    I have a 8.9″ Wi-Fi, which replaced my 7″. The speaker sound on the 8.9″ seems as good as the 7″, though I sold the 7″ and can’t make a direct comparison any longer. Both are certainly better than the speakers on my Acer netbook or Dell laptop, and they sound really good through a good pair of headphones and decent with earbuds. The power and volume buttons on both work fine, though I use the Amazon cover so both power on when the cover is opened.

    I can’t believe your bad luck in getting two defective Kindles. I’ve never had to return one.

    As an aside, I really like the Amazon cover on the Paperwhite w/o Special Offers, because it starts up right where I was reading when I open the cover, without having to swipe like on the Fire HD. That makes reading on the Paperwhite even more like a paper book.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Bruce!

      It could also be that different sound sources have different strengths on the two devices. That’s a good suggestion: I’ll try it with video and see if I feel the same.

      For example, a low quality MP3 might sound better on the 7″ than the 8.9″ or vice versa…and high quality audio might be the reverse.

      I’ve returned a few Kindles before: my first KF1 had a scratch on the screen, for example.

      • Bruce Grubbs Says:

        I have to say, the audio on the Wi-Fi HD’s is impressive for such small speakers. I’ve never expected much out of notebooks or netbooks, but the HD surprised me.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Bruce!

        No question…love the sound on my KFHD7. Have to play around more with the KFHD8.9, though.

    • Bruce Kessel Says:


      Great tip on no special offers. I didn’t think about how removing it would allow me to open my case and read more quickly.

  2. SoundMIx Says:

    Thanks for the info and update. I’ll be waiting a while longer before placing and order.

  3. Betty Reed Says:

    I have the 7 inch Kindle fire with ES File Explorer on it. Last week I got a notification that update was available. After I installed the update the app said that there was a virus and it automatically uninstalled itself. When I went to the App Store I noticed that it was no longer available. I assume from that that they’re working on a fix.

    • Betty Reed Says:

      Well I goofed. The app I had a problem with was File Expert, not ES File Explorer. I am sorry for the confusion.

  4. Common Sense Says:

    I’ve been enjoying my 8.9″ Wi-Fi for the past couple of weeks. I find the sound much better than my 7″, maybe it’s subjective.

    Interesting about ES File Explorer. I already had it and it was one of the first apps I downloaded to my 8.9″ Kindle. However, I got some new games for the family today and noticed that for one of them, the Kindle Fire Tablet Edition was marked as incompatible with my 8.9″ Kindle. It isn’t listed in the cloud on my Kindle either. Strange.

  5. teresa b Says:

    Bufo ; I got the 8.9 32g kindle fire last week and it is absolutely a wonderful tablet with wonderful sound; no problem with the on button either; I wonder if its the 4g ones thst are defective? Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  6. Bruce Kessel Says:

    The power button is an issue with the HD7 on my device too. But hopefully with use yours will loosen up.

    I’m thinking once you get thru the AT&T hoops you will love the connection.

    Thanks for the honest feedback. Each of us probably have had similar experiences with one of our kindles. Personally I get skeptical when a reviewer pulls every new device out of the box and declares it the best ever– then returns the review copy!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Bruce!

      Not to worry…I don’t get review copies. 🙂 Amazon has given me a couple of Kindled (not this one), but not for review or because I’m a blogger

  7. Diane Nelson Says:

    I feel for you about the defective Kindle. I love technology and have so much affection for the devices- they are so wonderful, it is sad when they are defective or not working quite right- when they are like that- I still want to love them but I cannot and have to reject them. Luckily it is rare that they do not work properly. Thank you for all your reviews of the Kindles. I sent for the new Paperwhite wifi 3g, I had the Keyboard for awhile- I love the Paperwhite!! It is the best reader. I hope the Kindle 4g gets better or you get one finally that is the “One”. I will be reading your blog to hear more.

  8. Denise Says:

    Thank you for your updated review on the replacement KF HD 8.9 4G. After going back and forth trying to decide between the 7″ and the 8.9″ I went to the local Staples store to get some hands on time with both. I found I preferred the screen size of the 8.9. I have since ordered the 8.9 WiFi from Amazon. It isn’t supposed to ship until the 13th. In the meantime I am hoping the issues you have experienced are isolated cases.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Denise!

      The power button seems to have loosened up…knock virtual wood. 😉

      I’m now starting to like the 8.9″. The larger size has its advantages, certainly (although it is heavier to hold). I had my Significant Other try it out: the verdict was that an 8.9″ would stay home, and it would be the 7″ on the road. However, my SO did feel like the 8.9″ might be able to replace a netbook (when you use a Bluetooth keyboard with it).

      I’ve gotten Maxthon (a browser) installed on it, and that’s made me much happier.

      I’m keeping a close eye on the data usage. It seems like checking e-mail is about a meg, so doing that is not problem for 250MB a month. I downloaded Angry Birds Star Wars over 4G (again, partially experimenting), and now I’m up to about 40MBs used (out of 250MB for the month). At that rate, of course, I would run out quickly, but I wouldn’t be downloading an app every day.

      I do think my problems were fluky, although perhaps isolated is too strong.

  9. Bruce Grubbs Says:

    I pre-ordered the 7″ HD when they were first announced, and also pre-ordered a 8.9″ 4G. After thinking about it, I decided I didn’t want to pay for a data plan dedicated to a single device, so I canceled the 4G Fire and ordered the 8.9″ Wi-Fi. Instead, I plan to upgrade my dumb phone to an Android phone that acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Then I’ll be able to use all my Wi-Fi devices with it- 5 Wi-Fi Kindles, netbook, and notebook.

    Since I write books, I really need a keyboard- I prefer the 15″ laptop, but can make do with the netbook for editing. I’m experimenting with the 8.9″ Fire and a Bluetooth keyboard, but so far the apps I’ve tested with book-length Word docs tend to choke on them. The Fire with Bluetooth will probably be OK for editing, but not serious production.

    As far as 7″ vs. 8.9″, I’ve decided to keep the 8.9″ and I’ve already sold the 7″. I mostly use the Fire for reading magazines and web and I really like the larger screen for that because I don’t have to scroll and pinch-zoom as much. For reading while traveling, which is mostly fiction, I find the Paperwhite to be excellent.

  10. Karen Says:

    I am wondering if the new 8.9 fire has a better connection with the charger than the 1st generation did? The connection is loose and at times it is hard to charge. I know others had this complaint too.



    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Karen!

      I haven’t had any problem with that with my two 8.9″ models (I returned one).

      I just searched the customer reviews for you. On 8.9″ 4G (the model I have), there were two reviews that had the word “loose” in them…but one of them was the common error of using “loose” for “lose”. The other one did talk about a lose power connection.

      Checking the 8.9″ wi-fi only…and they seem to be using the same review pool, which does seem a bit odd to me. I got the same results.

      With over 500 reviews, that seems to suggest it isn’t a prevalent problem.

      • Karen Says:

        Thank you so much. I have been careful with mine but we had to return one for my son and the next new is dead too.

  11. Alison Says:

    Thanks for your great reviews and feedback on the new models. I have the first generation Fire and love it but feel if I get another it would be the larger – just hadn’t decided which model 4G or not. I would love a short update on how things are going with 4G after a few weeks. If I don’t get one for xmas I will probably get one for myself aftewards…

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Alison!

      I do think I need to update people…I’ve had the second one for about a week, so I’ll probably write about it soon.

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