I bought this at a local big box store because I was worried I wouldn't use it, wouldn't like it, or wouldn't be able to figure it out. Let me tell you about me, so you understand why those were my concerns...
I'm about as crafty as a sock, my only sewing experience was sewing little bags with yarn closures as a kid, and I have NO PATIENCE. I don't like manuals too much, which doesn't help.
For whatever reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to try this. Not sure why... but anyway, I'm a gadget junkie, so maybe that was part of it.
I bought it, the little sample pack of thread at the same store, and stiched out one of the included patterns. It was AWFUL, but recognizable for what it was... Santa with some trailing letters. But the bobbin thread came up so much, most of the pattern was white... it was pretty bad. I thought "other people can do this... let me google it". So I googled it, re-looked at my machine, and I had my bobbin threaded wrong (I missed the little lip it has to go under). Tried again, did a free "mouse in a stocking" pattern I found at emblibrary, and it was AWESOME! Super, duper cute... an inch away from perfect! The challenge there was I relied on the machine to tell me what color to put in, rather than the color change chart from the designer (FYI: apparently a common rookie move). So my mouse had pink feet and ear edges, instead of grey, but besides that... PERFECT!
So I did the next thing, and it was GREAT. Here's my lessons learned:
1) Polyester (what comes in that sample pack) stretches a lot... so if you have a dense design, it will cause pucker. There's probably ways to avoid it, but I avoid it by using rayon :).
2) If it's acting funny, it's because it's threaded wrong... most commonly for me, it's the "lip" thing in the bobbin case. Then you get too much white. If it dies after a color change and about 8 stitches, says "recheck upper thread", really, just rethread it, even if it looks fine.
3) REALLY try to not stretch the fabric when you're hooping it. Causes some scary puckering.
4) There is a difference between different vendors of designs. Some are super good, some not so much. So try a sample or two from a site before you go hog-wild there. They may look cute on the screen, but when you try to stitch it out, they have 5 layers superimposed, which causes some issues, the margins are too thin, or the color changes are really poorly defined.
5) You're likely going to want some software. Many people apparently use Embird, so I wanted to like it, but I don't like their business model... I may be missing something, but my understanding is that it's a chunk of change for the base model, that much again if you want to make your own, that much again if you want to use letters, etc. It's not nickel-and-diming, but hundred-and-hundred-and-fifty-dollaring. Same concept, different scale. They let you try it out, but it's truly crippleware... you can't save images you've built (like what that's supposed to tell you, I don't know... how can I know if this is ok if I can't stitch it???). But I suggest you try it out... for whatever reason, it's very popular. I found Stitch Era Universal, which is freeware that requires a constant internet connection, has ads, and is really free and useful. There are some things that are less useful than Embird (harder to see where your edges should be is my only concern right now), but I can take a design, add some text, save it to the file format I need, etc. I even got fancy and made part of a P-51 red so that I could do a pattern for the Tuskegee Airmen. Took me a while (~1.5 hours) to figure out how to do it, because I had to split objects, insert color changes, etc, but I did it. You can also digitize, but I'm guessing that's hard. :) Both of these have active yahoo groups. There are other software products, but I don't know them, so can't comment effectively.
6) Don't pay full price for any design unless you LOVE it and HAVE to have it now. There's going to be a sale, you're going to get a coupon, or something. That may just be at the sites I'm at, but so far, the sales make it super tempting to get those really neat designs. Put it in your wishlist, wait for a sale or coupon. YMMV.
7) Get the free stuff! Sign up for the club, see what they offer free. Emblibrary has a great Christmas club, and a super nice selection of low cost designs that changes weekly. Bunnycup has a REALLY great selection of free retired sets (the ghosts are super cute!), great designs from a technical perspective, and frequent additions to the "new sets" page. It tends to be "cutsier" than I would love, but if you're looking for cutesy, that's a great start (lot of applique, too, and good instructional stuff).
8) Get most of your non-thread stuff on amazon... it's just cheaper and convenient. The things that I wouldn't trade for the world are my pre-cut stabilizer sheets (Tearaway Embroidery Stabilizer, 8x8, 200 Precut Sheets for Embroidery Machines, pre-wound bobbins (144 Prewound Bobbins for Brother Embroidery Machine Size A (156), aweseome weird looking scissors (Havel's Ulti-Mates Angled Machine Embroidery Scissors, and any curved forceps for finishing the threading process (unless your fingers are more agile than mine). I got mine at a local craft store in the jewelery making section for $3. Yes, I'm lazy, and I trade money for time... you can probably get roll stabilizer way cheaper, wind your own bobbins, use any old pointy scissors, and finish the threading with fingers. But for me, being able to grab a sheet, have a really full bobbin with exactly the right tension without having to learn how to use my bobbin winder-thingie, and cut stray threads without contortion are so worth it. (Note: I'm likely going to have to learn bobbin-winder-thingie at some point, since sometimes you want bobbin and upper threads to match, like for applique, but I'm not beating feet to it :) )
9) Shop around. The prices for the exact same thread varies from $2.85 to $5.99, with everything in between, with similar variation in other stuff I've seen. brothermall2 and allthreads are relatively good sites, although the user interface is clunky at the first, and it has a limited selection, but prices are great (especially for the easy glow-in-the-dark thread, and fast shipping.
10) If you can afford it, you like madeira thread, and you think you're going to do this a while, get the set. It's expensive, but you get the drawers that go with it, pre-filled and with little stickers for where the spools go back to, and a cross-reference by number (it's sorted by color sheet order). For about 10x what I spend on 30 threads, I got 356 threads, nice wooden drawers with spool-hugging plastic inserts (to avoid rolling) I'll use forever, and not having to worry about getting a particular color for a special pattern. It solved two of my biggest concerns: storage and inventory. How do I know what I have, find what I have, and store what I have? Now I can easily see what has a hole, find anything, and not be flipping through boxes of spools to find stuff. This set was SOOOO worth it for me. I bought several spools of that brand at a cheap thread site, tried it on a pattern or two, and took the plunge early.
11) This is shockingly fun so far. I can make a neat pattern in a short time... I put Mario's gold flower on my son's pajamas, a glow-in-the-dark ghost on my daughter's blanket, and am working on a state quilt. So for non-crafty, non-creative me, this is something that I look forward to doing... it's almost funny. My kids like watching it stitch out, I like the "set and forget" and good results (with a few setbacks for learning issues), and I am so impressed with what I can make.
12) Research stuff before you buy it. I almost got the "hard" glow in the dark thread, which apparently glows longer, but requires special handling, instead of the "easy" glow in the dark, which you use, launder, etc, just like regular thread. And I almost spent $6 for thread, and I avoided spending $600 on modular software. I bought metallics, which are beyond my skill set, because I violated this guidance...
13) Keep the manual close... my first several times threading, I had the book open next to me. As someone who had literally never threaded before, it took me a couple of times (probably 5) to figure it out. It's clearly labeled on the machine, and you'll be doing it in your sleep pretty quickly, but you have to hit all the marks or it just doesn't work. I also watched the first video, and looked in the manual for repeating a color or stitch (they call it "re-sewing", if you want to look it up in the manual) when I had threading issues. So I flipped through it, and refer to it (despite my anti-manual leanings). I also read other people saying you have to read the manual cover to cover, and I won't say they're wrong. I may have had fewer threading issues if I would have complied :)
So, this a long review, I know, but if someone else is thinking they may be interested, that's the path I took, and my results!