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Holiday gadgets hit store shelves

The Samsung Galaxy Note II sits on display at a launch event on Wednesday in New York. (Associated Press)
The Samsung Galaxy Note II sits on display at a launch event on Wednesday in New York. (Associated Press)

NEW YORK — Samsung Electronics Co. has been running ads touting its Galaxy S III phone as its “next big thing.” Now it has something bigger.

The S III released a few months ago has a screen that measures 4.8 inches diagonally, making it bigger than even the iPhone 5, which is Apple’s largest phone yet. This week, Samsung is releasing the Galaxy Note II, a smartphone with a 5.5 inch screen.

Aside from the larger screen, the Note comes with a stylus and runs the latest version of Google’s Android operating system, Jelly Bean.

Samsung and Apple dominate with nearly half of the worldwide market for smartphones.

In recent months, Samsung’s ads have been poking fun at Apple, suggesting that the iPhone 5 was merely playing catch-up with Samsung’s products. However, a federal jury in California awarded Apple $1 billion in damages after finding that 26 Samsung products ripped off Apple’s technology at the heart of its iPhones and iPads.

These are some of the gadgets to expect for the holidays:

Apple devices

Apple has done well selling its full-sized tablet computer, which has a screen that measures nearly 10 inches diagonally. The iPad dominates the worldwide tablet market, accounting for 70 percent of all tablet shipments in the second quarter of this year, according to IHS iSuppli. But companies such as Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. have made in-roads selling tablets with smaller, 7-inch screens and lower price tags.

On Tuesday, Apple said it will start shipping the iPad Mini next week. It will have a 7.9-inch screen, making it slightly larger than those smaller rivals but about two-thirds the size of a regular iPad.

The iPad Mini starts at $329, well above the $159 starting price for Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle Fire and $199 for Google Inc.’s Nexus 7. Both have 7-inch screens. The Mini will be just $70 cheaper than the 2011 iPad 2, which is still available.

Unlike its rivals, Apple will make a version of the iPad Mini that can access cellular networks from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. That version will start at $459, compared with $629 for the full-size cellular model.

Meanwhile, Apple unveiled a 13-inch version of a MacBook Pro with sharper, “Retina” display, complementing the 15-inch version unveiled in June.

Tablet rivals

Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire is one of the smaller tablets with decent sales. Last month, it started shipping an updated version with a faster processor, more memory and longer battery life. It also cut the price to $159, from $199, making it far cheaper than the iPad, which starts at $399.

Amazon is also releasing higher-end models under the Kindle Fire HD line. A 7-inch one goes for $199 and an 8.9-inch one for $299. There’s also a $499 model that can use the 4G cellular networks that phone companies have been building. A data plan will cost an extra $50 a year. The smaller HD model is already available, while the larger ones will be available Nov. 20.

Barnes and Noble Inc. is also updating its Nook tablets. The new Nook HD will come in two sizes, one at 7 inches (starting at $199) and one at 9 inches (starting at $269). They will be out Nov. 1.

Toys R Us, meanwhile, is making a 7-inch tablet aimed at children. The Tabeo went on sale this week for $149.99.

Calling on Windows

Microsoft Corp. will release a new version of the Windows operating system on Friday, one that’s designed to work on both traditional computers and tablet devices.

Several PC manufacturers including Lenovo Group Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co., Samsung Electronics Co. and Dell Inc. already have announced details about new desktops, laptops and tablet computers.

Microsoft plans its own tablet computer, too. It’s new territory for Microsoft, which typically leaves it to others to make devices using its software. Now, it will be competing against its partners.

The Surface tablet will come in two versions, both with 10.6-inch screens, slightly larger than the iPad’s.

One model will run on the same type of lower-energy chips used in the iPad. It will start at $499, also like the newest, full-size iPads. A keyboard cover will cost another $100. That will go on sale Friday.

A new version of the Windows Phone system is coming out this fall as well.

New Blackberrys

A year ago, Research In Motion Ltd. disclosed that it was working on a next-generation phone system for the BlackBerry, which now looks ancient next to the iPhone and Android devices. It was supposed to be out in time for this year’s holiday season. That won’t happen.

In June, RIM pushed the release of BlackBerry 10 devices into early next year, saying it wasn’t ready. That means RIM will not only compete with the new iPhone and Android devices out this fall, but it will also have to contend with the new Windows devices.

Playing games

Nintendo’s new Wii U game machine will go on sale in the U.S. on Nov. 18. A basic, white model will cost $300. A deluxe black version for another $50 comes with an extra game and more accessories. The GamePad touch-screen controller for it will offer new ways to play.

In “New Super Mario Bros. U.,” for example, players holding the old Wii controllers control Mario, Luigi and other characters. The person with the GamePad can help them along by using a stylus to create steppingstones for the characters or stun enemies.

Players can also turn off the TV entirely and play on the GamePad.

The company also announced new entertainment features for the console. Called Nintendo TVii, the service collects all the ways users have to watch movies, TV shows and sports. This includes pay-TV accounts along with services such as Hulu and Netflix. The GamePad works as a fancy remote controller and will let viewers comment on what they are watching.

TVii will be available Nov. 18 as well, at no extra cost.



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