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Holiday gadgets: Windows, Surface the latest launches

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Posted: Saturday, October 27, 2012 4:30 am | Updated: 9:02 pm, Sat Aug 3, 2013.

NEW YORK — It’s been a big week for technology releases. Microsoft Corp. kicked off its campaign for the Windows 8 operating system and Surface tablet computer, just days after Apple and Samsung refreshed their lineups.

Desktops, laptops and tablet went on sale Friday. That includes the Surface, Microsoft’s first foray into manufacturing a general-purpose computer.

Windows 8 is a major revamp to Microsoft’s industry-leading operating system. It is designed especially for touch-screen computers and requires users to change their habits. The start button at the lower left corner of the screen is gone, for instance.

Earlier last week, Samsung released its large-screen Note II smartphone and Apple announced new iPads and Mac computers. Microsoft has an announcement Monday on its Windows phone system, while Google has one on its Android system for mobile devices.

With those announcements, 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-sized cellular model.

Apple is also refreshing its full-sized iPad, giving it a faster processor and faster Wi-Fi capabilities. It will go on sale next week as well.

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

Apple also updated its iMac line. Some versions will sport a hybrid storage drive that combines the speed of flash memory and the capacity of regular hard drives. They will go on sale in December.

Last month, Apple began selling its iPhone 5. The new phone is bigger, but thinner than previous models and works with faster cellular networks known as 4G.

Phone rival

Apple’s leading rival, Samsung Electronics Co., came out with a new version of its flagship phone, the Galaxy S III, months ago. But Samsung is known for releasing products throughout the year, each targeted at a different base of consumers.

For those who like to work with a stylus, the Galaxy Note II smartphone came out this week. T-Mobile and Sprint are selling it now. U.S. Cellular will carry it starting Friday. Verizon and AT&T are taking advance orders for shipments in the coming weeks.

The Note comes on the heels of Samsung’s campaign touting its Galaxy S III phone as its “next big thing.” The Note is even bigger, with a 5.5 inch screen, compared with the S III’s 4.8 inches and the iPhone 5’s 4 inches, all measured diagonally.

The Note runs the latest version of Google’s Android system, Jelly Bean.

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 next Thursday.

In addition to the new HD screen and a lighter body, Barnes & Noble is increasing the services the Nook offers. It’s adding a video purchase and rental service, allowing users to maintain different profiles and making it easier to browse titles in its book and magazine stores.

Google has an event in New York this week. All the company is saying is that it has to do with its Android operating system for mobile devices.

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

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.

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 stepping stones for the characters or stun enemies.

Nintendo Co. has been trying to drum up excitement for the Wii U, the first major gaming console to launch since 2006.

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.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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