Bloomberg News

Big Kindle, Wii U, 4G Camera Make Last-Minute Gifts

December 19, 2012

The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 Tablet

The larger (and later-arriving) of Amazon.com’s newest color tablets, the Fire HD 8.9 has many of the virtues of its smaller sibling. It also has many of its shortcomings. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Holiday shoppers aren’t the only ones who sometimes wait until the last minute. Whether by design or delay, some gadgets don’t show up until fairly late in the season.

So, in addition to all the suggestions in our annual holiday gift guide, here are last-minute looks at new offerings from Amazon, Samsung and Nintendo.

The best thing: All three should be readily available for local purchase or express online delivery before Dec. 25.

Kindle Fire HD 8.9

The larger (and later-arriving) of Amazon.com (AMZN:US)’s newest color tablets, the Fire HD 8.9 has many of the virtues of its smaller sibling. It also has many of its shortcomings.

The screen makes the new Kindle something of a tweener: larger than Apple (AAPL:US)’s iPad mini and Google (GOOG:US) Nexus 7, but smaller than the full-size iPad and Nexus 10. Its price tag is very attractive, starting at $299 for a model with 16 gigabytes of storage, as long as you’re willing to look at ads.

It is also seamlessly integrated with Amazon’s enormous library of e-books, movies and music -- and becomes even sweeter, with features like the Kindle Lending Library, if you’re already a member of the extra-cost Amazon Prime service.

The $499 and $599 models with built-in access to AT&T (T:US)’s fast 4G LTE network offer a minimalist, rock-bottom first-year data plan: A one-time $50 payment buys you 250 megabytes a month for 12 months.

The downside is that the device itself is, at best, ho-hum. The display is nice enough, but the controls are hard to use, and the twin stereo speakers are located just where your hands naturally rest when you’re holding the tablet in landscape mode.

The software -- a heavily customized version of Google’s Android operating system -- is sometimes sluggish. And there aren’t many applications for it, compared to the vast numbers of iPad and off-the-shelf Android apps.

With its low cost and extensive parental controls, this is a good tablet for families -- especially families with not-too- demanding users.

Galaxy Camera

We’re all used to smartphones with cameras built in. Now Samsung (005930) has taken a camera -- and built in a smartphone.

It’s the new Galaxy Camera point-and-shoot, and it’s being sold by Verizon and AT&T.

Several manufacturers, including Samsung, already make Wi- Fi-enabled models that let you upload your photos to Instagram, Facebook and the like once you come within range of a network. For other cameras, Eye-Fi makes an SD card that both stores and sends pictures.

But the Galaxy Camera goes one better by untethering the camera from Wi-Fi hotspots and allowing you to upload your photos and videos on the spot.

It is, essentially, an Android smartphone, minus the voice but including a 16-megapixel sensor, 21x optical zoom, and the ability to play “Angry Birds” on the 4.8-inch touch screen that also functions as the viewfinder.

The Galaxy Camera is hefty for a point-and-shoot, but proved pleasingly idiot-proof for this not-great photographer. A more accomplished one to whom I lent it came back raving.

The big drawback is its cost: $500 from AT&T or $550 from Verizon (VZ:US), plus a month-to-month $5 to $10 data charge, depending on your wireless plan and carrier. It’s a nice camera, though that seems like a high price to pay for impatience.

Wii U

With its handheld Remote controller, Nintendo’s original Wii introduced something new to the world of console gaming: the ability to get up and move around.

The new Wii U again brings innovation to the table: a wireless controller called the GamePad that has its own 6.2-inch color touch screen. The screen can mirror what’s on the TV screen, or display something else, such as a different perspective on the game being played. It even has the ability to play a game entirely on its screen while the TV is being used to watch a show.

It’s a neat idea, but the execution is, at least for now, cumbersome. Games take a long time to load, battery life on the GamePad isn’t great, and while the Wii U is the first Nintendo (7974) with full high-definition graphics, the benefit is lost on the tablet.

The new Wii, which remains the family-friendliest of the major game consoles, is $300; a much better value is the “deluxe” bundle for $350 with expanded storage and an included game.

Given the increasingly long periods between new gaming consoles -- this is the first since 2006 -- Nintendo will have a while to work out the kinks. Still, Sony (6758) and Microsoft (MSFT:US) are developing new versions of the Playstation and Xbox.

We’ll have to see how smart the Wii U still looks in a year or so.

(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Lance Esplund on art and Jason Harper on cars.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rich Jaroslovsky in San Francisco at rjaroslovsky@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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