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Touch-screens evolve

For last-minute shoppers, here's a quick look at three touch-screens announced in the past few months: the iPad Mini, Nook HD and Windows Phone 8. DAVID POGUE, New York Times

The iPad Mini

The Mini is half the weight of the big iPad, thinner, shorter and narrower, meaning you can comfortably hold this iPad in one hand. It's still too wide for a blazer pocket, alas, but it certainly fits in a purse or overcoat pocket.

It's available in white-and-silver and black-on-black, both with metal backs, both gorgeous.

Apple's masterstroke was keeping the screen shape and resolution the same as on the iPad 2 (1,024 by 768 pixels). As a result, the Mini can run all 275,000 existing iPad apps unmodified, plus 500,000 more iPhone apps.

Sadly, the Mini doesn't gain Apple's supercrisp Retina display.

You pay $330 for the base model (16 gigabytes of storage, Wi-Fi connections). By pricing the Mini so high, Apple allows the $200 class of 7-inch Android tablets and readers to live (Google Nexus, Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD). But the iPad Mini is a far classier, more attractive, thinner machine. And above all, it offers that colossal app catalog.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD

The redesign of this $200 e-book reader/video player focuses on the three things that matter most in a hand-held e-book reader: weight, size and screen clarity.

In those ways, the Nook HD trounces its nemeses, Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and Google's Nexus 7. The Nook is lighter and noticeably narrower, despite the same-size screen, because it has a far slimmer bezel. And the screen is much sharper.

The software continues to improve. You can now create up to six accounts, one for each family member, each listing different books and movies.

The base-model, $200 Nook comes with only 8 gigabytes of storage — half as much as the Kindle; on the other hand, it has a memory-card slot, so it's simple and cheap to expand. The Nook includes a wall charger, which the Kindle doesn't. And the Nook doesn't display ads, as the $200 Kindle does.

However, there's no camera. (The company says it spent the money on the nicer screen.) Still, in the hardware war, Nook HD clearly wins this round. Then again, Amazon's movie service is mature and delightful; Barnes & Noble's movie store is just starting up.

Windows Phone 8

The Windows Phone 8 is what you'll get on sleek coming phones like the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC's Windows Phone 8X (the one I tested).

Microsoft says Windows Phone 8 is based on Windows 8 for PCs. The Start screen is more customizable; you can choose from three different tile sizes. Apps can modify your Lock screen automatically; for example, the Groupon app might display a special offer that's tailored to where you are right now.

If you swipe leftward from the Lock screen, you enter Kid Corner, a quarantined world containing only apps, music and videos that you've handpicked for your offspring.

More solid improvements: The desktop software can load the phone with your iTunes music and video libraries. "Rooms" are private groups — Bowling Buddies, Teen Party and so on — whose members can share their locations, calendars, photos and chats. You can now back up the phone online.

Microsoft's phone software is fast, simple and beautiful. But it still lacks universal dictation for quick text entry. Its new Maps app doesn't offer spoken directions (In 2012? Seriously?).

Touch-screens evolve 12/23/12 [Last modified: Sunday, December 23, 2012 6:48pm]
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