Gadgets: Expect more tablet innovations in 2012

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From the January 12, 2012 edition

In 2011, the year of the tablet computer, the iPad 2 ($500 and up) set the tone and tenor for almost everything such a gadget should be.

But this product category is only in its infancy, a mere two years old. While the iPad2 certainly has the most apps (more than 140,000) specifically designed for a tablet, and its recent iOS 5 operating system touts 200 new features, we can certainly expect major improvements in this product category going forward.

While an improved iPad 3 — possibly with better screen resolution, some form of voice control and a more powerful camera — is rumored to be coming as soon as March, there are already tablets challenging Apple for the category crown.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 (starting at $480 with two-year service contract, att.com) is a leading alternative. It is already lighter and thinner than the newest iPad. It has better screen resolution, more portability (9-inch screen), a better (3-megapixel) camera and operates on AT&T’s faster 4G LTE and HSPA+ data networks, where available.

If your primary interests in a tablet are watching videos, viewing photos and listening to music, the Samsung Galaxy Tab may be the better choice, because it operates on Android’s more open platform. It allows users to view Flash video and transfer media files of various types directly to the tablet.

One thing about tablets is certain. Their future evolution, and eventual versatility, should be nothing short of exciting.

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Keep your eye on two technologies that may emerge in big ways during 2012 and beyond — AMOLED screens and light-field cameras.

AMOLED stands for active matrix organic light-emitting diode, and it is a different kind of display screen. AMOLED screens yield deeper and richer colors at lower power and larger screen sizes. The Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket cell phone ($250 with a two-year service contract, att.com) features such a screen in a spacious 4.5-inch size. Testing this gadget at 4G LTE speeds in New York City, the performance was impressive. If you enjoy reading colorful magazines on a mobile device, the Skyrocket is the first phone to offer such a pleasant reading experience.

Lytro (starting at $400, lytro.com) sells the first light-field camera to hit the market. Simply put: You take a digital photo with this specialized palm-sized rectangular camera, it captures the entire light field (rather than a single plane of light) and allows you to focus or refocus your shot after it’s been taken. You ain’t seen nothing like it.