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Gadget guide: Which electronics are 'in season' and which to avoid

Thinking about some major gadget purchases this summer? It may be the right time to pick up a new TV. An iPhone? It's probably best to wait a bit.

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Apple's new operating system is a much smaller step forward. Mountain Lion continues Apple's trend of integrating features from iPhones and iPads into traditional computers. It will debut this summer.

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iPhone: Past its prime. Predicting Apple's release schedule is a favorite parlor game among the tech press. Forecasts point to everything from June (Apple's usual iPhone release window) to next October (when the last one came out).

Since the current model is a minor improvement over the now two-year-old iPhone 4, Lam expects that the 2012 iPhone will be worth the wait.

Other smart phones: Always fresh. Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phones don't stick to an annual cycle. New phones debut all the time.

Some people may want to wait until their hometown gets upgraded to a speedy 4G wireless network, but the rollout differs from carrier to carrier and city to city.

Tablets: In season. Both of Lam's preferred tablets remain fresh today.

His personal favorite, the Apple iPad, received a major update in March. The new model features powerful hardware, an unsurpassed catalog of applications, and a super-crisp screen that rivals the detail of magazines.

TheWirecutter recommends Amazon's Kindle Fire as the "best cheap tablet." It's a modest tablet compared with the iPad but sports a fantastic price tag: $199.

E-readers: Evergreen. E-reader hardware doesn't change much year to year.

New models introduce tiny improvements, but the real decision comes down to the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook.

"You're not buying a device. You're buying an ecosystem," says Lam. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble save your library of e-books online, so past purchases follow you from one device to another – but not from one brand to another.

Without some serious finagling, Kindle e-books won't work on a Nook, and vice versa.

Now that both companies have priced their black-and-white e-readers under $100, Lam says that shoppers need not stress over whether the devices are in-season. They're evergreen.


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