Pressure for September AFL spots at Roos

Try telling recalled pair Lachie Hansen and Jamie Macmillan that North Melbourne’s AFL clash with Melbourne is meaningless.

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Regardless of what happens at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night, the Kangaroos are guaranteed to finish sixth and host an elimination final the following weekend.

But the question of which 22 players take the field for the club’s first home final since 2007 is very much up in the air.

Defenders Macmillan and Hansen were among five inclusions for the game against the 17th-placed Demons, with Michael Firrito, Lindsay Thomas, Levi Greenwood, Todd Goldstein and Luke McDonald out.

“I’m not stupid,” Macmillan said, agreeing the weekend was his audition for finals.

“Both Lachie and I know we’ve got this one chance to put our name up … and hopefully come match committee next week they’ll have to think a little harder.

“This week we have got some guys that have been managed, they’ll be coming back in.

“So we’re going to fight for our lives this weekend.”

Macmillan has not played since round three, when the 22-year-old suffered a serious leg injury and is desperate to find form and match fitness.

Hansen has missed North’s past three matches due to a hip injury, but played 17 games this season.

But the No.3 pick from the 2006 draft felt just as unsure about his place in the side as Macmillan.

“I know if I don’t perform against Melbourne, I might lose my spot straight away,” Hansen said.

Hansen suggested aside from creating more pressure for spots, the Kangaroos had a lot to gain from Saturday night.

“We want to have a win, of course. We want to take good form into the finals,” he said.

“Structurally get everything right and sound. Crash in and take the momentum into next week.”

North are likely to face Essendon in week one of the finals.

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Masters losses no blow to Woolies’ profit

Woolworths is taking mounting losses from its battle with Bunnings in its stride, as its supermarkets and bottle shops continue to grow.

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The retail giant’s profit rose 8.5 per cent to $2.45 billion in the year to June 30, and expects growth of between four and seven per cent in the 2014/15 year.

Profit growth came despite a $169 million loss from the Masters hardware chain, and a 19 per cent slide in Big W’s earnings.

Margins and sales improved where it really counts – its giant food and liquor business – which accounts for the vast majority of the company’s earnings.

“It is and has been for a very very long time the engine room of the Woolworths group and that remains the case,” chief executive Grant O’Brien said.

“What I’m most thrilled about with today’s result is that it is showing improved momentum across our food an liquor business.”

Woolworths’ gross margin improved nine basis points to 25.19 per cent in the year, despite a 3.1 per cent slide in prices.

Comparable sales rose three per cent in the year, and 3.3 per cent in the fourth quarter.

But that disappointed investors, as it failed to match fourth quarter comparable sales growth of 4.1 per cent by rival Coles.

Woolworths shares were down 86 cents, or 2.3 per cent, at $36.09 at 1400 AEST.

Mr O’Brien said weak consumer sentiment and an uncertain economic outlook meant trading conditions would remain challenging in the current financial year.

Uncertainty about key measures in the Abbott government’s first budget was also not helping, he said.

“Improved certainty in the political area is important for consumers and we would look forward to that being the case,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Certainty around some of the budget measures would certainly go some way to addressing that, in my view.”

OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said Woolworths’ bottom line result was more or less in line with expectations.

The retailer needs grocery prices to start growing before it delivers better results, he said.

“Once inflation starts returning and grocery prices start rising that will stand Woolworths and (Coles owner) Wesfarmers in good stead,” Mr Le Brun said.

He said investors may also have been disappointed the company didn’t offer a better return to shareholders, like the $1.1 billion capital return Wesfarmers announced earlier this month.

HARDWARE, BIG W BUCK THE EARNINGS TREND

– Food, liquor and petrol up 7.2 pct to $3.37b

– New Zealand supermarkets up 4.2 pct to $NZ310m

– Hotels up 6.5 pct to $275m

– Home Improvement made a loss of $169m

– Big W down 18.8 pct to $153m

STEADY PROFIT RISE FOR WOOLWORTHS

* Net profit of $2.45b, up 8.5 pct from $2.26b in 2012/13

* Sales revenue of 60.8b, up 3.9 pct from $58.5b

* Final divided of 72 cents, up from 71 cents

* The reporter owns shares in Woolworths

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South Korea’s Kim leads Portland Classic

South Korea’s Kim In-Kyung fired a seven-under-par 65 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour’s Portland Classic on Thursday.

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Kim, who teed off in the final group of the day, used a string of four straight birdies on the back nine to record her lowest round of the season by two strokes.

“I hit the ball well and made some putts coming down. This is a really good golf course,” Kim said.

Americans Jennifer Song and Amelia Lewis are tied for second place at six-under at the Columbia Edgewater Country Club.

Anna Nordqvist, who has two victories this season, shot a five-under 67.

She was joined in fourth place by Laura Diaz, Paraguay’s Julieta Granada, Mina Harigae, Alison Walshe, Emma Jandel and Paula Reto of South Africa.

US Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster carded a four-under 68. Inkster is tied for 11th in a group that includes France’s Karine Icher, Chella Choi, Jennifer Kirby, China’s Lin Xi Yu and Jacqui Concolino, of the US.

Kim, who is seeking her fourth career win on the US LPGA Tour, recorded her last victory in North America four years ago at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

In 11 starts this year, she has one top-25 finish at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.

“Seems like every week it’s like 66, 65,” said Kim, who won on the Ladies European Tour earlier this year.

“So I didn’t really think about scoring that much. With this golf course you just gotta play your game, and then you get rewarded.”

Defending champion Suzann Pettersen shot a one-under 71 and is six strokes back from Kim in a tie for 39th.

Amateur qualifier Gigi Stoll had three birdies and two bogeys to match Pettersen with a 71.

Natalie Sheary was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard and Irene Coe withdrew during the first round with a back injury.

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Refreshed Murray beats Bachinger in straight sets

Murray, the 2012 U.

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S. champion and 2013 Wimbledon winner, looked fresh and strong in cool, breezy conditions as he rolled to a 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory at Arthur Ashe Stadium in his first meeting against the German.

The Briton, never broken in the one hour 46-minute match, ripped 36 winners, more than doubling the 17 unforced errors he was charged with.

Murray said he was well over the effects of the cramps he suffered in Monday’s first-round match against Dutchman Robin Haase.

“I felt fine the last couple days. Had no problems on the Tuesday or Wednesday,” the Scotsman said. “I practiced well and didn’t have any problem. Tonight was fine, too.”

Murray also had few problems deflecting questions about his thoughts on a referendum on Scottish independence next month.

“I haven’t thought that much about that yet because I don’t think it’s looking too likely that it’s going to happen,” said the London-based Murray, adding that he had watched about 45 minutes of the second debate.

Murray did concede he would play for Scotland at the 2016 Rio Olympics, if they gained independence from the rest of Britain, though was not keen on getting too drawn into a political discussion.

“I’m not going into that,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about politics in here. I’ll worry about my tennis.”

Murray will next meet Russian Andrey Kuznetsov, who eliminated 31st seed Fernando Verdasco of Spain in five sets 6-3 4-6 4-6 7-5 6-3.

“He’s had a couple big wins in the slams this year,” said Murray. “He beat (David) Ferrer at Wimbledon and obviously today against Verdasco.

“I’ve never played him before. I don’t know his game that well, but I’ve seen him play a little bit. He hits the ball pretty flat.

“Likes to go for his shots a lot. This court’s fairly quick, so that will probably help him.”

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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Essendon coach puzzled over injury

Essendon coach Mark Thompson is puzzled by Jake Carlisle’s hamstring injury and has suggested the key forward could have been playing this weekend.

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The finals-bound Bombers have ruled Carlisle out for Saturday’s last-round clash with Carlton at the MCG.

Carlisle spoke this week about how he expected his tight hamstring would only put him out for one or two matches.

“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of a one-week hamstring injury,” Thompson told reporters on Friday.

“He probably more than likely won’t play (next week).

“They’re saying it’s not very big. It’s only a few fibres and it should be right.

“But if that was the case he’d be playing this week.

“You’ve just got to get off the fence don’t you and decide if it’s a hamstring or not.

“If it is it’s two weeks and if it’s not you should be playing this week and have a crack at it.”

Essendon have recalled ruck/forward Tom Bellchambers to assist No.1 ruckman Patrick Ryder.

Thompson says if Bellchambers can find form against the Blues, he’ll be retained for next week’s elimination final.

Bellchambers has played six senior games this season.

Listed at 108kg, Bellchambers has lost weight and been doing lots of cross-training.

“He’s had a cow of a season. He has been absolutely destroyed by the pre-season injury to his ankle,” Thompson said.

“If he doesn’t play well, unfortunately we won’t go with him.

“We’re hoping that it does work. It was our most preferred set-up at the start of the year.”

Essendon have also recalled gun utility Dyson Heppell after one week out with a broken hand.

“We’re not in that position where we can flirt with anything. We need to win,” Thompson said.

“We need to go into the first final in good form.”

Port Adelaide thrashed Carlton by 103 points in last week’s round-22 game and coach Mick Malthouse said his Carlton side were tired.

“It’s amazing what can happen in a week. I’ve seen it all before,” Thompson said.

“I hope he’s not trying to psyche our players out because it’s not going to happen.

“We know the cue is not in the rack for them. We know he’s trying to motivate them by saying they’re tired.

“They’ll come out and they’ll try to really attack us. We know that’s coming.”

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Unions demand answers from Qantas

Qantas is again on a collision course with unions after its record loss, and the ACTU refuses to rule out industrial action if it is not given guarantees about wages and jobs.

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The nation’s peak union organisation met senior Qantas executives on Friday, a day after the airline announced a record $2.8 billion annual loss, telling chief executive Alan Joyce that workers were concerned about further job cuts.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said he told Mr Joyce that unions still did not accept airline’s plan to shed 5000 jobs – half of which have already gone – and remained steadfastly opposed to Qantas’s wage freeze.

In December, the airline announced a wage freeze for all employees, including executives such as Mr Joyce.

Mr Oliver said he questioned why workers should be axed or face a pay freeze considering Qantas’s announcement on Thursday that it expected to return to profit in 2015.

“We’ve put it to him very clearly today that we still don’t accept the 5000 and we still want to be engaged in a process of consultation and negotiations to minimise the job cuts that have previously been announced,” Mr Oliver told reporters outside the Qantas headquarters at Mascot in Sydney.

After the meeting, the airline said there would be no movement on the job-cut plans or the wage freeze.

“We reiterated that completing the remainder of the $2 billion Qantas transformation program, including the reduction of 5000 jobs and a wage freeze for all employees including executives, is key to returning the business to profitability,” Qantas domestic chief executive Lyell Strambi said in a statement.

Mr Oliver said it was premature to speculate about industrial action but refused to rule it out.

“But as we said to the executive team today … morale is low, workers are still coming to work today not knowing if they’re going to be tapped on the shoulder and told they’re not going to have a job,” he said.

The comments came amid calls from unions and politicians and investors for Mr Joyce to be sacked, but Mr Oliver said the problems facing Qantas would remain even if Mr Joyce departed.

“I’m clearly of the view that if Alan Joyce got hit by a bus tomorrow, we’ve still got the issues that we need to confront,” Mr Oliver said.

The ACTU was also concerned about the decision by Qantas to separate its domestic and international businesses, and the possibility of sending jobs overseas.

Qantas insists the structural separation will not result in more job losses.

“We explained that the creation of a separate entity for Qantas International will have no impact on the day-to-day operations, network or staffing,” Mr Strambi said.

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How Middle East studies professors handle bias in the classroom

Dov Waxman, a professor of political science and the co-director of Northeastern University’s Middle East Center, remembers his first teaching job in Ankara, Turkey, at the beginning of the Second Intifada.

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“It was a baptism of fire,” says Waxman, who is Jewish. “When they asked me questions about the Holocaust, because they hadn’t heard about it, it was very difficult to respond as a professor without getting emotional.”

By the time I took his class a couple years ago at Baruch College, Waxman had been teaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a decade. He makes a point of mentioning his personal background at the start of each semester.

“The first thing I try to do,” he told me recently, “is to be very honest with myself about my own biases and the way in which it may shape my outlook. Because after you do that, then you can begin the hard work of trying to free yourself from it. The most dangerous thing occurs when academics are unable or unwilling to acknowledge where they are coming from.”

When it comes to a divisive issue like Gaza, emotions run high and facts often appear out of context.

Waxman’s dispassion is especially striking at a time when so many students are getting their news through social media. Today’s college-aged demographic has access to more information than ever before, but when it comes to a divisive issue like Gaza, emotions run high and facts often appear out of context. Instead of engaging with each other, Facebook users tend to hold more tightly to their positions each time they feel they’re under attack.

Another prominent expert on the Middle East, Columbia University’s Rashid Khalidi, says his responsibility is not to tell students what to think but to make sure they have an informed view, whatever it may be. “Even if students hold positions on these issues, as is natural, they should act and speak on the basis on knowledge and not ignorance,” said Khalidi. “There is a great deal out there on this topic about which many people feel strongly but are very ill-informed, and in some cases misinformed.”

Khalidi, who is the director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute, was born in New York to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese-American mother. Like Waxman, he makes his background transparent. “I attempt to portray events as objectively as possible, giving many of the different narratives. No matter what I say in class, few students who have been exposed to only one side of the issue seem to feel I am biased, simply because I’m Palestinian.”

Even outside the classroom, academics who teach the Middle East conflict are subject to a level of public scrutiny that a professor of biology or English literature would rarely endure. Earlier this month, after Khalidi wrote a New Yorker article called “Collective Punishment in Gaza,” staff writer Philip Gourevitch criticized him for taking too soft a stance on Hamas. “The hardest line that he will allow himself against Gaza’s categorically genocidal leadership is that ‘we may not like’ it,” Gourevitch wrote. “What would he lose to say that we must not?”

In the classroom there’s no time for well-crafted rebuttals, and face-to-face conversations help keep these teachers honest. Many of them feel compelled to serve as role models for handling polarized opinions on controversial topics.

“We are not advocates for any particular position. My loyalty is to the truth, not to any particular group.”

“We have to make it clear that these things cannot be reduced to sound bites or one sided diatribes,” said Waxman. “What colleges must aim to do is show how we can have engaged, thoughtful discussions about controversial and sensitive topics and how we can learn to respectively disagree.”

Once students step away from their social media feeds, their interactions often become nuanced and interesting. Khalidi, who has been teaching for over 40 years, has seen this shift in his own classrooms. “Today’s students are far more knowledgeable and open-minded than their elders were. It’s much easier to teach them about some complex and controversial topics in Middle East history.”

As Waxman noted, today’s students are also more likely to have friends who come from backgrounds different from their own.”Older generations have grown up in much more homogeneous societies,” he said. Today’s college students, more than any before them, are required to physically sit in the same room with people who don’t share their views. 

As the fall semester begins, current events will fuel heated discussions in classrooms across the country. Waxman plans to teach the same material he’s always taught, but will use the news as a way to engage his students: “I will begin the course by asking the students how much they followed the recent war between Israel and Hamas and whether they wanted to share their personal reactions to the fighting.”

Still, Waxman knows it will be a massive challenge for those who feel emotionally closest to the issue to separate their loyalties from the course material. He’s had to run impromptu therapy sessions after his classes before, but in the end, it always boils down to his responsibility as an educator.

“We are not advocates for any particular position, he said. “My loyalty is to the truth, not to any particular group.”

This article was originally published on The Atlantic. Click here to view the original. © All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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Sims bumps Tamou, rates Scott

He’s the man keeping Test and NSW prop James Tamou out of NRL finals aspirants North Queensland’s starting side.

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But Cowboys forward Ashton Sims hopes to one day be remembered as the bloke who once rubbed shoulders with “one of the best”, North Queensland enforcer Matt Scott.

A World Cup winner and member of NSW’s drought-breaking State of Origin team, Tamou couldn’t crack the 17 when he returned from an arm complaint for a clash that should seal North Queensland’s NRL finals spot – Monday night’s home game with lowly Cronulla.

The remarkable form resurgence of Fijian international Sims – bound for England club Warrington next year – ensured that.

Sims admitted his purple patch would be fondly remembered when he regaled tales of his NRL career with his family in the future – but for a very different reason.

Asked what motivated him most about retaining his starting spot, Sims said on Friday: “Just to be playing alongside Matty Scott.

“He will hate me to say it but he will go down as one of the best forwards that Queensland have had.

“The opportunity to look back in 10 years’ time with my kids, to say I played with a guy like him, it’s definitely motivating.”

The feeling appears to be mutual.

“The last month he has been one of our best players,” Scott said of Sims.

“He has probably exceeded his own expectations.

“The amount of minutes and quality he has been playing is one of the reasons we have been winning.

“While Jimmy (Tamou) would love to be starting he knows Basher (Sims) is in some good form at the moment.

“Jimmy was just happy to be back in the side, he’s good like that – he knows he has a job to do.”

Sims said there were no hard feelings with Tamou.

“We are good mates. There are no egos in this team,” he said.

“(But) that first 20 minutes I relish. It is when everyone is all pumped up and ready to go.

“It’s sometimes hard to sit on the bench and watch all that intensity and not being out there.

“It (starting) gives me confidence that they have confidence in me – I am relishing the opportunity at this time of the year.”

North Queensland (6th; 12-10 record) can nail down a finals berth with victory over a Cronulla side without 17 regular first graders due to ASADA bans, sackings, retirements and injuries.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys have signed young Parramatta back-rower Kelepi Tanginoa on a two-year deal from 2015.

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Dream run over for Bellis as big guns advance

However, Bellis, who shot from obscurity to fame with a shock first round win over Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, could not deliver the fairytale American tennis fans had hoped for, falling 6-3 0-6 6-2 to Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas.

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While former U.S. Open champion Andy Murray played in front of thousands of empty seats on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court, hundreds lined up at the entrances to a jam-packed Court 17, trying to catch a glimpse of “CiCi” – the teenager’s nickname.

With hoards more gathered around giant screens outside the main stadiums, groans of disappointment could be heard across the sprawling U.S. National Tennis Centre as the crowd watched the match slowly slip away.

“I think what surprised me is that I could really, like, stay with these pros,” Bellis told reporters.

“I think today if I had played a little bit better, it would have been a different result. But, I mean, just that I can play with them is really good.”

It was not all bad news for the home fans as five-time U.S. Open champion Serena Williams sailed through brisk winds to land comfortably in the third round of the year’s final grand slam.

Gusty breezes led Williams to misfire for three double faults in her first service game before the two-time defending champion found her bearings to swat aside fellow American Vania King 6-1 6-0 in 56 minutes.

“It’s so hard to play in the wind,” said the world number one, seeking her 18th career grand slam singles crown. “I’m very happy to get through a solid match with the conditions today.”

Wimbledon champion Djokovic followed Williams onto the Arthur Ashe Stadium court and was equally efficient, gliding past French veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-1 6-3 6-0.

Djokovic echoed Williams’ sentiments after advancing.

“It was very windy but I was able to adjust. I used my serve efficiently, getting them in,” said the Serb, who pounded in 75 percent of his first serves, including 13 aces, without a double fault.

ON COURSE

Most of the other leading seeds remained on course for an expected journey into the second week of the tournament.

Eighth seed Murray, who overcame cramping in his first-round victory, roared past unseeded German Matthias Bachinger in three sets to reach the third round.

Murray, the 2012 U.S. champion and 2013 Wimbledon winner, looked fresh and strong in cool, breezy conditions as he rolled to a 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory.

Canada’s hopes of first grand slam winner also stayed alive as men’s fifth seed Milos Raonic blasted his way into the third round with a 7-6 (4) 5-7 6-4 7-6 (3) win over Peter Gojowczyk while women’s seventh seed Eugenie Bouchard, trying to reach a fourth consecutive grand slam semi-final, scored a 6-2 6-7 (4) 6-4 decision over Romania’s Sorana Cirstea.

Ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France cruised by Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan 6-3 6-4 6-4 and big-serving American John Isner, the 13th seed, beat German Jan-Lennard Struff in straight sets.

Tenth seed Kei Nishikori of Japan had a shorter trip through to the third round as he advanced after Spain’s Pablo Andujar retired while trailing 6-4 6-1.

Philipp Kohlschreiber, the 22nd seed, had an even quicker time booking a place in the third round as France’s Michael Llodra retired after dropping the first set 6-2, due to an ailing elbow.

Hard-hitting American Sam Querrey limited his time spent on court against a healthy Guillermo Garcia-Lopez with his racket, beating the 28th-seeded Spaniard 6-3 6-4 6-4.

Querrey’s win earned him the dubious honour of advancing to face Djokovic in the next round.

“Sam is one of the top Americans,” noted Djokovic. “He has a big serve on any surface. If he serves well, he is dangerous.”

A former world number one failed to survive the second round, however, as error-prone eighth seed Ana Ivanovic of Serbia was ousted by 42nd-ranked Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 7-5 6-4.

Also shown the door was Australia’s 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur, who lost a third-set tiebreaker 10-8 to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

Third seeded Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova booked her expected place in the third round, however, with a 6-4 6-2 victory over fellow Czech Petra Cetkovska.

(Editing by John O’Brien)

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LG, Samsung introduce new smart watches

South Korean tech giants Samsung and LG have introduced their latest models of wearable tech devices: the G Watch R and the Gear S smart watches.

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The unveiling comes just days before the IFA Berlin 2014 event, one of the world’s largest consumer electronics fairs.

LG introduced the G Watch R, a watch with a circular 1.3-inch display and a resolution of 320 by 320 pixels, creating a similar “look” to that of classic wristwatches.

The material out of which the screen is made, OLED plastic, allows the user to take advantage of the entire screen area, LG said on Thursday.

The G Watch R, which will go on sale in the fourth quarter in the colour black with a stainless steel frame and an interchangeable leather strap, is water-resistant up to a depth of 1 metre for as long as 30 minutes.

Equipped with Google Android Wear, the watch will advise the wearer of incoming calls and messages, will be able to record meetings, provide local weather forecasts and register the physical activity of the user and their heart rate, among other features.

Samsung’s Gear S is a device with a curved 2-inch display screen that works on the Tizen operating system.

Its most noteworthy characteristic is that it has 3G connectivity such that the user can “make and receive calls directly from their wrist, or get calls forwarded from their smartphones”, according to the company.

It has a rectangular “Super AMOLED” screen with a resolution of 360 by 480 pixels, and its touch keyboard will allow the user to answer messages directly “from the wrist”.

The Gear S is also outfitted with GPS, an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, barometer and a heart-rate sensor.

Also water-resistant, the Gear S will go on sale in early October.

Neither of the companies has announced the selling price of their devices.

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