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BERLIN – Samsung unveiled its highly anticipated digital wristwatch Wednesday, beating Apple to what could become this year’s must-have holiday gift item.

So-called smartwatches, which can perform tasks such as displaying email and Twitter messages on a device worn around the wrist, have been around for several years but have failed so far to inspire great interest. But with smartphone behemoths Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc. joining the fray – and Google pushing its Google Glass gadget – experts see a chance of wearable computers breaking into the mainstream.

“With Gear you’re able to make calls and receive calls, without ever taking your phone out of your pocket,” Pranav Mistry, a member of Samsung’s design team, told reporters at the launch in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show there.

The Gear uses Google’s Android operating system, just like many of the phones and tablets made by Samsung. The South Korean electronics company said the Gear can act as an extension to a smartphone by discreetly alerting users to incoming messages and calls on its display screen, which measures 1.63 inches diagonally. The strap, which comes in six different colors, holds a basic camera that can be used to shoot photos and video. The Gear works with popular social media and fitness apps such as Twitter and RunKeeper.