Bose Hits Market With SoundSport Free Earbuds

It was only a matter of time. In 2016, Apple released the first earbuds that were actually useful. Soon, Sony upped the game with the WF-1000X, which had connection and call issues. It’s obvious that Sony recalled these as they disappeared from shelves and websites. However, Amazon now shows them shipping again on October 28.

With the connection issue and phone call issue likely fixed, Sony’s are set to be the best earbuds on the market. As my review noted, the sound is good and the noise cancelling, which one would never expect to be put in earbuds, works fantastically.

Now, Bose is stepping into the competition with the SoundSport Free. Bose’s new earbuds look both promising and disappointing at the same time. Gizmodo thinks they give Apple’s AirPods a run for their money.

“Now, it’s Bose’s turn. The new SoundSport Free wireless earbuds are sleek, powerful, and dependable. The Bose buds can do things that the AirPods can’t.”

Bose's buds don't have any type of noise isolation.

The review notes that the SoundSport Free buds also cost $250 — almost $100 more than Apple’s pods. The connectivity and sound are especially praised. But Gizmodo reveals that the SoundSport Free buds don’t have any noise cancellation — active or passive. If anybody has tried to use the AirPods at the gym or walking down a busy street, they’ll understand why this is an issue.

Many other Bose headphones are without active noise cancellation, but putting them on at least seals the ear from a lot of outside noise. Some people even prefer passive noise isolation rather than any type of noise cancellation that interferes with the sound. In any case, this is something that Apple and Bose have failed to realize.

Perhaps the main reason for not including active noise cancellation is battery life. Both Apple and Bose’s earbuds include five hours of battery life on a single charge. However, the carrying case for the buds allows for multiple charges. Sony’s noise-cancelling buds only offer three hours on a single charge, though Sony’s case allows for multiple charges as well.

When using Sony’s earbuds, there were at least two times when my listening experience was interrupted due to the low battery life. Still, I thought the tradeoff was worth it to have earbuds that not only sounded as good as regular wireless headphones, but also allowed excellent noise cancellation.

Standalone earbuds are only at the beginning stages; in two years, just about every company will offer noise cancellation and advanced Bluetooth sound with the new Bluetooth 5.0 protocol. Sony, Apple, and Bose currently offer the best earbud experience, even if the experience is flawed. If you can’t deal with the flaws of wireless earbuds, you should consider neckband headphones.

 

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Will The Google Pixel 2 And Pixel 2 XL Drown In Marketplace?

One year ago, I reviewed the Google Pixel XL and said it was Android at its best. I also wondered if that would be good enough, and it certainly has proven not to be. Instead of becoming the next iPhone, the Pixel line became the next Google Glass. Part of the problem was that there wasn’t enough supply to meet initial demand. Once the supply part was fixed, the demand part fell.

Google hopefully isn’t going to make the same availability mistakes with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, both which start shipping on October 19. But even if they make a lot of phones available for sale, it doesn’t mean that people will be picking them up. The problem is that both phones don’t really differentiate themselves from others on the market.

It’s shocking that both Pixel smartphones only have a single camera lens, which is so 2016. (One year in the smartphone world is like 10 years in the real world.) Both the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus have a dual-camera lens that not only lets the photographer take photos with 2X optical zoom, but allows control of background focus. In short, the new iPhone and Galaxy Note cameras can truly replace digital cameras.

Google's new smartphone camera is behind the times.

The smartphones, which look rather plain, look a lot like the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. The Pixel XL has a 6-inch OLED screen that looks beautiful, but it doesn’t beat Samsung in the screen size department. Both phones will run Android 8.0 (Oreo), which will give them a slight edge over other Android phones. But as much as Android has improved, it’s still no iOS. Why not just buy the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus. Better yet, why not wait a couple more weeks for the iPhone X?

Both smartphones have 4GB of RAM, which is certainly enough for more than 99 percent of smartphone users. But why would someone who is thinking about the Galaxy Note 8 go for the Pixel 2 XL instead when the Note 8 has 6GB of RAM and includes an S Pen stylus for digital note-taking?

The Pixel 2 will cost $649, while the Pixel XL runs for $849. The prices are cheaper than their counterparts from Samsung, Apple, and even LG. But as much as the marketplace thrives when there are more competitors, it’s just hard to believe that we’ll be seeing a lot of people with the new Pixel smartphones in the next couple of months. I hope I’m wrong and that Google exceeds all sales expectations.

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Microsoft New Mixed Reality Platform And Samsung’s New HMD Odyssey Headset Show Potential

This blog has gone over the fact that virtual reality appears to be stalling. The Oculus Rift didn’t make VR mainstream, and neither did the HTC Vive. Have you heard anybody talking about Sony’s PlayStation VR in a while? The only VR device that has gone partially mainstream is Samsung’s mobile headset, the Gear VR, and that’s because Samsung has been giving it away for free with sales of its Galaxy S and Galaxy Note smartphones.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced a new VR platform. Actually, it’s a mixed reality platform. And according to Gizmodo, it’s something that doesn’t completely suck.

“After finally trying out the most complete Microsoft mixed reality experience we’re likely to get this year, it looks like Microsoft might have built something that actually won’t suck.”

The article adds that Microsoft’s virtual reality experience goes way beyond gaming. Headsets by Acer, Dell, and Samsung will be available within the next three weeks in order to take advantage of Microsoft’s new platform. Microsoft is hoping that new headsets will eventually replace monitors.

In my opinion, what has really held virtual reality back is the low resolution of several devices. A Quad-HD screen is great for a smartphone or even a laptop. But when that screen is put before your eyes, it’s not enough to overcome a screen door effect where the viewer can differentiate individual pixels.

Samsung's HMD Odyssey headset has earned excellent reviews.

It appears that at least one of the headsets will deal with the screen door effect. The Samsung Odyssey looks a lot like the Gear VR on steroids. Each eye views a 1440 x 1600 pixel resolution OLED screen, which will make things more immersive than ever. It also has built in headphones. The device costs $500, but early reviews say the price is worth it.

“Samsung HMD Odyssey offers an eye-popping joyride into the world of virtual reality as seen through Windows 10, and while its cost falls just this side of ‘maybe I shouldn’t,’ the built-in audio completes the system in a way the other Windows MR devices don’t,” says Michelle Fitzsimmons of TechRadar.

Engadget says that Samsung’s new Odyssey headset proves that image quality is worth the extra price. As they mention, one also gets a 110 degree field-of-view (FOV) with the headset, which is the highest that’s currently being offered on a headset. It also comes with two motion controllers that can track your position in the virtual world without having to worry about setting up base stations to track your moves so you don’t fly into your bookshelf.

It will be interesting to see how “accurate” Samsung’s positional tracking is. Furthermore, it will be even more interesting to see if Samsung and Microsoft can finally bring virtual reality into the mainstream. After using many virtual reality headsets over the past three years, I certainly see the advantages of virtual reality and really hope both major companies finally bring in consumers.

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Is The Headphone Jack Really Dead?

Apple wants you to believe that the headphone jack is no longer important. The Cupertino company thinks it can do to the headphone jack what it did to Adobe Flash. But it’s not so easy.

Since Apple took the headphone jack out of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, I (as well as others) expected that we’d see the amount of people using wired headphones greatly reduced. This hasn’t been quite the case. In my personal experience, I would say that there has been a small change, but not the type of radical change people had expected.

Many iPhone 7 owners carry around an adapter so they could still use wired headphones.

I have often seen iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus owners who carry an audio jack adapter with them just so they can use their wired headphones. I have fully transitioned to wireless headphones, but can understand why these iPhone owners do this. After all, wireless sound still doesn’t have the same quality as wired sound, though it has greatly improved.

It’s interesting; Apple still includes the headphone jack on all the new iPads, new MacBooks, and even all of the new MacBook Pros. And Samsung still includes the headphone jack on their new Galaxy S and Galaxy Note 8 devices. So it seems as if the headphone jack is missing from the iPhone for design purposes only.

I’m certainly not the only one who notices that the headphone jack isn’t dead. Here’s what The Verge has to say.

“For now, the headphone jack is still the safest route for most mobile manufacturers to take. It serves their users’ needs and doesn’t really get in the way of doing cool things like waterproof designs, wireless charging, and dual-camera systems. For now.”

Bluetooth 5 has been introduced, and audio products that take advantage of it should start appearing this quarter. The iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, the iPhone X, and the Galaxy Note 8 all are Bluetooth 5 compatible. Bluetooth 5 will certainly help improve the wireless range as you can now play a song from your kitchen on your iPhone and hear it on your Bluetooth speaker that is all the way upstairs in your room.

Bose and other major audio companies have yet to release Bluetooth 5 compatible headphones.

There has been debate on whether or not Bluetooth 5 really improves audio quality. While Bluetooth speed increases to 6.25 MBps, that’s still far behind the transfer speed of wired devices. There are other factors to consider, but one really won’t be able to say anything until high-quality Bluetooth 5 headphones arrive. If you have one of the newer smartphones by Apple and Samsung, it would be advisable to at least wait another month or so before you put down your money on Bluetooth 4 compatible headphones. But if you don’t want to take any risk, you can also just buy wired headphones — after all, most people still are doing the same.

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SNES Classic Launches Without Major Hitches

Last November, the NES Classic, a miniature version of the original Nintendo Entertainment System from 1985, was released. It came with 30 pre-installed games and a controller. I actually still have my original NES that I received for my birthday in 1986, so I didn’t feel nostalgic enough to buy a new one.

The NES Classic launch was an absolute disaster that caused fist fights at retail outlets. Demand was so high on Amazon that the site crashed. So, there were hopes that Nintendo learned their lessons and made sure there was enough supply of the SNES classic in order to avoid the same hassle from 2016. And it looks like Nintendo lived up to those hopes. Polygon has the news.

“I waited in line for just an hour this morning, and the same GameStop that had only five units last year (!) had 12 this year. I was number 11. There were a half-dozen people behind me who left disappointed. But just over the bridge in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a friend was at a Target with 50 units and no lines.”

People stand in line at Target for the new SNES Classic.

In checking with stock at GameStop and Target around here, it appears that all the initial shipped units are sold out. But it’s 3:30 p.m. as I write this, so if someone was really desperate for one, they would have certainly purchased it by now. I have been spending a little too much money on electronics lately, so I decided to skip out on this the SNES classic (for now), even though I love retro gaming.

I think people play retro games in order to relive their past a lot more than they do for the fun and gameplay.  We have a desire to go back to a time things were more innocent. I remember receiving the SNES as a gift in 1991. I was a little nervous getting this as a gift; I thought I would (once again) get addicted to a video game system, and my fears were realized 100 percent.

Instead of studying, I played Super Mario World over and over again. When I wasn’t playing Super Mario World, I was trying to figure out Sim City. I was able to get over my addiction (and it was a serious one), and stopped playing for a year. When I played again, I was able to do it in moderation. Some of my favorites were Street Fighter II and Legend of Zelda.

Perhaps the best SNES game was Donkey Kong Country. As a fan of the original Donkey Kong released during the 1980s, this 1990s version captured the fun of the original, but made it far more challenging and exciting. After all, this was 1994, and Nintendo needed to prove they can live up to the times.

Click to play this 1994 commercial in YouTube.

Donkey Kong Country was groundbreaking in terms of graphics and gameplay. There would be future versions of this new Donkey Kong series, but none lived up to the original — at least in my opinion. Thankfully, this classic game is included with the new SNES Classic.

Some of the other games included in the bundle are Mega Man X, Super Punch Out, and Final Fantasy III. The more I write about this, the more I find myself wanting this. Perhaps the SNES Classic will be a Christmas gift to myself.

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Apple Watch Series 3 FINALLY Works On T-Mobile After 6 Days

Despite all the warnings, I actually purchased the Apple Watch Series 3, fully knowing it could be returned within 14 days. Needless to say, I have never had so many issues with a device on T-Mobile since I became a subscriber in 2013. It’s not T-Mobile’s entire fault, and it’s true that people on all carriers have experienced annoying problems.

After I purchased my Watch at the Apple Store in Valencia, California, I couldn’t use my coveted new device right away since I had to update my iPhone to iOS 11. Since I was at a place with slow WiFi, it took a couple hours before I downloaded the new operating system. Then, I paired the new Watch, and the problems were still only in the very early stages.

A screen popped up, and I linked the Apple Watch to a new T-Mobile “Digits” account that I could use for my Watch when I am on cellular service and away from my iPhone. The first 3 months are free, but I will be paying an extra $10 afterwards. In my opinion, it’s worth $5, but certainly not more. Perhaps that can change with more useful apps launched for the new Apple Watch.

Setting up the Apple Watch to work on LTE was a nightmare.

Digits gives the subscriber an entire new number for the Watch. However, the Watch can disguise that number with your iPhone phone number. For example, if the number on your iPhone is 818.658.6789, you will receive calls and messages on your Watch when you aren’t connected to the iPhone. When you make calls and send messages, the number that shows up on the other end is your iPhone’s, not the number your Apple Watch is registered with.

I drove home thinking my Watch was fully activated, but when I tried making a call over LTE, it didn’t work. Then, I was on the phone with T-Mobile for over an hour as they transferred me from person to person, each who seemed more clueless than the previous one. Since it was the first day of its release, I didn’t get too angry. The very nice tech support representative told me she would have an engineer call me back.

After reading some customer support forums, I tried someone’s suggestion of unpairing the Apple Watch with the iPhone and then repairing it as a new Watch instead of a backup of my previous Apple Watch. Instead of setting up LTE with T-Mobile during setup, I was told to do it after everything was paired. And it worked — well, sort of. I was finally able to make and receive calls on LTE. But I was not able to send or receive instant messages, and that was the main reason I bought the LTE Watch since I needed to receive messages when I was in certain places that didn’t allow cellular phones.

After a tiresome experiment, the Watch finally worked as advertised.

On Tuesday, the tech representative called me back. We spent another hour on the phone. She promised to have the Watch working by the end of our call, but that didn’t happen. I had to forgive her since she was so nice and was really concerned. She promised me that if the Watch didn’t work in a couple days, an engineer would get back to me.

On Thursday evening, I once again unpaired my device. Then, I paired it as a new Watch and I used a completely new phone number when reactivating it with T-Mobile. That was a waste of time. Then, I tried getting yet another completely  new number, and thought I was really losing my mind. But you know what — it worked!

I had T-Mobile delete the two Watch numbers on my account that I won’t use. After all, I don’t want to end up paying for 3 lines. The exact issue with the Apple Watch 3 hasn’t been revealed yet, but at least I have a working one on my wrist. Was all the trouble worth it? I’ll let you know soon.

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Microsoft Prepares To Take On Apple’s MacBook Pro With The Surface Book 2

Microsoft Surface Book

Microsoft has experienced a little bit of bad luck lately after Consumer Reports decided it can’t recommend the Surface products. Even though the lack of recommendation comes from products released in 2015 and earlier, the new Surface Pro (which works fine) and the Surface Laptop are included in the black list.

As a former owner of the original Surface Book, I can attest that the device was so bad that it was practically unusable until a couple months after its initial release date in October of 2015. It wasn’t fully usable until the following spring. By that time, I had sold the device and lost almost $1000 because barely anybody wanted to buy a higher-end Surface Book.

Click to play in YouTube.

Well, Microsoft now has a chance to revive the Surface Book brand with the Surface Book 2. On October 31, Microsoft is said to announce a major new product, and it is believed that the new Surface Book will be the device. Most rumors have Microsoft’s new device sporting a 4K screen, an 8th generation Intel processor (i5 or i7), a much better hinge that separates the screen from the keyboard base, and a discreet graphics chip. Depending on the configuration, the Surface Book will likely run $1300 to $2600. Microsoft likely won’t include the Surface Pen with the device since they didn’t with the 2017 Surface Pro.

This is a perfect time for Microsoft to put out the Surface Book 2, especially since not everybody is happy with the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Although my experience with the new MacBook Pro has been great, the Touch Bar is still an unnecessary gimmick. It looks nice and is cool to use, but it’s not worth the extra $200 price Apple charges for their notebooks. The Surface Book 2 will have something that Apple’s MacBook series doesn’t have — a touchscreen.

Is this the redesigned Surface Book 2?

I hope that Microsoft includes a better battery for the screen part. Detaching the screen from the base only allowed an hour or two for battery life on the first Surface Book. That became a disability for people who wanted to use the Surface Book screen as a digital notepad.

Microsoft’s Surface Book seemed to be one of the most innovative technology products in recent history when it was launched. However, the device never lived up to its initial promises. Let’s hope that the Surface Book 2 changes that. All Microsoft needs is a better quality control team.

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Sony’s W1-1000X Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones Rule The Neckband World

Sony has just become the best headphone maker in the world. You can quote me on that. The new WF-1000x earbuds, reviewed last week at iReTron, border on being the most innovative earbuds, but have some early issues that need to be taken care of with (hopefully) a soon-to-be released software fix. But the WF-1000x’s big brother, the W1-1000X works almost flawlessly.

The W1-1000X earphones have a more sturdy and heavy build than recent ones from Sennheiser or even Bose. These aren’t the type of earphones that you can cram into your pocket. On the other hand, these will stay on your neck without one side completely tilting over. The control buttons are a little difficult to reach on the inside of the left band. Sometimes, it’s easier to control these buds from the Sony app that you can use for Android or iOS.

Sony's new neckband headphones have a variety of high quality wireless codecs.

Speaking of Android or iOS, the W1-1000X headphones have the high quality aptX codec for most Android phones and the high quality AAC codec for the iPhone. Most headphones have just one or the other. For example, the WF-1000X earbuds defaulted to the SBC codec (lowest quality) when used with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. There isn’t a huge difference between SBC and the more advanced codecs, but it is noticeable if you listen to wireless headphones a lot.

The overall sound quality equals that on the fantastic (but without noise cancellation) Sennheiser HD 1 neckband headphones. There’s heavy in bass, but it’s not too domineering. The highs are emphasized, but not enough to overshadow the mids. The W1-1000X brought out instruments on Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” that I haven’t heard before. The soft chords and light vocals of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” also come through very well and add texture to the beautiful song.

The W1-1000X headphones have excellent noise cancellation.

But the biggest surprise about the W1-1000X is the noise cancellation, which does an even better job than Sony’s flagship over-the-ear headphones, the MDR-1000x. The Sony Headphones app allows you to change the amount of noise cancellation you want. This is especially helpful when going for a jog and not wanting to get hit by a car. There is also an “Adaptive Sound Control” feature that others have bragged about but one that I don’t find works as well as advertised.

The W1-1000X headphones last as long as advertised — about ten hours. Sometimes, I found them lasting longer. If you run out of battery juice, you can get a couple hours worth by charging them for 15 minutes. But given that you can check the amount of life left by pressing the power button rapidly, you shouldn’t be caught off guard with no power left.

The W1-1000X wireless neckband headphones can be purchased at Best Buy or Amazon for $299. These multifaceted neckband headphones are worth every penny Sony charges.

 

 

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Apple Watch Series 3 Receives Mixed Reviews

The Apple Watch now has cellular capabilities.

Well, this is a bummer. As I mentioned in my previous post, the new Apple Watch appeared to be almost as exciting as the new iPhone. I actually preordered one, but am considering cancelling it based on reviews. Surprisingly, reviews for the Apple Watch Series 3 are mixed.

“In reality, my Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE failed at the LTE part,” bluntly states Lauren Goode, adding that not only is the new Watch expensive, but you’ll have to pay a monthly fee to own something that has connectivity issues.

In another damning review from the Wall Street Journal, Joanna Stern says the new Watch is untethered and unreliable.

“You’re lucky if the battery allows you to roam on cellular for longer than half a day—especially if you’re making calls.”

CNET says that the Apple Watch 3 is the best overall smartwatch, but battery limitations and extra costs keep it from being a must-have upgrade. They also note that despite the fact that the Watch is designed to free you up from your phone, you’ll still need your iPhone to set it up and install apps. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with Android phones.

Click to play in YouTube.

However, not everybody is disappointed with the new Apple Watch. Mashable claims that not only does the LTE service work well, but it’s easy to set up using your iPhone. The review also praises the exercise tracking capabilities. The New York Times praises Apple’s upgraded smartwatch as well.

“After testing the cellular watch for a week, I found it to be an excellent smartwatch that is a significant improvement over the first Apple Watch, which was slow, confusing to use, and deeply flawed.”

This morning, according to Tech Crunch, Apple acknowledged LTE problems with their new smartwatch. The Cupertino company told the website that they discovered that when the Watch Series 3 joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks, it may at times prevent the Watch from using cellular. Apple says there will be a future software fix for this.

Apple claims a software update will fix LTE connectivity issues.

Apple hasn’t said anything about the battery life, but one should not expect a cellular watch to last a full day using LTE in the first place. Samsung’s Gear S3, for example, doesn’t last even offer half a day with cellular use. There simply is’t enough room in a smartwatch for a huge cellular battery.

Perhaps I won’t cancel my Watch order since I can easily return it within 14 days for a full refund. But my hopes of not having to lug my iPhone around anymore by just using the Apple Watch have been tainted.

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Thoughts On Apple’s Big Announcement

 

I am a little late to this, but the  September Apple Keynote event, the first ever at the new Steve Jobs Theater, was on my mind all during the week. I couldn’t decide which I was more excited about — the iPhone X or the Apple Watch Series 3.

The iPhone X is certainly the most groundbreaking of the two, but the fact that it won’t be released until early November is a letdown; I thought it would be in my hands by September 22. Still, the wait is probably worth it since the newest higher-end iPhone is the smartphone Apple lovers have wanted for years.

The iPhone X has a 5.8-inch 2436 x 1125 pixel resolution Super Retina OLED display, which is the largest we’ve ever seen on an iPhone. Because it’s an edge-to-edge display without much bezel space, the iPhone X is still close in size to the iPhone 7, which only has a 4.7-inch screen. The iPhone X is powered by a new A11 neural bionic processor. It also has a glass body and is capable of being charged wirelessly.

The problem is that the cheapest version of the iPhone X (with 64GB storage) costs $999. Is it worth it? Probably not. Will people still go out on buy it in droves? Probably so. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus models, which are being released on September 22, may be average sellers. But at this point, these phones are only bit players in the Apple 2017 show.

The Apple Watch now has cellular capabilities.

The Apple Watch Series 3 was also announced, and I believe that although you won’t see people lining up for the device when it’s released on Sept. 22, the new Watch will become a big hit for Apple. We all knew that there was LTE service coming for the new Watch, but it was rumored that the LTE wouldn’t convert to being able to make phone calls with the Watch. Fortunately, that rumor has been proven false.

Some people don’t realize how much of a difference cellular service makes with the new Watch, especially since it can take the same number as your iPhone. When I check my phone in with security at studios that I work at, I don’t have to worry about missing an important message. Of course, studios will probably soon ban the Apple Watch as well, but they haven’t yet. This will also be great for exercising, and I am so excited about not having to bring my iPhone with me to the gym, where there is always a possibility it could get stolen.

All carriers will charge $10 extra a month for an LTE data plan. T-Mobile originally announced that they would cap the speeds at 512kbps unless the subscriber pays extra, but they walked back on that plan after it caused controversy. Apple claims that the Watch will offer at least 18 hours of battery life, but it will be interesting to see how much a cellular radio affects the battery life.

Despite some usual misgivings (you can never make everybody happy), Apple will likely have the best fourth quarter in the company’s history. People who said just one year ago that Apple was losing its touch have absolutely been proven out of touch themselves.

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