Dell’s Updated XPS 13 Continues To Redefine The Modern PC Laptop

The Dell XPS 13 laptop will likely end up as one of this decade’s top tech products. Dell unveiled the practically bezel-less laptop at CES in 2015. This blog gave the initial XPS 13 a bad review due to the machine constantly changing brightness levels, the less-than-average trackpad, and the less-than-advertised battery life.

But by the summer of 2015, Dell issued software fixes for most of the issues, and they easily had a MacBook Pro competitor. The 2016 version, released in November of 2015, was an even bigger winner. Now, Dell has revealed the updated 2018 XPS 13 at CES in Las Vegas. It’s (shockingly) smaller than the current model, thinner (impossible!) than the 2017 model, has a 4K option (instead of Quad HD+), comes in different colors, and (allegedly) doesn’t compromise any power.

But there are some things Dell “left off.” In keeping up with the times, they have deleted the USB-A ports and have replaced them with USB-C ports, two which have Thunderbolt capabilities. The SD slot is gone, but you will get a microSD slot instead.

Still, the XPS 13 has received great reviews. Laptop Magazine gives it four-and-a-half stars with an Editor’s Choice award.

“The Dell XPS 13 9370 offers strong performance, long battery life and a stunning screen in a chassis that’s slimmer and more attractive than ever,” says columnist Avram Piltch, adding that the battery life on the 1080p version is a lot better than the XPS 13 with the 4K screen.

Digital Trends is also impressed with the 2018 version of the XPS 13.

“Our brief time with the new XPS 13 left us impressed. It even retains a great keyboard with good key feel, something the XPS 15 2-in-1 sacrificed to shave off a few pounds.”

Dell’s XPS 13 keyboard has always been controversial, especially because there is minimal key travel that can annoy your fingers after awhile. But compared to the “Butterfly Keyboard” on Apple’s new MacBook products, travel on Dell’s keyboard feels like you are going from Alaska to Brazil. I prefer the keyboard on the Surface Book 2, but the device isn’t as portable as Dell’s.

The new Dell XPS 13 is now available for purchase.

The one thing I’m really curious about is the screen. Compared to recent notebooks by Microsoft and Apple, the late-2017 XPS 13′s screen appears somewhat washed out. Don’t get me wrong; anybody who looks at it will be impressed, but they’ll change their minds once the view the color vibrancy and contrast ratio on the new Surface Book 2 or MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. In many ways, vibrancy, color accuracy, and contrast ratio are more important than the actual screen resolution.

Still, the XPS 13 keeps proving that Dell has gone from a problematic company with quality control issues into a major PC notebook manufacturer. Dell certainly isn’t the next Apple, but they are getting closer.

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The HTC Vive Pro Looks Tempting, But Is It Too Late?

The HTC Vive Pro is coming!

Virtual reality was supposed to be the big new thing two years ago. It seemed like devices such as the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR would show up in homes everywhere. However, that hasn’t happened. Some would even say that VR is the new “3D,” and you know that’s not a good thing if you paid attention to the 3D hype earlier this decade.  This blog has done more than enough when it comes to explaining why current VR headsets just aren’t appealing to the mainstream, so I’ll stop at that right here.

But I would be completely dishonest if I said I wasn’t somewhat excited about the HTC Vive Pro, which was announced at CES on Monday morning. It will have a sharper lens (2880 x 1600 pixel resolution), built-in headphones, two microsphones for noise cancellation, and dual front-facing cameras. It will be available during the first quarter of 2017 to those who already own the Vive. Developers will get it later.

Click to play video.

At first, I was disappointed to learn that the Vive would still rely on those cool but outdated tracking stations. However, Rolling Stone just announced there would be a wireless add-on, something Vive users have been requesting since day one.

“In addition, HTC showed off the Vive Wireless Adaptor, which can hook onto either the original or Vive Pro and wirelessly connect to a nearby PC…It will use Intel’s WiGig technology to stream data over the air. It’ll be available in the summer of 2018.”

James Bricknell of Windows Central is impressed after having some hands-on time with the device. He notes that not only is the Vive Pro lighter, but that the audio is more immersive. Bricknell is especially impressed with the increased screen resolution, which he believes makes things more real while helping to reduce motion sickness.

All this sounds great, but it may be a little too late. The HTC Vive Pro is a nice upgrade, but it’s not a revolutionary change that will draw consumers in. It was really hoped that HTC would introduce a standalone headset that doesn’t depend on a PC, something that Samsung had teased a couple months back.

I don’t think I will be updating my HTC Vive, which is barely used anymore, even if if the update is only a couple hundred dollars extra (price hasn’t been confirmed yet). But I would definitely be the first one to at least give the new Vive Pro a try.


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Samsung Galaxy S9: First Major Smartphone Of 2018 Is Coming

Leaked picture of Samsung Galaxy S9

The new year has started, and the first major smartphone of the year, the Galaxy S9, is starting to gain hype. Judging by the pictures and leaks, the Galaxy S9 and its big brother, the S9 Plus, won’t be radically different from the S8 and S8+.

The new S9 series will likely be announced next month during the the Mobile World Conference. It could actually go on sale in early March, but most sources are pointing to a late-March release. Samsung certainly shouldn’t be in a rush to release a new smartphone, especially since they are still coasting off the (well deserved) success of the Galaxy Note 8.

Both devices are said to have a fingerprint scanner that is separated from the camera lens. Even though both the S8 and S8+ received excellent reviews, many complained that the fingerprint scanner was too close to the camera lens, and it was easy to miss it while smudging the lens.

The Galaxy Note 8 fixed this problem, so it’s logical that the S9 and S9+ will follow. But there are also reports that both phones will have under-the-screen fingerprint scanners. Samsung wanted to do this with the Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note 8, but couldn’t perfect the technology in time.

The Galaxy S9 looks very similar to the S8

Both the Galaxy S9 and S9+ are said to have smaller bezels, but aren’t the bezels around Samsung’s latest devices already small enough? It’s too easy to accidentally touch the screen while your holding the device.  The Galaxy S9 is said to have a single-lens camera, while the S9 Plus is said to have a dual-lens camera.

As BGR points out, new photos of what appears to be the S9+ with the dual-lens camera have leaked. There doesn’t appear to be a fingerprint scanner, so perhaps the under-the-screen fingerprint rumor is true. The phone appears to be very much like the Galaxy Note 8, which isn’t a bad thing. But it’s also sort of boring. Samsung has been playing it very safe since the Note 7 debacle, but now that it’s (sort of) forgotten about, perhaps it’s time for the Korean company to take risks again.

It’s important to note that early leaks of a device don’t necessarily mean it’s the final product. As we have seen from Apple in the past, some of the leaked iPhones just ended up being prototypes. Let’s hope the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are a lot more adventurous and help make 2018 another great year for smartphones.


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UberEats Shows How Far Technology Has Come

Besides blogging, I do some work in the entertainment field. The film and television industry is pretty much on hold during the holiday season. It’s no surprise I didn’t save money for this, so I started driving for UberEats. I was dreading it at first, but now am absolutely fascinated by the service, even if I want to pull my hair out at times.

Once you are approved and download the app, it’s pretty simple. You go to the Home screen and move the blue button to “Online.”

Then, it starts. You get a message for a pickup that you can either accept or ignore (you’ll want to accept as much as possible if you want to keep getting work). Then, Uber’s map will lead you to the restaurant. It will also lead you to the address where you have to drop the food off at. At least it’s supposed to. Personally, I prefer using Google Maps, but then it’s a hassle going through an extra step.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the map and direction on Uber’s app, but I am still pretty fascinated by it. One has to remember that Google had more than 10 years to perfect maps, while Uber’s GPS is still pretty new. And they get it right more than 90 percent of the time. Yes, I have ended up on the complete wrong street and at a person’s house rather than a restaurant. And, one time, I ended up in a dead-end street and couldn’t go further. But that barely happens. One has to give a lot of credit to Uber’s engineers for how much accuracy they have achieved in such a short period of time. Anybody remember Apple Maps?

Uber allows you to do everything within their app. When you arrive at the restaurant, you can click that the order was accepted or that it is not ready. Sometimes, I have become very angry when waiting more than 15 minutes at a restaurant for the order since it takes away time from other orders and more cash. But, within the app, you can notify Uber about this. I’ve done it three times and they have compensated me all those times. It’s easy for them to verify how long you’ve been at a restaurant since your location becomes stagnant.

Once you pick up the food, there is a direct link to send a message to the person you need to deliver to. I usually use this to let the person know I’m on my way, although they can see this through their app. Both you and the customer can see exactly how close you are to the final delivery. They are notified when you are there. People usually come out to your car, although some give special directions to bring the food inside. This only becomes a problem when there is no parking or if they live in a huge maze-like building on the top floor.

UberEats earnings are updated instantly after each trip.

Through the Earnings section, you can check how much money you’ve made right after your delivery. You can also check how much money you’ve made for the week. If you want to cash out, all you have to do is press a blue button (and pay 50 cents — which is reasonable compared to other services). You can also view your ratings and other details.

“So, what is so great about this that it warrants an article?” one may ask.

Just ten years ago, something like this wasn’t possible. There were GPS systems and Map apps on cellular devices, but data speeds were still way too slow to make anything like this work. If you delivered pizza, Chinese food, or anything else just ten years ago, you understand how far more difficult the process was.

Furthermore, the UberEats program not only makes life easier for consumers, but helps restaurants make more money as well. Furthermore, it gives jobs to many people. In other words, the program really helps strengthen the economy. And while it’s true that nobody is going to become rich by becoming an UberEats driver, it will help them at least keep paying their bills during slow times. I can certainly vouch for that. Now, it’s time to go make another delivery.


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CES 2018 Preview: Smart Home, TV, And VR Devices

It’s that time of the year again where preparations are going on for the Consumer Electronics Show, which begins on January 9. I was invited to this show (finally!), but I may not be able to make it. And if I don’t make it, I won’t exactly be devistated.

It looks like 2018′s show could concentrate heavily on smart devices for your home. It’s something I’ve never been thrilled about. Perhaps it’s because I don’t really have a home. But it’s also because I’ve tried all the smart home devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home and wasn’t totally blown away (more on that in another story).

According to CNET, we could see many devices that have integration with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s upcoming HomeKit. Of course, Apple’s HomePod speaker didn’t make it in time for the holidays, but that doesn’t mean that third-party devices won’t demonstrate compatible devices.

Of course, it wouldn’t be CES without new smart TVs. And this year could see top brands showing off more OLED screen television sets as well as new 8K screens. Korea’s ETNews claims that Samsung will show an 8K television bigger than 100 inches.

Then, there will likely be a demonstration of new VR devices. HTC could be debuting its new standalone Vive Focus VR headset. It’s also possible Samsung could show up with their upcoming standalone headset. Judging by past CES events, it’s more than likely that Oculus will show up with something new. Let’s hope there are AR devices in addition to the barrage of VR ones attendees will be overwhelmed with.

Samsung's new foldable phone is coming, but it probably won't look like this.

Then, of course, there will be smartphones. Will we finally see the Galaxy X, Samsung’s mythical foldable smartphone?According to Tech Radar, Samsung could be actually launching the phone in 2018. Wouldn’t CES be the perfect venue to introduce the new phone?

I don’t expect to see new innovative laptops at CES. There will be a lot of hybrids. There will be a lot of 13-inch and 15-inch laptops that are extremely light. The only hybrid that could be exciting these days would be a MacBook Touch. But could we see a new category of mini hybrids? The concept of the ultra-mobile PC failed in the late 2000′s, but perhaps it could make a comeback.

Whether I attend CES or not, I can promise you that there will be a lot to report on starting January 9. Stay tuned, and have a great new year!

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Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Platform Is 2017′s Biggest Tech Disappointment

Windows Mixed Reality is a poor attempt at VR.

You have to hand it to Microsoft, a company that has had (for the most part) a great year. 2017′s Surface Pro made Microsoft’s smaller laptop/tablet hybrid the device Microsoft has been trying to make since 2o13. Then, there’s the Surface Laptop, which earned incredible reviews. My personal favorite product of the year is the Surface Book 2 – a laptop (with a detachable screen) that even outdoes the 2017 MacBook Pro.

The only area where Microsoft went wrong in 2017 was a very important one — virtual reality. With the platform losing ground, Microsoft had the chance to give VR the shot it desperately needed with it’s new Mixed Reality hardware and software. However, they failed miserably with faulty hardware and software.

I reviewed the Samsung Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality Headset last month. I used it with the Surface Book 2, which has a discreet graphics chip and should have been able to handle the VR experience. It ended up being one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in my almost ten years of reviewing products. The software would often freeze, or the screen would become distorted. Instead of pleasure, Microsoft’s new VR world gave me an absolute headache.

Samsung's HMD Odyssey headset looks great on paper, but is a nightmare to use in the real world.

But I’ve tried other Mixed Reality Headsets, such as ones by Dell and HP, at the Microsoft Store. And the experience was better, but still lacking. The Mixed Reality platform was supposed to provide a mobile experience that had the HTC Vive’s motion tracking (without the huge tracking stations) along with the the Gear VR’s portability. The experience lacks the best aspects of both.

One could have predicted that the new platform would be a letdown when Microsoft decided to title it “Mixed Reality.” It’s a fancy name that makes one think they’ll be experiencing augmented reality (like the HoloLens) and virtual reality in the same headset. However, VR is the only thing you’ll experience, and the experience is a major disappointment. Microsoft should have spent more time perfecting the technology instead of rushing it to the marketplace.

Microsoft’s VR failure has put another negative notch in the VR belt. The only hope for VR will come from Samsung and HTC  — both which are making standalone headsets that have inside-out positional tracking. If those don’t succeed, you can file VR in the same category as 3D: Failed Nostalgia.

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Is Sennheiser’s AMBEO Smart Headset The Coolest New Gadget?

The coolest new gadget on the market?

I’ve covered headphones so much for this blog that I thought it would be okay to take a little break. But then, I noticed that Sennheiser has just released new headset, but these aren’t typical for any audio company.

The AMBEO Smart Headset, which is made for iOS devices, is basically for people who not only want to listen to music, but also want to shoot videos that have 3D stereo sound. They are not wireless headphones; instead, they come with a lighting port connector that skips the need for another annoying dongle.

The iPhone X doesn't take videos with stereo sound.

Geoffrey Morrison of Forbes says the new AMBEO is his favorite headset of the year.

“So what are these things? Awesome, that’s what. Travelers, video bloggers, 3D audio lovers, I’m not sure what the exact Venn diagram is of people who would want/need these headphones. I have to assume it’s tiny, which makes it even more bizarre that they exist at all.”

It’s obvious that the AMBEO is a niche item, but it may not be as niche as one would think. There are a growing number of people who want stereo sound from their iOS videos. It’s quite ironic that Apple makes devices (especially the iPhone X) that take breathtaking video clips, but only output them in monaural quality. Samsung’s devices have taken videos with stereo sound since 2011.

Sennheiser's niche headphones could break through to the mainstream.

The music listening experience may be a “besides the point” aspect of the AMBEO headphones, but it’s still considered to be pretty good. Sennheiser’s headset has active noise cancellation, which Nerd Techy claims isn’t the best compared to other brands, but still very good.

The site also claims that the sound quality is typical Sennheiser — in other words, great. But other sites have claimed that the audio quality is slightly lacking. There is an equalizer in the Sennheiser app required to use these headphones, so perhaps that can influence the sound quality. However, these headphones obviously aren’t made for bass lovers.

Sennheiser claims that they will make a version of the AMBEO headset for Android devices. However, it might not be that appealing since top Android devices by Samsung, Google, and HTC already record excellent stereo sound alone or with videos. But Sennheiser is certainly onto something with these headphones, which may find a larger audience in the near future.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 8: Best Smartphone of 2017

It’s now that time of year where we discuss the best and worst from the past 12 months. Choosing the best smartphone of 2017 is a difficult task, especially because it was a groundbreaking year.

Apple finally released its upgraded iPhone X. And though it is certainly a great phone, it didn’t completely live up to its hype as the new “Jesus Phone.” The Face ID is a great concept, but doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. But at least it works better than the facial recognition feature on the Galaxy Note 8. However, the Note 8 also has a rear fingerprint scanner, and it works better than Apple’s Face ID. Yeah, it’s a little annoying to have the scanner on  the back, but at least it’s there. Both Apple and Samsung couldn’t get an under-the-screen fingerprint scanner working, but Apple thought it was a great idea to completely leave this off.

The Smartphone of the Year Award is certainly a toss-up between the Galaxy Note 8 and the iPhone X, but the former wins.  Hardware wise, the Galaxy Note 8 is easily ahead of the iPhone — it has a higher-resolution screen, and it is the perfect digital note-taking device with the included S Pen. For some reason, Apple decided not to make any of their latest iPhones compatible with the Apple Pencil. However, that may change in 2018.

The dual-lens camera on the Galaxy Note 8 is also a champ, and I’ve learned to love it more as time goes by. It beats out every other smartphone when used as a video camera since it takes clips in stereo sound. The stereo mics are located on each side of the device, and the space between them makes the stereo separation really dominating.

The Galaxy Note 8 doesn’t have stereo speakers like the iPhone does for listening to music and watching movies, but the monaural speaker has a lot of “oomph” to it, and the sound, even at high volume, doesn’t get distorted. It’s still best to use the Note 8 with a pair of stereo headphones, and you have the option of using either wired or wireless cans.

The Galaxy Note 8 really defines “smartphone” in that it can do everything and do it very well. It’s hard to imagine how Samsung will top the Note 8 with the Note 9 in 2018. However, one can always count on Samsung to break new ground.


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The Surface Book 2 Easily Replaces MacBook Pro

I took a huge risk when I sold my 13-inch MacBook Pro With Touch Bar in order to purchase the Surface Book 2. One month after owning Microsoft’s new 13.5-inch laptop (it also comes in a 15-inch version), I can say that this has been one of the best technology choices I have ever made.

The biggest fear I had was giving up macOS for Windows 10. I knew Microsoft has improved its latest operating system, but didn’t know what it would be like to use full time. After being stuck with the latest edition of Windows 10 for a month, I can say that the smoothness, ease-of-use, and speed is just as good as macOS. It’s obvious that Microsoft has moved past the divisivedays of Windows 8 and Windows Vista.

The Surface Book 2 offers top-notch hardware.

But the biggest draw of the Surface Book 2 over the 2017 MacBook Pro is the hardware. Yes, the MacBook Pro is lighter. But the Surface Book 2 is both a tablet and a laptop. Detaching the screen gives you a tablet that’s not only bigger than anything Apple has come out with, but it’s also as light as the 2nd generation iPad from 2011. And it runs full desktop apps.

Of course, once you attach the screen to the keyboard, the device weighs more than most ultra-portables of this size. But you also get truly all-day battery life. When streaming movies over Netflix on repeat with brightness levels set at 70 percent, Microsoft’s new Surface Book has produced over 10 hours of battery life, which is the most ever for a notebook of this size. My MacBook Pro with TouchBar produced almost seven hours of power, which is still great for a notebook as thin as light as Apple’s. But the Book 2 is an all-day device, and the MacBook Pro, no matter what Apple tells you, simply isn’t.

The butterfly keys on the MacBook Pro are good, but hard to get used to.

Although I was quite impressed with Apple’s new butterfly keyboard on the MacBook Pro, I can’t explain what a pleasure it has been to use full keys with travel again. The keyboard on the Surface Book 2 is the best one ever built. While the touchpad isn’t as fluid as the one on the MacBook Pro, it’s still ranks up there as one of the best.

Then, there’s the screen. The Book 2 has a screen that displays 260 pixels-per-inch (PPI), while the MacBook Pro’s screen displays 227 PPI. Those who say you can’t tell much of a difference on a 13 to 13.5-inch screen are clearly wrong; 4K videos are noticeably sharper on the Book 2. However, Apple’s screen has a better contrast ratio and more vivid colors. Apple’s screen also shines better in the sunlight.

There is one thing I do miss about the MacBook Pro — Final Cut Pro. I’m not a professional video editor, but I did use the software for editing personal videos. However, CyberLink PowerDirector on the Book 2 is actually easier to use than Final Cut Pro, although I would still prefer to use the latter if I could.

Finally, there’s the price. The 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro regularly costs $1799 with Touch Bar, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, and integrated Intel graphics. With my usual Microsoft discount (this is easy to get if you do just a little bit of research), I was able to get the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 for the same price. My Book 2 includes a touchscreen, 8GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, an 8th Generation Intel Core i7 processor, and a discreet Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics chip.

I may not be considered the “coolest” guy on the block anymore without my artsy MacBook Pro with the shiny (but gimmicky) Touch Bar, but I am confident in knowing that I have the best 13-inch laptop on the market today.

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Beats Studio 3 Wireless: First Look


The original Beats Studio Wireless headphones were named as one of the top products of 2014 by this blog. They were indeed polarizing, especially because the bass on the headphones was artificially inflated to the point that it really annoyed audiophiles. But those who loved hip-hop or dance music loved these headphones.

Beats, which has been acquired by Apple, has somewhat changed their signature sound over the past couple of years. The bass is still there, but the mids and highs have more emphasis. And that change of sound continues on the Beats Studio 3 Wireless. Those who enjoyed having their ears harshly kicked by the bass may be a little disappointed, but everybody else will be satisfied. The Beats Studio 3 Wireless is the best Beats headphone released to date.

The Studio 3 Wireless comes in some impressive packaging.

For $349, they may be slightly too expensive. However, if you can get a deal on them for $299 (it’s especially easy during the holiday season), you will have absolutely no regrets about your purchase. They may look exactly like the original Studio Wireless, but are actually quite different inside.

In terms of sound quality, the Studio 3 Wireless might not by the best, but are close. They offer a wider sound stage then previous Beats headphones, while still providing that warm bass kick, although it’s not as strong or overbearing. For example, listing to “Dirty Sexy Money” by David Guetta & Afrojack sounds lighter than it does on the original Studio Wireless, but one can still feel the bass as the chorus starts. The vocals, however, are a little distant.

Taio Cruz’s “Row the Body” makes it sound like you are in a club. The bass isn’t quite “kicking,” but it’s warm and takes a staring role throughout most of the song. Once again, the vocals feel somewhat distant.

The Studio 3 Wireless offers impressive noise-cancellation features.

The biggest improvement in the new Beats headphones is the noise cancellation, which borders on the quality of the Bose QuietComfort 35 and the Sony WH-1000XM2 headphones. The adaptive “Pure ANC” isn’t just hype and actually does adapt to different environments you are in. As with other headphones that have noise cancellation, you’ll hear a slight hiss when the music is paused, but nothing overwhelming. And you can turn off the noise cancellation if you like. Unlike the recently-reviewed Bowers & Wilkins PX Wireless, audio quality doesn’t diminish when noise cancellation is activated.

The Studio 3 Wireless has a W1 chip that is compatible with iOS devices. It didn’t automatically pair with my iPhone X the first time, so I had to do a manual connection through Bluetooth. However, this problem hasn’t been reported by other users. The Studio 3 Wireless is compatible with the AAC codec that is on just about every iOS device. Unfortunately, there is no aptX codec for Android devices. I found the audio quality slightly better on the iPhone X than the Galaxy Note 8.

Though I can’t say that the Beats Studio 3 Wireless is the best in its class and price range, I can say that Apple (who currently owns Beats) has produced a solid wireless headphone that hits all the right spots. These are especially good for hip-hop or EDM listeners who don’t want bass completely dominating their music.


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