The best plug-in smart outlet

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending over 22 hours plugging in and unplugging lights and other small appliances and turning them on and off using various apps (and by barking orders at Siri and Alexa when we could), we found that the Belkin WeMo Mini is the best smart-switch outlet adapter for people who want to add smart control to their existing outlets. It packs most of the same features as our previous pick, the WeMo Insight, into a smaller size, and it’s less expensive. It also plays nicely with both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets and integrates easily with popular smart-home protocols and devices. All you need to do is plug the Belkin WeMo Mini into an existing outlet and install the app to get started with home automation.

Who should get this

If you’re the type of person who is constantly paranoid about if you left the iron on, smart plugs can ease your anxiety. These are small devices that plug into any outlet and allow you to control the connected appliance wirelessly via a smartphone app. Putting even just one smart switch into your home can ensure that you’ll never enter a dark house; add a few and you can control items such as household fans, speakers, slow cookers, air conditioners, and more.

How we picked and tested

Smart switches are an easy way to add remote control to any electronic device.
Photo: Rachel Cericola

We started compiling a list of smart switches by searching for reviews on sites like CNET, Pocket-lint, and MakeUseOf. We then cross-checked our list with customer reviewers from Amazon, and decided not to consider any models with bad reviews.

After that, we started considering criteria and features. First and foremost, a smart switch should be easy to operate and reliable. You should be able to plug it in, download the app, and start controlling the switch in minutes. We also favored apps that provide extras beyond the ability to turn the switch’s power on and off, such as dimming, scheduling, and the ability to group multiple switches.

To test each switch, I downloaded apps to an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. Most of the switches connected to Wi-Fi easily and were simple to operate. I kept all of the plugs confined to the lower level of my house, but operated controls from across the house, out in the driveway, and across the street (up to 150 feet away). To keep things interesting, I plugged a variety of items into our test switches.

Our pick

Belkin’s WeMo Mini Switch turns any outlet into a smart outlet you can control with your iOS or Android device. Photo: Rachel Cericola

Belkin recently slimmed down its smart-plug offering with the WeMo Mini. The company’s newest smart plug is just as reliable as our previous top pick, the WeMo Insight, but is more compact and $ 15 cheaper. It connects to the same WeMo app, which can control several devices remotely, includes options for scheduling and rules, connects with both iOS and Android devices, and can be integrated with other smart-home devices. The WeMo Mini is small enough to fit into either socket in a duplex outlet without blocking the second one.

The switch easily connects to your Wi-Fi without needing a hub. It performed as advertised throughout our testing period, providing on-off control from inside and outside of the house whenever called upon. The WeMo Android and iOS apps are almost identical, offering on-off controls, rules, and timers. Unfortunately, the WeMo Mini does not offer energy-usage information; the only WeMo device with that feature is the Insight Switch.

Like its predecessor, the WeMo Mini stands out because of its compatibility. In addition to integrating with other WeMo devices, the switch also works with the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and IFTTT. However, the WeMo Mini does not support integration with Apple’s HomeKit.

Runner-up

Photo: Rachel Cericola

The iHome iSP8 is a solid runner-up. It performs all of the standard smart-switch features very well, but adds additional smart-home integration and energy monitoring so you can see how much energy your lava lamp is wasting via the companion app. It also comes with a separate remote control for controlling it without a smartphone (from up to 35 feet away). The drawback of these extra features is that they cost more than our top pick. If you don’t need it to work with HomeKit or a smart-home hub, you don’t need to spend the extra money.

The iSP8 has a few additional smart-home perks over our main pick. Besides Alexa and Nest integration, it offers support for SmartThings and Wink smart-home systems, so you can connect it to a hub and make it a part of a larger, whole-house system. It also features Apple HomeKit integration, so you can control the iSP8 or groups of HomeKit-enabled devices using iOS devices and the sound of your voice. It does not work with Google Home.

Budget pick

Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Geeni Energi is a reliable performer and the least expensive Wi-Fi smart plug currently available. It provides all of the standard smart-switch features, allowing users to control devices both in and outside their home. It also includes scheduling and timers and can be controlled via Amazon Alexa devices. Geeni’s Android and iOS apps are identical, offering on-off controls, scheduling, timers, rules, the ability to group devices, and energy-usage information. However, It’s a bit bulkier than our other two picks, which will banish it to the bottom receptacle of your outlet.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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DribbleUp’s ‘smart’ soccer ball helps you train with an app

We live in a time when even the most conventional things around us, like balls to play sports, are becoming smart in some way. Over the past few years, brands such as Adidas and Wilson have introduced sensor-laden balls designed to track performance data, including shot accuracy and trajectory. But those products have been far from perfect: they’re not always precise and, in the case of Adidas’ miCoach Smart Ball, having to charge it is a tedious process. Here’s where DribbleUp, a startup based out Brooklyn, hopes to shine with its new app-enabled soccer ball.

One of the most interesting parts about DribbleUp’s ball is that doesn’t have any sensors inside of it. Rather than pairing it to an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth, that step is done when you scan a QR code-like optical marker on the ball’s design with your smartphone or tablet’s camera. I was actually quite surprised by how efficiently this worked during our demo, as the setup only took about a second or two. Once you’ve done that, DribbleUp says its proprietary computer vision and machine learning takes care of tracking the ball in real-time and uses that information to grade your footwork.

I’ll admit that it can be a little odd to practice your skills in front of a screen, but the virtual trainer does a great job of not being obtrusive. All you see is the ball, your feet and, depending on the lesson, a set of digital cones and a speed bar that show how well (or not) you’re doing. The companion application gives you access to more than 100 drills, ranging from juggling tutorials to side taps, ball steps and alternating sole flicks challenges — moves you’d practice in a typical soccer training session. At the end of each workout, you’ll get graded based on your efficiency: “A+” means you’ve done exceptionally well, “F” would suggest you should probably find another sport to play.

There are also playlists within the app that provide daily lessons, featuring different drill combinations that you can filter based on your level of expertise or how old you are. DribbleUp says the system is designed for all types of players, from someone who plays recreationally to pros and even kids who are just getting into the sport. I can see this as a great tool for people to practice indoors, since the reflection of the iPhone and iPad displays we were using don’t really make for a pleasant experience outdoors — especially if the sun is out.

The good news is that since the ball doesn’t come with sensors built in, you don’t have to worry about charging it or depend on the app for it to be useful. As is the case with most high-end soccer balls, DribbleUp’s own is hand-stitched and made out of synthetic leather and water-resistant materials. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time DribbleUp has created a “smart” ball. It has an app-enabled basketball, too, which it claims is one of the best-selling on Amazon — we checked and it has a 4.5-star rating, so it seems like most buyers are happy with their purchase.

At $ 90, DribbleUp’s soccer ball is worth a look when it launches on November 1st, especially since most high-quality ones cost between $ 100 and $ 150. And you need to remember that none of those come with a virtual trainer. Yes, that may be a bit gimmicky (because who really wants to train in front of an iPhone or iPad), but at least you have the option to see if the AR-esque drills can help improve your skills. Worst case scenario, you take it out with you and treat is as you would any other dumb ball.


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Levi’s Google-powered smart jacket goes on sale next week

Earlier this year, we discussed how Levi’s was working on a smart jacket in connection with the Google Advanced Technology and Products group’s Project Jacquard. Now, after much anticipation, the jacket is ready and will be available on Levi.com (and in some Levi’s stores) on October 2nd. If you’re really eager to take a look, you’ll find it in some boutiques on Wednesday. It will set you back $ 350.

The question is whether this jacket is really worth the cost — after all, that’s a lot for denim. The key for the Levi’s Commuter jacket lies in a snap tag on the left sleeve cuff that allows you to interact with your phone right on the jacket using gestures, LEDs and haptic feedback. It’s not fully unobtrusive — from the pictures, it appears to protrude from the sleeve quite a bit — but it’s pretty small. But if you want a low key and simple way to interact with your phone (and you love denim jackets), you may want to check it out. You can see our early review here.

The jacket is primarily aimed at bike commuters, and it would work well for this group. You can use the Jacquard app, available for iOS and Android, to customize what exactly your jacket can do. You can receive messages, send calls to voicemail, hear your next direction while biking, control your music and more. The tag charges via USB and the battery lasts for about two weeks. It’s removable, so the jacket is, presumably, washable.

You can visit jacquard.com/levi/specs on your mobile device to see if it’s compatible; generally, phones running Android 6.01 or newer will work. iOS users must have an iPhone 6 or later running iOS 10 or iOS 11. It’s likely this jacket will appeal to a very narrow set of people, especially considering its hefty price tag. But if it’s as thoughtfully made as it appears to be, it will probably attract some fans.

Via: The Verge

Source: Google

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Insta360 One is a 4K 360 camera with smart tricks

For those who haven’t been following, earlier Insta360 released a montage of cool sample clips to tease its upcoming camera’s bullet-time video capability. What baffled me at the time was how those slow-motion shots orbited around a person with his upright arm seemingly holding onto something, except there was no visible string nor selfie stick to suggest that the camera was being swung around. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong, but there’s no need to be disappointed — it actually takes a lot more than just a piece of string to achieve this bullet-time effect.

The camera, which has just been unveiled as the Insta360 One, is the latest 360 camera designed to deceive naive folks like myself. This is the company’s second 4K-capable compact device following the aptly-named Insta360 4K but at about half the price — just $ 299.90. The One shoots video at either 3,840 x 1,920 at 30 fps or 2,560 x 1,280 at 60 fps, both with LOG format option which is a first for a consumer 360 camera; and it can take 24-megapixel stills (6,912 x 3,456) with RAW format option — another first for a consumer 360 camera — followed by HDR capture at a later date.

Unlike the older model, the One lacks WiFi connectivity for remote view, but it does come with an 8GB microSD card to get you started. Sports fans will also be delighted to know that the One has an optional IP68 waterproof housing that’s good for depths of up to 30-meter or about 98.4 feet.

Much like the 3K-only Nano, the One can be used as a standalone 360 camera (using the power button or via Bluetooth) or as an iPhone dongle using its retractable Lightning plug (an Android version is due to arrive by the end of the year). It’s also gained a couple of new use methods. For one, the kit comes with a short plastic tube that houses the device on the deeper end to protect its two lenses, while the shallower end lets you mount the device so that the tube can be used as a stand. Alternatively, you can also mount the camera on any standard tripod, monopod, selfie stick or even the bundled string attachment using its 1/4″-20 screw thread.

Needless to say, one of the main selling points of the One is the aforementioned bullet time mode. This trick is a combination of the device’s six-axis image stabilization, powerful 120 fps capture at 2,048 x 512 (which can be boosted to 240 fps via interpolation using the companion app), some video magic to erase evidence of tethering plus a little bit of manual work using one arm. Once the power button’s triple-tap toggle has been mapped to bullet time capture (via settings in the app), simply mount the One on the bundled string attachment or an optional selfie stick, turn it on, tap its power button three times and then start swinging it above your head at a modest pace (with the risk of getting funny looks from folks nearby). When done, simply hit the power button once to stop recording, and then you can plug the camera into your iPhone for playback, editing and exporting to 720p clips.

Perhaps an even more useful feature coming from the One is its app’s FreeCapture tool — a “shoot first, point later” concept that’s clearly going after the upcoming GoPro Fusion’s OverCapture feature. This one’s super easy: just load up a 360 clip in FreeCapture mode, treat your phone as if it’s a conventional video camera at the time of capture (this relies on the phone’s gyroscope), then simply pan around and zoom in or out — all the way to the cute “tiny planet” view, if you want — as you desire for your new “director’s cut” in 1080p. Similarly, there’s a SmartTrack editing tool that can automatically output a 1080p clip based on the subject that you want to be tracked in a 360 clip.

For existing Insta360 users who already have a library of fun 360 clips, a company rep pointed out that you can actually side-load any 360 clip from older cameras to the One’s microSD card, in order to tinker with it using FreeCapture. That said, there are currently no plans to update the other cameras’ apps with FreeCapture, which is all the more reason for existing Insta360 users to upgrade to the One.

As cool as the sample clips look, what remains to be seen is how well these features — especially bullet time — actually work when mere mortals like us give them a go. Alas, the pre-production unit we received didn’t get on well with my iPhone 6 due to the app’s beta nature, so I haven’t been able to upload any of my 360 content. More worryingly, the string attachment I got was apparently flawed and thus rendering all of my bullet-time attempts useless, so unless you really want to get one as soon as middle of next month, you may want to wait until our replacement unit arrives and see how it fares.

Source: Insta360

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Apple’s HomePod firmware spills more details on the smart speaker

Apple unveiled its Siri-powered HomePod speaker hub at WWDC back in June, and despite a hefty $ 350 pricetag and the inevitable comparisons to Alexa devices, it actually sounds pretty good. In the lead up to its release this December, Apple pushed out the hub’s firmware, revealing that it runs on iOS — basically like a screenless iPhone or iPad. But in its current incarnation, the HomePod won’t support third-party apps and programs, according to developer Steve Troughton-Smith’s analysis.


Obviously, that’s not to say the device never will. Since it runs on a full iOS stack through a shell app called “Soundboard,” they could always patch in the ability for third parties to load up their software later. If things don’t change before launch, it’s an odd move to make, especially given how late the HomePod is to the voice-controlled assistant game. Both Google’s Home and Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices allow and encourage companies to make apps that enable custom interactions (Alexa has 15,000 of these “skills” and counting). It would also be a huge surprise if the HomePod didn’t integrate at launch with the IoT HomeKit system Apple keeps trying to make happen.

Otherwise, the firmware reveals a few things about the HomePod’s interactions. In keeping with Apple tradition, the device will support accessibility features including VoiceOver. Troughton-Smith believes the top touch surface is an LED matrix that could display shapes and symbols, not just big LED lights. Onboard controls are limited to activating Siri, adjusting volume and alarms on the HomePod — the bulk of which we discovered during our hands-on back in June.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment and will report if we hear back.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Steve Troughton-Smith (Twitter)

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Square chief teases a smart debit card

Square Cash’s virtual payment card might not be quite so virtual in the future. Company chief Jack Dorsey has teased a strange, all-black Visa debit card that Recode suspects is really a physical Square Cash card. A Square spokesperson declined to comment, so take this with a grain of salt, but there’s evidence to suggest there’s something to this teaser. You see, Square seriously considered a payment card back in 2014 — the company is no stranger to exploring the concept of a real-world card that draws from online funds.

There’s no guarantee that Square will launch a debit card, no matter what Dorsey is carrying in his pocket. The company reportedly ditched its payment card out of a reluctance to either antagonize its partners or wade through a tangled financial industry. However, there are a few incentives to at least consider the idea.

For one, Square has previously said it would like to “own both sides of the counter.” If it handles both the cards and the payment readers, it doesn’t have to give a cut to anyone else. There’s also the simple matter of catering to a wider customer base. While you can use Apple Pay to go shopping with Square Cash, not everyone can or wants to use an iPhone to make purchases at retail. This would let you use your virtual wallet anywhere that accepts debit cards, regardless of your phone preferences. And simply speaking, a physical card is more inviting to those people hesitant to shop with their handsets. Even if most Square Cash users aren’t about to use a tangible debit card, they might appreciate the option.

Via: Recode

Source: Jack Dorsey (Twitter)

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How a smart breast pump won CES

When we previewed CES 2017 last week, none of our editors saw the Willow smart breast pump coming. But the humble device, which slides into a nursing mother’s bra and allows for hands-free pumping, won two of our Best of CES awards and generated press coverage across the internet. We were hardly the only outlet that declared the device one of the most innovative things we saw at the show.

It’s hard for a little-known company to make this kind of buzz at CES, where you have to compete against giants like Sony, Samsung, LG, Honda, Toyota and more of the world’s biggest companies. But once and a while the stars align and a gadget from an unknown startup breaks through the clutter. What made Willow such a hit this year?

Willow: Hands-on

We’ve seen devices like Willow become a phenomenon before. Hapifork dominated the CES 2013 conversation with the somewhat absurd premise of tracking how many bites you take, how long you chew and how long you eat. Unfortunately, using the Hapifork was a big letdown. Hapifork is far from the only oddball connected gadget that got a strange amount of attention: The creepy Mother connected home platform and ridiculous Belty smart belt are two more examples of bizarre gadgets that got more attention than they deserved, because that’s what happens at CES.

Willow was also likely helped by the fact that it’s a smart, connected device. While the promise of the Internet of Things has largely gone unrealized thus far, our readers seem to have a fascination with the weirder connected devices that we cover — particularly the devices that have no business being smart in the first place (like this toaster!). It’s not surprising, then, that a smart breast pump garnered so much attention — but the fact that it turned out to be actually useful made it more than just a punch line.

There are a number of other reasons that Willow dominated the conversation this year. Crucially, the Willow attempts to solves a real problem in a way that other products don’t. That’s a rarity at CES. New mothers have to pump several times per day for months, and it sounds like the Willow can make that experience easier. For starters, the Willow can be worn under a normal nursing bra, which means frazzled moms can continue to get other things done (or just hold on to their newborn) while pumping. It can also track output for them, and the pump’s bags can be stored right in the freezer and cut open when they need to fill a bottle.

For various reasons, no one on team Engadget was able to actually try out the device, but our research showed that there’s nothing quite like Willow on the market. Yes, other smart pumps exist, but based on our research, Willow appears to be the best option by far. If it delivers on its promises, it could make a tedious activity easier, and that’s worth celebrating.

However, it’s not good enough for Willow to have just made a good product. Thousands of companies exhibit at CES every year, and surely they’re not all selling iPhone cases, backpacks with e-ink screens and similar nonsense. But oftentimes, one of the big companies showing at CES delivers something that ends up being the buzz of the show, sucking much of the oxygen out of the room for the smaller companies with lesser marketing budgets.

Every year, we cover all variety of unconventional devices from unknown creators, but no publication can see everything at CES. And when big announcements from huge companies (such as Sling TV in 2015 or Chevy’s affordable and long-range Bolt EV in 2016) make headlines, it’s harder for offbeat products to get the attention they might deserve.

That wasn’t the case this year. Yes, LG won our Best of CES award with its stunning OLED TV that’s thinner than an iPhone. It’s an amazing TV — but it’s still just a TV. We’ve seen them before, and next CES we’ll see yet another stunner. That’s one thing you can count on at CES like clockwork. But the number of new mothers who could benefit from the $ 429 Willow likely exceeds the number of people who could afford and are in the market for LG’s flagship.

That utility truly set Willow apart this year. One of the biggest downsides of CES is the deluge of gadgets that are not only bad but also inessential, unnecessary, with no real reason for existing. Lots of others have the potential to be great but are still just iterations on existing products already on the market. Willow, on the other hand, is using technology to solve a real problem, something that all too few gadgets at CES do. Here’s hoping this year’s unexpected darling of the big show in Vegas delivers on its promises.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.
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The best smart leak detector

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

After spending over 10 hours pouring water, mopping it up, and changing wet socks to test the performance of seven DIY leak detectors, we’ve decided that the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor is the best smart water sensor currently available. It’s one of the few options that doesn’t need a smart-home hub, making it a more affordable solution than the competition because it can work with your existing Wi-Fi network. It can—like the rest of the units we tested—deliver alerts whenever water is present, but it also throws in a few perks that aren’t available on any other smart water sensor at this price.

Who should get this

Water sensors are small devices that can alert you whenever water is present around the refrigerator, the washing machine, sinks, and toilets—even in the basement. If you’ve got a leaky basement or appliances of a certain age, a smart water sensor makes for a strategic addition to your home.

Some smart water sensors work alone via Wi-Fi, and others connect to a smart-home hub; when wetness occurs, both can send a message to your phone so you can respond with a towel or a plumber. The units we’re talking about here can’t actually shut off the water; they simply alert you to the danger so you can respond quickly.

Though you can get a leak sensor that will set off an eardrum-piercing tone for as little as $ 10, if you want to get alerts and remote access, be prepared to pay a bit more: Our recommendations hover around the $ 60 mark.

How we picked

We tested a variety of smart water sensors, including Wi-Fi models and those that work with Z-Wave smart-home hubs. Photo: Rachel Cericola

We compiled a list of smart water sensors by doing a Google search for reviews and roundups; once we had a list, we looked for feedback on Amazon and Google. Although we found a million different leak sensors, when you factor in the smart aspects, the list of what’s out there is much smaller. We narrowed that list further using features, availability, and price. The average cost for a smart water sensor that fit our criteria is about $ 60; you really shouldn’t pay more than that. That narrowed our list down to seven products to submit to our water-torture tests—each product is easy to set up, works with an app, and can be used almost anywhere you expect water to make an appearance.

How we tested

We used a spray bottle to determine how little water would trigger an alert. Photo: Rachel Cericola

For each of our tests, we used apps on an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. Most of the devices used either the SmartThings or Wink hub, so we used the applicable app; when the device connected via Wi-Fi, we used that device’s specific app.

When dousing each smart water sensor, we used four different amounts of water to see if it would react and how quickly. We used measuring cups to douse each sensor with one-quarter cup of water, as well as a full cup. We also measured sensitivity using a spray bottle and, finally, by completely submerging each unit in a bowl of water.

The main purpose of these devices is to alert you to water, whether you’re at home or away, so we made sure each detector delivered those alerts to a mobile device from afar. Anything beyond their basic features was considered a bonus—for instance, quite a few of the devices on our list allowed you to check on room temperature and even battery life.

Our pick

The D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor is a reliable smart water sensor that’s also affordable. It’s actually the least expensive option we tested—not coincidentally, it’s also one of the few models that doesn’t need a smart-home hub. Instead, it uses Wi-Fi to deliver water alerts through the mydlink Home app (available for iOS and Android devices) and integrate with other smart devices in the home. It’s also the only model on our list that relies on power from the wall rather than a battery.

The D-Link device performed well throughout our testing, sending out alerts about six to 10 seconds after the sensors first touched water. It also features an audible alarm that you can hear from about 35 feet away, though that sound doesn’t travel as well through floors.

The app associated with the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor—mydlink Home—is pretty basic. Other than a record of when water was present, it offers options to change the device’s name, add in a personal photo, and create rules. For instance, we set the device to send both push notifications as well as an email whenever water was present; texting is not an option here.

For a stand-alone device, it does offer a few integration options as well. If you search the D-Link Water Sensor channel on IFTTT, there are ways to get phone calls, post to Slack, trigger the Nest thermostat, and more. It also works with other D-Link Connected Home devices, which you can control and set up integrations for from the same app.

A pick for smart-hub users

If you don’t have access to an electrical outlet, and don’t mind using a Z-Wave hub, the Fibaro Flood Sensor is a great choice. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Fibaro Flood Sensor features an audible alarm that also triggers when someone tilts or tampers with the device in any way. It has a temperature sensor and a visual “drop” display that can change color based on if there’s water, weird temperatures, or bad network connections. As an added bonus, this little circular device can actually float—which can end up being a huge bonus if a leak turns into a flood. However, unlike the D-Link, it requires a smart hub, a requirement that kept it from being our top pick.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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