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Here’s what we love about the new iPhone 12

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(CNN) —  

The iPhone 12 isn’t exactly a complete overhaul of the iPhone 11, but it does bring few, albeit somewhat minute, improvements. Namely, the iPhone 12 sports an OLED display, boasts a faster processor, features a few camera improvements and, of course, has the long-talked-about 5G support.

Those adjustments, though, bumped up the price tag. The iPhone 11 brought value at just $699 for a flagship smartphone; the iPhone 12 starts at $799.

If you bought an iPhone 11 last year, though, are the features above worth the upgrade? Or does this make better sense if you have an iPhone 8, XR or XS?

Well, we’ve been using the iPhone 12 for the past six days — shooting photos, performing our daily use cases and testing 5G. Apples to apples (sorry, but pun definitely intended), the performance improvements are a bit hard to see directly in comparison to the 11. Photo improvements are visible in low-light shots, for instance. And processing speeds are a bit speedier.

But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the iPhone 12 and if the improvements are a reason to upgrade.

There’s no wall charger in the box

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Before diving into what the iPhone 12 does bring, let’s first cover a glaring omission: There’s no wall plug included in the box.

Apple opted not to include the charger, as the company is working to reduce emissions. Its thought: You already have a charger at home, so why send another?

That’s a bit counterintuitive, though. Apple does include a USB-C to Lightning cord. But to use the cord you’ll need to buy a USB-C wall plug if you’re upgrading from a previous iPhone. Apple sells a 20-watt USB-C plug, which can fast-charge your iPhone 12, for $19.99; Anker makes a nano option that is super tiny; and there are other companies, like Belkin, in the mix of third-party companies offering chargers.

If you do opt to stick with the older 5-watt plug, don’t expect fast charging speeds, especially the new feature that can charge 50% of the battery in 30 minutes. Instead, you’ll get an old-fashioned trickle charge that, after 30 minutes, will only provide a small boost. And it will require full overnight charge to get from 0% to 100%.

That’s why, though Apple’s focus on sustainability is laudable, we still suggest you pick up one of the third-party wall plugs that support USB-C charging and meet the 20-watt suggestion.

Let’s talk about 5G

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Over the past six days, we haven’t just been testing the iPhone 12; we’ve also been testing 5G in and around New York and New Jersey. And we have three big takeaways:

First: If you’re in an area that supports 5G Ultrawide Band (aka mmWave), you will see faster speeds, but you’ll need to be in direct line of sight with a cell tower or at least very close to it. In our testing on both AT&T and Verizon 5G Ultrawide Band being inside a car, walking too many paces to the left — or even to the other side of the street — resulted in losing signal. It wasn’t every time, but enough to mention it. When we did get the signal on Verizon, we hit a maximum of 2,200 Mbps down, which is way faster than our gigabit connection. We were able to easily download a double album in just under a minute, and streams happened almost instantaneously. AT&T didn’t present such high speeds, but we were able to hit 300 to 400 Mbps down. Neither carrier produced widely fast upload speeds, and it seems the technology is taking longer to develop on that front.

Second: Nationwide 5G from any of the carriers is not the super-fast speeds you’ve been teased with. It’s the lower portion of the wireless spectrum, Sub6 Ghz, which is both easier to roll out and provides more capacity. But it doesn’t deliver wildly fast speeds, and it’s the 5G you likely have in your location. In our testing, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all produced speeds somewhere in between 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps down. Uploads were pretty close to what we’d expect to see on LTE.

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Third: For some people, you’ll be able to take advantage of 5G on the iPhone 12 Pro right now. For many, though, opting for 5G compatibility is future-proofing your device, as you won’t be able to connect right away (or stay connected).

In short: The addition of 5G support means you won’t need to go out and buy a new iPhone next year or whenever it becomes truly nationwide. You’ll have a phone with great cameras and zippy performance along with the latest networking standards.

Dual cameras and Night Mode on every lens

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Over the years, the iPhone has become known as a dependable shooter. And Apple really isn’t messing with its tried-and-true formula this year, focusing on cameras and software that come together for clear, realistic images.

The iPhone 12 features a 12-megapixel wide lens that’s built with a new seven-element lens. The aperture is improved to ƒ/1.6 from ƒ/1.8 on iPhone 11, which Apple says improves low-light performance by 27%. A lower aperture lets more light into the lens; more light means a clearer picture. This wide lens is paired with a 12-megapixel ultrawide that boasts a 120-degree field of view. The TrueDepth Sensor on the front houses a 12-megapixel camera for selfies and video calls.

All of this tech across hardware and software come together to make the iPhone 12 a really dependable content capturer. Sure, the iPhone 12 lacks the telephoto lens and LiDAR sensor found on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, but for many, they won’t miss those features.

For starters, we found that both of these lenses capture a large amount of detail and don’t mess around when it comes to colors — namely in the realm of saturation and hues. As with iPhone models before the 12, this device captures with a sense of realism. Saturation doesn’t get turned up to 10 and the colors don’t skew one way.

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Take this photo from a pumpkin patch — you can see the natural orange of the pumpkins presented clearly, even capturing the dirt particles splattered on the tops and sides. It’s a pretty bright shot, but the lenses can handle shadows and brights together in the same frame. Even the red of the apple is clear in the shadows below the front pumpkin; same for the green grass with some bright spots via sun rays in a smattering.

This level of detail is thanks to Deep Fusion, a proprietary technology from Apple that uses the neural engine found in the A14 Bionic chip. It works to improve texture details in shots, allowing you to zoom in and see details rather than pixelation. You can see several more shots from both the wide and ultrawide lenses on the iPhone 12 below.

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

And when the lights go out, you don’t need to opt for a flash — or worse, put the camera away. Apple finally joined the low-light-enhancing party last year with Night Mode with the iPhone 11. With the iPhone 12, Night Mode — Apple’s shooting mode for low-light situations — expands beyond just the main wide-angle lens to both the ultrawide and front lenses.

In Night Mode, the iPhone shoots multiple images at varying exposures. The iPhone will suggest a length of time for Night Mode and you have the option to extend that up to 10 seconds. The longer the time, the more shots and exposures the iPhone will capture. It’s important to keep your hands steady or even use a tripod to avoid any movements. Through some software magic, the iPhone will then combine the images to create one.

Shot for shot, images look brighter on the 12 over the 11 and keep more details in the photo. The processing of the image is a second or two faster as well. So, while these miniscule changes do add up to a crisper visual, an untrained eye still would have trouble noticing the differences between images taken on the 12 and on the 11. (Those coming from earlier phones will see big improvements in low light, especially considering that there isn’t a Night Mode on those devices.)

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

iPhone 12 in hand, we headed back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to try to match our favorite shot from the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro last year: the Met at night with traffic zipping across. Quality was definitely as good as we expected, and it still managed to produce a stop-motion effect on a taxi with proper colors. With the Met behind, we could make out lighting within the windows, details of the steps and classic food carts parked out front. You can opt for the ultrawide lens to capture a 120-degree field of view and have Night Mode work its smarts. There’s even lens correction done automatically to remove any fish-eye effect from the corners.

Night Mode selfies are quite impressive and really light up your face, although some detail can be lost, especially with the front-facing camera. It’s much better than using the screen as a flash as previous iPhones did. It still uses a toned-down version of this flash but also uses software to intelligently light the shot. It should up your iMessage, Snapchat and Instagram story game, though.

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Most impressively throughout the different shooting modes was how the iPhone 12 can handle different levels of brightness in the same shot. For instance, the sun shining bright from the top left over an apple orchard with a grove of trees creating shadows on the right. It can manage the different levels of lighting on its own, without causing overexposure from one side. On a Samsung device, you might need to play around with different settings and even mess with exposure. On the iPhone 12, the phone handles all of that for you, so all you have to do is point and shoot.

Portrait Mode got some improvements here as well. Notably, we noticed that hairlines around people and dogs are more precise. You won’t accidentally cut off a few strands or a chunk of someone’s head. Fun positions, like arms out or jazz hands, are easier to capture as well. And if you never liked the “need more light” notification, the increased aperture of the wide lens allows you to capture these Instagram-worthy shots in darker conditions.

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN
PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN
PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN
PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

OLED makes all the difference

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

The iPhone 12 has an OLED screen (a jump from the iPhone 11’s LCD display), and it’s on par with the iPhone 12 Pro.

It’s a Super Retina XDR display with True Tone, a technology that uses sensors to adjust the temperature of the display to your environment. It’s a vibrant picture that really immerses you with colors that pop, whether you’re scrolling through Instagram or playing games.

With an OLED panel, it’s the individual pixels getting an electrical current to display color and create the image. That means an image can look very specific and detailed. Similarly, on the pixel level, it doesn’t need to turn one on full blast when it’s not needed. And that delivers deep black and strong contrast on the iPhone 12’s display.

It packs a much higher resolution also — 2532 x 1170, which measures out to 460 pixels per inch. If you’re coming from an iPhone 11, you’ll see a big difference. And if you’re coming from an older device (like an iPhone X, 8, 7, 6s or 6), you’ll see a huge one.

The main thing the iPhone 12 display is missing is a high refresh rate, which is essentially the specification that shows how many times in a second the screen can refresh itself. While other smartphones, namely Android ones, have been offering 120 Hz displays, this year, Apple is sticking with 60 Hz across the entire iPhone 12 family. While 60 Hz has long been the standard, some games and fast-moving content can look less fluid compared to 120 Hz. It would have been nice to see, but with average tasks you should be just fine.

A few abrasions showed up on the screen

Apple is touting its Ceramic Shield technology, which provides up to 4x the drop protection on the screen than earlier models. So, in theory, when an iPhone 12 drops and lands on the display, the chances of the display shattering are less. But, as we’ve seen in recent years as glass and screens build up resistance for cracks and deep scratches, the level of pressure or hardness needed to cause a micro abrasion or a light scratch has lessened.

Well, lo and behold, we noticed scratches on the screen of both our iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro units.

Our current theory is that when the 12 and 12 Pro were stacked together with the lenses facing the display, it resulted in a series of hairline scratches that you can’t even feel with a finger. At first we thought they were deep smudges and tried using Whoosh, iCloth, alcohol wipes and microfiber cloths to clean them off. But they’re certainly in there. The scratches don’t really cause any issue to the device; it’s more of an annoyance when the screen is off and the light hits it right.

In short: Opt for a screen protector to protect your investment.

iOS 14 flies with the A14 Bionic

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

The iPhone 12 comes with iOS 14, specifically 14.1, out of the box. And we’ve already detailed our favorite features of iOS 14 in our preview guide.

Year over year, with everyday tasks, you likely won’t see an improvement from a device with an A13 Bionic inside. To notice the difference from those devices, you’d really need to push it with a high-performance game or a big high-res photo export. But if you’re coming from an A12 Bionic or earlier, the speed improvements will be completely evident.

The A14 Bionic is the full chipset for the iPhone 12. It’s made up of a six-core CPU, a four-core GPU and a neural engine (this by itself is 16 cores). The A14 is built on a 5-nanometer process versus the 7-nanometer process of the A13 Bionic. All of these components make up the chip and work hand in hand with iOS 14. Keep in mind that unlike a majority of other smartphones, Apple makes both the hardware and the software. The teams can be in communication every step of the way for design and launch of the iPhone.

In comparison to an iPhone 11, it’s the same speedy experience. Completing a big export in Pixelmator or Photoshop may result in you getting the image a second or two earlier, for instance. Those coming from anything earlier, though, will notice a more efficient software experience. It just glides along. We were hard-pressed to make the iPhone 12 slow down through a normal day of work and play with applications like Slack, Mail, Outlook, Chrome, Safari, TikTok, Twitter and Instagram (frequently even keeping upward of 25 applications open in the background, which is enough to make other smartphones bottleneck).

Face ID is still pretty rapid when you’re not wearing a mask. Maybe Apple will add Touch ID in the form of the power button (like on the new iPad Air) or under the screen next year, but for now keep masking up and triggering the unlocking number pad to show up.

We threw several games at the iPhone 12: Numberzilla, Toy Story Drop!, Real Racing 3, Shadow (which has us connecting to a powerful gaming PC to test latency), Real Flight Simulator Pro, Butter Royale, Mini Motorways and a few others. The more basic titles didn’t really show much improvement compared with an iPhone 11. Compared to an XR, X or 8, though, gaming did feel more prompt and responsive. Toy Story Drop! was able to load in quicker, and if it was a multistep move with pieces flying off the board, it happened with no latency. Real Flight Simulator Pro and Butter Royale handled frame rates a bit better here, and we noticed improved times when rendering the game or match.

Solid battery life

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Over the first few days, battery life was a little short as the iPhone 12 was still indexing. Whether or not you do a restore from backup — we recommend setting up your new iPhone clean — there is still some indexing. In our case, Messages in the Cloud, a large music library and a photo library took a bit to fully sync. 5G speed tests did eat up a healthy amount of battery, but the iPhone 12 did not get uncomfortably warm during this, though.

We found that the iPhone 12 completed indexing after about two days and we were able to get through a full day on one charge, averaging about eight to 10 hours of screen-on time. That’s slightly short of the nine to 11 hours that we got on the iPhone 11. In fact, with minimal use, the iPhone 11 could last over 24 hours, thanks to the combination of an LCD display and the efficient A13 Bionic chip. Even so, the iPhone 12 is certainly strong enough to get you through a full day.

We also ran the iPhone 12 through the CNN Underscored battery test. In it we play a 4K video on loop with the brightness set to 50% and volume at 30% with the device in airplane mode. We also ensure that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are turned off and play the video on a loop until the device dies. We monitor the test with two cameras for redundancy. The iPhone 12 lasted for 12 hours and 30 minutes.

The iPhone 12 sports fast charging support as well — with a cord and at least a 20-watt wall plug, you can get 50% battery in about 30 minutes. We were able to test this and met the mark.

The new MagSafe charger is really a joy to use and the only way to get 15-watt speeds when wirelessly charging. Qi-enabled chargers are locked to, at most, 7.5 watts. If you’ve ever had the frustration of laying a device on a charging pad and waking up to no juice, this will fix that.

It’s just an experience that’s inherently Apple and will solve a big frustration of many. We’re excited about third-party accessories and future MagSafe products from Apple.

Five colors in a new design

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

With the iPhone 12, Apple is making better use of space, especially in comparison to the iPhone 11. It’s about 15% smaller in terms of volume but keeps the same 6.1-inch display. Apple did manage to make the bezels slimmer here as well. You still get a glass finish on the back that has some gloss and shine to it. The good news is that it’s not super slippery and provides some grip, thanks to a coating. It’s easier to hold in comparison to Galaxy Note 20 or S20.

A big change lives underneath the glass back, though. There’s not just a Qi-enabled wireless charging coil but rather a MagSafe charging system. Essentially, it’s a wireless charging coil that supports up to 15 watts (a big improvement from 7.5 watts) and has magnets around it. This helps to ensure the MagSafe wireless charger, a new $39 accessory from Apple, properly aligns and stays stuck to the back of the phone.

Antennas for 4G LTE and 5G are etched into the aluminum siding of the iPhone 12. Most noticeable is a long oval piece on the right-hand side that houses the mmWave antenna for 5G Ultrawide Band on supported networks. It’s a darker blue and, while you’ll notice it, it doesn’t impact the design all that much. The power button is found higher up on the right side. The volume up, volume down, sound silencer and SIM card slot are all found on the left side. On the bottom of the device is a Lightning port that’s flanked on either side by speakers. The iPhone 12 features an IP68 water-resistant rating. That means it can stay in up to 6 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.

The iPhone 12 feels quite comfortable in the hand, and we especially like the length of the buttons (volume and power), as it makes it easy to find them — and continues the sizing we first saw on iPhone 11 and 11 Pro.

Bottom line

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

At $799.99, the iPhone 12 hits a sweet spot in the smartphone space. You’re getting an expansive 6.1-inch OLED screen, a sleek build in a fun color, dependable camera lenses that offer low-light smarts and a fast A14 Bionic chip. All of these features — including 5G support — should keep this smartphone a viable option for three to four years to come.

But the big question: Should you upgrade?

If you have an iPhone 11 and are happy with it, you’re good to stick with it. Unless you want a better display, you’re getting a pretty similar experience all around — especially if you’re not in an area with 5G connectivity.

If you have an older iPhone, though, it’s a no-brainer — upgrade to the iPhone 12 to future-proof yourself with 5G, on top of the clear-cut improvements in terms of faster operating prowess, superior cameras and a crisper display.

Not to mention there are some tremendous deals from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon that, with proper trade-in, let you get an iPhone 12 for free. And if you can do that, well, then we wouldn’t blame you at all. Even if you have an iPhone 11.

Want a sleeker design, an extra camera lens and a LiDAR sensor? Check out our iPhone 12 Pro review here.

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World

All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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