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SZA’s Sultry Return and 19 of the Best R&B Songs of Summer 2020

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It’s been a year since we started devoting space to the best R&B, and naturally, as the world changes, so does our relationship to the music we live with. Last summer, we were singing Snoh Aalegra during the week and turning up to Megan Thee Stallion on the weekends. Now, time is a construct and the days are melting together like popsicles left in the sun. In August, over a million people tuned into Instagram Live to watch Brandy and Monica join Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s Verzuz challenge, giving 90s babies the virtual concert of our dreams. Later that week, SZA returned with “Hit Different,” her first single since her debut album, which broke whatever was left of the internet. R&B was looking so good that Lil Baby jumped at the chance to lend a verse anywhere he could (He’s on this playlist three times). Although it felt like life was lived at the park or over Zoom, these 20 songs deserve a spot on your playlist no matter where you are.

SZA featuring Ty Dolla $ign “Hit Different”

It’s been three years since SZA’s Ctrl, and she hasn’t lost her ability to get us in our feelings. “Hit Different,” an impromptu single featuring Ty Dolla $ign and produced by The Neptunes, masquerades itself as a sexy R&B jam with a slow creep, but nestled in its body roll-inducing beat are vulnerable lyrics about a relationship SZA should probably exit immediately. The song is a rollercoaster of emotions about a bond that is costing the TDE singer more than she can afford. “Scared to admit my shortcomings led to overdraft in this affair,” she sings. Those shortcomings find her infatuated with the toxicity of their love, and she’s self-aware enough to point it out on her own. “Somethin’ wrong with me, I like the way you screw your face up / Trigger me right when I need it.” Yet SZA still recognizes pieces of herself in her partner, but we’re not too sure that’s a good thing.

Jazmine Sullivan, “Lost One”

For some people, there is such a thing as too little too late. But Jazmine Sullivan’s “Lost One” isn’t concerned with tardiness, instead, she’s preoccupied with living a life without regrets—even if that means she has to bare her soul to have a clear conscience. The long-awaited track stings with the burn of liquid courage, but her most salient, albeit selfish, point can be found in what she repeats twice to her partner on the hook: try not to love no one. “I know that that’s too much to ask,” she sings, acknowledging her unfair request. “I know I’m a selfish bitch / But I want you to know I’ve been working on it.” Hopefully, her next album provides context because we need to know the backstory here.

Bryson Tiller, “Inhale”

It seems like Bryson Tiller has been listening to 1995’s Waiting to Exhale soundtrack a lot, and we can’t blame him. “Inhale” features samples from Mary J. Blige’s “Not Gon Cry” and SWV’s “All Night Long,” which are both featured on the iconic soundtrack. We only get one verse from Tiller on the lead single for his third studio album, but the Louisville singer made sure to cram in details about blocked texts, bouts with depression, and breakups. Despite it all, Tiller is hellbent on keeping the bed warm for his ex-girlfriend’s return. Like the ’95 blockbuster, we hope Tiller can find the beauty in not only the inhale, but the exhale too.

Brandy, “Rather Be”

Brandy’s latest album, B7, sounds like the result of years of emotional breakdowns and therapy sessions, which makes “Rather Be,” a sultry lead single, stand out from the rest. Produced by DJ Camper and the late Lashawn Daniels, Brandy’s velvety vocals ricochet across the track as only she can do. Co-written by Victoria Monét, “Rather Be” is a simple premise: Kissing her man is on the shortlist of things Brandy wants to make a priority. After decades of earning the nickname of “The Vocal Bible,” the R&B legend reminds us why in the song’s final section. Not many singers can turn “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” into a breakdown as complex as this.

Monica featuring Lil Baby, “Trenches”

When Monica and Brandy went head-to-head on their Verzuz battle with decades of classic R&B hits, Monica had another trick up her sleeve. She premiered “Trenches,” the Lil Baby-assisted track that launches the Atlanta singer into another era. Here, Monica sings of loving someone who, no matter how much she nurtures them, is a product of their environment. “You caught up, entangled / In the web of the world, I wish I could save you,” she sings. It’s a fitting desire for a world that needs much saving, especially now.

Victoria Monét, “Jaguar”

Victoria Monét approaches music like the 70s soul singers she listened to while spending time with her grandmother. On “Jaguar” she gives instruments space to breathe and be themselves, not just exist in the background. D’Mile’s production paired with Monét’s tone creates a soundscape for lush R&B harmonies. Here, Monét likens the chase of a potential romance to one in the jungle: natural and instinctive. “I want you to know you got that thrill that I like / I want that jungle kind of love,” she sings. Luckily for us, “Jaguar” has enough space on its track to roam free.

6LACK featuring Lil Baby “Know My Rights”

6LACK has moved through the industry as an understated crooner who isn’t afraid to hop on just about any song. But on “Know My Rights” he trades in his humble disposition for a braggadocious one, professing himself as a top ten artist—whether you agree or not. When he says he works harder than all the rest, it’s tough to dispute, with nearly 3-hour long playlists popping up with just his features alone. During a time of civil unrest, “Know My Rights” is not the anti-policing anthem you might have expected. Instead, the song title is more about self-reflection. “I been in the field, I know my wrongs / I know my rights.” In a time of isolation, the East Atlanta hybrid knows that you’ve got to search for your own light.

India Shawn featuring Anderson .Paak, “Movin On”

The moment you finish throwing yourself a pity party is like the sequence in a movie where the “happy music” plays. If we had a choice, India Shawn’s “Movin’ On” is what we’d want to hear while we pick up the fragments of our melodramatic lives. Produced by D’Mile, “Movin’ On” has his signature 70s-inspired groove, pulsing with optimism. “I’m in my bag, sometimes it’s like that / Get yourself out of them blues, you gotta give it to you,” she sings. Shawn doesn’t flaunt an aura of toxic positivity that suggests bad days don’t happen. Instead, she acknowledges that the best part of hitting rock bottom is knowing there’s nowhere to go but up.

Jonah Christian and AriPen Smith, “City Girl”

When producer Jonah Christian, based in Los Angeles, and producer AriPen Smith, based in London, finally collaborated after years of working with the same artists like Snoh Aalegra and Masego, they created “City Girl,” a diasporic demo that marriages elements of dancehall and afrobeat with contemporary R&B. Despite the track’s title, “City Girl” isn’t meant for the club like the music of the rap duo the song is named for. Emotions run high on the track, with a couple who uses the silent treatment as a weapon when they’re at odds with each other. “Don’t let my bad decision go and make you switch sides,” AriPen sings. It’s almost as if the duo has never listened to the City Girls. That’s what real city girls do, period.

Alycia Bella featuring Boogie, “Cue The Sun”

Alycia Bella’s voice creeps in on “Cue The Sun,” hushed but immediate, trying her best not to tip us off to the fantasyland she’s creating for the listener. The emotions she’s feeling transcend time and dimension; things don’t make sense in this mythical land of love. The moon is a disco ball, clouds are made of whipped cream, and she’s lost, but “in the right direction,” like she sings on the track. Los Angeles rapper Boogie only adds to the feeling of this topsy turvy world. “Is all of this shit a simulation?” he asks. “Is we a match made in Heaven or Heaven’s entertainment?” Alycia Bella’s world is a dream she doesn’t want to wake up from, but she needs to cue the sun which is the only proof that what she’s feeling is real.

Fousheé, “Deep End”

In April, Brooklyn drill rapper Sleepy Hallow struck gold on TikTok with his song “Deep End,” which featured a haunting voice, credited as Fousheé, nestled comfortably on the production. This summer, the singer released the full version, this time without Sleepy Hallow, and Fousheé’s tone is just as menacing. Written following the Minnesota riots after George Floyd’s death, the rage in Fousheé’s voice is relatable. “Had a big bone to pick / Got the short end of sticks, so we made a fire with it / Let it burn to a crisp,” she sings. At a time when so many of us were speechless, Fousheé found the words we wanted to say.

Ryan Destiny, “Do You”

Every now and then, you need a song that skips all the pretty metaphors and just tells it like it is. Ryan Destiny, best known for her role on FOX’s Star, gives us a petty anthem with “Do You.” Destiny gives the listener a front-row seat to an argument unfolding where her solution to a trifling partner is to give him a dose of his own medicine. By the time she takes us to the second verse, we are officially a fly on the wall eavesdropping on a conversation that we were never supposed to hear. “Why is it, you don’t understand anything unless your boys say it? They better come get you, ‘fore you fuck up and I’m faded.” We’ve all wanted to say “Do you” at one point or another.

Mariah the Scientist featuring Lil Baby, “Always n Forever”

Don’t be confused by the namesake, Mariah the Scientist is nothing like Mariah Carey. Mariah the Scientist is this generation’s next femme fatale, obsessed with imagery that’s as dangerous as it is seductive. Despite the differences, “Always n Forever” borrows from a concept Carey knows all too well: unconditional love. “But I’ll be your woman always / Always and forever,” she sings on the hook. It’s a modern-day, edgier version of “Always Be My Baby,” and we’re not mad at the update.

Ambré featuring Smino, “Gucci Slides”

Last year, Ambré’s Pulp was a nod to the cinematic moments that shaped her love for film, and this year’s Director’s Cut was an extension of that passion. “Gucci Slides,” featuring Smino, is one of five new songs on Director’s Cut, and there’s no shortage of melodies between Smino and Ambré. Somehow, the two manage to elevate a shoutout to a luxury sandal.

THEY., “All Mine”

“You still with that weak nigga?” is the sort of opening line that makes you want to listen to the rest of the song. The first verse sports just a few chords of a guitar, stripping “All Mine”‘s production to the bare bones, and that’s probably because the duo wants you to listen to how reckless the lyrics are. Leaning into their love for The-Dream, they have no problem letting you know anyone that comes after them is a downgrade.

August Alsina featuring Rick Ross “Entanglements”

August Alsina’s “Entanglements” deserves a spot on this list because, amid the heaviness of a global pandemic and civil unrest, you remember where you were when Jada Pinkett Smith admitted to being in an “entanglement” with the R&B singer. Shortly after, the New Orleans artist wrote a song explaining exactly what an entanglement was for anyone who was unfamiliar with the term—which ended up being all of us, Will Smith too. “The definition of entanglement / Is when you’re tangled in the sheets,” he sings on the song’s hook. We wouldn’t be surprised if Webster added Alsina’s version to the dictionary.

Alex Isley featuring Masego and Jack Dine, “Good & Plenty”

When quarantine is over, reacclimating ourselves to being in each other’s spaces will be an adjustment. “Good & Plenty” finds Alex Isley and Masego getting a head start in intimacy. When Masego sings, “An average day is spent all in the sheets,” we’re reminded that Alex Isley’s legacy (she’s the daughter of Ernie Isley) is all about getting close.

Kehina, “All Over Again”

A voice like Kehina’s is hard to come by. Her tone is steamy, like the heat that makes car windows misty. At times, she opts to sing in a near whisper, other times she’s holding her phrases hostage, singing everything in one breath. Both choices feel like a deliberate attempt to make you pay attention. Co-produced by the London singer herself, “All Over Again” is the type of song you want to break social distancing rules for.

DUCKWRTH, “Kiss U Right Now”

“Kiss U Right Now” is the type of song that makes you want to take a cold shower. Laden with sexual tension, DUCKWRTH has mastered the art of being a tease, which should come as no shock to anyone who’s watched the song’s visualizer. The track obliterates any assumption of personal space—both off the track and on. Funk bleeds into R&B and vice versa, and occasionally elements of pop sneak into its crevices. The most endearing part of “Kiss U Right Now” is a minor detail that reminds us of the days when people weren’t always readily available. “I think I wanna miss you / Purposely leave so I can come back to you, right now.” What’s to miss when everyone is logged in somewhere at all times?

Kaash Paige, “SOS”

Dallas native Kaash Paige’s “SOS” sounds like what the last sunset of summer feels like. The 19-year-old sings like she’s looking back on the last three months of teenage debauchery, knowing that the real world awaits her in the next season. By the summer’s end, she realizes that everyone around her has ulterior motives, which leads her to question her partner, too. We may never know whether Kaash Paige’s angst is the result of growing pains or quarantine fatigue, but “SOS” is a eulogy to the summer we didn’t get to experience in full this year.

Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.

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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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Open Sourced logo

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.

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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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