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The iPhone 12 Pro future-proofs with 5G and impressive photography chops

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(CNN) —  

For the second year running, Apple has a pro version of the iPhone. The iPhone 12 Pro is highlighted by a three camera system on the back that sports a LiDAR sensor for impressive low-light performance, alongside a classy build featuring stainless steel edges and a frosted glass back.

Even with some notable upgrades, it keeps the same price tag as the iPhone 11 Pro with a starting price of $999. That gets you 128GB of internal storage and your pick of color: graphite, silver, gold and Pacific Blue.

In our review of the iPhone 12, we determined it didn’t make a huge case in terms of upgrading from the iPhone 11 (though those with earlier models should most certainly upgrade). But does the same hold true for the iPhone 12 Pro compared to its predecessor? After testing it over six days, aside from a slight upgrade to the cameras and a nicer design, there’s not all that much different here between the iPhone 11 Pro.

And for many who’re looking to upgrade this year, the bigger question is: What’s the difference between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro?

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 Pro

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are more similar than any other previous pair of flagships. And that makes deciding whether to go Pro or not a bit more difficult than last year.

The core difference isn’t the display, the processor inside or even the size. Apple has pretty much leveled the playing field between the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro in those regards. They’re nearly identical, except in design and their camera.

The iPhone 12 features just two lenses: a 12-megapixel wide and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens. The 12 Pro tosses a 12-megapixel telephoto lens and a LiDAR sensor into the mix. That extra lens gives you another way to frame a shot and the ability to zoom in without losing detail. The LiDAR sensor with imaging lets the iPhone map the scene even in darkness.

Both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro feature the same 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED screen, just with slimmer bezels on the 12 Pro. The 12 Pro also features stainless steel edges, four unique colors and a frosted matte glass finish on the back; the 12 has a glossy, but not slick, glass back with aluminum sides. They both support 5G and are powered by the A14 Bionic chip.

If you’re focused on photography or videography, we’d recommend the upgrade to the iPhone 12 Pro. For $200 more, you get double the storage and three lenses that make any shot list a cinch — especially thanks to the LiDAR sensor, which proved itself as an essential tool for impressive Night Mode shots.

A few notes on 5G

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Over the past six days, we haven’t just been testing the iPhone 12 Pro, but we’ve 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 Ultra-Wide Band (aka mmWave), you will see faster speeds, but 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 Ultra Wide 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 2,200Mbps 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 crazy speeds, but we were able to hit 300-400Mbps 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 that you’ve been teased with. It’s the lower portion of the wireless spectrum, Sub6 Ghz, which is both easier to rollout and provides more capacity. But it doesn’t deliver wildly fast speeds and it is the 5G you likely have in your location. In our testing, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all produced speeds somewhere in between 100Mbps and 200Mbps down. Uploads were pretty close to what we’d expect to see on LTE.

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.

Three lenses to get nearly any shot

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

As we mentioned above, the iPhone 12 Pro houses three lenses on the rear, which are flanked by an LED flash and an LiDAR sensor.

LiDAR stands for light detection and ranging. Essentially, the addition of this sensor lets the iPhone map what it’s looking at. It can send pulses of light out and create a map through the signals that bounce back into the sensor. (Tesla uses LiDAR for self-driving cars and Apple previously used it for Face ID on the front of the iPhone).

The main improvement Apple is touting is faster focusing times in low light conditions and better performance with Night Mode portraits. But it’s not just this LiDAR sensor alone — the main 12-megapixel wide lens is made up of a seven element system with optical image stabilization and a new aperture. All of this comes into play for low-light shots. The lenses allow more light in and the software side smartly lights the shot.

Taking a Portrait shot at night, for example, the LiDAR sensor on the 12 Pro can sense where the foreground ends and where the background begins. It’s all processed in real time so the iPhone can take data and work with it. And with a lower aperture, more light is allowed into the lens. The end result is a strong background blur with the subject in proper lighting — meaning you can more easily place that subject in relation to the environment around them. The iPhone 12 Pro keeps the details of structures, no matter how big or small.

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

And in the test examples below, it does get the blurring effect pretty correct. There are a few straight hairs and the lighting on the building in the background doesn’t appear over-exposed or blown out of proportion. While the photo does appear clear, zooming in just a bit reveals some fuzziness and less detail. So not perfect, but by no means a deal breaker.

With general Night Mode photography, you can now shoot Night Mode shots with the ultra-wide and telephoto lens, alongside the front-facing 12-megapixel lens. When shooting in Night Mode, the iPhone 12 Pro takes a series of shots at varying exposure levels, mixes it with some software smarts and presents a photo that improves the lighting. It can make a dark scene much brighter while keeping the detail. As a whole, this feature is still one of our favorites and presents a dramatically better image that skews a bit to the warmer side; Samsung and Google’s respective Night Mode still go the cooler route.

When using Night Mode, the phone will suggest a three-second exposure window, but you can manually adjust the length of the Night Mode shot. We’ve gone up to 10 seconds in our six days of testing. The longer the time, the more shots at varying exposures the iPhone will capture. Theoretically, you can get a richer and more detailed image by opting for a longer window. And after you hit the shutter button, you still want to keep your hand stable and avoid any shakes – as it is shooting images in rapid succession. For the most part, rapid motion like multiple cars in front of what you’re shooting delivers a stop motion effect. As you can see in the gallery below, they range from artistic to, well, just blurry.

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

Year over year in comparison to the iPhone 11 Pro, the shots are pretty similar. It’s quicker to take the shot and focus in on a subject by about three to four seconds. And, with Night Mode, we found the experience to pack a bit more brightness without losing details. If you’re new to Night Mode on the iPhone, we think you’ll be impressed with just how good it is. Take a look at the shot below in which we shoot through a glass door into a full dark store. You can make out some signage and even chairs. Flash alone won’t accomplish that.

In daylight, the iPhone 12 Pro is no slouch either. You can see some examples below, but the photo of a pumpkin in direct sunlight with shadows covering the grass and apple below shows off how the iPhone can handle multiple light sources and adjust colors for each part of the photo. There’s also a natural bokeh or blur effect on the background.

And alongside the LiDAR sensor, the special piece of this three-camera system is the Telephoto lens. It not only lets you take close-up Portrait Mode shots, but lets you zoom in 2x optically. That’s nowhere near as far as 50x Space Zoom (a combination of digital and optical) on the Note 20 Ultra, but it can let you get a detail-filled shot without physically moving in closer. When zooming in using the Telephoto lens with the flash on, this photo of a “slippery surface” sign got a bit overexposed. This lens also clearly focuses on the subject and blurs out the background alongside a portion of the foreground. It does capture reflection in the granite though.

A key advantage of the iPhone 12 Pro is the ability to seamlessly switch between the three lenses. You get a big affordance of having three lenses that can help you frame and get almost any shot you can imagine. Year over year, it’s harder to tell the improvements. The three lenses are nearly identical to those on the Pro 11, with a few perceptible improvements in terms of low light performance. Clearly, the iPhone 11 Pro gave Apple solid footing for the 12 Pro.

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

Later this year, you’ll even be able to export images in RAW format that keeps the computational data info like Deep Fusion (Apple’s method for capturing close-up details on textures) and Smart HDR. For creatives, you’ll be able to keep this data and use it when editing in other applications. RAW files are also larger and contain more info over JPEGs.

The front-facing camera, backed into the TrueDepth Sensor that enables Face ID, is a 12-megapixel sensor. It’s identical from a hardware perspective to the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro —- but has the added bonus of Smart HDR3 and Night Mode. Selfies look a lot brighter even when shot in a dark room. You’ll notice that there is some noise around the face, but with one taken outside with a bit more light, the noise dies down a bit. You can still get a clear detail-packed image from the front camera.

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

Stretching the screen to the edges

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

The quality of the Super Retina XDR display (aka OLED) from the iPhone 11 Pro to the iPhone 12 Pro is the same. Colors appear super vibrant and contrast points are strong — so you’ll get really deep blacks here. The biggest change is that Apple slimmed down the edges of the display to stretch the screen from 5.89-inches to 6.1-inches.

The 6.1-inch screen features a 2532 X 1170 resolution at 460 pixels-per-inch. Support for HDR, the Wide Color Gamut P3 and True Tone (Apple’s tech for adjusting the temperature of the display to wherever you are) are here. It’s on par with the 11 Pro except that it’s larger by 0.21-inches.

There’s also still a notch at the top that houses the TrueDepth Sensor for Face ID. As much as we wished Apple included a Touch ID sensor in the power button, like on the new iPad Air, it’s not here. And unlocking the phone can be a little frustrating when wearing a mask. The workaround is typing in the pin; but for a modern 2020 smartphone, it feels like a legacy experience.

The iPhone 12 Pro looks more like an iPhone 5 or iPhone 4 with flat sides in a bit of a rounded box design. You can even stand the iPhone up by itself — just be careful that it doesn’t fall down.

The iPhone 12 Pro features stainless steel edges, which are fingerprint magnets, but also shine when the light hits it. On the rear side, like on the 11 Pro, it’s a frosted matte finish that hides fingerprints quite well. It’s still water resistant, under the IP68 standard, for up to 30 minutes in six meters of water.

A few abrasions showed up on the screen

Apple is touting its Ceramic Shield technology provides up to four-times the drop protection on the screen than earlier models. So, in theory, when an iPhone 12 Pro 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.

Let’s talk about charging and battery

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Apple ships the iPhone 12 Pro without a wall plug, which means you need to find or buy a USB-C wall plug. Apple is selling a 20-watt USB-C wall plug for $19 and there are plenty of third-party options out there as well.

If you have the 5-watt classic wall-plug from Apple that features a USB-A port, even pairing it with the including Lightning cable won’t get you fast charging. It will be a slow trickle charge which, in our testing, requires a full night of being plugged in for it to go from 0% to 100%. Just plugging it in for a bit to a 5-watt will only give you a percentage or two of extra juice. So, in short, you’ll want a faster charger as the time has been cut shorter. With a 20-watt plug or higher, you’ll get a 50% charge in about thirty minutes.

So while Apple is attempting to reduce emissions, there’s a good chance you may need to purchase a new wall charger. The iPhone 12 does support Qi-enabled wireless charging at up to 7.5-watts as well — but the real story is with MagSafe.

And MagSafe is pretty neat. It’s a circular wireless charging disc that combines a Qi coil with an array of magnets and an NFC sensor inside. Essentially it will snap to the back of the iPhone 12 Pro or a MagSafe case that features magnets for alignment. You’ll hear a snap of the MagSafe charging and then see a nice graphic that tells you it’s getting a charge. It solves the problem of laying your phone on a wireless charger and waking up the next morning with no charge. MagSafe fixes that and also ups the charging speed up to 15-watts. You won’t get that from an ordinary Qi charger though. And MagSafe doesn’t come in the box, Apple sells MagSafe for $39 and you’ll need a USB-C wall plug of at least 20-watts to get those fast speeds.

Though Apple is promising up to 17 hours of video playback in terms of battery life, that’s an hour shorter than the iPhone 11 Pro. As expected, after the initial setup the iPhone takes some time to index. It needs to backload your photo library, messages from the cloud and even music libraries. The point being, it takes a few days to get the iPhone running at full capacity; once ours did, we were able to get a full day of use with eight hours of screen on time on the 12 Pro.

We also put the iPhone 12 Pro through the CNN Underscored battery test. We play a 4K video on loop with the volume set to 30% with the device on Airplane mode. We also ensure that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are turned off and the brightness is set to 50%. We loop the video until the battery dies and monitor it with two cameras for redundancy. The iPhone 12 Pro lasted for 12 hours and 10 minutes.

Lastly, while the iPhone 12 Pro supports Qi-enabled and MagSafe wireless charging, there’s no reverse wireless charging here. So you can’t charge another device like AirPods or AirPods Pro on the back of your iPhone, a feature we’d been hoping for.

Incremental performance improvements add up

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Apple’s latest chip — the A14 Bionic — is seriously powerful with a six-core CPU, four-core GPU and a Neural Engine. By design, it’s efficient from the start and can learn to get better over time.

It will also manage the different cores inside to pick which one is best for whatever you’re doing on the phone. For instance, kicking in all four cores of the GPU for a Pixelmator or Photoshop edit, but dropping to one or two for an Instagram edit.

Year over year, the speed improvements from the iPhone 11 Pro to iPhone 12 Pro are a bit harder to spot, in terms of real-world performance, both devices are pretty on par with one another. Exporting a high-res raw image in Photoshop on the iPhone 12 Pro versus the 11 Pro will have it render a second or two faster. In everyday use, though, apps open quickly, you can easily keep over thirty apps open in the background without any slow downs and you can easily accomplish tasks.

We also did a fair bit of gaming these past six days: Real Flight Simulator Pro, Mini Motorways, War Robots, Butter Royale, Real Racing 3 and Call of Duty Mobile. All of these — and a few others — ran quite well and we didn’t notice any choppiness. Nor did we encounter much latency or choppiness with graphics when testing the ability to connect to a gaming PC and play some PC games via Shadow.

Bottom Line

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

The iPhone 12 Pro is a flagship 2020 smartphone with only a few things missing, like a 120Hz display and reverse wireless charging. But Apple got a lot right here and they’re still pitching this as the higher-end iPhone with Pro features. The camera — namely just how good it is with low-light thanks to the addition of the LiDAR sensor — has us buying into that.

But aside from an extra camera lens, LiDAR sensor and classy design, it’s pretty on par with the iPhone 12. And for many, that device is not only cheaper but the better option. For anyone obsessed with photography, we’d opt for the iPhone 12 Pro as it delivers a slightly better photography experience compared to the iPhone 12 and, especially, older models.

If you currently have an iPhone 11 Pro, you might not really have a need to upgrade unless something really sticks out to you.

Lastly, for those with an older iPhone, we believe now is the time to upgrade. A14 Bionic is a powerful chip that will let you get three-four years out of the device, the camera is one of the best on the market and you future proofed with 5G support.

Not sold on the 12 Pro? Check out our iPhone 12 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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