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The Noom App Makes Big Claims About Helping You Lose Weight. Does It Work?

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Janet Gollhardt has done Noom lessons first thing every morning since June. Every day, she opens the app and sees a list of eight to ten to-do’s. Three of them are always the same: log everything you eat and drink, achieve your activity goal, and weigh yourself. The app also shows her the best foods to eat (it rates them on a scale from green to yellow to red), prompts her to read about healthy habits, rate her motivation, and quizzes her after. 

“It’s been really, really good for me,” she said. Thanks to a “great personal coach,” group support, and “smart and fun reads,” Noom teaches her how to be mindful about why she snacks when she’s feeling sad, she said, and what she can do instead.

Gollhardt described herself as having been overweight all her life. When she saw advertisements for Noom on TV about a year ago, promising prospective users that they’ll “lose the weight for good,” its “proven-psychology based approach” appealed to her immediately. But Gollhardt found Noom expensive—$59 monthly or $199 annually—and despite her interest, she didn’t want to spend that kind of money.

Several months later, the combined effects of turning the age her mother was when she died, a frightening chest pain episode, and losing her job made her want to use some of her severance pay to give Noom a try. “I just decided I would rather live and not die at 49 like my mom did,” she said. Today, Gollhardt has lost 25—almost 26—pounds, and, for the first time in 30 years, she started jogging.

Gollhardt is one of more than 45 million Noom users worldwide, according to the company, and part of the one and a half million people that Noom claims to have successfully helped lose weight. In practice, the program is not all that dissimilar from a standard diet: It instructs users to eat low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods and count calories. However, it also claims to approach weight loss through a psychology lens, bringing awareness to users’ emotions, habits and thoughts related to food, with the aim of gradually adjusting unhealthy behaviors. 

But ultimately, not everyone has been as satisfied and successful with the program as Gollhardt. Noom advertises widely and aggressively, claiming its users will lose more weight than with other programs. It compares itself to Weight Watchers, which it blasts for prescribing a crash diet (this led to a legal complaint). Meanwhile, Noom markets itself as “not your typical diet program with strict rules, restrictions or pre-set goals.” But according to users and experts VICE spoke to, Noom’s diet does not differ much from what’s already out there. It recommends restricting calories—sometimes, to a worrying degree. And while the behavioral psychology techniques the program relies on are innovative and proven to be effective for weight loss, the app seems to be struggling to keep up with demand. Assigning a single coach to several hundreds of users has resulted in many of them feeling like the coaching service is ineffective. 

Lycia Tomlinson from North Carolina reports that after seeing one of Noom’s ads on YouTube, she subscribed to their two-week trial offer for $1. Not satisfied by what they offered, Tomlinson requested that same day that her personal information, including her card information, be removed. One week later, as she opened her bank statement, she was stunned to see that Noom had charged her card $149. When she reached out to them asking for her money back, she never received any reply—not until she went on Twitter and publicly grumbled.

Tomlinson’s case isn’t unique. Since July 2017, the Better Business Bureau has received 2,295 complaints alleging that the company offers misleading free trials and that subscriptions are difficult to cancel after free trials are complete. Like Tomlinson, consumers often claimed difficulty trying to contact Noom’s customer service to request a refund of charges. The company’s BBB Business Profile displays a D rating due to the high volume of complaints filed against the business, and last August the BBB issued a warning for consumers. “I quickly realized that it was a money-making scam,” Tomlinson told VICE, adding: “when a person decides they want to lose weight, the decision is often accompanied by feelings of failure and despair. Capitalizing on those feelings to make money and no real help for these individuals is unconscionable.” 

Noom claims to provide its users access to “highly-trained specialists” who use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. It defines CBT as a “goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that helps people understand the things that trigger negative thoughts, compulsive actions, and unwelcome consequences.” Noom aims to uncover users’ “ultimate goal” beyond just losing weight. The app instructs users to ask, “Why?” repeatedly. When I signed up for Noom, I wrote that I wanted to be healthier (But why?) to fit in old dresses of mine (But why?) … to feel beautiful, I guess? 

Once onboard the two-week trial, I was able to access the lessons Gollhardt talked about. They’re short, colorful, and filled with hashtags like #NoomNerds or #healthFORALL. One is about motivation, with the main take-away inscribed on a pictured post-it note: “Good things take time.” Another is about winning. There’s a cartoon of a jolly looking man where it says: “You ROCK!” I was greeted with a message from the in-app “concierge,” an automated service that gets users up and running and pairs them with a coach. A day after being an official user, I was welcomed by my goal coach, via what looked like a text. She’s not a bot, it read, but “a real person,” and I should view these messages more like emails, rather than a live chat. Her message ended by asking me to come up with one small step that I could start this week that I believed would help me move closer to my goal. Unsure, I reply: maybe, drink less wine in the evening?

Stefan G. Hofmann, a clinical psychologist at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University, told me that “the interventions of CBT for eating disorders have been worked out quite well. And we know that these are highly effective interventions for different types of eating problems,” Hofmann said, “more effective than the most effective drugs that we have available.” What matters is regular feedback and support to provide motivation, help people adjust their behavior, keep their expectations realistic, and boost the belief that they can do it. 

Hofmann said it shouldn’t matter too much that most of Noom’s coaches are not “highly trained,” or that, according to sources VICE spoke to, many are fresh out of college. “As long as the human who is involved in this program is not contradicting the CBT protocol described in the app,” he said, “I wouldn’t think it’s a highly critical issue.” For an app like Noom to work, he said, what’s most important is that the user feels regularly guided by a real human, with preferably a few face-to-face or video conversations here and there. 

Yet just last month, Sandra Bouckley reported the following on the review site Trustpilot: “Today is my 6th day and I’ve yet to have a conversation with a coach or a concierge. All I get are high fives and messages that I can half-read.” Bouckley told VICE  that despite finding the readings and quizzes informative and useful, she was not yet given a goal specialist: “My Coach (John) is apparently out, and Ivy is filling in. So far, apparently, because I’m so new, this isn’t useful or helpful. I don’t have a Goal Specialist yet either.”

Several users have complained that their coach’s responses seemed “impersonal and canned” or “very autobot” especially during but also after their two-week trial. A Reddit thread dedicated to the topic of whether the coaches are all real people as promised commented on the lack of helpful responses. “There are two coaches, your personal and group coach,” wrote another reviewer this month, “I didn’t find either particularly useful. The personal coach would send me a generic weekly message about how my week had been, and no matter what I replied, even if it was a question, it got turned into a question back at me. It was like talking to a mirror and not particularly helpful.” 

Similar comments can be found on a Noom weight-loss Facebook support group of more than 50,000 members, with one recent member posting last month: “I am on my free trial and my coach pipes a tiny blurb once a week. Do they do more once your a member? So far I am not finding it very useful.” While the answers varied, from “there is a goal specialist? I’ve never heard from anyone,” to “my goal specialist is awesome,” most of the comments in this Facebook post said they found their group and goal coach lacking. 

This was the case for Patricia Keefe Saizan, who replied on the same thread: “The goal coach is a joke imo.” Saizan told VICE that the coaching service is not personalized, and that the group coaching setup is difficult to navigate. She is one of many members to rely instead on the Facebook group for motivational support, especially to post “NSV,” or non-scale victories, such as “walking away from a piece of cake,” or  “being able to walk for 30 minutes without feeling out of breath.” 

Saizan also read something on Facebook that she said could explain a lot: “From what I understand, these coaches have about 300 people so you can’t expect much,” she said, adding, “I don’t think the coach can care if she has 300 people. It would be impossible.”

Saeju Jeong, the Co-founder and CEO of Noom, told VICE:  “All Noom coaches are real, human coaches are at the heart of the Noom program.” He said there are about 2,300 full-time coaches to support its millions of users, and as demand continues to grow, the company plans to hire several hundred additional coaches by the end of the year. He added: “today each coach is able to effectively support up to 250 active users.”

VICE spoke to a former Noom employee who was present during Noom’s early days. (The employee asked to withhold their name to protect their privacy at work.) The app went from having fewer than a handful of coaches to more than a thousand in no time, according to the employee. “I think you can grow too big too fast. It was taxing. It was draining.” According to the employee, what started as about one coach for every 70 users grew to become a “crazy number”—”almost unsustainable to a certain degree.” And although they wouldn’t reveal what exactly that “crazy number” was, in a Reddit chat from six months ago, one employee wrote that it was around one coach for 280 to 550 users. On Glassdoor, another wrote: “We had 250-300 users each to coach each week and it was doable. Now we all have 415+ users with the same pay.” The former employee later confirmed coaches support more than 400 active users.

Like many diet services, Noom has published its own research in support of its success claims, including one study asserting “64% of Noom users lost 5% or more of body weight.” But looking closer, those 64% of Noom users amount to only 43 people (out of the 121 participants studied), which according to several experts VICE spoke to, is a small number to make such significant health improvement claims. Earlier this year, Noom funded another study claiming that Noom’s service is superior to “standard care.” Yet according to an article by a scientist from Yale, Noom’s authors compared the app to nothing at all, or no treatment, which was called out as “inappropriate and potentially misleading.” 

John Torous, a Harvard professor leading the American Psychiatric Association’s workgroup to evaluate smartphone apps, told VICE that the main focus of startups like Noom is growth—against a backdrop in which neither investors nor consumers are interested in rigorous scientific validations. “If you compare the app to absolutely nothing compared to something that’s a fair comparison, like talking to a friend, the apps are not always as effective. And certainly, I think a company may realize that’s the truth and, that’s not as exciting.” Torous explained how it’s usually easier to help people on “the right side of change,” or what he calls “early adopters,” whom any app would have helped no matter what. 

He and colleagues made a term called the “digital placebo effect.” He said that some people tend to show improvement with apps at a higher rate, and more quickly, than would be expected. “There are also some people who seem to show improvement even when they don’t engage with the technology; this may be related to the role of expectations or other factors associated with the app,” said Torous. He and colleagues commented how it can be a major accomplishment to simply log in into an app and connect with a support person, never mind exploring interactive features, such as quizzes, read content, and track progress. For some, this single action itself might be highly influential, especially if the app is recovery-focused.

This coincides with information Noom’s former employee told VICE when it came to testing the use of AI instead of human coaches during the first 48 hours. They explained that Noom uses AI heavily during this time to “weed through who’s really serious,” and then will switch to human support. “We didn’t actually notice that much of a difference between dropout rates, which means that those people that really wanted to be there would be there no matter what. They’re motivated, and they’re ready to make changes.” 

Elizabeth Eikey, a professor at the University of California San Diego, explained to VICE that she observed in a 2017 study how the use of weight loss apps could exacerbate eating disorders. Apps encourage this through practices like obsessive logging, the need to be exact about calories, an acute awareness of numbers (associated with food and exercise), restricting calories, and manipulating the app to make it seem as if the person is losing weight, for example, by misreporting the actual calorie intake to avoid negative emotions. 

While Eikey praised Noom’s injection of positive affirmations even when users go over their calorie-budget, she noted that the app doesn’t seem to ask users for personalized information such as their history of eating disorders. “It let me set a rather unreasonable weight loss goal… to 85 pounds,” Eikey told VICE. “Also when I input an unreasonable number of calories burned, as if I was on the treadmill for hours and hours and hours, it was like, great job! You burned every single calorie that you had in your budget, plus some.” Eikey explained how these messages could unintentionally reinforce the perception that burning more calories than you consume in a day is healthy. Many diet and fitness apps tend to do that, she said, which isn’t great, and can be triggering for people with a history of eating disorders or who have a history of obsessive behavior. “I had people in my studies talk about wanting to get down to zero or negative calories,” she said.

One reviewer said Noom recommended a 1,100-calorie diet—which many dietitians would find too restrictive and limiting. This was echoed by dietitian Abby Langer who wrote about how when she was assigned a low calorie level, “1200 calories is starvation for me (and for most people),” after expressing concerns to her goal coach, she was told that when exercising, she can get those calories back in her allowance, allowing her “some wiggle room.” Another reviewer wrote on the Appstore about starting with a 2000 calorie budget, and then watching the app drop her calorie limit lower and lower: “I feel as if Noom wants me to starve myself. I work outside, I am constantly sweating and walking around. I’m going to eat, and I shouldn’t have to feel bad about going over 1300 calories while eating healthy foods.” The user decided to drop out of their trial because they felt the app was too restrictive. 

Noom pitches itself as something different. Thanks to its use of CBT-based coaching and “anti-diet approach,” it wants to inspire significant change and lasting outcomes. While its program works for many, it appears to largely rest on the all-too-common calorie-restriction-based diet, whereby not all users can meaningfully adopt healthy habits. Meanwhile, the idea to pair human coaches with an app is a good one, according to several experts, including Hofmann, Eikey—and Torous, who said it’s the digital health field’s future. But according to him, there’s still a lot that needs to be worked out in terms of how effective that hybrid model can be. Torous pointed VICE to Lantern, an app that used CBT trained coaches to empower users daily to learn how to manage their anxiety, stress, and body images. Lantern went bankrupt two years ago.

“Coaching clearly costs money, it’s a human being,” said Torous over the phone. “Coaches are to some extent scalable, but they max out. They can only talk to and interact with so many people per day. And you can make them more efficient, but it is a question of can these services, when they start small, can they actually scale? I think we just don’t know.”

The issues with the app don’t stop Saizan from being satisfied with Noom. “The coach thing isn’t a make or break point for me,” she said. She likes Noom’s calorie tracker, incentive to weigh daily, and lessons: “Before I would give up if the needle on the scale wasn’t consistently going down. Now I know that is a part of the deal.” And then she added: Noom is a “great program.”

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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.

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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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