I review VR headsets for a living, and I’ve never seen a better Oculus Quest 2 deal

Amazon is offering a fantastic Oculus Quest 2 deal that not only scores you the impressive VR headset for $ 51 off, but you’ll also get a $ 50 gift card. It’s one of the best Black Friday deals I’ve seen.

Right now the Meta’s Quest 2 (128GB) model is down to $ 249 at Amazon – instead of its MSRP of £299. But if you act fast the holiday bundle will score you the discount and a free $ 50 Amazon voucher; effectively, this will save you $ 100 on the popular VR headset which we gave four–and–a–half stars in our Oculus Quest 2 review

I say you should act fast, because an identical deal was available in the UK for a few days – but it has now sold out. If history repeats itself in the US you don’t have long left to nab yourself one of the best Oculus Quest 2 Black Friday deals this year. 

I've been writing about VR for years and I haven't seen a better deal; so there's no point waiting for something better to come around this Black Friday if you're after a VR headset.

Get the best ever Oculus Quest 2 deal here:

Meta Quest 2 + Amazon Gift Card: was $ 349.99 now $ 249.00 at Amazon
Right now you can save $ 51 on the Meta Quest 2 (128GB) and get a free $ 50 Amazon gift card as well as part of this holiday bundle. I’ve never seen a better Meta Quest 2 deal, and I expect this may sell out before Black Friday, so act fast.View Deal

The only VR headset deal I think you should consider instead of this Oculus Quest 2 offer is the Meta Quest 3 deal that's available everywhere. That is you get the Meta Quest 3 for $ 499 and a free copy of Asgard's Wrath 2.  Alongside Amazon, you can find the same deal at  WalmartBest Buy, and Target among others.

While this isn't the best deal (the headset is full price) I think the Meta Quest 3 is a massive step up over the Quest 2; that's why I awarded it five stars in our Meta Quest 3 review. Yes, it's pricier, but it's worth the extra cost if you can afford it.

If you are on a tight budget then Meta's Oculus Quest 2 is still fine, and the above deal is a fantastic offer to take advantage of. But if you can afford to splash out on a Meta Quest 3 then I'd strongly suggest doing so.

For more on this topic, check out my guide to whether you should buy an Oculus Quest 2 or Meta Quest 3 this Black Friday.

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Google Maps just made it a lot easier to plan holiday trips with better travel tools

With the holiday season just over the horizon, Google Maps is receiving an update to make planning and traveling around these hectic times more manageable.

The patch consists of three new features. First, the app will gain updated “transit directions” that’ll tell you “the best route to your destination based on key factors”. This includes the overall length of the trip, estimated time of arrival, plus the number of transfers you’ll have to take in order to get there. It’ll even be possible to customize the route using filters telling Google Maps to focus on a specific type of transit, like subways, or if you want one with minimal walking. 

Additionally, the app will tell where you can find the entrances and exits to stations “in over 80 cities around the world,” including Boston, London, New York City, Sydney, and Toronto. It'll point out “what side of the street they're on” as well as if there is a “clear walking route”.

Newfound collaboration

Next, the collaborative list tool will allow invited users to vote on an activity via emoji reactions. You can choose between a heart, a smiley face, a flame, or a flying stack of cash if you’re interested in going. For those who aren’t, a thumbs-down icon will be available.

Speaking of which, people can also react to publicly posted photographs on Google Maps with an emoji. The company states that “in some cases” you’ll be given the opportunity to use mashup reactions via Emoji Kitchen. The emoji mashup selections seem to depend on what the app’s AI sees in an image. For example, if it detects a bagel, the mashup will include the food item, and potentially, the yummy face. These custom-made icons will automatically be generated.

Everything you see here will be rolling out globally to Android and iOS devices starting today. The rest of the announcement consists of the tech giant shouting out certain Google Maps tools that you can use to help “navigate the holidays” like finding nearby charging stations for electric vehicles or purchasing train tickets right on the app.

If you’re interested in what else it can do, check out TechRadar’s list of the 10 things you didn’t know Google Maps could do

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Excited for Apple’s Vision Pro? Forget that, rumors have started about how the sequel will be better

Apple is rumored to be considering making changes to the next version of the Vision Pro – still some way off, given the first-gen model is yet to launch, of course – around slimming down the headset’s size and weight.

In Mark Gurman’s latest Power On newsletter (for Bloomberg), the well-known Apple leaker told us that the company is mulling some notable improvements for the next-gen Vision Pro on the comfort front.

Gurman observes that with some feedback from testers expressing concerns about neck strain due to the weight of the headset, Apple wants to make the next-gen device both lighter and more compact.

This may be a key focus for the next iteration of the Vision Pro, as Apple fears that the weight of the incoming first device “could turn off consumers already wary of mixed-reality headsets,” Gurman asserts. The Vision Pro can feel too heavy for some folks, even during shorter periods of use, we’re told.

Reducing the weight of next-gen Vision Pro is the priority by the sounds of it, with any size reduction likely to be much less noticeable (and harder to achieve).

As 9 to 5 Mac, which spotted this, further points out, Apple actually already made the incoming first-gen headset more compact – with a trade-off. Namely, the design doesn’t give room for people who wear prescription glasses to be able to fit those in.

So, that creates a separate issue in catering to spectacle wearers, and Apple’s solution is to implement a system of prescription lenses that magnetically attach to the 4K displays for the headset.

That’s not ideal, though, for a lot of reasons. It’s a headache for retailers in terms of stocking the huge number of lens prescriptions they’ll have to deal with – having to find the right one for a glasses wearer not just if they’re buying, but also if they’re simply wanting to try out the headset.

Another obvious downside is that the owner’s glasses prescription may well change in the future (ours certainly does, repeatedly), so again, there’s the hassle of having to get new lenses for your Vision Pro too.

It seems Apple is mulling the idea of shipping custom-built headsets directly with the correct prescription lenses preinstalled, but there could be problems with that, as well.

Gurman noted: “First, built-in prescription lenses could make Apple a health provider of sorts. The company may not want to deal with that. Also, that level of customization would make it harder for consumers to share a headset or resell it.”

Whether that whole thorny nest of glasses-related issues can be tackled with the Vision Pro 2, well, we’ll just have to see.

Apple Vision Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

Analysis: Long-term vision for success

So, it seems like the weight of the Vision Pro might be an issue from early testing feedback. That said, in his try-out session, our editor-in-chief found the headset “relatively comfortable” and so wasn’t critical on that front. But 9 to 5 Mac’s writer observed that while shorter sessions are likely to be fine, they could “absolutely see getting tired of wearing [the headset] after extended sessions.”

This may vary from person to person somewhat, it’s true, but it sounds like if Apple is indeed planning to make the next-gen headset lighter, the firm is recognizing that things in this department are less than ideal.

At any rate, while it’s good to hear this, we’ll only really know how the Vision Pro shapes up on the comfort front when it comes to full review time.

For us, though, the most uncomfortable part of the Vision Pro experience is the price. Even just looking at that price tag makes our hearts heavy, as we won’t ever be able to afford the thing.

At $ 3,500 in the US (around £2,900, AU$ 5,500) – and remember, the prescription lenses will add to that bill, especially if you need multiple lenses for different family members – the Vision Pro is just too rich for our blood. We just can’t see that price flying with consumers when Apple’s headset hits the shelves next year in the US (in theory early in 2024).

Especially with mixed reality and VR headsets in general being a niche enough prospect as it is. Indeed, Meta’s Quest 3 is so, so much more affordable in comparison, and for the money represents a great buy.

It’s not like Apple doesn’t realize all this, of course, and we’ve already heard chatter on the grapevine about how a cheaper Vision Pro model might be inbound – which more than any other improvement, would be fantastic to see.

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Windows 11 screenshots are going to be even better as Microsoft turbo-charges Snipping Tool and Photos app

Windows 11 is about to get a drastically-improved Snipping Tool and revised Photos app. The most exciting new features include the Snipping Tool allowing users to copy text straight from screenshots, and the Photos app getting features like the ability to blur the background of photos.

This news has come from Windows Insider users (members of the official Microsoft community, the Windows Insider Program, for people who want to test out the latest developments to the operating system and help Microsoft improve it). 

The Verge writes that Windows Insiders have been allowed access to updates of both the Snipping Tool and Photos app in the Canary and Dev Channels in the Windows Insider Program (two out of four of the channels through which Microsoft distributes previews). As a Windows Snipping Tool enthusiast, Microsoft certainly has my attention. 

Microsoft has written in more detail about these new arrivals in two new update posts on the Windows Insider Blog (an official update blog by Microsoft). 

A sharper Windows 11 Snipping Tool

The blog post presenting the nifty new text capture and recognition capability of the Snipping Tool (version 11.2308.33.0) introduces the new feature as 'Text Actions'. This will make it much easier to copy and paste or share text with others straight from a screen capture. You’ll have to select Text Actions in the Snipping Tools toolbar and then you’ll be shown all the text you can highlight, select and copy. 

You can also manipulate text within the screenshot, like being able to redact sensitive information right in the screenshot using the 'Quick Redact' function. 

Aside from the exciting new text capture capabilities of Snipping Tool, there will be integration with Windows 11’s Phone Link feature. It will show a notification prompt to open the Snipping Tool for markup of a screenshot, and allow users to instantly access and edit recent photos from Android devices with the Snipping Tool on a PC.

Snipping Tool

(Image credit: Sofia Wyciślik-Wilson)

A renewed Photos app 

The Photos app is also being revised based on community feedback, Microsoft writes in the blog post about the Photos app update. The main part of the update is the new Background Blur option, which does what it says on the tin – instantly detects and blurs the background of a photo. It has further options with the Blur Intensity parameter and Brush Tool to select what areas you’d like to blur. 

Another cool feature being previewed is a ‘Content Search’ capability for photos that you backup on OneDrive. This will allow you to search by content of a photo, I assume using some intelligent image detection software that can scan and label the photo with searchable tags based on what it detects in the image – much like Google Photos, which has a similar feature

As well as this search feature, you can also search for photos based on the location they were taken. You’ll be able to do this in multiple places – your local files, OneDrive and iCloud. Yep, you read that right – iPhone owners can search their iCloud storage on their Windows 11 device with the updated Photos app.

Microsoft details how to use these features in the announcement blog post, along with some other fixes and changes to do with the Photos app. 

The new Photos app in Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft)

What about a video editor?

I’m looking forward to these features hopefully coming to Windows 11 soon, and can already see myself using them. There has been some controversy recently about Microsoft’s changes to the Windows 10 Photos app, which saw the removal of the Video Editor feature in a bid to push users to its newer video editor, Clipchamp. There’s a single bullet point under “Other fixes and improvements” that says: 

“Edit and Create Video options are now easily accessible at the top of the gallery view.”

I don’t know what this means exactly with regard to the video editing functions in Windows 11’s Photos app, so I guess we’ll have to see what it looks like as testers try out the previews of these features. 

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Love your multi-monitor setup? Windows 11 could soon make it even better

Windows 11 has a new preview build carrying a very useful change for those who run multiple monitors, in a move that’ll help save system resources to some extent.

The change is in testing right now – and the very earliest test channel, namely Canary – having been brought in with build 25915 late last week.

What Microsoft has done is improved the way Windows 11 handles refresh rates so that when a PC has two (or more) monitors, different refresh rates can be used on multiple screens.

Previously, Windows 11 would apply the refresh rate which is a system-wide setting to both monitors, so now in this preview version, they can each have different refresh rates. We’ll come back to discuss refresh rates in more depth, and why this is important, in a moment.

Elsewhere in build 25915, Microsoft has tweaked Dynamic Refresh Rate (DRR), a feature that intelligently adjusts your monitor’s refresh rate depending on what you’re doing. (If you’re reading emails or doing other basic tasks, DRR will employ a lower refresh rate – but when you need a smoother experience, such as when scrolling through a large document with embedded images, a higher refresh rate will be utilized).

The change to DRR now means that if you’re in battery saver mode on your laptop, Windows 11 will stick with the lower refresh rate no matter what, in order to conserve power. In short, battery saver overrules DRR completely, which is for the best when your notebook is on the verge of conking out.

Analysis: A very refreshing change

Refresh rate means the rate that the screen refreshes itself every second (measured in Hertz), or in other words, how many frames are displayed per second. Every monitor is essentially displaying a slideshow, and you’re seeing a number of images (slides, or frames) every second. (But always, in theory, so quickly that you’ll never see the ‘joins’ as it were – it should all happen fluidly, especially with a top-end PC and one of the best monitors out there).

The faster the refresh rate, the more fluid and smooth the image seems to your eyes (with caveats, such as with games for example, your GPU and other components need to have the horsepower to be able to produce the requisite frames, and with demanding titles and resolutions, that can be a steep hill to climb).

So, what this change does is allow a task like gaming on a primary high refresh rate monitor to hit, say, 240Hz, whereas if you have a second monitor where you’re just surfing the web, watching a video maybe, you can have that running at 60Hz. Because you won’t need any more than 60Hz on that second display, you can save your PC the trouble of having to push both monitors to a higher refresh rate.

That means fewer system resources are used, and they can be employed elsewhere, plus you might save a teeny-tiny bit of power to boot (it all adds up).

This means nothing to those who don’t have more than one monitor, of course, but the DRR change will still be useful for those with a laptop who want to conserve power when the battery gets to a low level.

Via Windows Central

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Your Oculus Quest 2 just got better hand-tracking to boost your virtual boxing skills

Meta has released the v56 update for the Meta Quest Pro and the Oculus Quest 2, which introduces a bunch of upgrades for two of the best VR headsets out there.

With the new Quest update Meta is rolling out Hand Tracking 2.2, which says aims to bring responsiveness more in line with what users experience with controllers. According to Meta, Hand Tracking 2.2 will reduce the latency experienced by a typical user by 40%, with a 75% latency reduction for fast hand movements. 

Meta recommends that you download the Move Fast demo app from App Lab to get a feel for what these improvements mean in practise. It looks like a simple fitness trainer in which you have to punch, chop and block incoming blocks while looking out over a lake decorated with cherry blossom trees. Meta has said we can expect more hand-tracking improvements when the Meta Quest 3 launches later this year. It's yet to be seen if these upgrades can keep up with the hand-tracking Apple is expected to launch with its Apple Vision Pro headset.

Another important improvement is coming just for Meta Quest Pro owners. One of the premium headset’s best upgrades over the Quest 2 is its display, which offers local dimming. This allows screens to achieve deeper black levels and improved contrast, something which can help a lot with immersion, as dark spaces actually look dark without it being impossible to see. However, local dimming isn’t available in every app, so with v56 Meta is launching a Local dimming Experimental Setting (which can be found in the Experimental menu in your headset’s Settings).

The feature is off by default, but if you turn it on you should see the benefits of local dimming in a load more titles – that is, unless a developer chooses to opt out. Just note that as with other experimental settings, you may find it isn’t quite perfect or causes some problems.

Quest 2 users aren't missing out on visual upgrades entirely though, as Meta recently announced that a Quest Super Resolution upscaling tool is coming to help developers make their games look and run better.

This month Meta is also improving the accessibility of Quest titles by introducing button mapping and live captions. Live captions will appear in your Quest headset’s Settings, under the Hearings section of the Accessibility menu. Once turned on you’ll see live subtitles while using the Meta Quest TV app, Explore, and the in-headset Quest Store. In the same Accessibility menu, go to the Mobility section and you’ll find an option to remap your Quest controllers – you can swap any buttons you want on the handsets to create a completely custom layout.

These accessibility settings won’t revolutionize your headset overnight, but they’re a great first step. Hopefully, we’ll see Meta introduce captioning to more apps and services, and perhaps it’ll launch custom-accessible controllers like the ones that Sony and Microsoft offer for their PS5 Access controller and the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

New ways to stay connected 

Beyond these major upgrades, Meta is rolling out a handful of smaller improvements as part of update v56.

First, when you leave your headset charging on standby between play sessions it can smartly wake up and install updates whenever it detects that your installed software is out of date. This should help to reduce instances of you going to play a game only to find that you need to wait for ages while your headset installs a patch.

Second is the new Chats and Parties feature. Whenever you start a call in VR a chat thread is also connected with all of the call members, so you can keep in contact later; you can also now start a call from a chat thread (whether it’s a one-on-one chat or a group chat).

Third, and finally, meta is making it easier to stream your VR gameplay to Facebook, and while you play you’ll be able to see a live chat, so you can keep in contact with your viewers. While the platform isn’t many people’s first choice, it hopefully opens the door for easier real-time live streaming to more popular platforms like YouTube and Twitch.

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Windows 11 makes life better for PC gamers in two ways with new update

Windows 11’s cumulative update which started rolling out to PCs last week comes with a couple of nifty features for gamers.

Windows Latest noted that Microsoft reminded them of one feature that comes with the July cumulative update (KB5028185), namely a change that’ll benefit some of the best gaming mice out there.

A software engineer at Microsoft told the tech site: “Some of you will see better gaming performance with the July 2023 update. This [July 2023 Update] improves performance when you use a mouse with a high gaming report rate.”

A high report rate, otherwise known as polling rate, means the mouse is checking its position more often, which leads to better accuracy.

However, the problem with such high polling rate mice is that Windows 11 causes some stuttering with these peripherals, due to demands made on the operating system’s input stack (which can get overloaded when using a high report rate mouse plus a bunch of other gaming accessories used for, say, streaming).

Those stuttering blues are now fixed with the KB5028185 patch, thankfully.

Another major boon for PC gamers here is the fix for a nasty bug that caused Timeout Detection and Recovery (TDR) errors.

These can result in a game freezing up or crashing out, so they’re pretty frustrating at times, especially in cases where you might lose progress if you haven’t saved, of course.

Analysis: Goodies for gamers aplenty

Early feedback on the TDR error resolution in testing looks positive – and the same goes for the polling rate fix – so it seems the July update is pretty much a must-have affair for PC gamers.

Not that you have any choice about installing a cumulative update anyway, seeing as they are mandatory, mainly because of the security fixes applied with these patches. Microsoft doesn’t want any users exposed to vulnerabilities, so that’s understandable (though you can put off installing a patch for a short while on Windows 11 Home).

Gamers have some other goodies to look forward to in the near future, including the Dynamic Lighting hub, which will allow Windows 11 users to control all RGB peripherals from one central place, rather than having to bloat their system with third-party apps.

DirectStorage – which offers an extra speed-up for SSDs in Windows 11 compared to Windows 10 – is also finally seeing some more PC games planning to support the tech. Diablo 4 should get DirectStorage eventually, a dev recently let us know, as well as Hunt: Showdown, and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Those will join Forspoken which already supports DirectStorage, and we’re hoping for more announcements soon.

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Bing AI chatbot gets faster at responding – and better sports knowledge, too

Microsoft has provided its regular weekly update on improvements for Bing AI, and there are some impressive strides forward this week.

Neowin spotted that the chatbot now has reduced latency spikes when it comes to certain answers, meaning you won’t be hanging around as long for a reply in these cases.

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As Mikhail Parakhin, Microsoft’s head of Advertising and Web Services, explained on Twitter, this is a result of Bing AI getting a “completely reworked backend for inner monologue”, meaning streamlining the chatbot’s ‘thinking’ process.

A second benefit this week is better handling of sports-related queries, so the range of topics covered in this field is now considerably broader, from the NHL to the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Finally, there’s a boon for those using Bing AI in Skype, with the ability to generate images (Bing Image Creator) now present within Skype conversations.

Analysis: The importance of being snappy

A snappier Bing AI is vital. Whatever query you throw at the chatbot, you want the response to come with a minimum of hanging around. If you find yourself tapping your foot (or perhaps your finger on the keyboard) while waiting for Bing to get back to you, that’ll be off-putting (and might remind you of live chats, where waits can be frustrating if a help agent is dealing with multiple simultaneous queries).

That responsiveness is a key area for Bing to do well in (that and, of course, the accuracy and usefulness of the response delivered, which is always paramount). So Microsoft is quite right to be honing away on this front.

That said, you can still be subject to waiting times that aren’t the fault of the backend (inner workings of Bing as it processes queries), but are purely due to traffic spikes. When lots of people are using the chatbot, things get more sluggish purely in terms of coping with that volume.

Incidentally, Parakhin elaborated on this in the above Twitter thread, noting that the major peaks of usage occur when folks arrive in work (at three main times – when the US East coast arrives, then when Europe comes to work, then the Far East). That corresponds to 7am, 5pm and 1am PDT, if you’re curious.

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China’s Baidu AI is better than ChatGPT – here’s why

ChatGPT has quickly become the gold standard that other AI chatbots have been striving to reach – and defeat. Now, according to a bold statement from Chinese tech giant Baidu, another AI has apparently done so.

Baidu announced that its latest version of the ‘Ernie’ AI model, Ernie 3.5, has already beaten ChatGPT in several key metrics, according to Business Today. Baidu, the leading search engine in China, stated that Ernie 3.5 beats out ChatGPT in both comprehensive ability scores and general performance in Chinese language tasks. 

It supports these claims by citing a test from state newspaper China Science Daily, which used datasets from AGIEval and C-Eval – two benchmarks for AI performance, essentially. ChatGPT creator OpenAI has apparently not responded to Business Today concerning these claims as of this writing.

Baidu also stated that its latest Ernie model features enhanced training and inference efficiency, which it claims will make the AI faster and more cost-efficient later down the line. Lastly, the new model will support plugins, add-on applications that can perform additional tasks – like summarising lengthy text or generating more accurate answers.

TechRadar has also reached out for comment concerning Baidu’s claims against OpenAI’s ChatGPT and will update this story if and when we hear back.

Baidu competing against ChatGPT…and Google? 

It’s important to note that while there’s no official English release for Ernie, Baidu’s main search engine platform itself is available in English language. The fact that it has English versions of its other services could suggest that it would be interested – and certainly capable – of bringing its Ernie AI model to the West.

Such a move would be intriguing, not only to see how well its Ernie 3.5 would actually fare against ChatGPT, but also to see how the company would deal with another rival — Google.

Google is the world’s most popular search engine, with an overwhelming market share of more than 90%. Naturally, it’s leveraging that reach to power up its own AI model, Bard, by integrating it into its search results – not to mention including elsewhere it in its Google Workspaces suite, beefing up the software’s capabilities with AI.

Baidu is China’s answer to Google (they even have Baidu Maps), and could easily do the same, leveraging its AI model to complement its search engine and drive interest in Ernie as a standalone AI service.

Of course, this would also put it in direct opposition with Google, which could result in some very intense competition – but competition can only help consumers in the end, so I welcome the idea with open arms.

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Microsoft just made its Bing AI chatbot much better for iPhone owners

Microsoft’s Bing chatbot is now more readily accessible for iOS users thanks to a new widget, plus the AI has been bolstered to perform more responsively when using voice input on an iPhone.

Windows Central spotted that Microsoft has implemented a Bing Chat widget that can be added to the Home screen, allowing you to initiate a session with the chatbot with a simple tap. That’s a handy ability indeed for regular users of Bing AI on iOS devices.

For instructions on how to add a widget to the iPhone Home screen, check here.

In the Bing blog post announcing this new feature for iOS, Microsoft also tells us that it has made progress on another front for iPhone owners – namely better performance for the voice input button on the Bing mobile app (for iOS, and Android as well). When you tap the button it should now indicate that it’s listening instantly.

Analysis: Catching up with Android

The widget is a very useful touch in terms of convenience for regular users on the iPhone, and it brings the Bing Chat experience up to parity with the Android version (which already had this feature).

Overall, Microsoft’s setting a pretty fast pace of development with its Bing AI, as considerable progress is being made on a weekly basis, with both the mobile and desktop incarnations of the chatbot.

Regarding the latter, we’ve just seen that Microsoft has brought voice input to desktop PCs (previously this had been a mobile-only feature). The idea is to make for a more natural chatting experience with the Bing chatbot, allowing you to speak to the AI, and have it reply via spoken words, too.

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