Reviews

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Almost too much

Filled to the brim

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When I first got my hands on the Mate 20 Pro, I wondered to myself: Where do I even start?

Even after spending over a month with the phone and checking out its less feature-packed sibling, I still can’t help but be amazed by how much tech Huawei jammed into this thing.

It’s not even debatable; comparing the Mate 20 Pro to any other phone released this year would make the opposite side look stale. Inside and out, this is the most complete smartphone ever assembled.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. While Huawei focused so hard on one-upping its fiercest rivals, some old weaknesses showed up and new issues arose in the process.

Going through every single feature would be too much for a single article, however. I could easily surpass the monstrous word count of our iPhone XS review if I were to get overly thorough and technical.

Instead, it’s best to evaluate the Mate 20 Pro by its most impressive, as well as its most jarring, traits. Let’s begin with the usual: design.

I honestly wasn’t a fan of the stove-top arrangement of the rear cameras and excessively thick notch in front, but they eventually settled into my taste and I realized the purposes they served.

In short, I don’t have to deal with an awkward camera bulge on the rear, and the faster, more secure face login became a great alternative to the intuitive yet comparatively slow under-display fingerprint reader.

I also wasn’t interested in the curved edges at first, but I eventually missed them when switching to flatter phones. The way the curves mold into my hand and give that overflowing feel are actually more comfy than what I experienced on the Galaxy Note 9, which has a thicker and more unwieldy feel to it.

And despite the larger size, the proportions feel more ergonomic than the P20 Pro’s. In addition, the Mate 20 Pro’s Twilight gradient is a lot more appealing to me. It may be personal taste, but I’ve had a handful of people express the same opinion.

On the downside, the audio port is missing — something the regular Mate 20 has — and I find it strange that one of the stereo speakers has to come out of the USB-C port. This easily gets blocked when using the phone horizontally, especially when I forget that Huawei decided to place it there of all spots. It’s a sore point coming from the front-facing implementations of the Razer Phone 2 and Pixel 3.

Oh, and there’s an IR blaster in case you want to control your TV. Strange to see it on such a premium device, but I guess there’s a market for this, and maybe for those who like messing with televisions on display at the mall.

The 6.39-inch AMOLED screen itself is gorgeous. Colors pop and I love the super-dense 1440p resolution. Combined with the loud speakers and fast processing of the Kirin 980 chip, both video watching and gaming are a pleasure on this phone.

On that note, Huawei’s latest chipset is a marvel on its own. The 7nm architecture is no joke; it’s speedy AF and doesn’t overheat under pressure. Seriously, I threw the most demanding games at it and multitasked in between — nothing fazes it. It helps that I got 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage to play with. On the downside, the latter can only be expanded by Huawei’s (for now) proprietary NM Card slot. More on that here.

It’s a shame then that the EMUI skin is so behind compared to other interfaces. The Mate 20 Pro is one of the first phones to come with Android 9 Pie out of the box, but aside from a few additions like Digital Balance (the equivalent of Google’s Digital Wellbeing) and better volume controls, it’s a lot like Huawei’s clunky older software.

For one, you still need to tap an icon from the home screen to open the app drawer. This is one of the few skins that still makes you do that; others have a more intuitive swipe-up gesture to free up space on the app dock.

Want to activate your camera by double-pressing the volume down button while listening to music? Good luck with that, because doing so will simply lower the volume of your tunes. Again, other phones require a smarter double-press on the power button.

Another thing: I don’t adore the Mate 20 Pro’s always-on display. It’s nowhere near as informative as the ones found on the Galaxy or Pixel series. Sure, you’re provided with the date, time, and battery percentage, but getting a glimpse of notifications is frustrating at times, making me just go to the lockscreen to see what I’m receiving.

In addition, this has to be one of the weakest implementations of gesture navigation. Apple pioneered this style with the iPhone X, wherein you could swipe from the bottom to go to the home screen and hold it to enter multitasking; several Android manufacturers have copied this well, but Huawei didn’t get this right. Choosing the traditional back-home-app navigation bar alleviates this issue, but then you lose some of that precious real estate at the bottom.

Finally, there are certain apps — Google Photos and Maps, in particular — which have this awkward lag on EMUI. I’ve experienced this with the P20 Pro, and the problem still hasn’t gone away. I looked it up and it’s not an isolated issue.

The disconnect between the quality of hardware and software should’ve been resolved long ago. It’s reasons like this why people flock to iPhones and Pixels so easily, because they know that everything melds together so well, despite the lack of certain features. Huawei still has time to fix most if not all of these issues, but having seen no improvement on the P20 Pro after all this time, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Cons aside, the added features are excellent, albeit excessive at times. One is the wireless reverse charging, which allows you to charge other Qi-enabled devices on the Mate 20 Pro’s back. It’s slow and part of a rare usage case, but it’s so cool to have when absolutely needed. Since the phone’s generous 4200mAh battery lasts two days anyway, it’s perfectly fine to share some juice with accessories like a smartwatch.

And because the capacity is so hefty, it’s only right for Huawei to enable 40W charging on this beast. This is by far the most convenient way to fill up a battery on any Huawei phone. It’s no exaggeration that it takes only half an hour to hit 70 percent from zero. Give it another 40 minutes, and you have a full charge. Going back to anything slower has been a pain for me.

Reaching this point without talking about camera quality is a clear sign that the Mate 20 Pro is more than the sum of its pixels. At the same time, they’re a highlight of the phone and must be reviewed extensively.

You can learn more about the complex camera setup in our earlier hands-on, but in essence, the trio found on the back are what you should care most about. These are the 40-megapixel f/1.8 main shooter, 20-megapixel f/2.2 extra-wide camera, and 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto unit capable of optical zoom.

This translates into the most versatile cameras ever equipped on a smartphone. LG and ASUS popularized ultra-wide lenses while Apple and Samsung made telephoto shooters a thing, but it’s Huawei spearheading the complete package.

The monochrome sensor will be missed; it was Huawei’s signature feature up until the P20 Pro, but one can argue that it’s no longer necessary in this age of IG filters and colored sensors becoming advanced enough to create their own high dynamic range.

Traveling with this phone as my all-in-one camera is such a joy. When out in an open space, the ultra-wide-angle camera flourishes; while at an event in need of close-ups, the telephoto looks great up to 3x zoom — even 5x if lighting is enough.

Like the overall interface, the camera software is hit or miss. Although I appreciate the ease of switching between the primary modes, the dump of less-important ones under “More” bothers my organized self. You could leave Master AI on to let it choose the right mode for each situation, but it’s not that accurate, like any AI-powered camera you find these days.

For example, as I’m about to take a portrait in Auto mode, the app would switch to — you guessed it — Portrait mode and saturate the hell out of my subject after a short amount of lag. More often than not, the AI wouldn’t correctly identify the subject, sometimes even saying that black-and-white graffiti on a wall is a panda. Go figure.

The worst part is you can’t make adjustments after the AI-altered shot is made, which is something even lower-end Honor phones can do. Again, it’s hit or miss, and I bet a lot of users would rather keep Master AI off. Using it, however, is the fastest way to access special features like Super Macro, which emulates a macro lens’ extreme close-up of an item.

Huawei’s awesome Night mode is also back, and it’s as good as it ever was. Every time I’m out in the evening, I make sure to take a few shots with it on. Like before, it gives me a four-second or so exposure while handheld; advanced processing then creates a work of art nine out of ten times.

I had a chance to compare it with the Pixel 3’s Night Sight, and I must say that the results are mixed. While the Huawei side is better at making nighttime illumination look pretty, the Pixel 3 can see better in total darkness. Both are great, and I take low-light photos with both phones whenever I can. Don’t worry, a separate article for this comparison is in the works.

The front has the same, unimpressive 24-megapixel f/2 camera found on the P20 Pro. Why Huawei chose not to improve on this weak point is beyond me. With most Chinese rivals taking selfies seriously, it’s a surprise why the Mate 20 Pro feels so far behind.

Like the P20 Pro, selfies with this setup are less than stellar. Without proper autofocus or accurate blurring around the subject’s head, your face can turn into a mushy mess under poor lighting conditions and there isn’t even a way to turn off the integrated beauty mode — something which has bothered several reviewers including myself.

Still, I found the Mate 20 Pro’s selfies better than what the iPhone XR and Galaxy Note 9 produce, but not on the level of the Pixel 3 and its dual-cam design. I can only wish that the next Huawei flagship will up its self-portrait game in the same way the rear cameras have.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

In spite of all my complaints, nothing’s a real deal-breaker. The absolute completeness of the Mate 20 Pro automatically places it at the very top of the heap, awarding it our GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

If you can ignore the lack of software optimization and polarizing design choices, you’re guaranteed to experience the best there is — this side of the Android space at least.

For those choosing between this and the regular Mate 20 or P20 Pro — which retail for the same amount in most regions now — I’d say go for the Mate 20 Pro if you value the front camera features and in-display fingerprint sensor. Its screen is also more impressive than the Mate 20’s, and the Kirin 980 chip blows away the P20 Pro’s older Kirin 970.

At the same time, the US$ 1,000 or so price point pits it against the likes of the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS. To Huawei’s credit, the Mate 20 Pro is no incremental upgrade compared to the two aforementioned flagships. You’re getting a true successor with all the bells and whistles — practically no compromises this time.

If you’re willing to wait, the follow-up to the super-popular P20 Pro will reveal itself in a few months. It’ll likely have the same Kirin 980 processor, but the camera updates may be more significant and the overall software more optimized.

Gaming

Final Fantasy VII Remake review: A fresh experience of a timeless tale

Nostalgic and new at the same time

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Easily one of the most hyped and anticipated video games over the last five years, Final Fantasy VII Remake has arrived and it is everything I hoped it would be.

It manages to preserve the spirit of the original game while modernizing it in every way imaginable. It feels so close to the Final Fantasy games I grew up playing — those being VII, VIII, IX, and X — while also definitely being a game for 2020. Nostalgic and new at the same time.

Before we proceed, some important declarations: GadgetMatch received an official copy of the game specifically for the purpose of this review. This article will have no spoilers — just a general overview and assessment of the Final Fantasy VII Remake experience.

The devil is in the details

One of the more obvious differences is how the game looks. In 1997, Final Fantasy VII, was a visual breakthrough. It was the first time for a Final Fantasy game of this scale to switch from 2D to 3D.

Being preceded by games like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End just to name a few, the Remake won’t have the same kind of video game graphics impact. But make no mistake, it serves up a visual experience that is utterly breathtaking.

LADIES’ MAN. Cloud is pretty popular with the ladies. A true visual 😉

It starts with the little things. The way the game treats light when you go indoors or outdoors is reminiscent of how your eyes would behave when doing the same. It takes a second before your eyes fully adjust to your surroundings. And this treatment of light is consistent throughout the game.

The cinematography is also a masterclass in visual storytelling. There’s a sequence during the beginning of the game where Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockhart (two of the main characters) were interacting and the way they were positioned in relation to each other and to the environment tells you a lot about the current standing of their relationship.

SOCIAL DISTANCING? Cloud and Tifa meet again after 5 years

It’s a classic show-don’t-tell technique and it works wonders. It’s also pretty consistent throughout the game. The shots used for each scene were carefully and meticulously thought out. It adds not only to the cinematic flair, but also to the emotion of the game.

Midgar feels alive 

This level of attention to detail is present all over Midgar — the place where most of the game will take place. The way the camera zooms in and out of the city during certain scenes gives you a good grasp of the life and status of Midgar and its people.

The class divide between those living in the upper levels versus those relegated to the slums is very evident in one of the earlier missions. Not just with how the levels are designed, but also with the dialogue of the NPCs (non-playable characters).

There’s a stark contrast between how people from the upper level reacted to the bombing of the first Mako reactor to how the people in the slums reacted. People in the upper levels mostly support the authoritarian Shinra — the city’s ruling organization. They also happen to be direct benefactors of Shinra’s exploits.

Meanwhile, the people in the slums are a mixed bag — some are indifferent, only caring about how they will get through the next day. Some are rightfully afraid of how they will be affected by the ensuing conflict.

By the way, for the uninitiated, the story basically kicks-off with a radical group called Avalanche carrying out the first of a series of bombing missions. The group believes Shinra is syphonying off the planet’s life through the Mako reactors. Mako is the planet’s lifestream. If it runs out, the planet will most likely wither away.

Action-RPG combat with turn-based feel is extremely satisfying

One of the biggest points of discussion is how the Remake will handle combat. The original game — in true JRPG fashion — was turn-based. That was 23 years ago, and outside of Persona 5, the turn-based style hasn’t really attracted plenty of gamers.

What Final Fantasy VII Remake did is fuse that turn-base feel to the more popular Action-RPG type. Something that a lot of gamers today prefer. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but it’s pretty darn close.

Here’s how it works: When you go into battle, you have direct control over moving around as well as the character’s physical attacks. Dealing physical damage raises your ATB meter. Your ATB meter then gives you access to using Abilities, Spells, Items, and whenever they become available — Summons and Limit Breaks.

When you trigger the use of your ATB meter the game goes into this slo-mo mode. It sort of reminds me of “bullet time” from Max Payne or that brief slo-mo in Marvel’s Spider-Man that gives you enough time to plan your next move. Except in Final Fantasy VII Remake, that slo-mo is longer, giving you ample time to issue commands for every character in your party.

The whole combat system might also remind you of Kingdom Hearts III, but unlike that game, there’s no way you can just charge in and button mash to win fights. Each enemy has to be dealt with differently and you’ll have to be very careful and tactical in your approach to win battles.

A great way to jump into Final Fantasy

Another thing that Final Fantasy VII Remake masterfully does is not overwhelm you with all the Final Fantasy things you need to know. It slowly introduces you to the story and the franchise’s concepts throughout the game.

VR MISSIONS. New summon materia can be acquired through this method

The Final Fantasy franchise is full of lore. While each game is a stand alone story, some items, summons, skills, and magic are consistent across all the games.

If you have zero knowledge going in, you’ll feel right at home. The franchise’s lore is carefully integrated into the main story. If you’re a Final Fantasy veteran, the introduction of these concepts flow well enough that they’re not at all boring.

It perfectly walks the tightrope of keeping franchise fans happy without alienating any potential newcomers.

A fantastic remake

It was the Final Fantasy franchise that first had me dreaming what it would be like when in-game graphics would finally match cutscenes. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children — the computer-animated film that served as the follow-up to FF7’s story — sparked that dream further.

Final Fantasy VII Remake made that dream come true. The way it transitions from free-roaming to battle to cutscene is seamless. It literally feels like you’re playing a computer-animated film.

While we’ve seen this play out in other games, just the fact that it’s an iconic game with iconic characters given new life by modern technology makes it extra special. Playing it made me feel like a kid again. It’s exactly the jolt that my jaded adult version needed more than anything.

There’s a lot more to this game that can be discussed. So much more can be dissected. Everything from how each character is treated, how the story almost feels like a reflection of society today, the intricacies of its battle system, and many more. I’m excited to have these conversations with fellow gamers.

If you came here looking to find out if you should pick this game up, the answer is a resounding YES. If you pre-ordered (and have already preloaded) the game, let this be a primer for what you’re about to step into — a game that’s carefully crafted to give you a fresh experience of a timeless tale.

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Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro Unboxing and Review: Death of the Flagship Killer

Is this too pricey for a Xiaomi?

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Supposed to have launched globally last February, the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro is rolling out across the globe in spurts, first in China and then in Europe later this month. Is it still the flagship smartphone you can get for less?

In our Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro Unboxing and Review we talk about Xiaomi’s new strategy. And answer some of your questions including – can it compete with other Android faves like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Huawei P40 Pro.

Watch the video.

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Reviews

adidas SL20 review: Feel like running as fast as The Flash

adidas’ best running shoe so far!

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About a month ago Adidas released a new running shoe called the Adidas SL20 — this shoe was part of the recent Adidas “Faster Than” campaign where they talked about how being “fast” is not something that’s only reserved for elite runners, and that speed isn’t always just about distance and time.

Instead, Adidas emphasises that “fast” is more of a personal feeling, which everyone can experience, even if you don’t think of yourself as a “fast” runner. They backed this up with a series of videos from all types of people, who run just because they enjoy it.

I have been really intrigued about this shoe because I saw a bunch of people post about it in the Adidas Runners Kuala Lumpur group. As you might already know Adidas has their own Runners group in major cities around the world and they can be super useful to keep you motivated — like right now in Malaysia we’re under a lockdown because of the current pandemic.

All runs are on pause but the Adidas Runners KL group has been posting live workout at home sessions which is pretty good and definitely motivates you to stay in shape and workout even from home.

Starting with a bit of a history lesson, the SL20 is a spiritual successor to the ol’ Adidas SL72 that dropped way back in 1972. This was a shoe that was designed to be used in the German Olympics at the time, and was worn by a bunch of athletes back then.

SL stands for “Super Light” and it lives up to its name. With the SL20, Adidas designed a lightweight running shoe that is meant to cater to all types of runners, and all speeds, made just for anyone who wants to feel fast. It weighs just about 238 grams, making it one of the lightest running shoes around. Though it is slightly heavier than the Adios 5.

You realize this from the second you slip these on. The SL20 is a shoe that just makes you feel fast, and you really feel like running when you’re wearing them which is a really good thing for a running shoe.

This is my first pair of really lightweight running shoes. If you’ve never worn a pair of lightweight running shoes before, this will feel like a whole new dimension. That being said, I should mention that these are meant more for short, fast runs rather than long-distance ones.

Design and Construction

When you first pick up the SL20 it’s very clear that the choice of materials was meant to make sure the shoe is as light as possible. There’s a new Light Strike midsole which is much lighter than Boost. But it also has the torsion system, a heel counter, and Continental just like what you’d find on the much more expensive Adidas Ultraboost, which is sweet.

You can see we got the awesome Black-White-and-Orange colorway which is the main marketing colorway for the SL20.

The shoe also comes in a cool black-white-and-gold colorway, along with a more formal all-black colorway as well in case you want something a little more low-key.

Starting with the upper, the SL20 is made of an engineered mesh material which feels extremely thin and a major contributor to the whole lightweight nature of this shoe.

The material seems tough enough but as with any shoe with a thin, breathable upper you’ll want to make sure you wear thicker socks or keep a close watch on your toenails, so you don’t end up accidentally poking through it.

Similarly, the tongue also has no padding, being just a thin piece of lightweight fabric. The laces are also pretty soft and there are two extra eyelets up top in case you want an even more snug fit.

One small detail that I really liked was the SL20 branding on the lace tips that is color matched to the three stripes on the shoe.

I also noticed that the lacing is also slightly asymmetrical with a bias towards the medial side which helps with that lockdown feeling, and medial support.

Moving on to the heel area, the SL20 has an integrated heel counter which means that unlike the external heel counter which you’d see on the Ultraboost 20, this one is all internal. The heel counter is made of a hard material which allows you to easily slip your foot into the shoe, but also does a great job at locking your heel into place.

Coming to the midsole, as mentioned earlier, it’s made out of a new material called “Lightstrike ” which is significantly lighter than Boost, which most of y’all have probably heard about. But I’ll talk about the midsole later on.

Underneath that, you have the Continental stretchweb outsole with the red torsion propulsion system integrated into the sole. This gives the shoe more structure and control.

Then there’s the heel, which is more stiff and supportive but I’ll talk about the entire midsole and outsole later on. And for those of you who aren’t as familiar with Adidas sneakers, yes it’s that Continental, the tire maker.

All in all it’s a great looking shoe, with a lot of visual attention to detail in its design.

Quite snug, go up at least half a size

In terms of fit,  the SL20 is supposed to fit true-to-size but it’s a bit of a narrow shoe with a rigid toe-box. Since I have wide feet, Adidas sent me a size up which fits pretty well. I’d definitely advise trying these on in a store if you could, because the engineered mesh upper here is not a very stretchable fabric.

So if you have wide feet like I do, you might want to go up half a size or even up a full size. In case you were wondering, the heel-to-toe drop here is the usual 10mm with a stack height of 29/19.

The light in Lightstrike is truly light

Coming to performance, as I have mentioned — the SL20 feels incredibly light, and you feel it immediately as you start running with them. The engineered mesh upper is weirdly lightweight as if it’s not even there, and the new Lightstrike foam has a good amount of energy return as well.

The Lightstrike foam itself is pretty interesting. It was originally designed for use in basketball shoes, with the thought being that the foam would have enough cushioning, lightweight, but still be very responsive with some court-feel especially with the kind of lateral movement you see in basketball.

It was first introduced in 2018 in the signature sneakers of former NBA MVP James Harden, before also moving on to the Adizero series of running shoes.

With this purpose in mind, Lightstrike is slightly harder than Boost cushioning, sacrificing some of that soft comfort for better energy return instead. This cushioning, along with the lightweight upper, is the reason why you want to go faster in these shoes.

I found myself running slightly faster with these on, and I’m not even sure why. Maybe it was just a psychological feeling of wearing such lightweight shoes, or maybe it’s the overall package of the SL20.

The Torsion system allows for a nice, springy toe-off, and also helps with the energy transition from heel to toe, allowing your foot to go back into its normal state during each strike, and the heel counter keeps your feet firmly locked in.

The slightly harder midsole does mean these are best suited for short distance runs. You could still wear them for long distance or marathon running, but the Lightstrike foam midsole is not as soft a cushion as one would like for a long distance running shoe.

For sprints and everyday jogs, the SL20 is freaking fantastic. But for long distance runs, you might want to check out the Ultraboost 20 or even the ASICS GEL-Nimbus 22 instead.

These shoes really are a lot of fun to run in because they’re just so darn lightweight, with great energy return, that push-off sensation really is amazing so maybe some of y’all might actually like them for long distance runs as well.

Coming to the SL20 outsole, it’s worth noting that you can also feel any stones or pebbles under your foot with these so they really aren’t meant for off-road or cross country runs either — just a road or street runner.

The Continental stretchweb outsole is a great addition, just like what we’ve experienced on Ultraboost for a while now. These are some of the grippiest rubber outsoles around and this means running on even wet roads is not an issue.

I wouldn’t recommend testing these out on icy streets. I’m always paranoid about falling where ice is involved because I’ve only lived in tropical weather countries, but apart from that, the outsole has no issues gripping and keeping traction even on the rainiest of days.

Overall the Adidas SL20 falls more in the stable end of the spectrum, compared to many other lightweight running shoes. While I still think of it as a neutral running shoe, it has a pretty reasonable amount of stability.

Is this your SneakerMatch?

The Adidas SL20 is just a fantastic running shoe designed for runners who want to run fast. It doesn’t matter what your definition of fast is, because this pair will honestly just make you feel fast when you’re running with them.

If you’re looking for a pair of lightweight running shoes, this is pretty much one of the best options out there right now.

The only real alternative comes from Adidas itself — the Adidas Adizero Boston 8 and the Adidas Adizero Adios 5 — both of which look very similar now to the SL20.

All three belong to the lightweight running shoe category, and they weigh almost the same but the primary difference is their uppers and midsoles, and how they feel when running. Both the Boston and Adios have slightly more premium upper construction, and both have Boost in the midsole, which also means they cost a lot more than the SL20.

The Adios feels more like a racing shoe and offers the least in terms of comfort, whereas the Boston is more of an all-round running shoe. It’s firmer and harder than the SL20 but also softer and more comfortable than the Adios.

Out of all three, I think the SL20 is the most comfortable, though of course not as comfortable as the heavier SolarBoost or Ultraboost sneakers.

Bif you’re looking for a lightweight running shoe to get you started with running or just to be your first lightweight running shoe, I think the SL20 is for you. Even if you are a trained runner who wants a secondary pair of “fast” shoes — these are definitely for you.

The Adidas SL20 is just for anyone who wants to feel fast, without shifting too far away from a comfortable daily running shoe, but still wanting a pair of lightweight running shoes.

Definitely recommended.

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