Reviews

Under Armour HOVR Machina review: A virtual running coach

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On Valentine’s day, Under Armour mysteriously sent us a new pair of shoes and these weren’t just any ordinary shoes — these were smart shoes.

I’ve been super interested in trying out Under Armours’ smart running shoes ever since they announced the first pair. They’ve been doing this for years and there’s a bunch of options available but this one’s the latest — the Under Armour HOVR Machina.

Tough mesh, fantastic laces

The Under Armour HOVR Machina might not be everyone’s taste. It’s a slightly chunky looking shoe and the new UA “energy web” design on the mid-sole makes for a really busy looking sneaker.

Starting with the upper, the HOVR Machina has a 100 percent engineered mesh upper in an interesting pattern that kind of looks like animal print in a way. You can see we got the bright red colorway, and when I say bright red, I really mean bright red.

But if this isn’t your style the UA HOVR Machina also comes in a more formal black and white colorway that I think looks better, and there’s a more sporty black and red version, and a blue and orange colorway as well. I’m sure there will be more coming along but these are the launch colorways for now.

The tongue also seems to be a mesh material, with soft, padded laces on top that loop through fused reinforced eyelets, with the top two eyelets being metal. These extra holes will definitely help with those of you that have smaller ankles and want a secure fit.

I have to mention again how awesome these laces are. It’s a relatively small thing but considering this is a fitness shoe, the laces are almost silky soft yet still stretchy enough that you can tie them without needing a double knot because they’ll be securely locked in. Good job Under Armour.

Even though this is a mesh like material, it seems really durable so I’m thinking you could actually use these shoes on off road runs as well. The engineered mesh upper is really that tough.

Another thing I really liked about the engineered mesh upper is that it doesn’t stretch as your foot moves to handle turns or uneven surfaces.

The upper is designed to be minimal but at the same time, still provide support wherever necessary. UA has done a really good job at doing that.

More HOVR, more fun

In terms of cushioning, the Under Armour HOVR Machina, as the name suggests, uses their HOVR foam cushioning and there’s an ample amount of it too.

There’s apparently 20% more HOVR cushioning here which is the most on any UA shoe ever, which also means that there’s a 2mm stack height advantage over the older Under Armour HOVR Infinite, which was their most cushioned running shoe in 2019. And you can feel the difference with the very first step.

Another reason for this stack height — 31 mm (Heel) & 23 mm (Forefoot) — might be the inclusion of a new two-pronged Pebax-carbon propulsion plate which is sandwiched between two layers of HOVR in the midsole.

Inspired by similar plates in track spikes, the propulsion plate basically adds bounce and increased stability to the shoe so that you feel a nice little spring in your step while running in them. It is noticeable enough to make it easier to keep running long miles in these.

The propulsion plate also allows for quick transitions through the gait cycle to quickly get you onto your forefoot as you take a stride.

‘Energy Web’ for better return

The HOVR foam also has a new addition on top of it that UA is calling an “Energy Web” which should help “give back the energy you put into every step”. Not entirely sure if it works but it definitely looks cool.

This “energy web” is basically a mesh that wraps around the entire midsole. This helps retain the foam and prevent it from expanding outward, which in turn does help it return energy back into your step as well.

In addition to the good amount of cushioning, there’s also a thick ortholite insole to ensure all-day comfort and help secure step-in.

All in all, the combination of the cushy insole, the propulsion plate, and the HOVR cushioning, makes this a pretty comfortable running shoe. Might even be Under Armour’s most cushioned running shoe ever.

It’s worth mentioning that this cushioning feels quite different when you pit it against other running shoes with famous cushioning tech like the Nike React Infinity Run and the adidas UltraBoost 20. Both of these are no doubt the pinnacle in great cushioning in a running shoe, with a nice plush step-in comfort as soon as you slip them on.

But if you’re looking for a neutral ride, the UA HOVR Machina does a pretty good job. It’s definitely a bit more firm. This might be a better every day running shoe that you could even throw on multiple times a day, since the cushioning doesn’t need a recovery day.

Coming down to the outsole, it is made up of a mixture of high abrasion rubber or carbon pods, and blown rubber, which is a slight improvement to what was used on last year’s UA HOVR Infinite.

The high abrasion rubber is found near the toe area and the heel, with the blown rubber in between. Under Armour says these will last over 300+ miles, and that the performance pod will last even longer.

However, there are a lot of conflicting opinions on the internet about how long the blown rubber can actually last. It allows for a more cushioned ride and makes for a lighter shoe, but a lot of people are skeptical about its longevity. I guess, time will tell.

A virtual running coach

Now let’s move on to the most interesting part about these shoes for us — the smarts

Within the outsole, you’ll find the Bluetooth performance pod here in the right shoe. This is something that’s becoming pretty common in most Under Armour shoes nowadays. This measures distance, time, your steps per minute (cadence), pace, calories burnt, and even more precise information like your foot strike angle, stride length, ground contact time, and more.

To see this information you’ll have to download Under Armour’s MapMyRun app, and pair the shoes with your phone. The performance pod updates all your run stats every time you open up the app on your phone. It basically uses Under Armour’s AI engine to analyze your stats and give you tips on how to improve.

Even better, if you run with your phone on with the MapMyRun app opened and connected to the shoes,  you’ll get personalized coaching tips as you run. That’s pretty freaking cool.

Worth mentioning is that there are no GPS chips in the shoes. Instead, they piggyback on your phone’s GPS. If you choose to run without your phone, you’ll still get distance and pace information from the motion sensors. It all seems pretty accurate in my tests.

All of this does seem to add to the weight a tiny bit. The HOVR Machina weighs in at about 295g in the men’s model (UK size 8.5) and about 240g in the women’s model (UK size 7.5) which is a bit heavier than most sneakers in the everyday running category.

I have tried smart shoes before and they’ve always seemed like a useless thing to me, but how Under Armour handles this information is a little different. It tries to make you better and help improve your running form without hiring an actual professional coach. This seems to be pretty legit.

A secure fit

The engineered mesh upper on the HOVR Machina seems to fit true to size. This seems to hold true even for wide-footer people like me. I’ve seen some people say the midfoot and toe box was a bit snug but I didn’t have that issue.

But of course, I always recommend trying the shoe on in stores first since every company has their own take on sizing. Don’t forget, your foot does tend to swell up after a run so you don’t want something too snug.

With the mesh tongue being thick enough to distribute the lace pressure, the fit is extremely comfortable as well. It’s also a really secure fit because the tongue is attached to the strobel board and midsole with elastic mesh straps that hug both sides of your midfoot.

There’s even dual loops on the tongue in case you’d want to loop through them before the last eyelet. This makes for an even more secure fit in case you’re worried about any slippage. Adding to the comfort is the quilted mesh around the collar, and heavy padding in the ankle area. It all makes up for an extremely comfortable and secure fit.

Soft and responsive at the same time

In terms of support, the HOVR Machina is pretty usual for a neutral running shoe. It comes with a normal-sized internal heel counter that allows your feet to sit slightly inside the midsole at the heel. I personally did not experience much heel slippage with them.

The lateral forefoot midsole flares out a tiny bit. While I do think the durability of the upper allows this to be an off road running shoe, I think this is better suited for running on roads, pavements or city streets. In case you were wondering, it is an interesting 8mm heel-to-toe drop here.

This pair is one of few that actually requires a break-in period. At first, the propulsion plate might make you feel like it’s really stiff but after a few runs in it, you’ll feel the base of the shoe become more pliable with a more secure fit.

Running with these, the Machina feels soft and responsive at the same time. That’s usually a tough balance for any company to strike but it’s mostly thanks to that forefoot plate. The shoe tends to bounce with a decent energy return.

They are a bit stiff at first, like I mentioned, so they need a bit of a break-in period but the shoe’s flat shape and stiff midsole does mean this isn’t exactly meant for fast running. Instead, the shape and stiffness allows for a very stable underfoot feeling so it’s great for just your everyday run.

Is this your SneakerMatch?

The Under Armour HOVR Machina is actually a really well built running shoe. They are durable and comfortable. The forefoot propulsion plate provides for a really snappy toe-off. And hey, if you pick up this same bright red colorway, people will see you coming from a mile away.

Plus they have the advantage of those smarts built-in which means these are shoes that can actually help you improve at running.

They are priced a little high at about US$ 150 depending on the region you’re picking them up in. But I really think these are probably the best running shoes UA has next to the UA HOVR Sonic.

These might look chunkier but they compete really well with everyday trainers from other brands.

Running sneakers is a pretty hot category and every major brand has a bunch of their own takes on what they think is the best running shoes. It’s great for us consumers because it gives us a lot more choices to find that perfect running shoe.

For example, Reebok has the Zig Kinetica which are similarly priced. If you want something lighter with better cushioning you have the Adidas Ultraboost 20 or the Nike React Infinity Run which are some of the best running shoes right now. They do come at a much higher cost.

Under Armour wants to be a serious running brand, and they’ve already released some pretty sweet running shoes in the last few years that cater to almost every type of runner. These were all connected shoes that can track and send your running data to your phone so you can monitor and improve. No gimmicks, just a serious focus on helping you improve your run.

The Machina might not be as not as light as some of its competitors, but honestly I don’t think it’s even designed to be. Once you slip these on and go for a nice long run, you’ll immediately feel the magic of that propulsion plate, the HOVR foam, and the durable upper all coming together to make for a pretty good everyday running sneaker.

If you’re in the market for a neutral running shoe that has a decent amount of responsiveness and cushioning, and with smart features that can help you improve your running, then the Under Armour HOVR Machina is the shoe for you.

Definitely recommended, especially if you’re an Under Armour fan.

Accessories

Huawei Freebuds 3i review: A pleasant surprise

Huawei knows how to cancel noise

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Taking these TWS earphones from smartphone manufacturers for a spin sometimes feels like a chore. Especially so when most of them look like the AirPods. Such is the case for me with the Huawei Freebuds 3i. However, using it for about a week, and I can say it’s such a pleasant surprise.

That stem design

Now, don’t get me wrong. While I have warmed up to it and it’s more common to see people with these earphones sticking out their ears, I still, personally, am not a fan of this look.

But if it’s there for a reason, then I can’t complain much. Such is the case for the last TWS pair I reviewed. That used the stem as the primary touch area for the controls. In the Freebuds 3i, it’s different.

The stem on the Freebuds 3i lets the mic be closer to the user’s mouth. This is perfect for picking up your voice when you’re in calls — be it voice or video.

Naturally, I tried it on a few calls and asked the people on the other line how I sounded. They said I came off loud and clear. The only problem was my speaking voice, but that had nothing to do with the Freebuds 3i and more with just me being me.

A truly active noise cancellation

This is the feature that truly surprised me the most. The moment I put the earphones on, I immediately felt the effects of the active noise cancellation.

I didn’t even know it had the feature when I first took it out of the box. I just knew it did right when I had both earphones on. That’s how good it is.

Huawei says they used a triple-microphone system to achieve noise cancellation of up to 32db. That along with the in-ear design helps drowning out the noise.

This is in contrast to its elder sibling the Freebuds 3 which handles noise cancellation using the Kirin A1 chip. The Freebuds 3 also uses an open-fit or open-ear design which is why its noise cancellation relies more on the chip.

Huawei also shared a review guide showing how the Freebuds 3i can cancel more noise than the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the AirPods Pro in certain situations. Based on what I can recall from my time with the Sony WH-1000XM3, that thing is on a league of its own when it comes to noise cancellation. But the Freebuds 3i, I’m surprised to say, isn’t too far behind.

Neither the Freebuds 3 nor the Freebuds 3i is necessarily better than the other, although we might see the dual-mic plus in-ear approach in future TWS earphones from Huawei given that their partner TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) will no longer be allowed to source tech and equipment from the US.

Bass-biased 

Not sure if this is a coincidence or not, but the Freebuds 3i is now the second TWS earphone I’ve tested who’s tuning appears to be leaning more towards bass. Another common denominator is that they’re priced below PhP 7,000 (around US$ 143).

It’s great if you prefer bass but compared to the Freebuds 3, it just doesn’t feel like you’re getting the same sound quality. Which is understandable considering the price difference.

The Freebuds 3 sound clearer, brighter, and warmer and you can clearly hear all the sounds. This is in contrast to the Freebuds 3i which seem to favor low-tones more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Freebuds 3i sounds bad. They just don’t sound as good as higher tier TWS earphones, which is fine. The Freebuds 3i is perfectly enjoyable and is certainly better than its more affordable counterparts.

I listened to everything from the pop track “Fanfare” by TWICE to the heavy rock sound of “Mighty Long Fall” by One OK Rock and was very pleased with how these tracks sounded.

Easy to pair, easy to use

Like with many other first-party TWS earphones, the Freebuds 3i will be automatically detected by the phone nearest to it as soon as you flip the lid open. This means pairing is instant and easy.

Naturally, you’ll have to go the usual pairing route if you’re using this with a phone from another brand. This means long-pressing on the button next to the USB-C port to enter pairing mode, and then going into the connectivity settings of your phone to complete the pairing. Not as straightforward, but works just as well.

There are two ways to control the earbuds. First is to double tap on either earbud. Second, is to touch and hold. Touching and holding turn noise cancellation on and off for either earbud.

Double tapping the left bud is set to “Play/Pause” by default while the right bud is set to “Next Song.” You can change this on the Huawei AI Life app with the action options being as follows:

  • Play/Pause
  • Next Song
  • Previous Song
  • Wake Voice Assistant

Curiously, there’s no action set for a single tap. Adding that would have given users the option to set all actions above a set motion for control. Instead, you can only choose to at a time. It’s a puzzling choice.

Like any TWS earphone worth its salt, it also has wear detection. This means the music is automatically paused when you take them off and resumes when you put them back on.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At PhP 5,990 /SG$ 168 (US$ 123), the Huawei Freebuds 3i is a pleasant surprise. Price-wise, it’s in direct competition with the Galaxy Buds+, and those buds have absolutely nothing on the Freebuds 3i’s noise cancellation.

If you’re looking for TWS earphones with near top-tier noise cancellation but don’t want to spend north of PhP 7,000, then this is easily one of the better options. There’s room for improvement but you’re getting quality earbuds for what you’re shelling out.

It has a solid build, a bass-leaning tuning, and pretty darn good noise cancellation. It’s not bad. Not bad at all.

SEE ALSO:
Huawei Freebuds 3 review: Best value wireless earbuds
AirPods 2 vs Galaxy Buds+ vs Freebuds 3: A TWS earphones battle!
6 reasons why you should switch to wireless earbuds

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Reviews

Huawei Nova 7 review: 5G is the icing, the phone is the cake

And it’s a damn good cake

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The Huawei Nova 7 or Huawei Nova 7 5G as it’s being heavily marketed is undeniably a Nova phone. The purple variant screams the Nova design and the specs and features scream flagship-grade.

5G is the next frontier in terms of mobile connectivity, and companies are understandably ramping up adoption of the tech. But you shouldn’t buy the Nova 7 just because it’s 5G-ready. Will explain more as we go along.

The Nova brand

I have had quite an interesting exchange with my cousin over the last few months about Huawei phones. She’s a fan of the Nova series. Huawei has done a good job of packaging it as a phone for the youth and the barrage of marketing only amplifies that message.

The Nova 7 pretty much sticks to the same formula. It’s an overall capable phone with a flagship-grade chip that lets “the youth” express themselves and pretty much do everything you normally would on a phone.

Build is far for the course at this price range

In the Philippines it retails for PhP 23,990 (US$ 488) and makes the same compromises that other brands do at this price point.

The build, while it feels nice, doesn’t have the heft and that x-factor that you expect from the most expensive phones today. But the weight is a boon for those who don’t exactly like heavier phones but want a relatively large display.

It’s 6.53” OLED display is crispy. You get the standard 60Hz refresh rate but it makes up for it with its bright, deep, and vivid visuals. It doesn’t feel as smooth, but it’s a joy to look at.

Being a flat display, it also has a wide footprint, but manageable enough for one-hand use. I’m just guessing, but somewhere between 6.44” and 6.5” might be the sweet spot for one-hand use if you’re working with a flat display.

All the buttons — power and volume — are on the right hand side which should be the standard for any phone that’s at least 6”.

At the bottom you have the USB-C port, speaker grille, and SIM card tray. There’s no 3.5mm jack but in the box you do get wired headphones and a USB-C to 3.5mm port.

For security it also has Face Unlock, a fingerprint scanner, and your usual pin.

Alright, let’s talk 5G

Last week, against my better judgement, I stepped out equipped with a mask and a face shield with bottles of rubbing alcohol in my backpack to test some 5G areas.

This was done in partnership with a Philippine telecommunications company but I decided to do my own testing after the fact.

While it’s true that you can and will get those exorbitant 500+mbps speeds, the frequency by which you are able to access them in limited locations. Unless you live or are almost always in the areas designated with 5G, don’t buy the Nova 7 for that reason alone.

Other reasons to buy 

It’s a damn good phone.

I used Phone Clone to copy everything on my Huawei P40 Pro to the Huawei Nova 7 and I almost didn’t miss a beat. I run all the same apps and do almost all the same things without any major differences in performance.

This includes your regular social media browsing, playing music on Spotify, and for the sake of the review — a quick game of Naruto: Slugfest.

The obvious differences are of course, as I mentioned, the heft and the smoother feel of the 90Hz refresh rate. But you can certainly do without them and still feel like you got your money’s worth.

Battery life is also stellar. Since I happen to be juggling phones for review at the moment, I’ve gone an entire weekend without touching the phone.

On standby mode, for two days, the battery stayed at around 80% from a full charge. That’s impressive. That means the phone knows when it’s not in use and will regulate power accordingly.

When I did use it, I got through a regular day with about 30-40% left before bed time.

Huawei Share is also a godsend of a feature especially when you’re also using a Huawei laptop. Sharing files is fantastic but also having the access to your phone’s apps right on your laptop as you work is such an underrated feature — but it’s one that’s coming over to other Android phones via Microsoft.

Sad, No GMS 

It was the Huawei Mate 30 series that bore the brunt of the US government’s Huawei ban. This forced Google to withdraw their mobile service support from the company.

Nearly a year later, and Huawei has made significant strides. Their phones have gone from borderline unusable to pretty tolerable.

Do I miss the Google apps and the Google Mobile Services? Heck yeah. There’s no dancing around it.

Not being able to get the best mobile experience from YouTube and Google Photos suck. Not being able to use certain apps because they just won’t work also suck. But Huawei has come to the point where it’s no longer a deal breaker.

Everything else works perfectly fine. A combination of App Gallery and APKPure has mitigated the need for the Google Play Store. Plus, they have also introduced Petal Search. Essentially a search engine for apps.

Updates from apps downloaded from APKPure do not download and install automatically. While this may be inconvenient, it’s a stretch to say that it doesn’t work.

Pleasant performing cameras

The Huawei Nova 7 has a 32MP front-facing camera capable of taking beautiful selfies even at night.

On the rear, it has four cameras: A 64MP main camera, an 8MP Ultra Wide-angle lens, an 8MP telephoto lens, and a practically useless 2MP macro camera.

The 64MP main camera is *chef’s kiss. The detail on the photo below is fantastic. Turning AI on also produced this generally color accurate and very pleasing photo of the plants.

Here’s the usual photo of a flower to further illustrate that point.

It captures urban concrete pretty well too.

Here’s an indoor low light shot. Typically, these never come out well, but the Nova 7 still manages to capture good detail even while there is some grain on the image.

Also a fan of the wide angle lens — just not a fan of not being able to travel so we can actually use it on a nice scenery.

The zoom is… okay. It maxes out to 20x and produces this kind of shot.

Halfway at 10x is fairly decent. Again, color is accurate, but there’s some noticeable detail loss which is understandable. Also reminder to not be creepy with your zoom.

Huawei’s portrait mode is also pretty good. Here’s a shot of Acrylic Stand, “What is Love” Chaeyoung that’s against the light. The background separation is good and it still managed to capture enough light so Chaeyoung doesn’t end up looking like just a silhouette.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The very first few minutes that I used the Huawei Nova 7, I already had an inkling as to how much it will be and how it will perform. The build and the overall snapiness of the performance were almost dead giveaways.

I have zero complaints over its performance and cameras. And for the most part, these two are what people primarily consider when buying a phone. Battery life is above average, the display is pleasant to the eyes, and app access is annoying but tolerable.

The future-proofing that is 5G that comes with this phone is icing. The cake that is the rest of the phone, that’s what you should really be looking at.

SEE ALSO: The Huawei Nova 7 and Freebuds 3i is the perfect match

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Computers

LG UltraGear 25” Gaming Monitor review: Enough to get you started

Comes with key features for your first gaming PC build

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I’ve seen a ton of people purchase full gaming PC setups since the pandemic took center stage in our lives. I’m pretty sure a lot of these people spent the past few months saving every peso they could for it. Of course, I also did it with all the money I saved up and planned every purchase very carefully.

In getting your gaming PC build, one of the more important peripherals to consider is your monitor. Most people will tell you that any monitor is okay, but experts will say that you shouldn’t just get any monitor. Apart from color accurate and bright displays, your monitor should have a high enough refresh rate to keep up.

It’s exactly what the LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor brings to the table, at least on paper. But is this worth checking out, especially for first time PC setup builders? Here’s a rundown of the specs:

It has a 23.6-inch TN FHD panel, with a 144Hz refresh rate

It comes with two HDMI ports and one DisplayPort

The design, on its own, is nothing spectacular

The LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor comes in a package you normally expect from most lightweight gaming monitors. A hardened-plastic enclosure covers the display, and the monitor even comes with a metal stand in gray and red accents. Upon unboxing, I found it relatively easy to set up and position alongside my PC setup.

Immediately, the first and only thing I noticed was the thick bezel surrounding the display. To be honest, it’s a relatively minor issue for me ever since other brands started reducing theirs. Although I would have appreciated a little more screen space, especially while playing games.

A display that meets expectations for the most part

Most gaming monitors come with high refresh rates to keep up during pressure situations. Fortunately, the LG UltraGear Gaming Monitor comes with a 144Hz panel which is more than enough. Also, it even sports a 1ms response rate so you’re able to stay at the top of your game. 

Most games I tried with this monitor performed with relative ease and no visible sign of image tearing. FPS games like CS:GO and Valorant, in my opinion, work best with this setup given that you can run these games on low-end setups.

Also, it’s quite bright and color accurate which is great for content creators. Although, in some cases, I felt that it didn’t handle dark color areas well. I tried to compensate by simply adjusting the brightness, but it didn’t do anything significantly different. At least it’s an anti-glare TN panel, so you don’t have to worry about the sun.

Comes with features that works depending on the other hardware

This monitor supports AMD’s FreeSync technology which further improves gameplay experience. Honestly, I felt this should be a standard for most gaming monitors — including those that support NVIDIA GSync. Also, there are other optimizations like Dynamic Action Sync (DAS) and motion blur reduction.

However, this monitor actually benefits you only if you’re currently rocking an AMD Radeon graphics card. Ideally, it would still work pretty well when you plug it to an NVIDIA card but expect some image tearing. It wasn’t a big issue for me since I could still apply the reduced motion blur and DAS.

Port selection for this monitor is more than enough for a normal PC setup. Two HDMI ports are available at your disposal, which is great if you want to use it for your consoles. The added DisplayPort provides more connectivity, especially since most graphics cards support it. Keep in mind though: if you plan to plug your console, don’t expect the 144Hz refresh rate.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For PhP 12,599 (US$ 257), the LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor ticks all the necessary boxes. What you have is a high refresh rate monitor with good color accuracy, and fully optimized for gaming. Combined with a great selection of ports, this monitor is a great option for your first PC build.

However, if you have strict preferences for your monitor, this might not be what you’re looking for. If you’re not a fan of thick bezels or you’re more conservative with your money, I wouldn’t practically recommend this. Also, you wouldn’t be able to fully maximize its potential if you don’t own an AMD graphics card.

All things considered, it’s enough to get you started on your gaming PC setup. Even with cheaper alternatives out there, I still recommend you give this a shot.

SEE ALSO: This 34” LG UltraWide monitor disrupted my workflow

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