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CyberGhost is a VPN that stands out, and not just because it’s on sale

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Check out this choice VPN
Check out this choice VPN

Image: CyberGhost

One bright spot in this year’s black hole of bad news concerning internet privacy and data security: VPNs are thriving. It seems like you can throw a rock while blindfolded and hit a crypto-technology company, many of which are just variations on the same theme.

SEE ALSO: Best VPNs for watching Netflix

If you’re having a tough time figuring out which VPN to commit to for the rest of your web surfing days — or at least for the duration of a 90-day trial — one worth checking out is CyberGhost VPN, which is currently on sale. It does all the usual VPN duties efficiently and reliably while also introducing some truly unique and impressive features that never feel like filler. 

Superior servers

VPNs live and die by their servers; their quantity and location will dictate your connection’s reliability, browsing speeds, access to international streaming content, and other key factors. Luckily, CyberGhost is no slouch in that department. It hosts 1,300 servers in 90 locations spread across 58 different countries — from Albania to New Zealand to Vietnam — totaling over 40 gigabits per second in bandwidth. 

This variety is particularly helpful to world travelers, as there will almost always be a server nearby, no matter what country you’re currently exploring. Note that these numbers may fluctuate from time to time, but in the long-term, CyberGhost’s server offering will most likely continue to expand. 

Better. Faster. Stronger.

Unlike some other VPNs, CyberGhost places zero restrictions on your browsing habits. No throttling. No data caps. You can enjoy unlimited traffic and bandwidth for the duration of your membership. 

And while some slowdown is to be expected when using any VPN, CyberGhost manages to stay surprisingly speedy. PC Mag’s testing found that download speeds were reduced a mere 5.3 %, and upload speeds were diminished by only 6.5%, earning CyberGhost a favorable rating from the magazine in overall performance compared to its many competitors. 

If speed is your primary concern when VPN shopping or you just want to be able to finish a torrent download in a hurry, CyberGhost does have a Fastest Servers option. It saves you from sifting through hundreds of locations and instead connects you to the swiftest one automatically.  

Keep it secret and safe

Where security is concerned, CyberGhost runs a tight ship, employing 256-AES bit encryption to protect your payment info from cyber-crooks and hide your browsing data from nosy ISPs. In fact, even CyberGhost itself will be in the dark about your data, as the company swears by its “no logging” policy. 

Upon launching the application, protection is immediate and comprehensive: CyberGhost launches a secure browsing session in addition to the VPN connection. And one membership extends to seven devices simultaneously, so you can be sure that every laptop, tablet, and smartphone in your tech arsenal is safe and secure. You can even set it up on your router, and lock down your network’s security at the source. Should you ever experience any sudden outages, the automatic kill switch feature protects against even the slightest bit of exposure.

We all scream for streaming

CyberGhost knows where its bread is buttered. It’s well aware that many of its subscribers are only on board for that sweet, unrestricted streaming. So they’ve made it refreshingly easy to do so. 

The application’s main UI features easily understandable options, like Torrent Anonymously, which will automatically launch your preferred torrenting client, or Unblock Streaming, which dials in specific settings for various sports channels, YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and more. Frequently censored websites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are all easily unlockable with CyberGhost, too, in case you’re on vacation in a country with particularly restrictive internet laws. 

Virtuous reality

It’s CyberGhost’s commitment to its users’ freedom that sets it apart from competing VPNs. Based in Bucharest, it aligns closely with Romania’s high legal regard for online privacy. It touts itself as “a major supporter and promoter of civil rights, a free society, and an uncensored internet culture.” In 2015, CyberGhost backed up that ambitious bio by publishing a transparency report, which detailed all the copyright complaints, attempted attacks, and law enforcement requests the company incurred that year. 

On sale

Normally this service is available on a monthly or yearly basis, with a lifetime’s worth of access potentially running up to $720. But thanks to a special promotion, you can get CyberGhost VPN on Mac, iOS, Windows, or Android for just $84.99 and secure your digital connections. As a special offer for Mashable readers, you can save an additional 15% off with coupon code CYBERGHOST.

Bail reform has a complex relationship with tech

On any given day in the United States, more than 450,000 people are behind bars awaiting their constitutionally mandated fair trial. None of them have been convicted of a crime — they’ve been accused of committing a crime, but no formal ruling of guilt or innocence has been made. That means these hundreds of thousands of people are incarcerated simply because they don’t have the financial means to post bail. 

Bail was originally designed to incentivize people to show up for their court dates, but it has since evolved into a system that separates the financially well-off from the poor. It requires arrested individuals to pay money in order to get out of jail while they await trial. For those who can’t afford bail, they wind up having to sit in jail, which means they may be at risk of missing rent payments, losing their jobs and failing to meet other responsibilities. 

Money bail is all too often a common condition to secure release from jail while a case is in progress. Cash bail systems result in leaving many people incarcerated, even though they haven’t been convicted of a crime. 

The cash bail system in the United States is one of the greatest injustices in the criminal justice system, ACLU Deputy National Political Director Udi Ofer tells TechCrunch. Bail reform, Ofer says, is a “key way to achieve” the goals of challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration. 

As we explored in “The other pipeline,” the criminal justice system in the United States is deeply rooted in racism and a history of oppression. Black and Latino people comprise about 1.5 million of the total 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S. adult correctional system, or 67 percent of the prison population, while making up just 37 percent of the total U.S. population, according to the Sentencing Project.

With a criminal justice system that disproportionately affects people of color, it’s no wonder why the cash bail system does the same. For one, people of color are 25 percent more likely than white people to be denied the option of bail, according to a pre-trial study by Dr. Traci Schlesinger. And for the black people who are given the option to pay bail, the amount is 35 percent higher on average than bail for white men, according to a 2010 study.

The national felony bail median is $10,000. For those who can’t afford it, they have to rely on bail bond agencies, which charge a non-refundable fee to pay the required bail amount on the person’s behalf. The bail bond companies, which are backed by insurance companies, collect between $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion a year, according to the ACLU and Color of Change.

And if bail bond companies are out of reach, those who are sitting in jail awaiting trial are more likely to be convicted of the crime they were charged with. The non-felony conviction rate rose from 50 percent to 92 percent for those jailed pre-trial, according to a study by the New York City Criminal Justice Agency. Along the way, leading up to the trial, some prosecutors incentivize people to plead guilty to the charges even if they’re innocent.

“It’s time to end our nation’s system of cash bail that lets the size of your wallet determine whether you are granted freedom or stay locked up in jail,” Ofer says. “Money should never decide a person’s freedom yet that’s exactly what happens every day in the United States.”

Pre-trial detention is also costly to local cities, counties and taxpayers. It costs about $38 million a day to keep these largely nonviolent people behind bars, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute. Annually, that comes out to about $14 billion to jail unconvicted people.

“The only people benefiting from bail is the for-profit bail industry,” Ofer said. “If we’re ever going to end mass incarceration in the United States, then we need to end cash bail.”

Bail reform is coming

Across the nation, bail reform has made its way into a handful of states. New Jersey’s bail reform law took effect last January; since then, its daily jail population has dropped 17.2 percent, and courts have imposed cash bail on just 33 defendants out of 33,400, according to the ACLU.

The ACLU itself is working on bail reform in 38 states, including California, where Ofer says he is optimistic reform will happen this year. Right now, a pre-trial release bill, Senate Bill 10, is up for consideration in the Assembly. The bill argues California should ensure people awaiting trial are not incarcerated simply because they can’t afford to pay bail. The bill also advocates for counties to establish pre-trial services agencies to better determine if people are fit to be released.

The bill, introduced by Senators Bob Hertzberg and others, is backed by the ACLU and Essie Justice Group, an Oakland-based organization that advocates for actual justice in the criminal justice system.

“Today we have a system that allows for people to be released pre-trial if they have enough money to afford their bail,” Essie Justice Group founder Gina Clayton tells TechCrunch. “Everyone else is required to sit inside of a cage without any way out.”

Essie Justice Group works mostly with and for women who have incarcerated loved ones. Often, the only way out for people is help from family or a plea deal, Clayton says.

“When we see people making the bail, we see that women are going into tremendous debt and are also beholden to an industry that has time and time again been cited and known to practice in quite an incredibly despicable way in terms of coercing and harassing their customers,” Clayton says. “When we think about who are the people who know about what’s going on with bail, it’s black and brown women in this country.”

For the past two years, Essie Justice Group held an action around Mother’s Day, with the goal of bailing moms out of jail or immigration detention. Last year’s action led to release of 30 women.

Photo via Essie Justice Group

Can tech help?

The short the answer is maybe. Earlier this month, Google banned ads for bail bonds services, which Clayton says is the largest step any corporation has taken on behalf of people who have loved ones in jail. But while tech can help in some ways, Clayton has some concerns with additional for-profit entities entering the criminal justice system.

“There are definitely tech solutions that I’m very against,” Clayton said, but declined to comment on which ones in particular. “I will say that my energy around this doesn’t come from an imagined place. I’m seeing it happen. One of the things we’re seeing is companies who are interested in bail reform because they see another opportunity to make money off of families. Like, ‘let this person out, but have them, at a cost, check in with people I hire to do this fancy but expensive drug testing three times a week, pay for an ankle shackle or bracelet and GPS monitoring.’ I think the companies that are making money off of those types of things are the ones we need to be wary of.”

There is, however, one for-profit company that immediately jumped to Clayton’s mind as being one doing actual good in the criminal justice space. That company is Uptrust, which provides text message reminders to people regarding court dates.

“I think that is a really great addition to the landscape,” Clayton says. “The reason I’m a proponent of theirs is because I understand their politics and I know what they won’t do, which is take it a step further or get involved with getting incentivized to add on bells and whistles that look less like freedom for people but more revenue for them.”

Uptrust, founded by Jacob Sills and Elijah Gwynm, aims to help people make their court dates. While the movies like to depict flight risks and people skipping town ahead of their court dates, failure to appear in court often comes down to a lack of transportation, work conflicts, not receiving a reminder, childcare or poor time management, Sills tells TechCrunch.

That’s where the idea came to humanize the system a bit more, by enabling public defenders to more easily connect with their clients. Uptrust is two-way in nature and reminds people on behalf of the public defender about court dates. Clients can also communicate any issues they may have about making it to court.

“If the public defender knows the client has an issue, they can usually get court moved,” Sills says. “But if they don’t have the information, they’re not going to lie on behalf of clients.”

Because public defenders don’t make much money, Uptrust doesn’t charge very much, Sills says.

“But they really care about the client and one of the things we saw with this was we needed to change the whole front end of the system to be less adversarial and more human,” Sills says.

In addition to text reminders, Uptrust enables public defenders to assist with other needs clients may have.

“A lot of stuff around bail reform is around risk assessment rather than need assessment,” Sills tells me. “But we saw a lot of these individuals have needs, like helps with rides, child care or reminders.”

Public defenders who are invested in the care of their clients can remind them via Uptrust to do things like ask for time off work or schedule child care.

For the end-user, the client, Uptrust is all text-based. For the public defenders, Uptrust offers a software solution that integrates into their case management systems.

Since launching in the summer of 2016 in California’s Contra Costa County, the court appearance rate improved from 80 percent to 95 percent, Sills says. To date, Uptrust has supported 20,000 people with a five percent FTA rate.

“As we improve product, if we can get [the FTA rate] down to 3 percent, you really can start taking that data and pushing forth major policy change,” Sills says.

Uptrust’s goal is to shift from risk assessment to needs assessment and ensure people are supported throughout their interactions with the criminal justice system.

“Our view is in terms of bail reform, we need to make sure there’s not a proliferation of things like ankle monitors and whatnot,” Sills says. “For us, success is really being a subcontractor to the community as well as working with the government. I think there’s a huge risk in bail reform as it relates to technology because people see it as a big business opportunity, If a company replaces the government, they may not have the community’s best interest in mind. So it’s important to keep in mind they have the community’s best interest in mind.”

Similar to Uptrust, a tech organization called Appolition works by operating within the confines of the system. Appolition, founded by Dr. Kortney Ryan Zieger, enables people to funnel their spare change into the National Bail Out fund. As of April, Appolition has facilitated over $130,000 to go toward bail relief. Ziegler was not available for comment for this story.

Promise, on the other hand, aims to provide an alternative to the cash bail system. In March, Promise raised a $3 million round led by First Round Capital with participation from from Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

The idea is to offer counties and local governments an alternative approach to holding people behind bars simply because they can’t afford bail. With Promise, case managers can monitor compliance with court orders and better keep tabs on people via the app. GPS monitoring is also an option, albeit a controversial one.

Let’s say you get arrested and end up having a bail hearing. Instead of asking you to pay bail, the public defender could suggest a pre-trial release with Promise. From there, Promise would work with the public defender and your case manager to determine your care plan.

“It’s clear that our values are about keeping people out of jail,” Promise CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins told me on an episode of CTRL+T. “Like, we’re running a company but we fundamentally believe that not just it’s more cost effective but that it’s the right thing to do.”

Instead of a county jail paying $190 per day per person, Ellis-Lamkins said, Promise charges some counties just $17 per person per day. In some cases, Promise charges even less per person.

It’s that for-profit model that worries Clayton.

“Whenever you bring in the for-profit ethos in a criminal justice space, I think we need to be careful,” Clayton says.

She didn’t explicitly call out any companies. In fact, she said she doesn’t feel ready to make a judgment on Promise just yet. But she has a general concern of tech solutions that “dazzle and distract system actors who we really need to hold accountable and see operate in more systemic, holistic ways.”

Solutions, Clayton says, look like social safety nets like hospitals and clinics instead of jails.

“If we want to really move ourselves away from this path we’ve been on,” Clayton says, “which is towards normalizing state control of people then we should be really careful that our system that once looked like slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration doesn’t then become tech surveillance of all people.”

Google removes ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto from its Code of Conduct

Is Google chill with being evil?
Is Google chill with being evil?

Image:  Iain Masterto/getty images

To be evil or not to be evil — that is the question, Google.

It seems after years of the tech company’s commitment to its low-key creepy-sounding mantra, “Don’t Be Evil,” Google has removed the phrase from its Code of Conduct.

So I guess that means evil is totally chill now?? Cool. Very cool and not at all concerning, right?

On Friday, Gizmodo noted that “Don’t Be Evil,” which has been part of Google’s Code of Conduct since 2000, was recently removed in either April or May, as shown by the Wayback Machine. 

Digging into the Wayback Machine’s April 21, 2018 archive shows the three-word phrase still present in an earlier Code of Conduct:

“Don’t be evil. Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably, and treating co-workers with courtesy and respect.

The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put “Don’t be evil” into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct. We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users. Trust and mutual respect among employees and users are the foundation of our success, and they are something we need to earn every day.

The Code of Conduct, which appears to have been last updated Oct. 12, 2017, also ended with the line, “…And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!”

But the beginning “Don’t Be Evil” phrases aren’t present in the May 4, 2018 Wayback archive of the Code of Conduct, which appears to have been updated April 5, 2018.

The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct. We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users. Respect for our users, for the opportunity, and for each other are foundational to our success, and are something we need to support every day.

So please do read the Code and Google’s values, and follow both in spirit and letter, always bearing in mind that each of us has a personal responsibility to incorporate, and to encourage other Googlers to incorporate, the principles of the Code and values into our work. And if you have a question or ever think that one of your fellow Googlers or the company as a whole may be falling short of our commitment, don’t be silent. We want – and need – to hear from you.

Is Google finally moving over to the Evil side? Mashable reached out to the company to check in.

It should, however, be noted that the final line in the Code: “And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!” still remains. So perhaps the company is simply toning the message down.

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Coca-Cola’s new soda machine lets you mix your own flavors via Bluetooth

Look out world, Coca-Cola is introducing beverages to Bluetooth.

On Friday, the company announced its brand new soda machine, the Coca-Cola Freestyle 9100, which will utilize Bluetooth connectivity to allow users connect via the Freestyle mobile app.

Remember how Coca-Cola Freestyle brought its innovative touch screen soda machines — stocked with close to 200 drink options — to eateries, college campuses, and other beverage-loving establishments in 2009? Well, things have really taken off since then.

According to the company, “more than 50,000 Coca-Cola Freestyle units pour 14 million drinks per day” around the world, so they figured it was time to take the innovation to the next level.

In the future, not only will people be able to concoct their own beverages, but they can use the Freestyle app to connect to the machine with Bluetooth, create a mix via their mobile devices, and ensure it’s ready to pour ASAP.

[embedded content]

“Choice and customization are not fads – they’re here to stay,” Chris Hellmann, Freestyle’s VP general manager, said in a statement. “So we’re focused on making sure the Coca-Cola Freestyle platform stays current and contemporary and that we continue to offer more beverages people want.”

“We’ve built features into this dispenser that are not only contemporary for today,” Hellmann went on. “We’ve also future-proofed the platform with not-yet-activated features like audio capability, optical sensors and a new equipment option that will eventually support the addition of drink categories not available on Freestyle today, such as teas, cold coffees and new varieties of juices.”

Ah, the refreshing sight of Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.

Ah, the refreshing sight of Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.

Image: coca-cola

The Coca-Cola Freestyle 9100 will reportedly be unveiled at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) tradeshow in Chicago this weekend. The company hopes to roll out the snazzy new machine nationally in 2019, and also has plans to implement a new Freestyle operating system across all existing machines. 32e6 15fa%2fthumb%2f00001

IQbuds Boost review: pricey earbud, bargain hearing aid

Great sound • Enhances sound for better hearing of ambient sound • especially speech • Well-designed app
Uncomfortable to wear for long periods • Connectivity could be better • Lousy power management
The IQbuds Boost are an impressive pair of wireless earbuds, and the improvement to hearing is real, though they’re not as comfortable as they could be.

Mashable Score3.5

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely caught myself saying, “I beg your pardon” and “Sorry, what?” more often. I tend to avoid loud bars and I sometimes find large gatherings difficult since the din can become overwhelming.

I’m not sure if my hearing isn’t quite what it used to be, or if my tolerance for cacophony has gone down with age. Either way, I sometimes wish I had a little help in the ears department.

Well, that help has arrived in the form of the IQbuds Boost. These wireless earbuds appear to be exactly what I’m looking for: a “true wireless” pair that doesn’t just play music, but also improves your hearing. Unlike the original IQbuds that the company released last year, the Boost has a different demographic: folks who are in the early stages of hearing loss — not at the point where they’d need a hearing aid, but might be getting there.

Nuhera, the company that makes the IQbuds, lent me a Boost pair to try out. I came away liking them a lot — and impressed with how they handled their chief function of hearing improvement — but they weren’t comfortable enough to wear as often as I’d like to.

Setup and design

At $499, the IQbuds Boost are a pricey pair, as wireless earbuds go (Apple’s AirPods, by comparison, cost just $159). But if you compare them to actual hearing aids, which tend to run in the thousands of dollars, they’re quite a bargain. Well, a bargain if they actually work. More on that in a bit.

Nuhera is quite generous with the number of rubberized buds that you get: The box contains 10 pairs total — four round pairs, four oval ones, and two that “shape” to your ears, like earplugs. I went with a medium-size round pair that sealed my ears well.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

I wouldn’t say the IQbuds are comfortable. They didn’t hurt at all, certainly, but I was very aware I had earbuds in my ears at all times while wearing them. On top of that, for whatever reason, the right earbud left my ear quite sore for a few minutes whenever I took it out. There’s clearly some work to do in the comfort department.

Like AirPods, the IQbuds come with a case that doubles as a battery. The Nuhera case is quite a bit larger than the dental-floss-container-size AirPods case, though; it’s roughly the same size and shape as a small eclair.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

The case holds a few extra charges for the buds within, which is nice, but the chambers for the individual buds aren’t as snug as they should be. On two occasions I put the earbuds in to charge, but later found that one earbud didn’t charge up at all — probably because I had put the case in a pocket or bag, and it got jostled around. Understandable, but it shouldn’t happen.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Setting up the Boost fully is a bit of a pain. First you have to download the app and pair your buds over Bluetooth (so far so good), but then you need to create your own unique “EarID,” which requires you to sit in a quiet room for about 10 minutes and tap your smartphone again and again as you listen to multiple test tones in both ears.

To be fair, this is far less than you’d have to go through to get fitted for a real hearing aid. And you can just skip the EarID setup altogether and just start using the buds with all the default settings, but then the hearing enhancement likely won’t be as effective for you.

Be sure to give yourself 10 minutes for EarID setup.

Be sure to give yourself 10 minutes for EarID setup.

Once you're done, you'll get a profile of your hearing.

Once you’re done, you’ll get a profile of your hearing.

Comfort-wise, the IQbuds sat in my ears just fine, and the seal ensured they stayed put (a big shortcoming of AirPods, at least for me). I was still terrified of losing a bud when I was out and about, but that didn’t happen. At $250 a bud it better not.

One thing the IQbuds need to do better is power management. On evenings when I forgot to charge them overnight, I woke up to a pair of dead buds — even when I knew there was still battery power in them when I took them out and no music was playing. I would hope the buds would be smart enough to know when to power down for the night if I’m not wearing them. This is the kind of thing Nuhera should be able to fix with a firmware update, so I’m hopeful they will.

Sound and Enhancement

As a straight pair of wireless earbuds, the IQbuds boost are very good. The can play quite loud without distortion. From the aggressive hand claps and horns of Portugal.The Man’s “Feel It Still” to the lighter piano chords of “Woods of Chaos” by Rob Costlow, the entire frequency range felt like it was coming through loud and clear.

Connectivity wasn’t perfect. When I put my phone in my pocket, sometimes the connection to the IQbuds would cut out briefly. Not a disaster, but it also doesn’t happen with my regular wireless headphones — and it shouldn’t with any model, considering we’re talking a distance no longer then 3 feet.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Now to the nitty-gritty: how well the Boost actually improves hearing.

The earbuds do this via a feature called World. Once you turn it on (either via a tap on the right bud or via the well-designed app), you can pick from one of seven modes, including Street, Office, Driving, Home, Restaurant, Workout, and Plane. Each mode lets in a different amount of ambient noise (the “world”). Each mode also treats the “world” differently, favoring either more speech enhancement or more ambient sound, plus a different overall EQ.

You can adjust all this stuff pretty easily to your liking, and the app will remember your preferences. I found myself returning to the app often to tweak my mix. Sometimes, in Office mode, I wanted to completely isolate myself so I turned turning the world (noise and speech) down to the lowest level.

The Boost comes with several presets the optimize sound for various environments.

The Boost comes with several presets the optimize sound for various environments.

The slider for more or less isolation is very easy to use.

The slider for more or less isolation is very easy to use.

Things got interesting when I did the opposite, and turned up the ambient sound all the way. Suddenly I could hear conversations all around my desk, all slightly louder than before. I could (mostly) follow a conversation in normal voices about 30 feet away whereas without the buds I could make out maybe every fourth word.

The clackety-clack of my keyboard was suddenly much clearer, and although background noise was turned up as well, I found speech and noise definitely stood out much more than before.

Once you choose how much of the "world" you want to hear, you can choose whether ambient sound is speech is enhanced the most.

Once you choose how much of the “world” you want to hear, you can choose whether ambient sound is speech is enhanced the most.

The World EQ really lets you drill down in your preferences.

The World EQ really lets you drill down in your preferences.

I wore the earbuds to a meeting (with no music playing). Everyone’s speech was definitely louder, which helped me hear people on the other side of a long conference room table, although when one of my many clever colleagues cracked a joke, the laughter was almost deafening. Interestingly, the Boost completely garbled the audio for people calling into the meeting — I guess processing already processed sound is never a good idea.

Outside, I found the Boost even more useful. I’m always wary of using headphones on the busy streets of New York City, but with Street mode engaged I felt prepared. Listening to the Greatest Generation podcast while walking up Fifth Avenue, I could also hear cars, bike bells, the speech of people around me, and more as well. That may sound chaotic, but the earbuds did a good job of keeping me aware of my environment while ensuring I could still enjoy the podcast.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

When I got close to home (a suburb outside the City), I paused the podcast and just listened to the neighborhood sounds with ambient sound turned up to the max. I could suddenly hear my footsteps, birds singing in the trees around me, and a couple of teenagers across the street talking (though not the conversation itself). Cars that passed by me were very apparent and their movement and how close they were to me was very clear from the sound.

Hearing things

In short, the IQbuds Boost work. Part of that, though, is what they do to your own speech. They don’t enhance your speech as much as they muffle your hearing of it via the ear seal. That’s a weird thing to get used to, and I just didn’t have the patience. Whenever I had to actually converse with someone, I took the buds out, which defeats a lot of the purpose. It’s not a deal-breaker, but using these in your daily life, as intended, is a commitment.

Out of curiosity, I asked a relative who uses a hearing out to try out the Boost earbuds. He said he they were definitely better than having nothing at all, though he also said his hearing aid did a considerably better job at enhancing sound — pretty much exactly the expectations IQbuds is trying to create with this product.

If you think you have hearing problems, you should of course see a doctor. But even after you do that you may not want or need to get a hearing aid: the threshold for needing them is quite high, and they’re obviously expensive. And let’s be honest — there’s a stigma attached, too.

The IQbuds Boost provide a neat way to end-run all those issues, and although they’re not exactly cheap, if you’re starting to be concerned about hearing loss, you’ll find them invaluable.

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