Lyft offers half-price rides to the polls on election day – CNET

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This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET's coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

Lyft is joining the effort to make it easier to get to the polls this November. On Election Day, you can get 50% off a ride booked through the ride-sharing app with the code "2020VOTE." Note that the discount only includes a single ride and it caps at $10 off the total -- so it might not be easier to get home after you're done voting. 

Lyft offered something similar for the 2018 midterms, but this time the discount includes renting bikes and scooters in select cities. 

The ride-sharing company also announced that it's partnering with nonprofit organizations through the LyftUp program to offer more free and discounted rides to communities with limited access to affordable transportation.

Uber, Lyft's main competitor, made a similar announcement on Monday. Uber's program includes assistance with voter registration through the Uber app and the possibility of free pizza delivered to you in a voting line through Uber Eats. Uber has discounted rides on election day as well, but didn't offer specifics on the deal.

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Madden NFL 21 adds Colin Kaepernick to player pool – CNET

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Colin Kaepernick is making his return to football -- to the virtual gridiron at least. Madden NFL 21, the latest iteration of the popular football video game from gaming giant EA, announced the addition of Kaepernick via Twitter on Tuesday. Kaepernick will join the free agent pool, so you'll be able to use him on your team in Dynasty mode -- where you manage a team over the course of multiple seasons -- as well as in Play Now mode, which lets you just hop into a game.

The tweet announcing the free update to the game praised Kaepernick as a starting-caliber quarterback and one of the best free agents in the league. Kaepernick should have stats that make him an appealing free agent as they should align with other starting QBs. 

In real-life football, Colin Kaepernick hasn't played a game since January of 2017. During the fall of 2016, he protested the national anthem at the start of games by sitting or kneeling during the song to raise awareness of racial injustice in the country. He became a free agent that offseason and hasn't been signed since. Both the protest and the fact that he has been unsigned after a successful career as a starting quarterback have been sources of much controversy

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Madden NFL 21 adds Colin Kaepernick to player pool – CNET

gettyimages-626167674
Getty

Colin Kaepernick is making his return to football -- to the virtual gridiron at least. Madden NFL 21, the latest iteration of the popular football video game from gaming giant EA, announced the addition of Kaepernick via Twitter on Tuesday. Kaepernick will join the free agent pool, so you'll be able to use him on your team in Dynasty mode -- where you manage a team over the course of multiple seasons -- as well as in Play Now mode, which lets you just hop into a game.

The tweet announcing the free update to the game praised Kaepernick as a starting-caliber quarterback and one of the best free agents in the league. Kaepernick should have stats that make him an appealing free agent as they should align with other starting QBs. 

In real-life football, Colin Kaepernick hasn't played a game since January of 2017. During the fall of 2016, he protested the national anthem at the start of games by sitting or kneeling during the song to raise awareness of racial injustice in the country. He became a free agent that offseason and hasn't been signed since. Both the protest and the fact that he has been unsigned after a successful career as a starting quarterback have been sources of much controversy

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Best alarm clocks for 2020 – CNET

Alarm clocks remind me of referees -- they're necessary, but I still tend to get annoyed at them for doing their jobs. You need to be reliably woken up on time every day, but it's still irritating to be roused from a restful night's sleep by a repeated buzzing sound next to your ear. With the right alarm, you'll hopefully be less aggravated and less inclined to smash your helpful gadget into pieces in the morning. 

Finding the best alarm clock for you can make the process of waking up easier. As with other smart home products, search any major US electronics retailer and you'll find a slew of options from a variety of brands, at prices ranging from $10 to over $100. Sorting through the crowd can feel like splitting hairs, given that they all mainly serve a single purpose.

Read more: Echo Dot with Clock offers a nice quality of life upgrade

Best alarm clocks

Complicating matters even further, you likely have a smartphone alarm clock app and possibly a smart display or smart speaker, which can wake you up and render a separate alarm clock redundant. Nevertheless, alarm clocks still have their place, and I understand the appeal over an app or smart device -- I like turning my smartphone off at night and having a clock I can check at a glance if I wake up from sleep and it's still dark.

In pursuit of a more refreshing morning, I tested 10 alarms over a couple of months to find the best alarm clock on the market. I checked the recommended products on other sites, and looked at top-rated models and top sellers on Best BuyAmazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and Walmart. I compiled the common denominators into my list and purchased them for testing.

I let each alarm wake me up for at least two nights, making notes about the experience as I went, and I was surprised to find big differences in usability even at such a simple task. Extras and customizability were nice, especially at higher prices, but I generally preferred those that got the basics right for an affordable price. That said, I recently reviewed the Lenovo Smart Clock and the Amazon Echo Show 5, which are smart alarms that feel like worthwhile upgrades. I've added entries for both to the recommended picks of the best alarm clock below. I'll keep updating this list as I test more products.

Read more: 4 sunrise alarm clocks that will wake you up gently

Now playing: Watch this: Tips to know when buying an alarm clock

1:35

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Travelwey's alarm clock excels at simplicity. It's $14, which is a little more than other competent models I tested, but still easily affordable for a bedside alarm clock you'll use every day. It only has a handful of buttons, all of which are easy to understand and use. The big red numbers dominate the LED display, and the snooze button is easy to find and smack when you want to shut up the alarm in the morning.

You can adjust the brightness of the numbers with a slider on the back. At all levels, the numbers are large enough that they're easy to read from across a dark room and they don't cast a glow that could disrupt your sleep. The Travelwey Home LED Alarm Clock also has a separate nightlight feature if you don't want your room to be pitch black while you sleep.

Other than the nightlight, Travelwey's alarm doesn't have much to feature. You can't adjust the snooze time -- it's 9 minutes. You can't set a second alarm. You can switch between a two-volume alarm setting if you prefer a soft or loud alarm clock, but you can't change the tone or have it play music or the radio.

It's a simple alarm clock, but Travelwey made sure all of the basics were implemented well. A simple indicator shows the alarm is armed. It has a backup battery, if you have a power outage. You can check the time with a button and press a separate one to turn off the alarm but leave it set for the same time the next day. There's not much to the Travelwey Home LED Alarm Clock, but what's there works well.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Show 5 has a lot of the trappings I look for in a good alarm clock. You can set different alarms and have them repeat on various days of the week. The alarm can wake you up with a customizable tone or your own music. You can have the alarm ramp up the volume loud to ease you out of your sleep. Along the same line, the screen can gradually get brighter starting 15 minutes before the alarm to wake you from sleep.

When you're not sleeping, you can issue voice commands to the Show 5 thanks to the built-in Alexa voice assistant. You can also use the touchscreen to make video calls, check the weather, control your smart home and other things. The Show 5 is a smart display similar to the original Echo Show, but trimmed for your nightstand.

Even with adaptive brightness enabled, the screen still casts a little glow, and you can't customize the snooze time, but it otherwise offers all of the customization and any feature you'd want if you're willing to pay more for a smart alarm. Its list price is $90, but it's currently on sale on Amazon for $70. Read our Echo Show 5 review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Sony ICFC-1 costs $18, a little more than the Travelwey Home LED. It has an alarm clock radio built in so you can wake up to your favorite station or a more traditional alarm clock buzzing. You can set a sleep timer so you can fall asleep to the radio as it plays. It adjusts the time automatically for daylight saving time. Even the buzzing alarm gently ramps up to ease you out of your sleep, and the snooze function button is easy to find if you need more time.

You'll want to keep the manual handy when first setting up the Sony ICFC-1. Even setting and checking your alarm time is counterintuitive at first. There's no button for it -- you hit the plus or minus on top to see the time then keep hitting one or the other to set the alarm time. Once you know what to press, using the ICFC-1 is simple enough, it's just not quite as brainless as the Travelwey alarm.

The cube design is also a little hard to get used to, and the orange numbers aren't as easily visible from across the room as those on the Travelwey alarm. That said, you can cycle through three levels of brightness by tapping snooze, none of which creates an unwanted glow. The ICFC-1 also has a button to turn off the alarm that keeps it set for the same time. It has a battery backup and a clear indicator when the alarm is armed.

I liked Travelwey's alarm slightly more as it's easier to set up, and its clock is easier to see from across a darkened room, but Sony's alarm makes a strong case for itself by doing more for the same price and it could easily be the better choice for you if you value those extras.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you're willing to spend more than $40 for an alarm, you can look for all kinds of different features. Of all of the potential alarm upgrades, the sunrise alarm on the $50 Philips HF3500 is the only one that actually makes it easier to wake up in the morning. Shaped a bit like a UFO with a kickstand, the HF3500 has a simple circular orange clock face surrounded by a couple of buttons and a wide light ring. Thirty minutes before the scheduled alarm time, the light gradually starts increasing in brightness until it reaches a customizable max at the scheduled time and starts beeping with increasing intensity to finish the task of waking sleepers up.

The light is supposed to gently ease sleepers awake. On both mornings of my testing, I had a good night's sleep and a relatively easy time getting out of bed. Aside from the light, the Philips HF3500 is easy to operate with minimal buttons. You can use the light as a lamp and it has 10 levels of brightness. You can cycle through three levels for the clock face, but the orange numbers do a good job of not casting much of a glow even at their brightest, so sleep won't be disturbed.

Snoozing the alarm is counterintuitive, as you need to whack the upper half of the light -- there's no button. I'd worry that I'd accidentally break my fancy alarm on a particularly grouchy morning. For its price, the HF3500 surprisingly lacks any extras other than the wake-up light, and I doubt that will be much help for heavy sleepers, or those with rooms that already get bright when day breaks.

Nevertheless, the HF3500 keeps things simple and elegant while still innovating on the basic concept of waking up from sleep in the morning. Splurging on the HF3500 could be a worthwhile experiment if you're looking for a more peaceful way to wake up.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The RCD30 has a lot in common with my favorite of the bunch, the Travelwey. The RCD30 is simple, with only a couple of buttons. It has a large, red display with two levels of brightness -- neither glows and you can easily see either from across a dark room. The snooze button is easy to find, but double-checking your alarm time and resetting it for the next day aren't as easy on the RCD30 as on the Travelwey. Also, unlike the Travelwey, the RCD30 doesn't have a nightlight, which some prefer for sleep. Given that it's only about $13, it's a good alternative if you want something cheap and simple.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I hated the Sonic Bomb bed shaker alarm -- but that's a good thing if you're a semicomatose sleeper and it's difficult for you to wake up. To be clear, I didn't hate the $33 clock because of poor design or poor performance, I hated it because I woke up to my pillow shaking and I thought the world was ending. The bed shaker alarm has an incredibly loud buzzer and a vibrating alarm clock attachment you can place on your bed in case the buzzer itself isn't enough. The clock offers two alarms and plenty of customization. The controls are easy enough to figure out. It's worth your consideration for heavy sleepers, and it deserves to be mentioned alongside the Philips HF3500 as a good implementation of a novelty alarm concept. But unless you truly know very deep sleepers, the Philips makes for a much more pleasing morning routine.

Other options

The following alarm clocks do some things well but have flaws that make them tougher to recommend.

The Lenovo Smart Clock uses Google Assistant to respond to your voice commands, so you can use it as a smart speaker like the Google Home Mini. It has a 4-inch touchscreen and you can swipe between pages showing the weather, your commute and your calendar -- handy info when you're heading to bed or first waking up. It's similar to a smart display, but not as robust, in that you can't watch videos or access a smart home control panel. The touchscreen is meant specifically for your bedside.

Fortunately, it's an effective alarm. You can set different alarms at once and customize each to a wide degree. You can set your preferred snooze length, choose an alarm tone and set any alarm to repeat on a daily schedule. The Lenovo Smart Clock also doubles as a sunrise alarm, with the screen getting brighter 30 minutes before your scheduled wake up time. 

Plus, it can trigger a Good Morning routine when you shut it off. By default, that routine will tell you about your day and then play news podcasts, but you can customize it to your liking and have it control smart home gadgets as well. After a recent update, it can also scroll through your personal pictures as a screensaver. 

The Lenovo Smart Clock isn't perfect. You can choose from a variety of clock faces, but none strikes the perfect balance of nighttime visibility without a glow. You can't wake up to the radio or your own music. If you want something more than a basic alarm, the smarts are well implemented, but the Amazon Echo Show 5 does more. Read our Lenovo Smart Clock review.

The LED display on this smart speaker shows the time and weather. It's a minor upgrade over an ordinary Echo Dot, but the visible clock makes it easier to recommend as an alarm. The brightness of the display adapts to the light in the room and the numbers do a good job of not casting a glow when dim. I was surprised the Dot with Clock did well on this test, since the numbers are white and you can't change the color to orange or red -- which are typically better at being visible in the dark without casting a glow. 

The Dot with a Clock responds to your voice commands through Alexa, and shows an indicator when an alarm is set. Plus, you can smack the top to snooze for a set nine minutes. While still a smart speaker first and foremost, the Dot with Clock now warrants consideration as an effective alarm clock. Read our Amazon Echo Dot with Clock review.

I was torn about the American Lifetime Day Clock, because the large-print design struck my fancy and could come in handy if you have impaired vision. The clock even spells out the day and date, and you can program alarms with a reminder message such as "Take your medicine" to help relatives with memory trouble. That said, I'm primarily judging alarm clocks here, and it isn't a good alarm clock. You can't snooze, the display casts a glow even at its dimmest, and setting alarms is a pain. You have to scroll through a menu that could easily be confusing for an elderly relative -- so you'd be stuck with all the setup and even maintenance when a setting needs to be changed. The $41 American Lifetime Day Clock might be worth considering if you need a time display capable of reminders, but you can find better options if you just want an alarm with big numbers.

iHome iBT29BC

If you want features, the $50-ish iHome iBT29BC likely has you covered. This smart alarm clock has a built-in radio and two alarms, doubles as a Bluetooth speaker and even comes with an auxiliary cable. It has a battery backup, and it can double as a speakerphone and communicate with your phone's digital assistant. It has a light that changes colors and lots of customization for what to play when you wake up. The light won't fade up like the Philips HF3500, but it can turn on when your alarm sounds. Plus, the sound quality is surprisingly good. The snooze button is a little too small and you'll want to keep the instruction manual handy when you first start using it. The clock face shines too brightly when turned up and it's hard to see from across the room when dim. The iHome iBT29BC does a little bit of everything, but it's not great at any one thing, and for the price, if you want a built-in speaker to wake you up, you might as well get a smart speaker. Read more.

Given that the Home Sunrise Alarm Clock performs ostensibly the same trick as the Philips HF3500 for a fraction of the price -- $29 for the Home Clock as opposed to $37 for the HF3500 -- I was excited to try it out. This light alarm clock even has a few more features: The light changes colors, and you can customize which color turns on and how long it fades up before your chosen alarm time. It has a radio and you can pick from a variety of wake-up sounds, including classical music and nature sounds such as waves crashing. On paper, the clock offers everything you could want in a light alarm clock at a great price. It also proves that you get what you pay for. The touch buttons on the front aren't very responsive -- setting the time, setting an alarm and turning off the alarm from your bedside table are all more difficult than they need to be. Using the radio is surprisingly tedious. The sunrise simulation brightness ramps up too quickly in the morning and the white numbers showing the time cast too much light at night. If you can get around the tedium, the clock does offer many a feature for the price.

Not recommended

I don't recommend the following alarms to anyone.

Sharp LCD Digital Alarm Clock: This compact, $15 digital clock takes two AA batteries and is fully portable, but you can't see the time in a darkened room without turning on a backlight that will hurt your eyes because you're in a darkened room. The snooze button and the backlight button are the same. When the alarm sounds, that backlight turns on automatically, but turns off again after a couple of seconds. If you take a moment to wake up you won't be able to check the time when deciding whether or not to snooze. If you need an alarm for your home, use a different one. If you need a portable alarm, you're better off using your phone.

Brandstand BPECT CubieTime: This ugly $59 alarm costs too much, has a clock face that glows, lacks any meaningful feature and gets a lot of the basics wrong. It's hard to find snooze in the dark. Setting the alarm is relatively tedious, and the alarm resets to 6 a.m. every time you turn it off, so you'll need to put it back to your preferred time every day if you happen to wake up at any other time.

What to look for in an alarm clock

ihome-iav14-product-photos-1

iHome has an alarm with Amazon's Alexa built in that we'll be reviewing shortly. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you're out shopping and don't see any of the above, you can find a good option for your nightstand by keeping a couple of things in mind.

Red and orange numbers are less likely to cast a glow. That might not matter to you if a glow won't bother you or if you actually want a glow, but if you don't like a bright sleeping environment, the color of the numbers is a bigger deal than you'd expect. That's one thing you can learn about the alarm just by looking at the display.

Focus on the basics. Alarms that perform a bunch of extra tricks are nice, but you probably have something else in your house that's better at playing music or that has a charging port for your phone. Look for an alarm that's easy to set, easy to check, has an indicator so you can see that it's armed and has a big snooze button that you can find when you're half asleep.

Get the extras you want. After you find a couple of options that get the basics right, find the one with extras that appeal to you. Do you want a nightlight? Do you want several alarms? Do you want to customize the length of the timer? Do you want a radio? The great thing about the breadth of the alarm category is that you can find a model that fits all of your desired criteria. And yes, if you really want to go crazy with a charging port or even wireless phone charging built in, those models exist too.

Gentle wakeups are great. If you don't know what features to prioritize, look for an alarm that gradually increases in volume or slowly raises the light level to ease you out of your sleep. That was my favorite feature of the bunch and I generally felt less grumpy with alarms that didn't shock me awake.

"Smart" alarm clocks are here. Finally, keep in mind that if you want an alarm with smarts -- something that's compatible with Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple's Siri -- you have options other than the Lenovo Smart Clock and the Echo Show 5. iHome offers smart alarms with either Alexa or Google Assistant. And Insignia's Google-compatible alarm clock is a good option if you can snag it when it's periodically marked down to $25.

More ways to get better sleep

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Best alarm clocks of 2020 – CNET

Alarm clocks are like referees -- they're necessary, but I tend to get annoyed at them just for doing their jobs. You want to be reliably woken up on time every morning, but it's still irritating to be roused from a restful night's sleep by a repeated buzzing in your ear. With a better alarm clock, you'll hopefully be less annoyed and less inclined to smash your helpful gadget into pieces when it wakes you up. 

Finding the best alarm clock for you can make the process of waking up easier. As with other smart home products, search any major US electronics retailer and you'll find a slew of options from a variety of brands, at prices ranging from $10 to over $100. Sorting through the crowd can feel like splitting hairs, given that they all mainly serve a single purpose.

Read more: Echo Dot with Clock offers a nice quality of life upgrade

Best alarm clocks

Complicating matters even further, you likely have a smartphone alarm clock app and possibly a smart display or smart speaker, which can wake you up and render a separate alarm clock redundant. Nevertheless, alarm clocks still have their place, and I understand the appeal over an app or smart device -- I like turning my smartphone off at night and having a clock I can check at a glance if I wake up from sleep and it's still dark.

In pursuit of a more refreshing morning, I tested 10 alarms over a couple of months to find the best alarm clock on the market. I checked the recommended products on other sites, and looked at top-rated models and top sellers on Best BuyAmazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, and Walmart. I compiled the common denominators into my list and purchased them for testing.

I let each alarm wake me up for at least two nights, making notes about the experience as I went, and I was surprised to find big differences in usability even at such a simple task. Extras and customizability were nice, especially at higher prices, but I generally preferred those that got the basics right for an affordable price. That said, I recently reviewed the Lenovo Smart Clock and the Amazon Echo Show 5, which are smart alarms that feel like worthwhile upgrades. I've added entries for both to the recommended picks of the best alarm clock below. I'll keep updating this list as I test more products.

Read more: 4 sunrise alarm clocks that will wake you up gently

Now playing: Watch this: Tips to know when buying an alarm clock

1:35

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Travelwey's alarm clock excels at simplicity. It's $14, which is a little more than other competent models I tested, but still easily affordable for a bedside alarm clock you'll use every day. It only has a handful of buttons, all of which are easy to understand and use. The big red numbers dominate the LED display, and the snooze button is easy to find and smack when you want to shut up the alarm in the morning.

You can adjust the brightness of the numbers with a slider on the back. At all levels, the numbers are large enough that they're easy to read from across a dark room and they don't cast a glow that could disrupt your sleep. The Travelwey Home LED Alarm Clock also has a separate nightlight feature if you don't want your room to be pitch black while you sleep.

Other than the nightlight, Travelwey's alarm doesn't have much to feature. You can't adjust the snooze time -- it's 9 minutes. You can't set a second alarm. You can switch between a two-volume alarm setting if you prefer a soft or loud alarm clock, but you can't change the tone or have it play music or the radio.

It's a simple alarm clock, but Travelwey made sure all of the basics were implemented well. A simple indicator shows the alarm is armed. It has a backup battery, if you have a power outage. You can check the time with a button and press a separate one to turn off the alarm but leave it set for the same time the next day. There's not much to the Travelwey Home LED Alarm Clock, but what's there works well.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Show 5 has a lot of the trappings I look for in a good alarm clock. You can set different alarms and have them repeat on various days of the week. The alarm can wake you up with a customizable tone or your own music. You can have the alarm ramp up the volume loud to ease you out of your sleep. Along the same line, the screen can gradually get brighter starting 15 minutes before the alarm to wake you from sleep.

When you're not sleeping, you can issue voice commands to the Show 5 thanks to the built-in Alexa voice assistant. You can also use the touchscreen to make video calls, check the weather, control your smart home and other things. The Show 5 is a smart display similar to the original Echo Show, but trimmed for your nightstand.

Even with adaptive brightness enabled, the screen still casts a little glow, and you can't customize the snooze time, but it otherwise offers all of the customization and any feature you'd want if you're willing to pay more for a smart alarm. Its list price is $90, but it's currently on sale on Amazon for $70. Read our Echo Show 5 review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Sony ICFC-1 costs $18, a little more than the Travelwey Home LED. It has an alarm clock radio built in so you can wake up to your favorite station or a more traditional alarm clock buzzing. You can set a sleep timer so you can fall asleep to the radio as it plays. It adjusts the time automatically for daylight saving time. Even the buzzing alarm gently ramps up to ease you out of your sleep, and the snooze function button is easy to find if you need more time.

You'll want to keep the manual handy when first setting up the Sony ICFC-1. Even setting and checking your alarm time is counterintuitive at first. There's no button for it -- you hit the plus or minus on top to see the time then keep hitting one or the other to set the alarm time. Once you know what to press, using the ICFC-1 is simple enough, it's just not quite as brainless as the Travelwey alarm.

The cube design is also a little hard to get used to, and the orange numbers aren't as easily visible from across the room as those on the Travelwey alarm. That said, you can cycle through three levels of brightness by tapping snooze, none of which creates an unwanted glow. The ICFC-1 also has a button to turn off the alarm that keeps it set for the same time. It has a battery backup and a clear indicator when the alarm is armed.

I liked Travelwey's alarm slightly more as it's easier to set up, and its clock is easier to see from across a darkened room, but Sony's alarm makes a strong case for itself by doing more for the same price and it could easily be the better choice for you if you value those extras.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you're willing to spend more than $40 for an alarm, you can look for all kinds of different features. Of all of the potential alarm upgrades, the sunrise alarm on the $50 Philips HF3500 is the only one that actually makes it easier to wake up in the morning. Shaped a bit like a UFO with a kickstand, the HF3500 has a simple circular orange clock face surrounded by a couple of buttons and a wide light ring. Thirty minutes before the scheduled alarm time, the light gradually starts increasing in brightness until it reaches a customizable max at the scheduled time and starts beeping with increasing intensity to finish the task of waking sleepers up.

The light is supposed to gently ease sleepers awake. On both mornings of my testing, I had a good night's sleep and a relatively easy time getting out of bed. Aside from the light, the Philips HF3500 is easy to operate with minimal buttons. You can use the light as a lamp and it has 10 levels of brightness. You can cycle through three levels for the clock face, but the orange numbers do a good job of not casting much of a glow even at their brightest, so sleep won't be disturbed.

Snoozing the alarm is counterintuitive, as you need to whack the upper half of the light -- there's no button. I'd worry that I'd accidentally break my fancy alarm on a particularly grouchy morning. For its price, the HF3500 surprisingly lacks any extras other than the wake-up light, and I doubt that will be much help for heavy sleepers, or those with rooms that already get bright when day breaks.

Nevertheless, the HF3500 keeps things simple and elegant while still innovating on the basic concept of waking up from sleep in the morning. Splurging on the HF3500 could be a worthwhile experiment if you're looking for a more peaceful way to wake up.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The RCD30 has a lot in common with my favorite of the bunch, the Travelwey. The RCD30 is simple, with only a couple of buttons. It has a large, red display with two levels of brightness -- neither glows and you can easily see either from across a dark room. The snooze button is easy to find, but double-checking your alarm time and resetting it for the next day aren't as easy on the RCD30 as on the Travelwey. Also, unlike the Travelwey, the RCD30 doesn't have a nightlight, which some prefer for sleep. Given that it's only about $13, it's a good alternative if you want something cheap and simple.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I hated the Sonic Bomb bed shaker alarm -- but that's a good thing if you're a semicomatose sleeper and it's difficult for you to wake up. To be clear, I didn't hate the $33 clock because of poor design or poor performance, I hated it because I woke up to my pillow shaking and I thought the world was ending. The bed shaker alarm has an incredibly loud buzzer and a vibrating alarm clock attachment you can place on your bed in case the buzzer itself isn't enough. The clock offers two alarms and plenty of customization. The controls are easy enough to figure out. It's worth your consideration for heavy sleepers, and it deserves to be mentioned alongside the Philips HF3500 as a good implementation of a novelty alarm concept. But unless you truly know very deep sleepers, the Philips makes for a much more pleasing morning routine.

Other options

The following alarm clocks do some things well but have flaws that make them tougher to recommend.

The Lenovo Smart Clock uses Google Assistant to respond to your voice commands, so you can use it as a smart speaker like the Google Home Mini. It has a 4-inch touchscreen and you can swipe between pages showing the weather, your commute and your calendar -- handy info when you're heading to bed or first waking up. It's similar to a smart display, but not as robust, in that you can't watch videos or access a smart home control panel. The touchscreen is meant specifically for your bedside.

Fortunately, it's an effective alarm. You can set different alarms at once and customize each to a wide degree. You can set your preferred snooze length, choose an alarm tone and set any alarm to repeat on a daily schedule. The Lenovo Smart Clock also doubles as a sunrise alarm, with the screen getting brighter 30 minutes before your scheduled wake up time. 

Plus, it can trigger a Good Morning routine when you shut it off. By default, that routine will tell you about your day and then play news podcasts, but you can customize it to your liking and have it control smart home gadgets as well. After a recent update, it can also scroll through your personal pictures as a screensaver. 

The Lenovo Smart Clock isn't perfect. You can choose from a variety of clock faces, but none strikes the perfect balance of nighttime visibility without a glow. You can't wake up to the radio or your own music. If you want something more than a basic alarm, the smarts are well implemented, but the Amazon Echo Show 5 does more. Read our Lenovo Smart Clock review.

The LED display on this smart speaker shows the time and weather. It's a minor upgrade over an ordinary Echo Dot, but the visible clock makes it easier to recommend as an alarm. The brightness of the display adapts to the light in the room and the numbers do a good job of not casting a glow when dim. I was surprised the Dot with Clock did well on this test, since the numbers are white and you can't change the color to orange or red -- which are typically better at being visible in the dark without casting a glow. 

The Dot with a Clock responds to your voice commands through Alexa, and shows an indicator when an alarm is set. Plus, you can smack the top to snooze for a set nine minutes. While still a smart speaker first and foremost, the Dot with Clock now warrants consideration as an effective alarm clock. Read our Amazon Echo Dot with Clock review.

I was torn about the American Lifetime Day Clock, because the large-print design struck my fancy and could come in handy if you have impaired vision. The clock even spells out the day and date, and you can program alarms with a reminder message such as "Take your medicine" to help relatives with memory trouble. That said, I'm primarily judging alarm clocks here, and it isn't a good alarm clock. You can't snooze, the display casts a glow even at its dimmest, and setting alarms is a pain. You have to scroll through a menu that could easily be confusing for an elderly relative -- so you'd be stuck with all the setup and even maintenance when a setting needs to be changed. The $41 American Lifetime Day Clock might be worth considering if you need a time display capable of reminders, but you can find better options if you just want an alarm with big numbers.

If you want features, the $50-ish iHome iBT29BC likely has you covered. This smart alarm clock has a built-in radio and two alarms, doubles as a Bluetooth speaker and even comes with an auxiliary cable. It has a battery backup, and it can double as a speakerphone and communicate with your phone's digital assistant. It has a light that changes colors and lots of customization for what to play when you wake up. The light won't fade up like the Philips HF3500, but it can turn on when your alarm sounds. Plus, the sound quality is surprisingly good. The snooze button is a little too small and you'll want to keep the instruction manual handy when you first start using it. The clock face shines too brightly when turned up and it's hard to see from across the room when dim. The iHome iBT29BC does a little bit of everything, but it's not great at any one thing, and for the price, if you want a built-in speaker to wake you up, you might as well get a smart speaker. Read more.

Given that the Home Sunrise Alarm Clock performs ostensibly the same trick as the Philips HF3500 for a fraction of the price -- $29 for the Home Clock as opposed to $37 for the HF3500 -- I was excited to try it out. This light alarm clock even has a few more features: The light changes colors, and you can customize which color turns on and how long it fades up before your chosen alarm time. It has a radio and you can pick from a variety of wake-up sounds, including classical music and nature sounds such as waves crashing. On paper, the clock offers everything you could want in a light alarm clock at a great price. It also proves that you get what you pay for. The touch buttons on the front aren't very responsive -- setting the time, setting an alarm and turning off the alarm from your bedside table are all more difficult than they need to be. Using the radio is surprisingly tedious. The sunrise simulation brightness ramps up too quickly in the morning and the white numbers showing the time cast too much light at night. If you can get around the tedium, the clock does offer many a feature for the price.

Not recommended

I don't recommend the following alarms to anyone.

Sharp LCD Digital Alarm Clock: This compact, $15 digital clock takes two AA batteries and is fully portable, but you can't see the time in a darkened room without turning on a backlight that will hurt your eyes because you're in a darkened room. The snooze button and the backlight button are the same. When the alarm sounds, that backlight turns on automatically, but turns off again after a couple of seconds. If you take a moment to wake up you won't be able to check the time when deciding whether or not to snooze. If you need an alarm for your home, use a different one. If you need a portable alarm, you're better off using your phone.

Brandstand BPECT CubieTime: This ugly $59 alarm costs too much, has a clock face that glows, lacks any meaningful feature and gets a lot of the basics wrong. It's hard to find snooze in the dark. Setting the alarm is relatively tedious, and the alarm resets to 6 a.m. every time you turn it off, so you'll need to put it back to your preferred time every day if you happen to wake up at any other time.

What to look for in an alarm clock

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iHome has an alarm with Amazon's Alexa built in that we'll be reviewing shortly. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you're out shopping and don't see any of the above, you can find a good option for your nightstand by keeping a couple of things in mind.

Red and orange numbers are less likely to cast a glow. That might not matter to you if a glow won't bother you or if you actually want a glow, but if you don't like a bright sleeping environment, the color of the numbers is a bigger deal than you'd expect. That's one thing you can learn about the alarm just by looking at the display.

Focus on the basics. Alarms that perform a bunch of extra tricks are nice, but you probably have something else in your house that's better at playing music or that has a charging port for your phone. Look for an alarm that's easy to set, easy to check, has an indicator so you can see that it's armed and has a big snooze button that you can find when you're half asleep.

Get the extras you want. After you find a couple of options that get the basics right, find the one with extras that appeal to you. Do you want a nightlight? Do you want several alarms? Do you want to customize the length of the timer? Do you want a radio? The great thing about the breadth of the alarm category is that you can find a model that fits all of your desired criteria. And yes, if you really want to go crazy with a charging port or even wireless phone charging built in, those models exist too.

Gentle wakeups are great. If you don't know what features to prioritize, look for an alarm that gradually increases in volume or slowly raises the light level to ease you out of your sleep. That was my favorite feature of the bunch and I generally felt less grumpy with alarms that didn't shock me awake.

"Smart" alarm clocks are here. Finally, keep in mind that if you want an alarm with smarts -- something that's compatible with Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple's Siri -- you have options other than the Lenovo Smart Clock and the Echo Show 5. iHome offers smart alarms with either Alexa or Google Assistant. And Insignia's Google-compatible alarm clock is a good option if you can snag it when it's periodically marked down to $25.

More ways to get better sleep

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Google Nest Hub offers hands-free hospitality for hotels – CNET

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Dale Smith/CNET

Google wants to make your next hotel stay that much more comfortable. It's partnered with a few hotels to put its flagship smart display -- the Nest Hub -- into individual rooms with an experience tailored for the guest. In the hotel, you'll have access to the usual voice commands. For example, you can play music, check the weather and browse local restaurants. In addition, the Nest Hub will offer customized hospitality: So you'll be able to request towels, check hours for the pool, hear about special offers and more. 

Hotels can also offer surveys and checkout services through the Nest Hub, and since the hotel sets up the device, you won't have to log in. Google will automatically delete any activities between guests and won't store audio. 

The hotel version of the Nest Hub will be available starting Wednesday at a few select locations including Shelborne South Beach in Miami, Synergy Chelsea in New York, Hotel Zena in DC and Village Hotels in the UK. Google is supposedly working with more hotels to expand the rollout in the near future.

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The Nest Hub is one of our favorite smart displays for your home. It combines a simple touchscreen with the always-listening capabilities of a smart speaker like the Nest Mini. You can watch YouTube videos on the screen and see more forecast details when you search for the weather. 

It's also the only major smart display that doesn't have a built-in camera. While this may be a drawback for some, that could provide reassurance if you want privacy and want to have hands-free help near your bedside. Google touts the lack of camera as a privacy bonus for the hotel integration as well. 

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EA launches rebranded membership service EA Play – CNET

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Madden 21 in action. 

EA Sports

Video game studio Electronic Arts is simplifying its membership programs. Starting Tuesday, EA Origins and EA Access will be combined into one service called EA Play. For $5 a month or $30 for the year, you'll be able to play some EA games up to 10 hours before launch and access extras such as cosmetic upgrades for your characters.

EA is also offering discounts on some titles as a membership perk and teased additional perks for members of an upgraded EA Play Pro service. 

At launch, the company is offering bonus content and perks for two popular upcoming sports titles Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21, as well as the upcoming game Star Wars Squadrons. EA Play will be available to gamers on a variety of platforms, including PS4 and Xbox One. Check out the announcement page for details on signing up. 

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Google Maps update includes more colorful images and sidewalk info – CNET

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Google

In addition to helping you find your way, the latest Google Maps update will help you know more details about any given area at a glance. Starting this week, Google will shade maps with colors based on satellite imagery so you can easily tell the difference between forests and beaches. The update will be available worldwide and will cover a variety of natural and manmade features. 

While the refined color palette is meant to help you understand regional features, a future update will offer more detail on a much smaller scale. Google says it will roll out more granular info on streets so you can see their exact size at scale in addition to the locations of sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian islands. 

The more detailed street images will start rolling out in London, New York and San Francisco in the coming months. 

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Google Maps will show the location of important features like crosswalks. 

Google

Google announced both changes in a blog post on Tuesday, but didn't offer a timeline on a broader rollout of the more granular view. 

The color mapping update will supposedly not just be for large landscape features either. Google will use computer imagery to show more coloration on areas such as cities, suburbs and rural towns. 

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Ghost of Tsushima vs. Sekiro: The ultimate samurai showdown – CNET

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Big Breath of the Wild energies in this screenshot.

Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

I loved Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It's a brutally difficult yet masterfully crafted samurai game from the team that created my favorite game ever -- Dark Souls. I was prepared to dislike Ghost of Tsushima out of spite because I thought it would be a dumbed down version of Sekiro meant to please those less willing to endure the torture of near-impossible boss fights. 

Now that I've sunk 30 to 40 hours into Ghost of Tsushima, I'm prepared to say I love this game too. It's wonderful in its own way and not the Sekiro clone I was expecting. Yes, both feature fast-paced sword fights, but Ghost is an open world adventure where tense moments of combat are balanced by serene meadows and optional activities like collecting flowers and composing haiku. Sekiro, on the other hand, is a tightly designed linear experience where the focus is almost always on making it from point A to B in one piece.

Nevertheless, both draw heavy inspiration from classic samurai films, both have heart pounding one-on-one duels and epic swordplay, and both are set in reimagined regions of historical Japan. I also have similar feelings of triumph when I win a tough fight in both games. So despite their differences, I'm pitting them head to head. 

Combat

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Sekiro's combat is fast, precise and brilliantly polished.

From Software/Activision

When Sekiro came out last year, it featured the best melee combat system of any game I've ever played. It's fast and brutal. Usually in games with swords, you chip away at the health bar of any enemy bit by bit. This is an accepted video game convention, but it doesn't have the same urgency of classic samurai films where a single strike could pierce an opponent through the heart. 

Sekiro offered sword fights that made you feel like you were fighting with a dangerous weapon. You're not chipping away at a health bar, you're wearing down your opponents or maneuvering to break through their defense. When you do, you can strike them dead in a single killing blow. You can even beat bosses quickly once you learn how to break their defense, but the challenge comes from their ability to do the same to you. 

Ghost of Tsushima returns to a traditional health bar approach. You can break an opponent's defense, but that simply opens them up to a few strikes that whittle down their health. And you don't have a defensive meter yourself, so they can't turn the tables in the same way. Fortunately, the combat is still innovative in its own way. 

On harder difficulties, opponents attack relentlessly and mix and match their approach with feints and unblockable attacks. You can parry and counter many of these attacks, but you also need to dodge and make use of the Ghost's many extra tools, like using smoke bombs to keep control of the crowd. The mix of attacks keeps you on edge, and the most unique twist of the system comes in the form of stances. 

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Other games, such as Nioh, have used combat stances to allow you to change up your attack pattern to fit the situation. Ghost's system is simpler and works beautifully as a result. Each of your four stances is tailored to one of four enemy types. All of your attacks are much more effective against a certain enemy if you're in the proper stance.

I actually prefer Ghost of Tsushima's combat to Sekiro's when it comes to dealing with crowds. You need to mix strategy and honed reflexes to stay ahead, and it's a wonderful feeling to dodge a shield swipe, stab the bearer to death, switch stances and counter the incoming spear thrust, then finish by bringing your blade down to slice off the attacker's arm. It's exhilarating and takes practice to get right, then feels rewarding when you do master it and can successfully defeat large crowds without being touched.

Sekiro is a little clunkier when dealing with crowds, but is still fine. You can lock onto one enemy to center your focus, but switching the lock to multiple opponents doesn't feel graceful. In general, with Sekiro I tried to control crowds so I was only facing one attacker at a time. 

When you go one-on-one with an opponent, Sekiro's combat is better, and that's why the boss fights shine. Each one is a puzzle where you need to figure out the right mix of aggression and defense that will effectively break your opponent's defenses before they take down yours. Opponents have particularly powerful moves that can do devastating damage, but each has a specific counter option so you can turn the tide in your own favor if you read the attack correctly. 

You have extra tools in Sekiro as well, but they're more of a supplement to a strategy than a means of turning the tide like in Ghost. Ghost, then, is more flexible with combat, but Sekiro finds a lot of tactical wiggle room in a simple system, and bosses constantly keep you guessing until you solve the puzzle and can counter everything they throw at you. 

Ghost of Tsushima's combat evolves with new moves and tools as you progress, but the bad guys don't change that much. The one-on-one fights are also great and suspenseful, but they similarly start to blend together as the game progresses. Because Sekiro focuses on those one-on-one duels, each boss encounter is strikingly different from the last and defeating a tough opponent after multitudes of attempts grants a huge feeling of exhilaration that Ghost can't match. 

As a whole, I still prefer Sekiro's combat, but Ghost of Tsushima comes closer than I thought it might.

Stealth and exploration

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Ghost of Tsushima mixes beauty and brutality really well. 

Sucker Punch/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

Outside of combat, the games differ in style, tone and even gameplay. Do you want to ride a horse through sun-swept fields, battle enemy encampments, and learn about a small group of misfit friends over the course of several side missions? Go with Ghost of Tsushima. Do you want to navigate tightly designed levels filled with hidden shortcuts while looking for secrets, searching for the way through and doing everything you can to stay alive? That's Sekiro. 

Both have simple stealth systems so you can get the drop on enemies -- sometimes literally. You can climb in both games and assassinate your opponents from above. The open world of Ghost of Tsushima lends itself to more flexibility, but the levels of Sekiro are crafted well enough to allow for plenty of avenues of approach. Both transition well from stealth to open combat if and when you get spotted. Neither stealth system is as robust as what you'd get in a stealth-focused title such as Metal Gear Solid 5, but both are functional and fun. 

I'll call this category a tie. Ghost of Tsushima has more flexibility most of the time but also missions with forced stealth that annoyed me. Structurally, it offers the freedom of an open world, but has more bloat in terms of time filling side quests compared to the tight structure of Sekiro. Both are good examples of two different video game genres.

Accessibility and storytelling

Ghost of Tsushima gets extra points for accessibility. After a recent update, it has options that include making subtitles easier to see, helping with aiming projectiles and reducing the speed of enemy attacks. It also has four difficulty settings, and I like the way it ramps up the challenge with each. 

Most games turn enemies into damage sponges on higher settings, so it takes forever to kill them as they absorb blow after blow. Ghost of Tsushima doesn't change health. You're just as deadly at higher difficulties, but the enemies are more aggressive, they hit harder and the timing needed to counter enemy moves is stricter. 

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Sekiro's boss fights are a treat. 

Activision

Sekiro, infamously, doesn't have explicit difficulty options. You can find a few hidden items in the game to make combat more challenging, but you can't make it less punishing. I appreciate this, as it's perfectly balanced as it is and part of the experience is patiently learning what the game is trying to teach you. You don't have to be a great gamer to beat Sekiro, you just need to be willing to learn. That said, accessibility options would have been a nice extra touch. 

As for the story, I liked the narrative in Sekiro. Other games by publisher From Software have left most storytelling to background lore, but Sekiro has explicit beats and interesting characters. It veers into some strange territory and still takes some detective work to figure out all of the nuance, but I was generally invested in the fates of the main cast.

The story in Ghost of Tsushima is one of the highlights. It has a compelling villain and interesting, flawed main characters with engrossing story arcs. The story in Sekiro was competent enough to keep me involved. The story in Ghost of Tsushima was potent enough to make me genuinely emotional.

Declaring a winner

I wasn't expecting this to be a close fight, but I truly think both games are great. Sekiro has better combat, but Ghost of Tsushima comes close, has a better story and is more accessible. And yet Sekiro is more unique. Ghost of Tsushima mixes ideas from other series like Red Dead Redemption and Assassin's Creed, but the combat stands on its own. 

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Ghost of Tsushima surprisingly has a lot in common with Red Dead Redemption 2. 

Rockstar Games

Neither game is perfect. I mentioned Ghost of Tsushima's bloated side missions, plus the pacing suffers a little in the middle of the game. Sekiro makes you face tedious mini-bosses during the first couple of hours, which isn't great. Carefully picking off the minions surrounding the boss so you can have a head-to-head faceoff is exciting once, but a giant pain when the mini boss takes several attempts to beat.

Ghost of Tsushima is the better fit for most people looking for a fun samurai game and a way to relax after work. It's not wholly original, but it's polished and fun. I still prefer Sekiro for its thrill and unique design. If you want a challenging game that pushes sword fighting to the extreme, Sekiro is better. I also believe that years from now, because of its originality, Sekiro will stick out more in my memory. 

To an extent, Ghost of Tsushima is what I feared it would be -- a samurai game for the masses that will likely sell better than Sekiro. Surprisingly, I'm OK with it. It's a good game in its own right and I'm glad I got to play both. I'm still going to call Sekiro the winner, but the Ghost would make for an amazing boss fight. 

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Xbox Series X officially launching this November – CNET

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Microsoft

We finally know when we'll see the next Xbox. Microsoft will launch the Xbox Series X this November. The tech giant announced the news on Tuesday and it looks like it will deliver on the promised time frame of the 2020 holiday season. 

The news comes with a caveat, as one of the biggest launch titles for console -- Halo Infinite -- the next chapter in the long-running Halo series of video games, will be delayed to 2021 after initially targeting a similar holiday 2020 release window.

Microsoft announced the refined release window on Tuesday via a blog post, perhaps to help soften the blow of the Halo Infinite delay. 343 Industries, the team behind Halo Infinite, announced the delay on Twitter: 

Halo Infinite is supposed to feature bigger and more visually intense battles than any previous game in the series. The first Halo was released back in 2001 for the original Xbox. Original developer Bungie eventually left the franchise to work on Destiny, another popular shooter series, but 343 Industries has been at the helm of Halo for awhile. 

No doubt Halo Infinite is one of the big draws for the new Xbox console as it prepares to compete with the upcoming PlayStation 5 from Sony. Halo is one of the most well-known franchises exclusive to Microsoft. Microsoft's announcement highlighted the many other titles coming to the console in the meantime and promised the ability to play games across all four generations of Xbox.

Neither Microsoft nor Sony has announced pricing for their respective consoles yet. The PlayStation 5 is also expected this holiday season. 

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