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on August 29, 2010
I have owned the Oregon 550T for a year now and I think I have used every of its most important features, accessories and software. My overall rating is that there is room for improvement, its accessories are very expensive but it is one of the top hiking GPS products compared to others. There is so much stuff that can be reviewed so I'll try to cover purchasing decision factors and how-to tips that I think will be valuable for the ones looking for real and tested decision information.

- ACCURACY: I have used my Oregon mostly in the Shenandoah, VA area and have done hiking in South America as well. One point in behalf of the Oregon is its ability to quickly pick satellite reception and pinpoint your location. I have noticed though that when you drastically change your location, let's say North American vs. South America, the GPS will need more time to discover the satellites in that area, but after that, it reconnects quickly.
One not pleasant detail is that even when you walk back and forth over the same trail and spot, the GPS shows your tracks several feet apart. The accuracy of the GPS from my measurements is around 25 feet and often more. You may want to remember this when hiking and trying to find the trail the GPS tells you is there. You may find it 25 feet "around" you and not exactly in the direction the GPS is telling you it is. I think its accuracy requires improvement.
Initially I thought this is a problem in my GPS so I contacted Garmin's support and I was told basically what I suspected. The accuracy is not 2 or 3 feet but a whole lot more. I think is not too different to a car GPS in this regards. I also found that once you tap on the satellite signal in the GPS it will provide you the GPS accuracy which often displays a number between 30 and 49. To me this is something that requires urgent improvement. The mission of a GPS is ultimately let you know where your trails are, not providing accurate information is failing to its basic mission.

- MAPS AND PRELOADED MAP: The Oregon 550T comes preloaded with the US Topo 100K. This is a very low detail map. My experience tells me that many well-known park trails are missing, camp information is missing and basic routes are missing as well. It is just an awfully basic, high level map. I felt very disappointed to know that my over 500+ bucks didn't give me anything better so I contacted Garmin regarding this. I wanted something with more details so they kindly recommended me to get the Garmin Topo US 24K DVD for my area (Southeast DVD) which is $129.99 or an BirdsEye imagery subscription for one year (more about this last one later in my review) but they require of purchasing an additional microSD Card. Expenditures continue.

- ADDITIONAL CARD: Technical support told me that the maximum microSD card supported by the Oregon 550t is 4GB so I got one. Make sure to review the microSD card speed before you buy it. There are several speeds, make sure to get the fastest possible to make sure uploading and downloading data doesn't becomes mission impossible. Installation of the card is hassle free and it got it in quickly. There is very little you can do with the card and the GPS alone if you don't have the necessary software tools to move maps around with your GPS. I'll talk about that later in my review.

- OTHER MAPS, DVDS OR CARDS OR WHAT: If you have been browsing Garmin's website you may have noticed an interesting assortment of products. They have the same maps in several formats: DVD, microSD and download. I contacted support and ask them what format is more convenient and why. Michael S from their technical team gave me this great answer: "Thank you for contacting Garmin International. I would be happy to assist you with this. For most of our maps there are typically 3 options: Getting a disk, doing the download or getting the preprogrammed data card. When you get the disk you have these on both the computer and the unit. You can load these Topo maps onto as many Garmin mapping handhelds that you own since it is not a locked product. With the preprogrammed data card, the maps are just on the card. They cannot be viewed on the computer unless the Oregon is plugged in and Basecamp is running. They also cannot be backed up. It can be put into any Garmin unit that accepts microSD/SD cards as it is not locked to a particular unit, but it can only be in one unit at one time. With the downloadable content, it is downloaded directly to your microSD card. The map can be backed up on the computer, but it cannot be viewed on the computer unless the Oregon is plugged in and Basecamp is running. The map is also locked to the unit you downloaded it to, and cannot be viewed in any other Garmin unit. As for the DVD version of the 24k Mid-Atlantic, the DVD is still forthcoming and will include both the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions. The part number for the DVD is 010-11319-00 and will be $129.99. If you have any other questions, please let me know. "
Well, as you can see from this answer you better get the DVD. If you have not purchased the GPS, you may want to plan on adding 130 bucks to your budget if you are planning to hike places you are not familiar with because the preloaded US Topo 100K is too high level.

- THE CAMERA AND DIGITAL ZOOM: When I read that the Oregon can geotag pictures with the location of the shot I got excited. For a minute I was thinking the camera can imprint this information in the picture itself like many digital cameras can do with the date/time stamp. I was wrong, there isn't such thing as that. When you take pictures, information is recoded and kept in the GPS. You can download the pictures using BaseCamp and then upload the pictures to an album in Picassa, and then when you click the picture, geolocation information will be displayed in a text field but not in the picture. I think there is misleading information here, this is what Garmin claims in their website: "Each photo is geotagged automatically with the location of where it was taken". Instead it should say: "Geolocation information is saved in the GPS every time you take a picture. No photo geolocation stamp is available".
Well, aside this fiasco, I find the GPS camera not to be that incredible, just a little phone-like camera without real zoom or wide angle. It will take pictures but any other digital camera will be able to do a better job.

- SUN LIGHT READABILITY: I have been hiking at sunlight and under the forest. I prefer to create a little shade to better read the Oregon. I believe that still you can read it under sunlight. Yes it is not going to be incredible clear but what can be brighter that direct sunlight? The screen can be read better under shady conditions but can handle sunlight well enough to keep you moving and oriented.

- TOUCH SCREEN: The touch screen is really nice. It feels a little like an iPhone. You can tap on the icons and move the screens from side to side, reorganize the icons and move around. You also have buttons to do exactly the same so you can choose.

- DURABLE AND WATERPROOF: The unit is impressively light and it seems rugged but I don't have any plans of testing its durability any further. I just feel that messing with a very expensive toy like this doesn't meet the requirements of my curiosity. The unit also claims to be waterproof and I have seen some demos in YouTube where the unit is operated under the water. Well, the unit connects to a PC using a USB cable and the connector is at the bottom of the device. A little cap is all what will prevent your unit from getting wet. I'm positive the unit will endure some exposure to rain and hopefully will survive a fall to a river. Make sure to keep the USB connector cap well adjusted.

- DOWNLOADING DATA - MAPSOURCE: So you went for your first hike and you recorded your tracks in your GPS. But how do you download this data to your computer? The answer is MapSource. In order to get MapSource installed you need to have a Garmin product previously installed. So install Training Center and then install MapSource. Just Google these names and the word `download' to find them. They are available at Garmin's website and thanks goodness they are free. With this software you can download data from your GPS and review the details of your tracks, modify titles, waypoints and so on. Then you can export your file as .GPX for future use or upload it to some websites. MapSource can compute the profile of your hike and other interesting data.
If you want to see your track in Google Maps or Earth, try using GPS Visualizer [...]. These cool guys created this program that allows importing GPX files into Google and presenting it all together. I also like [...], you can download your GPX data, it will process it and get your the ascent profile, speed, etc. Your GPX data will become available to anyone and you can download files for your GPS as well. Try this example: [...]
While trying to find a way to create my own maps I found TOPO! a National Geographic Product. You can create the topo maps of your hikes and print them out or get the PDF version of them and send them to your friends or just save them for future reference. TOPO! costs 50 bucks. The quality of the Topo maps is so bad but I couldn't find anything better. I hope one day you can merge your GPX files with Google Earth in terrain mode in one tool. Google Earth is still the best Topo maps I have found.
The last tool I want to mention is EasyGPS, a nice small program that will allow you to download and upload GPX files to your GPS and browse the tracks on the screen. It allows some basic editing. I find MapSource a lot better.

- BIRDSEYE IMAGERY AND BASECAMP: For those places where real maps are not available, Garmin offers you the BirdsEye Imagery subscription. It is 30 bucks a year and it only works with one device. BirdsEye imagery is just satellite images (like Google Earth) that you can download to your GPS. BaseCamp is the software that will allow you to download imagery to your computer and create a library. From your library of images you can right click images and upload them to your device. In your device and while hiking they will look like an additional layer. It is nice if the areas you will be hiking don't have a lot of trees. The quality of the images is good but if you plan on downloading a lot of them make sure to get the 4GB microSD and some patience. You cannot download large sections but tiny sections and one at the time.

- BATTERIES AND CHARGER: I'm glad I got a nice couple of rechargeable batteries and the charger in the box. No complains here, I charge the batteries the night before hiking and they last all day long easily. I haven't noticed them drain out because of lack of use. They go strong for long periods of time.
So as you can see it is a very expensive device and although it has some deficiencies it is probably the best of its class. I have compared my Oregon to other GPS devices of fellow hikers and the Oregon seems to be better in many aspects, not perfect but just better.

Well I hope you found in this review enough information to make an educated decision. Happy hiking!
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on February 28, 2014
I've never had a GPS handheld before so I relied a lot on the reviews of others when I made the decision to get the Oregon 450 base model. I've had it just one month, used it to record my travels as I have ridden my bike on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake of Utah, so this is my initial evaluation of my purchase. I have a camera which takes great video and stills, a Canon Elph 100HS, so I didn't need a GPS model with a camera. I read that the 100k maps are next to useless so I didn't get the 450t model with maps pre-installed, but I did get the Garmin 24k Topo map CD. I must say that I love it. It does exactly as I wanted, has a nice size screen, battery life is acceptable, and it's fairly easy to operate (once you learn how).
I wanted a GPS to primarily use while hiking and riding my mtn bike to record my tracks and for hanging out with my Geocaching buddy to find caches. This machine does all this flawlessly as far as I can tell, me being new to all this GPS. In addition to recording my travels and storing them for future viewing, I have loaded my tracks to my PC and viewed them on Garmin BaseCamp, a free program available for download. I think it's all cool.

The Oregon 450 runs on two AA size batteries. In the process of learning the operation of the device, I loaded a pair of new Duracell Rechargeable NIMH batteries to determine battery life. I set the screen to be on full display (no dimming) and let the machine run. I got 8 hours before it show that the batteries were too low to display full brightness and it dimmed, but was still fully readable. That was acceptable to me. I now know I can spend a day hiking or biking and not need to worry about batteries but just carry one spare set just in case. I will continue to evaluate and post updates to this with different setting to determine battery life because it will vary greatly depending on what you set the backlight timeout at. It can be set to timeout at 15 sec, 30 sec, 1 min, 2 min or to stay on. I got 10 hours of operation with mine set to stay on, just as a test of battery life.

I quickly learned not to take both batteries out at the same time when changing them. My micro SDHC memory card fell out when I took both batteries out at the same time. Just take one out, replace it and then change the other and it will prevent that from happening.

Under the Setup option, you can customize the way the buttons appear and hide those that you won't be using which provides for quick access to things you use regularly and hide those you may never use. All options are always there, but hidden, only to be present when you want to change things. It's really neat. There are things I would like differently which would make some actions a one or two push operation, but I can live with the design as Garmin made it. There will always be something that someone could think of to improve a device or change to their preference, but I will just say, learn to do with the system as it is designed and be happy. That goes for anything from cars to cameras to your home. We could all think of ways to change them. Make the most of what you have.

As stated by many reviewers, the screen is a bit hard to see in bright sun. True, but I think my ageing eyes have something to do with that. I am happy with all aspects of the Garmin Oregon 450 base model and recommend it to anyone. I've only had it one month but there have been no problems whatsoever, except for me to learn how to use it. As long as it holds up and doesn't fail, I am happy with what I purchased for a good price from Amazon. If you are interested in the Oregon 450, I would recommend getting the 450 base model and the 24k Topo Map CD and load the map from your computer. The maps are not cheap, but It's a better deal than buying the 450t model with the 100k map pre-loaded at over $100 more, and then having to pay again to get a higher resolution map at additional cost.

Based on other reviews, I also added a screen protection film right from the start. Better to change one of those than scratch up your screen and then regret it. I just cut one I had for a phone to fit and it works great. I hope this eval helps someone.
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on May 17, 2013
I've owned two other hand held GPS units, both Garmin. One was the original eTrex Legend. For what it was, it was great. As long as you didn't need to navigate on cloudy days, or under trees, it worked fine. Any loss of sightline to satellites was the end of the game though. My next unit was an eTrex Legend HCx. It rectified the reception issues, and the display was much better, although it was still small, and could be difficult to use. Navigating menues was a pain, naming waypoints was so bad I started carrying a note pad with me to put name/number information in so I could just name things later on the computer. As technology marched onwards, I found that unit couldn't do one thing I needed it to do - custom maps.

I build recreational trails, and much of our layout proposals are done on computer now, so we could, ideally, simply move those maps over to the GPS and use the GPS to assist us in laying out the trails on the ground as we start to build them. So that's exactly what we do. Doing the geolocation of the map images in Google Earth takes a little work, and some practice, but it's not too hard. You then simply save it onto the device. Once that's done, when you go to that location, you have that map to use there. That feature is WHY I bought this device. It works fantastically. But that's not all it does.

What It Does Well:
Reception is pretty good. Even on cloudy days, under heavy leaf canopy, waypoints are very close to where you need them to get back to a place you want to find.
Waypoint averaging is a new feature to me. It seems to be much better than simply dropping a waypoint like you did on the older units.
The screen - while everyone says the Montana is better, this is lightyears ahead of the old eTrex units I had. It's bigger, the colors are better, it's easier to read....
While we're talking about the screen, since it's touch screen, naming waypoints is quick and easy. Navigating the menus is painless. It's not a perfect system, but its a couple steps up on the eTrex units....

What needs to be better:
I almost waited for a unit with GLONAS. Getting more sats faster would help. It still takes a while for this unit to figure out where it is and pick up. That said, once it knows where it is, it hasn't dropped on me yet.
Custom Maps - large image files won't load right on the unit when installed in custom maps. At least the unit tells you there's a problem when you power it on. It doesn't prevent the unit from starting, but it tells you the custom map won't load. It's kind of a pain to go through the geolocation process and then have the map not load. Some idea what the image size needs to be in order for it to load would help. Better yet, let big images load. Some of us need some of that detail we're trying to include that makes the image files large.

That's it. On the whole, there are no show stoppers for me. There was a learning curve, but on the whole I'm pretty satisfied. Still, a few minor tweaks wouldn't hurt.
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on June 2, 2013
Nicely made instrument. Not at all disappointed by the display as I think it is excellent in full sunlight as far as readability is concerned. I use mine mounted on a kayak, so full sunlight is a big factor. Although, night paddling brings on a different problem. If you want to see the screen at night you have to touch it and it will illuminate for a time period that it is set for. Not too bad of a problem though, since you don't have to stare at it constantly to know where you're going.
I'm used to bigger screens, like my Nuvi 4.3", or my Galaxy phone, so I find it just a tad on the small side. I'm just glad I did not buy one of the smaller screens in the Garmin lineup.
I don't love it yet. I have used it about six times now and the problem is that all Gamin instructions generally really suck. Out of the six times I have managed to save one route flawlessly. I'll be dammed if I know just how I did it because I would like to repeat that. It always shows me the route that I need, but it tacks it onto the last route prior to the one I'm using. Of course, the mileage cannot be calculated because it just adds up everything.
Once I conquer the instructions maybe in my update review I can say "I love it". Here's to optimism.
It can follow a trail backtrack without any problem. I am generally well within 50 ft., which is pretty good for kayaking. I paddle through the Everglades and getting lost would be a serious event. I did have to purchase the Topo US 24K Southeast map CD for an additional $90, so be aware of that. I think the GPS would be useless without those maps.
Tip; 1) before you really have to rely on it make sure you know how to save and archive a track. 2) carry extra batteries 3) use 'My Tracks' on your cell phone, if you have it, as a backup (if you can get a signal).
The one good thing about the GPS, it always gets the satellite signal. One more thing, the 'RAM' mount system is the best to install it on a kayak. Be aware the GPS does not float, so use a leash.
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on May 18, 2013
I bought the model without the preloaded topo and without the camera feature. I do like the GPS but found it to be a reall battery hog. I used AA batteries and found that I could barely get through a day of hiking without seeing the unit go into a standby mode displaying a low battery alert message. It's not a huge deal to carry extra batteries, but I would really like to have a unit that didn't need me to be swapping out extra batteries at the end of every day. In Garmin's defense, they do advise you to use lithium ion batteries, but even then, I don't know that you're going to get a lot of use from this out in the wild. There may be some settings I was missing that save the battery (I know the manual is downloadable, but it wouldn't hurt to have a printed manual with the unit other than the quick start guide). Keeping the display brightness very low would probably help, but it isn't a super bright display as it is.

For the trip home I changed the mode to travel by car and did not even get a full two hours of operating time out of it before it went dead. The car kit to power the unit while you drive would definitely be something to consider if you want to use it while driving. The car kit doesn't charge the unit though, so keep that in mind and remember that you are still going to need to replace the batteries pretty religiously.

I'm glad I didn't buy the Garmin carrying strap with Carabiner, because it comes with one in the box. I bought the extra 24K Topo Maps and had a little trouble getting the mini-SD card to seat properly. It turns out that you have to snap the little metal holder into place and not just set the SD card under the batteries and close the lid. Garmin tech support was very good at responding to my email and walking me through the process of getting the maps loaded.

Unfortunately I just don't see this as a purchase I want to keep because of the limitations I had with battery life. Amazon's return policy is perfect for me with this product and even the Topo Maps were accepted as a return (I was a little worried that I would be out the money for the maps).
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on November 17, 2012
I have lived in Alaska all my life and have always navigated by common sense and a compass. But, I decided it was time to enter the modern world so I did some research and ended up purchasing a new Oregon 450t from Amazon. When I recieved it I tried connecting it to the computer but it would not connect. It being a Friday, Garmen's customer service was closed for the weekend. When I did contact them the customer service person suggested I purchase a new cable and try it. That cost me $27, and it did not work. So I was issued an RMA number and I returned it to Garmin, that cost me $33. They promp0tly returned me a refurbished unit, but, hey it worked. When I called and asked the customer service rep about it he did not have a good explanation for replacing a new unit with a refurbished one. But, he was kind enough to sell me the DVD for North American Streets at a discount. When I got it, it would not download, it was missing the "setup" files on the DVD. Eventually I was able to download it and transfer it to my 450t. As far as using the unit goes, it seems to work well. So far I have used it primarily hiking cross country. I like the touch screen, it finds my location quickly enough, and I especially like the trip computer portion of it.It does use a set of Alkaline batteries every trip though. I haven't tried the Lithium ones yet. Their customer service people were helpful, the company needs to improve their quality control.
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on May 7, 2015
I bought this a year ago when it was $85 cheaper. I bought the base model and I made free maps of the entire world for free (open source maps).

So I love it. I can be in an obscure town in the amazon and my GPS device now has all the maps loaded on and I know where I am going. I've used these maps in US national parks too. This summer I was in Paraguay and I couldn't get bus maps, so I was literally hoping on buses pointed in the right direction and I'd follow the device and once I felt like the bus was deviating from the direction I wanted to go to, I'd hop off. I thought it was awesome.

Depending on your need, you may be able to build and put free maps on instead of buying a model with maps loaded on it. My ability to do that is my favorite aspect of this unit. It was easy to do - I made a huge image file of all of North, South and Central America and loaded it on an SD card for free.

My complaint is, however, that this unit has a very hard time getting a GPS signal in cities with anything that resembles a sky scraper. The car GPS devices don't have a problem but sometimes this won't get a signal, period even as I'm trying to position myself towards a clear sky..
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on October 12, 2014
This is a great device with excellent supporting software and tons of free maps online...If you know where to look (GPS file depot).
If you're like me and wondering if you should get the one with the camera? Get the one with the camera...wish I did.
So I'm dropping this down to three stars for the simple reason that it has been wildly inaccurate when it comes to logging distance traveled. I did a hike recently that clocks in at just under 6 miles...the unit showed 10.88 miles! This happened before while in a deep gorge, instead of just cutting the signal, there was a spider web of locations all around the gorge rendering the unit useless. This all may be a result of the locations that I'm in (deep canyons) but it holds on to satellites so one would assume it is accurate. It definitely shows you where you are at the moment but if like me you'd like to see how much ground you've covered, you may be disappointed. I will be updating the software tonight to see if it resolves the issue.
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on November 1, 2013
There are more expensive units out there, and possibly better ones, but for the money, this is the best you're going to get for your investment. Paperless geocaching, easy to import pocket queries (you have to have a premium acct with Groundspeak, of course), and easy to upload your activity to your account.
I have found the accuracy (assuming good satellite availability) to be within 3 ft. That's the gold standard for geocaching, if you don't know. I've tested it at geological markers several times.
It has way more features than I regularly use, but the ones I use I would never give up. Touch screen, customizable icon arrangement, adjustable backlighting, you can load map overlays (I put the US counties on it for when I was collecting Texas counties), and you can add a small SD card to expand memory - but I need to explain that.
The resident memory allows the device to hold way more than 5,000 caches - but the file system, not available memory, will stop you there. Actually, it won't stop you so much as sacrificing some reliability; by that I mean that #5,001 may or may not show up! It will hold so many pocket queries that you can more or less think of it as infinite, but the total number of unique caches needs to be held to 5,000. Duplicate caches between PQs will simply be displayed once, the dups ignored, which is good. So why use the SD chip? So you can add maps if you want them. If you're happy with the default map, you don't need the extra memory.
When you log a cache, it marks it found, and keeps a small text file with your entries. I always upload that file, then rename it as *.bak just in case, and it creates a new file next time I turn it on and log a cache.
I find the compass view best by far when caching, but you have choices.
It's also a good idea to recalibrate whenever you buy a new kind of battery, or if you wake it up in a place that's a long way from where you last used it. That will give you better compass accuracy, because different batteries will have different magnetic properties, and it will want to look for the satellites it remembers. Menu navigating for calibration is via "setup," and not as easy as I wish it were. And the final step in the calibration often fails.
You should also note that, like other GPSers, the compass will be way off if you're sitting in your car, motionless. This is due to the metal in your car. But if your car is moving, the Garmin will use the motion to calculate direction, only switching to magnetic when you stop.
I absolutely recommend the Garmin Oregon 450 if you plan to use it for geocaching.
Any GPS will drain batteries. You can make yours last longer if you turn the backlighting off for daytime use.
The unit is rugged, reasonably waterproof (don't drop it in the lake, but you can use it in the rain), and the perfect upgrade if you've been depending on your smart phone for your hobby. Ask around at your next GC meeting, and you'll see that this is a popular unit among the serious geocaching community.
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on June 3, 2010
I have been waiting on the side lines for literally years for a hiking GPS. Decided to finally take the dive. After now months of internet studies I decided on the Oregon 450 (550 was my preference to have the camera but cost played a factor). My biggest concern purchasing this unit "sight unseen" was screen visibility. I am sensitive to this because I have had retina issues and my contrast is not a good as I would like. I am convinced I made the right choice and really love this unit ... nice job Garmin.

The screen was very readible and I think this is a non issue. I firmly believe Garmin trully engineered this screen considering vital factors like direct sunlight (which actually enhances visibility on this unit), touch screen technology and (very important) battery life. Is it bright like my HDTV? ... no ... is it more than effective in the field? ... absolutley yes. I love it ... case closed for me.

Last weekend I took my daughter and nephew to Mackinaw Island, Michigan for a day of mountian biking and ended the day searching for a geocache which I downloaded off Garmin "Extras" site. The Oregan made the day lots of fun because we all learned to use the GPS to guide our adventure. I started Tracking once off the ferry and stopped once we left the Island. When I got home and downloaded the trip the Garmin site displayed a very cool summary of the days ride trip ... elevation and speed strip charts, Track overlayed on a map of the Island and a great summary of time, distance, ascent, descent and then even an dynamic review of the track.

So far the only annoyance is software user friendliness. If I wish to calibrate the compass my intuition is to find the option under "Compass" ... nope ... look under the "Heading" softkey on the main menu. Not sure if I can customize by relocating such actions but I will have to look into it more.

Note: I have an 8GB Kingston micro-SD card in the back with 1:24k Northeast U.S. Topo maps installed with just under 4GB left for more.
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