A Linux distro done right, Pop!_OS

Pop!_OSPop!_OS is a Linux distribution (distro) based on Ubuntu and made by the amazing people at System76.
When I heard that System76 made a Linux distro I was very happy, those guys and gals take their jobs seriously so I was sure that at least the design would be amazing and I was not wrong at all, their theme is a beauty.

Their new operating system is still in Alpha so it’s still too early to see what software will be shipped with Pop!_OS, but some things are expected for their clients like automatic firmware updates. The fact this OS is built upon Ubuntu means it should actually run rock solid in System76 computers even in alpha stage.

The community as usually bashed this new distro because “It’s just another one based on Ubuntu”. Linux elitism at it’s finest, these are the very same people who say Apple enthusiasts are elitists, mirrors anyone?
The more distros the merrier at least from my view, sure it might divide the community effort but at least System76 is not at the mercy of the whims of Canonical, also something tells me they will not leave Ubuntu far behind, after all it’s a strong distro with a huge community.

This new operating system is very sober and warm, it’s not as minimal as the elegant elementaryOS, after all both distros have different communities and users in mind.
System76 Pop!_OS is an impressive move towards consolidating a already very respected niche brand. After all Ubuntu’s orange folders are not the best way to impress technical minded people, not that I have anything against orange.
If System76 can harness the creativity of their own fans, some of them amazing programmers and designers, I’m sure most bugs they have in the alpha release will be solved in no time at all.

Pop!_OS is something made for very specific hardware so I will understand if System76 doesn’t give technical support to users that didn’t buy the company computers, even so it would be nice if for a annual fee users running other hardware could request some help.
It would probably be a huge task that System76 wouldn’t be willing to risk capital at, but good software can attract users to their hardware just like macOS does for Apple.

Sure it might be just another distro but given the fact that Canonical doesn’t know what to do with Ubuntu, I placed a bet on Pop!_OS alpha and installed it on my main computers.
I don’t install operating systems often and sadly the last time I placed a bet and some money on elementaryOS I was disappointed with the outcome. A beautiful design is very important but trying to reinvent the wheel and removing the possibility of customization were deal beakers at least for me. If Pop!_OS doesn’t fall in the same trap and lets users tweak and play around with the distro I’m sure many will also bet on System76.

I would be more than happy to buy their hardware if they had a online shop based in Europe but because that’s not yet possible I’ll do the second best thing and run Pop!_OS.
I don’t recommend alphas to new users so trend carefully if you go that route.
If by any chance you still want to play around you can use a live preview of the distro. Right now it’s pretty much a gnome experience with a nice theme, we still have to wait some months for a stable release, after that it will be released every six months, LTS versions are not yet confirmed.

A review of my Sony Xperia L1 (2017).

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Sony Xperia L1 (2017) photo belongs to Sony Corporation.

In the Summer of 2015 I bought a BQ Aquaris E4 to use as a DAP, fast-forward some months and the E4 became my daily smartphone. It was a decent piece of hardware, until two months ago something happened with the call reception and drop outs became the norm. To be fair the thing slipped from my hand and hit the ground but the protective case took most of the full blunt or so I thought, because it seems the antenna did suffer with the impact. Darn…

Working as a security officer a phone call can be the difference between a small problem and a massive headache. I had to fix the E4 or buy a new entry level smartphone.
Fixing the E4 for the price of the hard to get replacement parts wasn’t worth the trouble. BQ after all is a small Spanish company. If it was any other established brand I would probably fix the problem buying cheap new parts online.

I choose the second option and bought a new entry level smartphone for 200€, because I just couldn’t afford anything above that price. After all I do have kids to raise and my savings do have some limits.
I admit a lot of bias towards Sony was still present after reading the book Made in Japan, and also having two other books about the brand on my nightstand.
As a Sony Walkman fanboy I actually went ahead and bought a Sony smartphone, it was not my first one and probably not my last. I don’t regret buying it, but my wallet does!

The review title for a Sony L1 should be something like this, “Solid design, decent entry level specs and pretty amazing software”. If you want a specification driven smartphone, the L1 is not the entry level you are looking for, trust me.
If you want a smartphone you can use as a throwing weapon the Sony is a solid option. I’m joking, no sharp edges on the gorgeous design, but with it’s IPS LCD 5.5 inches anti-scratch (>6H) screen and polycarbonate body, the L1 definitely feels sturdy for daily use. The 720p HD screen has beautiful rich colors and can be viewed during a Summer day.

Don’t expect amazing sound from the little loudspeakers Sony installed in the L1, in fact the loudspeakers are often my main gripe on Sony smartphones, a company famous for amazing sound quality should have better loudspeakers on their gear.
Anyway the sound is decent if you want to watch an video, but you won’t throw a party with the L1. You can always use xLOUD or Clear Audio+ sound modes, the first mode is pretty amazing during calls in a very noisy environment. I don’t recommend the use of these modes because sooner or later the loudspeaker will suffer, don’t say I didn’t warn you about it.
The headphone output is actually quite fine in a very subjective evaluation, add that to the built in FM Radio and the L1 can be a decent Walkman in a pinch.

As for cameras the main one has 13 Megapixels and the frontal one 5 Megapixels, the photos look nice but most portable cameras will do a better job at least in my opinion.
Like most smartphones these days it can record in FHD. It has Sony sensors but nothing too fancy unlike the more expensive models of the brand.

The L1 rocks a quad core MediaTek MT6737T CPU running at 1,45 GHz x4, a dual core Mali-T720MP2 GPU, 2GB RAM, 16 GB internal memory and expansion via microSDXC card up to 256 GB, this last detail is wonderful and addresses one of my main complains about the old Sony Ericsson smartphones, lack of storage and expansion. I’m glad Sony dropped the proprietary formats and adopted the mainstream.

Everything is powered by a 2620mAh battery, not amazing in terms of power storage but features Sony tech and in that department the brand excels. My second-hand Sony st25i battery still holds charge after so many years, if that’s not quality I don’t know what is.
The L1 also has what Sony calls STAMINA and Ultra STAMINA modes, this last one literally disables non essential apps and services of the smartphone all in the name of power saving.

The L1 has many more features that I shall not enumerate here but you can visit Sony and take a look for yourself.

The software is the touchstone of the L1, Sony was amazing apps for photo, video and audio, the OS is Android 7.0 Nougat with some details added by Sony. The rock solid apps are one of the reasons I bought the Sony.
Not many bullshit comes pre-installed and for that I’m more than grateful.

The Xperia L1 is a good smartphone for users that already have a nice tablet for games and other demanding apps.
I’m biased towards Sony like I said before, so if you want a ultra lightning fast smartphone for 200€ I think you will be better served with a Chinese brand.
On the other hand if you want a very discrete smartphone for professional use I would consider this model.

Audiophile reviewers and disclosure.

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Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

A word of warning before you read this, if by any chance you review audiophile gear keep in mind that I’m probably not writing about you.
With that out of the way, I’m totally against people who say they are reviewers or make review blogs just to get free samples or even money for their opinions.

In fact this post came to be because I started to notice a pretty awful trend on so called headphone reviewers, most of them do it because they receive free stuff which they get to keep after their reviews.
Bloggers know it’s wrong and the companies who supply them often make a blind eye, because it brings them more customers already primed by word-to-mouth hype.
In fact this kind of marketing strategies were one of the reasons the FTC made US bloggers disclose any kind of endorsements or free samples.

No wonder we never read truly negative reviews on some audiophile sites or blogs.
Those writers refuse to review bad products because it would ruin their relationship with the merchant who’s giving them free samples! Sad but true.
Sure some bloggers will disclose they are receiving free gear but it’s all for nothing if they are reviewing just to receive the gear, thus they lack the main thing any reviewer amateur or professional needs above all, integrity.

I totally understand the rush of receiving new stuff on the doorstep, but these writers are literally selling their opinion to the lowest bidder.
Because of them most who are serious about their work or hobby are faced with the sad reality of being pressured by those very same companies for positive reviews. After all if one reviewer sells out everyone else will surely will!

I totally suck as a reviewer and I lack the necessary wine tasting vocabulary most use on their articles, but I do strive for honesty on my opinions.
For example in my KZ earphones guide I disclosed this:

– All earphones are bought with my money from various online shops.
– I’m not endorsed by KZ in any way nor do I want to be. 

I can fairly bash any KZ earphone I bought because of this, It’s my money and I’ll give my blunt opinion on the gear. Until now I never gave a negative opinion on any KZ product, but I don’t know what the future holds.

In this niche everyone has their fair share of blame for the problem.   
Some reviewers are addicted to free stuff and sadly some consumers need to confirm their purchases with positive reviews.
Reviewers are very important to the current consumer society but they are also accountable for their words.
It’s up to each one of us to understand what’s bullshit and what’s not.

On the Sony NW-WM1Z Walkman.

Most guardians of the galaxy Walkman fans know the Sony TPS-L2 was released in 1979, in fact we (yes, yours truly included) celebrate this Japanese icon anniversary on 1 of July. Sadly this year I’m a bit late for the party, so to make up for my delay I want to share my opinion on the hefty price tag of the Sony NW-WM1Z Walkman, which was something that was nagging me for some time now.
For the ones who think I’ll be bashing right and left, sorry but you are out of luck, I’m a Sony Walkman fan.

The Sony NW-WM1Z Gold edition that goes for almost 3000€ on Amazon (July 2017) is one amazing piece of engineering at least on paper.
I never had a chance to actually hear or hold one, thus I won’t write about the sound quality of the product but knowing Sony I’m sure it’s Hi-Fi enough.

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Sony NW-WM1Z photo belongs to Sony Corporation.

I want to point that even if I think the price is batshit crazy, I totally understand why a company like Sony actually made this player.
Besides of course the marketing for their 70th anniversary, Sony built it because there’s a market niche who will pay crazy amounts of money for this kind of digital audio players.
Yes, some enthusiasts will buy a 3000€ Walkman because they truly believe sonic nirvana is right around the corner.
Sure some people will purchase this Walkman because it’s a status symbol, but I think the enthusiasts just want the best quality on the market and they’ll go to great lengths for it. Sony was the one who taught people how to use a Walkman during the 80’s, so they know there’s an audience for this kind of product, after all if my memory doesn’t fail me consumers always reacted nicely to other Walkman anniversary editions.

Sony since the TPS-L2 model always injected on their flagship models every know-how they had on portable High-Fidelity and that’s something every enthusiast must respect. Sure sometimes Sony jumps the shark and their marketing teams just look like they want to make a easy buck out of enthusiasts. Akio Morita must be turning on his grave for that one, for he always had a massive respect for Sony costumers.

Looking at the hardware and research they obviously pour on this over-engineered golden monolith. One can only imagine what great things they could have achieved earlier if they didn’t focus so much in their proprietary audio compression format ATRAC and weren’t so stubborn about not supporting MP3 thus allowing the iPod and other MP3 players to dethrone the Walkman.
Now with the portable music players market share devastated by smartphones, Sony must also face heavy competition from cheap and not so cheap Chinese brands and other established Japanese and South Korean companies who jumped on the Hi-Res bandwagon.

In the end all of this competition will be great for enthusiasts and it’s quite welcomed in a market dominated by smartphones.
It would be a nice idea if Sony made a special edition of the TPS-L2 Walkman for their 75th anniversary, I would buy it for sure.

China, the new audiophile superpower.

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Photo by WillSpirit SBLN on Unsplash

I could write a full article about the massive Chinese audiophile community, but I won’t go there for the sake of my sanity. Lets just say they are very enthusiastic about Hi-Fi.
In one point I think most occidental audiophiles agree, the Chinese are very serious about their Hi-Fi and they have the power of numbers on their side.
Those numbers are in fact their biggest strength when it comes to demand accessible high quality High-Fidelity gear, and Chinese companies are more than happy to deliver the goods usually at the expense of quality and originality.

During the 80’s Japan was in the forefront of everything Hi-Fi and the American and European companies struggled with the fierce Japanese competition.
That came to be because the occidental companies lacked courage to release new radical products on the market. Sure some companies had great products but their fear to fail on their shareholders crippled their imagination.
Today ironically that very same problem plagues Sony, a company that in the 80’s was the perfect example of a Japanese giant with amazing research and development (R&D), factories, distribution and marketing.
Japanese Hi-Fi companies like Sony had great quality assurance (QA) when they entered the international markets, mostly because they had very aggressive competition towards them and also because it’s was expensive to send the parts overseas to service the products.
Sure some Japanese companies built factories in the US and Europe but quality was and still is their best weapon to fight competition. That attention to detail and quality still stands today, as “Made in Japan” still means high quality workmanship, QA and a heavy price tag.

The problem with quality is that you have to pay for it, that premium even if well received by most audiophiles is the weak point of companies that need to uphold their brand name, after all it would be beyond awful if a batch of Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic headphones failed unexpectedly after 6 months.
When buying a product from a established Hi-Fi company the consumer pays R&D, production, distribution, marketing and of course QA, this is to name a few because it’s a complex subject which I didn’t study too deep.
With all that system in place for the established Hi-Fi makers, it’s normal that Chinese companies are now in a position to actually compete with cheaper prices because:
They can literally copy designs without legal issues and have the equipment and materials available, because most established companies make their stuff in China, thus no R&D.
Production is cheap for various social-economic reasons I won’t explain here.
Distribution is supported by the government and various local and international commercial agreements. Chinese companies help each other at least from my point of view, but as in all things I can be wrong.
Marketing is not really necessary because word-of-month between enthusiasts is enough, in fact word-of-mouth is so strong it can actually inflate the prices of products praised by the community.
QA focus in making the product work at a short term, because after all most of these Chinese companies don’t really worry about servicing their cheap gear,  they can always send a replacement unit.
Sure not all Chinese Hi-Fi companies are like the above, but let’s be sincere most of them are and they face no competition besides their own.

Having a massive enthusiast base and small companies that only need to worry on the short term makes China the new audiophile superpower.
The large community gives their opinion about the gear and factories almost in real time adapt to their requests. Very few established companies can actually do that and in my opinion some of them should actually start taking notes from their Chinese competition.

I still believe Chinese brands will have a hard time competing against established higher priced gear, after a certain price point enthusiasts will bash any company that doesn’t do serious QA on their products, plus legal problems will arise as soon as some companies setup offices outside China.

I must admit it’s a great time to be a audiophile, thanks to the Chinese enthusiasts and companies anyone in the world can enjoy a good song.