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Help File help: Syncing an Android phone with iTunes

All of my recent reviews of phones running Google's Android software have had to include one yes-but line, words to the effect of: Yes, this is a smart little device, but you can't sync it to an iTunes music library.

android_itunes_sync.jpg

That's as much Apple's fault as it is Google's or individual phone manufacturers'. Although Apple once supported some non-iPod players in iTunes, it now goes out of its way to stop other devices from connecting to its music program. But Google and such device vendors as Motorola haven't shipped extra software to bridge this gap either. (Update: Motorola does offer a free, Windows-only sync program called MediaLink but doesn't exactly advertise its existence. See my comment below for a quick review.)

That leaves users on their own, and I'd like to provide some assistance in a future Help File column. Assuming you want to synchronize a randomly chosen set of songs to the device (which I see as a necessity if your music library exceeds your phone's storage), I see three basic options:

* An iTunes plug-in of some sort -- for instance, the free, Windows-only iTunes Agent -- that coaxes iTunes into syncing with an Android phone as if it were an iPod. (Upside: No need to learn any new music programs. Possible downsides: This might be a Windows- or Mac-only solution, and any iTunes update could break this kind of software.)

* A separate program to supplement or replace iTunes, such as the free Songbird or the still-in-beta DoubleTwist, both available for Windows and Mac OS X. Microsoft's Windows Media Player could be another option, although older versions can't play AAC music files. (This probably can't be broken by an iTunes update, but people have to remember to switch programs for each sync or dump iTunes permanently. ... I know some people who will consider that last point a desirable feature.)

* Setting up some sort of script to automate copying a given iTunes playlist to an Android device, as outlined in this post on an Android users' forum. (This, too, should be unaffected by any iTunes updates, but it might also be Mac-specific -- there's no Windows equivalent to Apple's crafty Automator script-writing tool -- and would also require running a separate application at each sync.)

So this question goes out to Android users: Which of these options have you used? Which would you recommend, especially to a non-technical user? Is there another way to do this that you'd suggest?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 19, 2009; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Music , Tips  
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Comments

I use Doubletwist now and it has been great- I also used Salling Media which works fine although I got annoyed with their constant requests for upgrades (full version is $20+ dollars). I don't love the Droid's built in music playing app though, any app suggestions from internet lala land?

Posted by: SoulPole | November 19, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

At the moment I still have a 2 GB iPod nano that I use for playlists, but I have lots of my favorite albums on my G1. My plan for when I'm ready to retire the iPod is that I'll switch to SongBird and be done with the whole iPod thing, but I agree the lock-in that Apple has manufactured around iTunes is a pain.

Posted by: divestoclimb | November 19, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I'll suggest the obvious - stop using iTunes. The only reason to use it is because iPods require it, so if you are going to use a different device to play your music, there is no reason to keep using it. I've never thought it was easy to use, so if you've eliminated the one reason to use it, switch to something else.

Posted by: dennis5 | November 20, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

One reader, "David," wanted to post a comment but couldn't get our site registration to work and so e-mailed it to me instead. FYI, the app he's talking about is Mac-only and costs $22 to register; details at http://www.salling.com/MediaSync/mac/

---

I bought a Droid on launch day. I had been waiting for a good Verizon phone since I went into my upgrade period in August and I was seriously considering a move to the iPhone in January when my contract expired until the Droid buzz began.

I looked around on the weekend after the Droid launched for a music sync option. I had read a lot about DoubleTwist, but I saw more than one thing suggesting it was kludgey with the Droid (may have had to do with Android 2.0 being so new). I downloaded Salling Media Sync for free and it works just fine. I don't love that it launches at startup, but the good side of that is that it pops right up as soon as I mount the Droid's memory card. (The need to mount the USB from the phone wasn't obvious. It's not exactly true plug and play). I choose a playlist and it copies songs. It's a simple app for a simple process.

The free version syncs by removing all of the music and then copying it onto the Droid's memory card (potentially lengthening the sync process significantly). That hasn't been much of a burden on me so far. I've only kept a little music on it, as I've kept my iPod Touch, since too much of my music has Apple DRM. I've also been passing my Metro trips with podcasts on Google's Listen app and listen to my iPod at work.

If I didn't have so much DRMed music, I'd consider forking over the $22. And I have already considered doing it, but I'll await your reviews and the other comments before spending any money.

---

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | November 20, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Motorola seems to have the best solution themselves: Motorola Media Link

It seems to work better than Doubletwist, it'sfree and you can use your playlists from itunes.

Posted by: nycwon | November 24, 2009 7:02 AM | Report abuse

nycwon - thanks for the comment on Motorola's MediaLink app, which reminded me that I'd been meaning to try the program after receiving an e-mail from a Motorola publicist about it. (This Windows-only software's existence had been news to me, as it went unmentioned on the Droid's box and in its skimpy manual.)

Now that I've tried this 131 MB download--available from Motorola's Droid tech-support page and at motorola.com/medialink--I can report that...

1) The install experience was hideous; its installer spawned a second setup app, then required a "Reinstall using suggested settings" under Windows 7, then demanded a reboot.

2) Afterwards, it wanted me to open a port in the Windows firewall (why a sync app would need that escapes me) and threw up an annoying-but-avoidable registration prompt.

3) But then MediaLink functioned as advertised, automatically finding my iTunes library and playlists (regular and smart) and syncing them--album art included--to the Droid's SD card.

Verdict: Not bad at all, but Nero--the actual developer of this app--needs to give this program, or at least its installer, another run through the typewriter.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | November 24, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

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