Manage music on Android without iTunes

Tools that enable Android devices to access the same music as any iOS device especially if it is DRM-free

The world of Android phones has one significant difference from that of iOS phones: the lack of a single desktop-to-phone connecting application.

As much as the iTunes-or-else interface between iOS devices and a PC or Mac is derided, there is something to be said for being able to connect with PC and Mac devices via a single, known application. In Android-land, there is little uniformity, though some good apps exist, usually in the form of apps that sync with Google services, which in turn, can be accessed from your PC.

In that respect, Android has been able to go one better than iOS. The ability to access music and files from any computer with a browser -- including your Android phone -- has been very useful. But now, with the release of iOS 5 and the capabilities of iCloud matching some of Google's services, that advantage has been equalized somewhat.

Music files

The one universal constant for content syncing has to be music. More than any other file type, these are the files that need to be managed the most with any portable device.

There are two ways of getting music files to your Android device. There's the manual way, where you connect the phone to the PC of your choice (Windows, Mac, or Linux) and treat the Android device and its SD card as a removable drive. Then it's simply a matter of copying files over to your phone via your favorite file manager.

This is certainly an effective way, but it's rather inelegant. Not to mention that moving music files around by their filenames alone might not accurately reflect what tracks are getting moved and copied.

A better solution, though, is to use a music management app to sync with music on your computer, in much the same way iTunes users do with their iOS devices. And there happens to be quite a few options for audiophiles to use.

doubleTwist

doubleTwist is a highly rated application that enables users to sync with iTunes music, podcasts, and videos.

Installing doubleTwist was easy on the Android device as well as the Windows and OS X versions. (There is no Linux version to date.

The free version of doubleTwist enables full synchronization of as much music that will fit on your phone, via a wired USB connection. If you want over-the-air synchronization, you will need to pay an additional $4.99 to obtain the AirSync add-on for doubleTwist.

I was pretty impressed with the ease-of-use in doubleTwist. Upon connecting my Android 2.2 phone to both my Windows and Mac devices, and setting the phone to "Mount as disk drive," I started doubleTwist and the syncing began. One thing to note: which I discovered a little late: be sure you select the appropriate storage space into which to sync. I selected the smaller SD card without paying attention and ended up filling the little thing up quickly.

A quick re-sync with the main storage on board the phone and deleting the files out on the SD card took care of this problem, but it did eat up some extra time.

doubleTwist tries very hard to be an iTunes replacement, and for the most part it seems to work. I had no issues with music purchased on iTunes playing on the Android doubleTwist client, and these were most definitely DRMed m4a files I keep around for just such tests.

The desktop app itself is very iTunes-like with a sidebar for navigation that includes (besides links to the device itself) a playlist creation tool -- even a link to the primary Android Market.

For purchasing music, there's an in-app link to the Amazon MP3 music store, which provides a very good selection of DRM-free music for purchase and consumption.

doubletwist.jpg
doubleTwist has a very iTunes look and feel

There are limitations, though. For example, you're not going to get videos on your Android through the Amazon store or anything you might have in your iTunes collection. Any videos you pull in will have to come from your on-board Android camera or be DRM-free within iTunes.

Also, and this is more of a nuisance than one would expect, there's really no Album view within doubleTwist's desktop client. You can sort by album title, of course, and you can create playlists to your heart's content, but it would be great to just tap an album cover and have that album kick off, as you can on the device.

TuneSync

Another great music synchronization app is TuneSync. TuneSync is a freemium app for Windows and Mac users that also taps into iTunes and syncs content over to your Android device. The difference between it and doubleTwist is transparency. Once installed as a server on your Windows/OS X PC and a client on your Android phone, this application syncs music files without any fanfare or user intervention.

Music files and playlists, for instance, are dropped neatly into your Android device as they're added to your iTunes library, where they can be played by the native Android music player.

Now, as you might imagine, there are going to be problems with this if you have protected DRM files, so I recommend TuneSync only for users who have DRM-free music. Which you have, right?

If you have MP3 or Ogg audio files, though, you are going to like TuneSync a lot. The over-the-air syncing takes place every 12 hours, without intervention, though you can start the sync at any time. This is something you will need to pay for, too. The free version only syncs 20 songs from your iTunes library. The premium version is $5.99--a dollar more than the AirSync add-on for doubleTwist.

It's a bit hard to compare doubleTwist and TuneSync, since their interfaces are so different (i.e., doubleTwist actually has an interface and TuneSync doesn't). If you like the set-it-and-forget-it idea of music synchronization, I would recommend spending the extra buck on TuneSync. If you are looking for a straight-up iTunes replacement, look no further than doubleTwist. Even without AirSync, it's a nice app to have for your Android phone.

Banshee

Linux users should not feel left out of the Android music crowd. Banshee, an excellent music player for the Linux desktop, has integrated Android support.

You wouldn't think that this would be such a big deal, given that Android is based on Linux and desktop Linux well, is Linux, but until recently there was not a big push to get music management working. Banshee used to require a special hidden file pushed to the Android drive in order for it to recognize the music files on that drive. No longer: now it's just plug and play.

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Banshee now supports Android devices quite nicely

Streaming

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one very viable music alternative for Android phones: streaming services such as Rhapsody.

With a monthly subscription, I have found Rhapsody and similar services to be indispensable on Android phones. That's because these services can be accessed on any device (yes, even iOS devices), so once I set up my playlists on one device, the playlist is available on all the others. This is the promise of iCloud, long reached by Android users.

While it is true I don't "own" the music, as long as I have connectivity, then I can access the music just as if I did own it. There's really no difference. For the few songs I want to have on the device no matter what the connection strength is, there is the option (on Rhapsody) to simply buy the songs and download them directly to my device.

Music lovers will appreciate any of the options presented here. While there are vast differences in how they work, in truth they can enable your Android device to have access to the same music as any iOS device -- especially if it is DRM-free. For those encumbered with Apple's DRM-laden songs, you may want to try doubleTwist for now. Or get DRM-free versions of the songs.

Android connectivity to PC-like platforms is not as critical as it once was for iOS devices, given the independence of the Android platform's apps. But it's nice to know it's there if you need it.

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