Wednesday, June 10, 2009

iTunes alternatives comparison (2nd round)

Alright, back to business!

Let's remind a few things: back in May 2007, I tested 11 free alternative iPod managers to find a lighter, faster and easier way to manage my iPod without iTunes.

With the new iPod models released in the meantime, and in particular iPhone and iPod Touch, many of these alternative iPod managers have become obsolete and only the most skilled and motivated developers have been able to follow Apple's constant devices evolution and firmware updates.

It was time for a serious update. Here it is!

Just like millions of others, I'm using an iPhone with firmware 2.xx, which will be used as a reference in this test. This means that whatever works for me will work for any iPod model or iPhone / iTouch firmware, except maybe for the latest iPod Shuffle and iPhone / iTouch 3.xx.

Before starting, let's set some objectives.

What I need on a day-to-day basis is most of all to be able to add songs to my iPhone / iPod Touch and organize them into playlists.

But with the growing importance of visual aspects brought by these new devices, artwork support, powerful tagging features and Video + TV Shows support have become most wanted among iPhone / iPod Touch lucky owners.

Therefore, I will be looking here for an alternative iPod and iPhone manager that meets the following requirements:
  • free
  • light to download and quick to install (or, even better, without any required installation)
  • as fast as possible
  • able to add songs to any iPod or iPhone model without database corruption
  • manage playlists
  • portable (= installable directly on iPod to manage it on-the-go from any computer)
  • include album artworks (covers) when adding songs to iPod
  • edit tracks info (tags), including multiple song renaming
  • drag & drop from computer folders to iPhone and from library to playlists
  • add videos and TV shows to iPod / iPhone without iTunes
  • display iPod podcast and audiobooks in dedicated sections
  • direct iPod manager (= does not require iTunes-like synchronization with computer library)
  • and many more that we'll discover together…

Optional features:
  • online artwork recovery
  • Genius-like music suggestions

One last thing before we actually start: iTunes is heavier than ever, its size even doubled (!) since the last test (227 Mb with QuickTime and Bonjour), which means, even on a decent computer, downloading + installing it hardly takes less than a quarter of an hour, which REALLY SUCKS when you just want to add some songs to your iPhone or iPod Touch from a computer on which iTunes is not installed.


The following alternative iPod managers need iPhone drivers to be able to interact with iPhone / iPod Touch models.
If iTunes was never installed on your computer, you can follow this step-by-step to install iPhone drivers.

    Quick access

    1. Free + compatible with iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx

    2. Free + compatible with iPhone / iPod Touch 1.xx

    3. iTunes

    4. Free but NOT compatible with iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx

    5. Compatible with iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx but NOT free

    And the winners are… (sorted by best result)

    CopyTrans Manager

    CopyTrans Manager is a standalone (= no installation required) iPod + iPhone / iTouch manager provided by WindSolutions LLC, a software company of "people who are passionate about music".
    CopyTrans Manager is provided for free.

    Installation and size:
    CopyTrans Manager comes into two flavors: a company's global installer that lets you read a short description of every program before installing what you want, or a zip version "for advanced users". I opted for the later and if you do so, make sure to extract both the exe and ris files from the zip
    Setup file 2.78 Mb; Size on disk 2.86 Mb

    First impression and interface:
    the iTunes-like brushed metal skin is pleasant and gives a professional feeling. The strictly graphic buttons are not obvious at first, but help keep the interface simple once you are used to them.

    iTunes-like "Genre", "Artist" and "Album" lists allow to comfortably navigate through massive libraries.
    Tracks can also be filtered by file type with elegant aqua-like icons (Music, Video, TV Shows, podcasts, etc.).

    CopyTrans Manager's interface is extremely flexible and customizable: columns can be freely rearranged with drag & drops and all iTunes sorting parameters (columns) can be added or removed with right-click on any column's header.

    Some pretty strange behaviors though: mouse scroll is based on the last active list and not on the mouse position.

    Adding songs:
    dragging music from a folder to the program's interface works flawlessly.
    At first, it seems possible to drop songs directly from a folder to a playlist, but this only adds the songs to the iPod. Just like with all other managers in this test except iTunes, you'll have to add songs to the iPod / iPhone first and, then only, drag them to the iPod playlists.

    Unlike SharePod, CopyTrans Manager remains perfectly functional while adding hundreds of songs to iPod / iPhone and switching to other open applications.
    Ongoing operations are figured by two built-in progress bars, which are much more convenient and elegant than SharePod's annoying popup.

    Songs are properly added to any iPhone and iPod Touch up to firmware 2.xx. without any database corruption.

    On program close, CopyTrans Manager asks whether you wish to apply changes to iPod or not, which is an interesting alternative to other iPod managers that simply apply changes on the fly or on program close.
    If you don't like this behavior, you can check the "Immediately apply changes to iPod" option in the "Settings" tab.

    Another interesting particularity of this program is that it creates a backup of your iPod / iPhone / iTouch database before applying any changes to it, which allows for iPod restoration in case anything goes wrong.

    here again, iTunes seems to have been the source of inspiration: "+" and "-" buttons allow to create or remove playlists.
    Playlist can be renamed simply by clicking on their name.
    Dragging songs from the library to the playlists is possible, but with a very unpleasant behavior: most of the time, you drop tracks between playlists, which does not have any effect, but lets you unsure about what happened.
    Song reordering in playlists is not supported.

    album covers show up in the upper right corner of the program and are correctly transferred to iPod and iPhone with songs.
    Album arts cannot be edited.

    song info can be edited directly from the library, just like in iTunes, or from a very clean tag edition window.
    A very pleasant detail: buttons to jump to the next or previous song from within the tag editing window.
    We'll regret the absence of batch renaming capabilities that would allow to edit multiple songs at a time.

    a thumbnail of the video shows up in the artwork area (REALLY COOL!).
    Videos are added to iPod or iPhone as easily as Music, with drag & drop (like with all other iPod managers, including iTunes, videos need to be converted before adding them to iPod / iPhone. To convert videos for iPod, try Videora).

    CopyTrans Manager does not support photos, but the same company provides a very complete iPod photo manager called CopyTrans Photo.

    TV Shows:
    CopyTrans Manager identifies TV Shows correctly and displays them in a dedicated section.

    Podcasts and audiobooks:
    CopyTrans Manager recognizes podcasts and audiobooks and even sorts them into two different sections. That's the only manager other than iTunes that allows this.

    CopyTrans Manager can be installed directly on all iPod models. Just download the zip version of CopyTrans Manager and drag both the exe and ris files to your iPod. To make CopyTrans Manager portable on an iPhone / iPod Touch, use iPhone Browser, as these iPod models do not natively support disk use.

    Built-in player:
    CopyTrans Manager features a though elegant and well integrated music player with Repeat option.
    It won't play .aac or .m4a files, unless you install the appropriate codecs, but, unlike SharePod, it tells you at least where the problem comes from.
    Podcasts and audiobooks can be played too.

    Computer library management and music suggestions:
    CopyTrans Manager is a strict iPod / iPhone / iPod Touch manager. You won't manage your computer music with this tool nor will you need to synchronize your iPod / iPhone contents with your computer contents.
    CopyTrans Manager does not provide music suggestions.

    General appreciation:
    CopyTrans Manager definitely turns out to be the best candidate of this test: super light and fast, it does not require any additional software and only takes a couple of seconds to download, extract and be ready to take control of your iPod.

    I particularly appreciated the accent put on security, which seems to have been a top priority along its development: database backup and cancellable changes make it paranoid's favorite.

    The similarity with iTunes is great too, no need to re-learn everything, playlists on the left, lists at the top (Genres, Artists, Albums) and a fully customizable interface make it an excellent bet for those who need to juggle with giant libraries. Some details could be improved to become more intuitive, but, apart from these, it's really an "iTunes alternative".

    iPhone 2.xx support is brilliant and the program did not fail anywhere along the tests.

    12/10 (can't give only 10 to such a gem)



    SharePod is a standalone application providing both iPod management and iPod to computer copy features. It is maintained by one programmer who was helped by 4 other programmers to ensure iPhone / iTouch support.
    SharePod is provided for free.

    Installation and size:
    like CopyTrans Manager, SharePod comes as a zip archive, which is pleasant, as you know it won't contaminate your computer with hundreds of unwanted hidden files
    Setup file 1.07 Mb (+ 22.4 Mb for Microsoft .NET 2 Framework); size on disk 2.88 Mb (+ 88.37 MB for .NET)

    First impression and interface:
    good looking icons (KDE). Everything from the main window to the tag editing popup is obvious and instantly understandable. The icons don't express much, but this is well balanced by their labels.

    In addition to iPod / iPhone data management, SharePod allows to copy iPod songs to PC and to perform iPod backups with optional import to iTunes.
    Sorting options are more limited than in CopyTrans Manager: no iTunes-like "Genre", "Artist" and "Album" menus and you cannot add or remove columns nor can you rearrange their order. Still, the sorting logic is pretty smart: click on the header of a column to set a first sorting criteria, then click on top of another column to add a second sorting criteria without canceling the first one, and so on. Then, reset this by clicking "Remove sorting".

    As mentioned before, SharePod needs Microsoft .NET 2 Framework to work correctly, which is a MAJOR ANNOYANCE, when you consider this means downloading an additional 22 MB download and install an extra 88 Mb useless garbage on your hard drive.

    Adding songs:
    Before going any further on this point, please note that, after synchronization with iTunes, iPhone often needs to be restarted before SharePod can actually interact with it.

    Dragging songs from a folder to iPod / iPhone works, here again, flawlessly.
    A window with ongoing operations shows up, which can be reassuring and give visibility, but quickly becomes a pain if you often add individual songs to iPod; there should be an option to hide this popup.

    Song additions are applied immediately, but playlists changes require to close the program.
    Don't expect to switch between other open applications and SharePod while adding massive amounts of music to iPod, the program becomes white and freezes until its tasks are over if you do so.

    Note that, approximatively half of the time, the iPhone display remains stuck on "Sync" and you need to slide its "Cancel" button to solve the problem.

    managing iPod / iPhone playlists with SharePod works fine, but with an EXTREMELY ANNOYING behavior: SharePod adds its name between brackets to the name of the playlists it creates. This cannot be changed in the options and that SUCKS BIG TIME!!!

    Playlists changes are applied on program close.
    Renaming playlists is not as elegant as in CopyTrans Manager or iTunes: playlists cannot be renamed by simply clicking on them. Instead: right-click->Properties.

    With iTunes and Winamp, Sharepod is the only manager that allows to change the order of songs in playlists.

    album arts do not show up anywhere in the program, but are correctly transferred to iPod and iPhone with songs.
    Artworks can be modified, but not dragged directly to the tagging window. iTunes is actually the only iPod / iPhone manager that allows this.
    SharePod provides information on the arts sizes present on iPod / iPhone.
    Artworks added to songs that were already on iPod require to close the program before being actually transferred to iPod / iPhone.

    SharePod features a simple, though complete, tag window and supports batch renaming. Unfortunately, no buttons to the next or previous song.

    videos are added flawlessly to iPod, iPhone and iPod Touch.
    SharePod won't play videos, but opens the system's default player instead, which is better than nothing.

    photo support is very limited: iPod / iPhone to PC only.
    Photos taken with iPhone (Camera Roll) are not displayed at all.
    No photo album management is available.

    Podcasts and audiobooks:
    SharePod recognizes podcasts, but audiobooks are considered as music.

    SharePod is a standalone program that does not require any installation and can be run directly from any iPod. To make SharePod portable on an iPhone / iPod Touch, use iPhone Browser, as these iPod models do not natively support disk use.

    Built-in player:
    SharePod player is probably the ugliest part of the program and misses a fundamental feature: no timeline to jump anywhere in a playing track!
    The Shuffle option is welcome.
    Like CopyTrans Manager, SharePod won't play .aac or .m4a files, unless you install the appropriate codecs.
    Podcasts and audiobooks can be played.

    Computer library management and music suggestions:
    SharePod is a strict iPod / iPhone manager that won't let you manage your computer library nor require any synchronization with the computer contents.
    SharePod does not provide music suggestions.

    General appreciation:
    the guy who has made this program is able of the best and the worst: iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx support is spotless (which only CopyTrans Manager succeeds in too), the interface is clean, pleasant and systematically obvious, SharePod is richly featured with iPod management, iPod copy and, apparently, a coming photo support.
    Though, certain choices are unjustifiable: the addition of "(SharePod)" to the name of created playlists is something that justifies a kick in the ass as well as the absence of a timeline in the player.

    In spite of a reproachless reliability, SharePod showed several scary behaviors: iPhone display is likely to remain stuck on "Sync", the program seems to freeze when you switch away from it during operations and iPhone needs restart after iTunes sync, before being able to use SharePod with it.

    Finally, its lightness is only virtual, as you need to fill your hard drive with an additional 88 Mb for Microsoft .NET 2 Framework.


    Winamp (Full)

    Before we go any further with Winamp, let's mention that this piece of shit software takes 6 minutes 20 seconds every time it lists a 1,000 songs iPhone library, where no other alternative iPod manager takes more than 15 seconds!
    Along these 6+ minutes, Winamp is "Parsing iPod databases". Who knows exactly what hides behind these operations, but let's call it "Fucking around".
    Imagine what it gives with a 10,000 songs library…

    When this parsing is done, Winamp displays a message stating that firmware 2.xx is not fully supported…

    Winamp is the historical music player of the Internet and has been a leading actor in this field since the early ages of digital music. It is owned by Nullsoft and maintained by an massive worldwide community of enthusiasts.
    Winamp is provided for free, but more and more filled with commercial offers.

    Installation and size:
    Winamp comes into both free and paying versions, based on the features you want

    I personally opted for the "Full" version, as I needed the iPod support.
    Even though I'm a long time Winamp aficionado, let's admit it:
    every time I install it, I need to be more on my guards with its bullshit infested installation. If you don't want to end up with a new default player for half your files, free shitty songs and spam in your inbox, watch your step.

    Setup file 9.4 Mb; size on disk 29 Mb

    First impression and interface:
    Winamp is an extremely richly featured media manager with the drawback of being relatively confusing at first sight.

    Columns can be rearranged with drag & drop. Adding or removing columns is possible, but through a very inelegant window.

    Winamp features by far the most flexible interface of this test, with either presets such as Artist-Album, Genre-Artist-Album or fully customizable sorting lists (try the "Artist / Album Art" layout with artworks next to each song, that's awsome!).

    Unfortunately, thumbnail views are only available for the library, not for iPod / iPhone.
    Winamp 5.xx Bento skin really kicks ass: it's clean, elegant and the "Windowshade mode" that reduces the program to its main bar is just perfect for long days of home / work music listening.

    Adding songs:
    as said before, I downloaded Winamp with iPod support, which means the ml_ipod plug-in is now a default feature of Winamp except for the "Lite" version.

    Dragging songs from a folder to Winamp works fine, but with really strange behaviors sometimes. For instance, you cannot drag songs to the iPod if this was not the last active part of the program (same for the library)!

    As stated by the program itself, the compatibility with iPhone firmwares 2.xx is not fully guaranteed yet and obvious corruptions appear after synchronization; typically, all artists appear twice and certain songs are missing.

    Winamp needs to be closed before additions and other changes take effect and there is apparently no way to apply changes while keeping the program open.

    creating playlists on iPod / iPhone or editing existing ones worked fine in spite of the above warnings.
    Like with SharePod, playlists renaming is pretty inelegant: no direct edition, right-click->Rename playlist.
    The order of songs in playlists can be pleasantly changed by dragging songs up and down, this is the only program with iTunes that allows it so simply.

    album arts are properly added to both iPod and iPhone / iPod Touch, here again, in spite of warnings.
    Winamp features an artwork recovery function, but, even with very mainstream and recent tunes, it nearly never works.

    Winamp tagging abilities are advanced beyond any possible demand and allow to edit ID3v1, ID3v2, APEv2 separately.

    even after having properly converted videos for iPod and made sure iTunes could add them to my iPhone, I was not able to add them with Winamp nor could I even add them to the program itself.
    Winamp won't play iPod / iPhone videos.

    Winamp does not support photos.

    Podcasts and audiobooks:
    podcasts are correctly identified, but audiobooks appear in the music section.
    On program close Winamp DELETES BOTH!!!

    you can make Winamp portable by copying its folder to iPod and deleting path.ini. To make Winamp portable on an iPhone / iPod Touch, use iPhone Browser as these iPod models do not natively support disk use.

    Built-in player:
    having primarily been a music player for approx. 15 years, we could expect Winamp to have no limits in this domain.

    Even though it offers all possible plug-ins you might imagine (or not even imagine), Winamp is surprisingly limited when it comes to certain formats: .aac or .m4a files won't play unless you install the appropriate codecs neither will podcasts, audiobooks or iPod videos, which is VERY DISAPPOINTING for such a famous player!

    Computer library management and music suggestions:
    unlike CopyTrans Manager and SharePod, Winamp is a fully featured media center for both computer and iPod data, which makes it more of an iTunes alternative than a strict iPod manager.

    Winamp provides OUTSTANDING music suggestions and information about artists;
    click "Now Playing" in the left panel and you will be provided with very accurate similar artists, influences, photos, videos and top notch biographies.

    General appreciation:
    Winamp is a highly and richly featured all-you-can-possibly-do-with-media-files software, but its iPod support is very limited and using it with an iPhone 2.xx is only possible for tests at the moment.
    It does not allow to add videos or photos to iPhone, corrupts iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx databases and deletes podcasts and audiobooks on close.

    Finally, its player is surprisingly limited for such a big program, primarily made to play media files.

    All this is pretty regrettable when one considers that Winamp is the only serious candidate to replace iTunes as a fully featured media center, with music suggestions, artwork recovery, advanced audio settings, etc.



    The purpose of review is to introduce alternative iPod managers to take control of iPhone / iPod Touch without iTunes, but submitting iTunes to the same tests came naturally for benchmarking reasons.

    iTunes is the central piece of Apple's "Computer-iPod-Music Store" ecosystem. It's a complete computer + iPod media manager.

    Its Music Store was the biggest revolution in music sale history and helped popularize new "medias" such as podcasts and audiobooks.

    iTunes is provided for free, but will surely manage to make you spend some bucks, if not many.

    Installation and size:
    iTunes comes in one version, which is enough to infest your machine with new spywares, rip offs and millions of useless lines of code every time a new version comes out

    As said before, count a quarter of an hour to download an install this mastodon.
    Setup file 74 Mb; size on disk 227 Mb (!)

    First impression and interface:
    let's admit it, in spite of its numerous commercial baits and dinosaur weight, iTunes is clearly the most elegant and well organized program of this test.

    Browsing music through its Coverflow is a pleasure, the adjustable thumbnail view is brilliant (not available for iPod songs, unfortunately) and if you like to spend hours tagging your songs, doing it either directly or from the tagging window works like a charm, even for bulk editing and provides more adjustments than any other manager.

    Checkboxes for selection are a great plus that only Xilisoft iPod Rip and MediaWidget feature too.

    Columns can be elegantly moved around and fields added or hidden with right-click at the top of any column, CopyTrans Manager-like.

    Nothing is missing in the left panel and nothing unnecessary shows up either.
    One thing that drives me crazy: the "browser" (Genre, Artist, Album) disappears from the iPod section every time you unplug your iPod.

    Adding songs:
    iTunes is not primarily an iPod manager and works on the idea that portable devices should reflect computer libraries. Users are meant to manage their library on the computer and synchronize their iPod with it before ejection.

    For those who want to use iTunes as a direct iPod manager, check the "Manually manage iPod" option, in the iPod section, which can be safer and more versatile to some of us.

    Note that iTunes is the only program of this test that allows to drag songs straight from a computer folder to an iPod playlist without having to add them to iPod first.

    obviously, this works flawlessly in iTunes.

    Note that both iPod and library playlists look exactly the same, which makes it very easy to mix them up, particularly as iTunes playlists are placed below the iPod and not below the library! This should definitely be improved.

    Playlists can be renamed by simply clicking on their name.
    The order of songs in playlists can be changed with simple drag & drop.

    obviously, here again, artworks are correctly transferred to iPod on song addition.
    A unique feature is that images can be dragged directly to the tagging window.

    the tagging window is great, with very rich options, clear interface and Previous / Next buttons.
    Bulk editing is supported.

    just drag videos from the library to iPod / iPhone. Note that iTunes does not offer video conversion; you need to either purchase QuickTime Pro or use a free video converter such as Videora.
    iTunes plays iPod videos in full screen, which is very pleasant.

    iTunes allows to add photos to iPod / iPhone in an extremely limited and inconvenient way: iPod photos are synchronized with computer folders and albums are created based on computer folders.
    Photos cannot be transferred the other way round, from iPod to computer. To do so, use an iPod photo manager such as CopyTrans Photo.

    Podcasts and audiobooks:
    iTunes obviously supports these file types and head to its Music Store for new discoveries.

    there are no legal portable versions of iTunes, but some unofficial exist.

    Built-in player:
    iTunes player may look basic with its 3 buttons, but it's an advanced tool that supports all music formats, including .aac and .m4a, podcasts, audiobooks and videos and will work even if you don't have the necessary codecs installed on your computer.

    Computer library management and music suggestions:
    iTunes is both a computer and iPod manager and, except if you decide to manage your iPod manually, will keep your iPod contents synchronized with the ones of your computer.

    Compared to Winamp's music suggestions, iTunes' Genius is really an ass that only provides obvious similar albums/artists and, of course, pushes to buy them.

    Like many other interesting iTunes features (artwork recovery for instance), Genius requires an Apple ID, which can only be obtained by providing a valid payment method. THIS SUCKS LIKE HELL!

    General appreciation:
    obviously, iTunes is guaranteed to work whatever you try with your iPod or iPhone, as its programming team is the only one that has full access to all iPod / iPhone encryption secrets.

    Objectively, it is an excellent program that managed to remain surprisingly simple to use and understand in spite of its important amount of functions.

    Though, the purpose of this test is to introduce iTunes alternatives that allow quick download and installation to perform relatively simple tasks, such as adding songs, videos or photos to iPod / iPhone. iTunes is far too big to fulfill this objective and, as said before, its installation takes ages of obscure operations.

    When you consider what CopyTrans Manager can do with a couple of Mb and Winamp with 30, you really wonder what Apple puts in those 227 Mb!

    In addition to its heavy weight, iTunes is also a major source of annoyances in terms of commercially oriented presets and constant connections to its f***ing Music Store.

    Probably the biggest annoyance with iTunes is the default synchronization of portable devices, which is altogether risky, unclear and inconvenient. Hundreds of people lose their iPod data every day, because of unwanted synchronizations with empty or incomplete computer libraries.

    Plus, you cannot manage iPod photos and albums directly nor can you transfer data from iPod to PC.


    The following iPod managers had been reviewed in the previous test, but are only succinctly introduced here, as they do not support iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx.


    This lovely little program adding data to iPod through the command line, is not even available anymore.


    Froddle Pod

    You probably won't need to stand its ugly face for long; your computer should soon be covered with vomit.

    Installs Microsoft Visual J# .Net Redistribuable Package 2.0.

    Freezes all the time and makes the computer blow like hell.

    A piece of crap to be forgotten as soon as possible.



    Is a free standalone application that pretends to be compatible with iPhone, but it does not even detect it.



    Has been a leading actor among free alternative iPod managers for many years, but was not recently updated to ensure its compatibility with iPhone and iPod Touch.



    A fully featured media center meant to become a "Firefox for medias".
    So far, it's mainly another heavy weight (65 Mb on disk), but slower and with less features than iTunes and Winamp.


    Anapod Explorer

    A kind of Windows Explorer for iPod that was not updated for ages and is currently pleasantly replaced by xPlay.



    Was an extremely promissing alternative iPod manager for a while.
    Extremely light, fast and easy to use.
    Unfortunately, not updated recently and, hence, not compatible with iPhone / iTouch



    Was a relatively richly featured iPod manager. Very geek oriented, though.
    Already in my previous review was not updated for a while and now recommends CopyTrans and CopyTrans Manager



    Was an interesting "tree view" iPod manager, but not updated since 2005…


    iPod Copy Manager

    As said in the previous review: an interesting interface, but way too unstable to be used safely.
    Not updated recently, no iPhone / iPod Touch support.

    The following iPod managers are not free, but revealed some very interesting ideas and are partially compatible with iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx.

    This review is limited to features available in the free trial versions.


    xPlay is an iPod manager with a unique Explorer-like interface sold for $29.95 by Mediafour.

    Installation and size:
    xPlay requires Windows Media Player 11, which is a MAJOR ANNOYANCE for XP users (60% of computer users) who need to download an additional 25 Mb and go through a typical Microsoft-Big Brother installation, including MS Windows validation and media files association.

    The computer needs to be restarted after installation…

    Setup file 4.78 Mb (+ 25 Mb for Windows Media Player 11); size on disk 11.12 Mb (+ 37.22 for WMP).

    First impression and interface:
    that's a damn interesting little piece of software!

    xPlay is not actually a "program" as you might call it, but a Windows Explorer for iPod / iPhone.
    No interface, except for a standard folder with direct access to iPhone folders and files!
    This minimal interface quickly shows its limits, browsing massive libraries is a hell of infinite scrolling.

    xPlay allows data transfers both ways PC <-> iPod, but only photos can be transferred to iPhone.

    Adding songs:
    dragging files from a folder to the program's "folder" is very pleasant and gives a feeling of managing an iPod like any other folder.
    As just said, xPlay can read and copy data from iPhone / iTouch, but only add photos to these iPod models.

    new playlists can be created, but existing playlists cannot be renamed.
    Songs can be added to playlists with right-click on songs, but drag & drop is not supported.
    The order of songs in playlists cannot be modified.

    artworks are not transferred to iPod, iPhone or iPod Touch when adding songs.

    xPlay features a basic, though pleasant tag window and multiple song editing is supported.

    videos can be added to iPod, but not to iPhone / iPod Touch.

    photos can be transferred to and from iPhone / iPod Touch.
    Photo albums are handled just like computer folders, very intuitive and convenient.

    Podcasts and audiobooks:
    xPlay does not make any difference between music and podcasts / audiobooks.

    there's no portable version of xPlay.
    Note that, thanks to its unique functioning, xPlay allows to use an iPhone as a hard drive and, hence, run standalone programs such as CopyTrans Manager from iPhone.

    Built-in player:
    xPlay has no built-in player and uses the system's default player.

    Computer library management and music suggestions:
    none of these features are available in xPlay.

    General appreciation:
    a very interesting alternative interface, but, unfortunately, lacks the compatibility with iPhone / iPod Touch.
    Probably the simplest way to use an iPhone or iTouch as a hard drive and this is available in the free version.
    Also a good option to copy music from iPod / iPhone to computer in the most elegant manner.

    This test is meant to provide alternative solutions to avoid wasting time downloading and installing massive softwares. As xPlay requires Windows Media Player 11 (25 Mb), it lamentably missed this objective.

    Finally, xPlay remains active in the tray and can only be closed by killing it from the Task Manager, which is very unpleasant.

    It is also added to the computer startup and this cannot be changed other than through msconfig.



    Xilisoft iPod Rip

    Xilisoft iPod Rip is a very limited iPod manager, sold for $25.95 by Xilisoft, a company offering a big variety of iPod and DVD programs.

    Xilisoft iPod Rip allows for one file transfers without limit in time, which, in a way, makes it a free software.

    Installation and size:
    Xilisoft iPod Rip requires an installation, but no additional software or computer reboot

    Setup file 5.31 Mb; size on disk 12.49 Mb

    First impression and interface:
    Xilisoft iPod Rip comes into a beautiful Vista-like skin. Its layout is mainly an iTunes clone.

    The three sorting lists (Genre, Artist, Album) are displayed in a very inelegant way: a floating window instead of being integrated to the program.

    Columns cannot be dragged around nor can you add or remove sorting fields.
    In addition to iPod management, Xilisoft iPod Rip features iPod to PC transfers, including import to iTunes.

    Adding songs:
    songs are added flawlessly, even to iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx with drag & drop, but artworks are forgotten as mentioned in the dedicated section.

    Changes are applied on the fly.

    no buttons or right-click context menu are available to create new playlists, you have to go to the File menu, which is very old fashioned compared to other managers.
    At least, existing playlists can be renamed directly by clicking on their name.

    Dragging songs to playlists is not supported, you have to right-click and select "Add to playlists".

    Like with MediaWidget, checkboxes make selection more comfortable and it's possible to create new playlists from selections of songs, which is great.

    Song reordering in playlists is not supported.

    artworks are not transferred to iPod, iPhone or iPod Touch when adding songs. Xlilisoft iPod Rip only allows to delete album arts…

    This program is the only manager of this test that allows to browse iPod songs through a thumbnail view (even iTunes can't!), which is extremely convenient to quickly determine which album arts are missing.

    Xlilisoft iPod Rip does not provide any tagging feature.

    are correctly added, even to iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx.

    photos can be transferred to and from iPhone / iPod Touch.

    No album management feature is available.

    Podcasts and audiobooks:
    podcasts are correctly recognized, but audiobooks are considered as normal songs.

    no portable version of Xilisoft iPod Rip is available.

    Built-in player:
    Xilisoft iPod Rip has no built-in player and relies on the system's default player.

    Computer library management and music suggestions:
    this is a strict iPod / iPhone manager. Computer data cannot be managed with this program nor is required any iPod synchronization with anything.

    Xilisoft iPod Rip does not provide music suggestions.

    General appreciation:
    the programmer(s) behind this tool seems to be limited by his programming components: no drag & drop to playlists, no columns reordering, etc.

    Songs, videos and photos are approximatively correctly added to iPhone 2.xx, which is impressive compared to many other managers.

    Though, artworks are forgotten, no tagging options are provided at all (!) and basic features such as new playlist button are not available.

    Being able to browse iPod songs with artwork thumbnails is a wonderful asset of this program.




    MediaWidget is an iPod management + iPod to PC transfer tool sold for $24.99 by BootstrapDevelopment, a company offering several iPod and DVD softwares.

    The free trial version allows to test the program with music only, not with other file types.

    Installation and size:
    MediaWidget requires installation and an email address, but it does not need to be valid.
    Setup file 2.84 Mb; size on disk 29 Mb

    First impression and interface:
    the typical crap looking Java program.

    File types (music, videos, podcasts, photos) are sorted into tabs, which is unusual, but might satisfy some.

    Columns can be rearranged with drag & drop, but new columns can only be added from the program's options.

    MediaWidget is not strictly an iPod manager, it also provides data transfer from iPod to PC with iTunes import options.

    Like with Xilisoft iPod Rip, checkboxes can be displayed next to tracks for easier selection.

    Adding songs:
    the Read-only mode needs to be turned off in Settings->General before any changes can be applied to iPod / iPhone, which is doubtlessly the most stupid default setting I've met in this test.

    Songs are added to iPod and iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx without apparent corruption.

    Like SharePod, a progress bar pops up, but does not indicate the names of the songs currently handled.

    playlists management is very inelegant: no drag & drop, but right-click on tracks and "Add to playlist". Playlists cannot be renamed by clicking on their name, here again right-click.

    Song reordering in playlists is not supported.

    are correctly transferred to iPod and iPhone / iPod Touch 2.xx when adding songs, but no album arts edition is available.

    the tag window is very complete and clear, including default volume adjustment, last played, last skipped, etc.

    Batch renaming is not supported.

    Video, TV Shows and photos:
    the free trial version only allows to try the program with music.

    MediaWidget can play soundtracks from videos, but not the films.

    Podcasts and audiobooks: podcasts are correctly recognized, but audiobooks appear in the music section.

    no portable version of MediaWidget is available.

    Built-in player:
    the super minimal player does not feature Repeat or Shuffle buttons and caches each track before playing it, which takes a couple of seconds every time.

    Podcasts and audiobooks can be played.

    Computer library management and music suggestions:
    MediaWidget is a strict iPod manager that does not require any synchronization with the computer library.

    It does not provide music suggestions.

    General appreciation:
    like for Xilisoft iPod Rip, the main limitation, here, seems to come from the code components used by the programmer: no drag & drop, no easy way to add columns and a globally unintuitive functioning.

    Still, MediaWidget features some very smart options: checkboxes for selection, create new playlists from selectionS of songs, reset song data such as last played or last skipped.

    These are just the few positive occurrences of a globally nerd oriented software that won't please less computer savvy users.

    A SharePod clone for 25 bucks, without the beauty and simplicity.




    Graphique des tailles avec 3 barres verticales pour chaque soft



    If you remember my previous free alternative iPod / iPhone / iPod Touch managers comparison test to manage iPod without iTunes, you might be familiar with my "Minimum managing time" concept.

    This was the time to

    1. open a manager,
    2. list songs,
    3. close the program.

    This time, I will add the time required to add one song to my iPhone.

    The measurements are made with fully installed programs (= have been opened at least once), but that were not open since the last computer reboot (= they are not in the RAM).

    CopyTrans Manager

    Open + list songs: 12.1 seconds
    Add one song + close / synchronize: 6.5 seconds
    MINIMUM MANAGING TIME: 18.6 seconds


    Open + list songs: 14.2 seconds
    Add one song + close / synchronize: 7 seconds
    MINIMUM MANAGING TIME: 21.2 seconds


    Open + list songs: Winamp takes 6 minutes 20 seconds "Parsing iPod databases" every time it opens!!!
    Add one song + close / synchronize: 10.5 second
    MINIMUM MANAGING TIME: depends on the size of your iPhone library. Count 25 minutes just to open your iPhone if it's loaded with 8 Gb of data…


    Open + list songs: 14.7 seconds
    Add one song + close / synchronize: 12.5 seconds
    MINIMUM MANAGING TIME: 27.2 seconds


    Open + list songs: instant
    Add one song + close / synchronize: iPhone 2.xx not supported
    MINIMUM MANAGING TIME: iPhone 2.xx not supported

    Xilisoft iPod Rip

    Open + list songs: 11 seconds
    Add one song + close / synchronize: 9.8 seconds
    MINIMUM MANAGING TIME: 20.8 seconds


    Open + list songs: 11 seconds
    Add one song + close / synchronize: 12.8 seconds
    MINIMUM MANAGING TIME: 23.8 seconds

    Speed chart:

    Click to enlarge

    Size chart:

    Click to enlarge

    Features comparison chart:

    Click to enlarge

    Final word

    New Apple devices and firmwares released in the last two years have brought numerous new features, a higher level of complexity and always tighter encryption securities.

    It turns out from this new version of my quest for the ultimate free alternative iPhone manager that very few programmers have been able to stick to this rushing evolution.

    Among the most motivated and skilled ones, CopyTrans Manager and SharePod are the only ones that successfully overcame this challenging test.

    As said in its dedicated review, CopyTrans Manager occured to be the winner of this test.
    Its reliability, stability and iPhone / iPod Touch support are spotless and surpassed all opponents.

    This program has also evolved a lot since last time and is much more richly featured than two years ago, which was my main complaint at the time.

    It now offers a complete and flexible browsing interface and powerful tagging capabilities.

    It perfectly handles all possible file types and is the only alternative program of this test able to make the difference between podcasts and audiobooks.

    For speed freaks, it's also the fastest free alternative iPhone manager available at the moment, particularly when you consider the size of its setup file that does not require any additional software.
    This will be of particular interest for the growing community of netbooks users (ultralight laptops) who have to cope with limited storage capacities.

    CopyTrans Manager is also portable, which can be very convenient to install and run it directly from iPod and manage data on-the-go from any computer.

    Finally, it is free!

    Two thumbs up! The Author's choice!

    SharePod was the other good surprise of this test. I particularly appreciated its reliability, simplicity and all-in-one philosophy. The quality of this program is really impressive when you consider the guy who makes it is almost alone, does it as a hobby and still provides it for free!

    Though, managing an iPod, and in particular an iPhone, is a relatively critical operation in which very precious personal data is often involved and should only be committed to the best code gurus.

    SharePod repeatedly showed worrying behaviors and, even though they had no consequences, this is enough to make me trust CopyTrans Manager instead.

    Apart from CopyTrans Manager and SharePod that brightly satisfied the harsh criterias of this test, all other alternative iPhone managers reviewed today seriously failed here or there, in particular when confronted with iPhone 2.xx.

    Still, they revealed some very interesting ideas that I want to remind here:
    • Artwork recovery (Winamp)
    • Music suggestions (Winamp)
    • Use iPhone as a hard drive (xPlay)
    • Checkboxes for selection (Xilisoft iPod Rip, MediaWidget)
    • Create playlists from selections (Xilisoft iPod Rip, MediaWidget)
    • Browse iPod songs through artwork thumbnails (Xilisoft iPod Rip)

    I hope you enjoyed this test and will find the perfect tool for your needs.

    1 comment:

    Xbox hard drive said...

    The installation process is going to be very helpful guidance to the novice who tend to get stuck with the basic steps.