Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Missing Sync for Android (a software review)

[see updates at the end of this post]

The nice people over at Markspace.com sent me a copy of The Missing Sync for evaluation.  I have to admit I wouldn’t have tried out the software at the fairly steep MSR of $39.95, and I think that sentiment is loudly reflected by the people on various message boards and the Android Market comment space.  However, after just a few moments using the program, I think it’s probably worth the cash… even if you’re only after it’s music syncing functionality.  The Missing Sync also has me constantly asking myself: “How have Google and HTC so thoroughly ignored the need for music syncing and a back up program for their devices?!”.

One of the first steps in the super-simple install process of setting up The Missing Sync states: “On your phone, follow the steps on the ‘Get Ready To Pair’ screen.”  However, they don’t tell you how to get to this screen.  It’s pretty simple (click your device’s “menu” button and select “pairing”), but it still might cause some people to stall, so I thought I’d make mention of the omission.

Music Sync: [kudos] [update: meh] For this to be a great function, the Missing Sync would need to convert your .xml or .asx playlists to .m3u (which is the only playlist Droid can use).  Currently, Missing Sync simply transfers your iTunes or WMP playlists to your device, where they are completely unreadable as they are in the wrong format.  So while Missing Sync does transfer your files, you won’t be able to see/read your playlists, only the songs.

Here is where The Missing Sync for Android shines.  Note that if you’ve got a big library it’ll take a couple of seconds for The Missing Sync to find and interpret all the information (this is of course to be expected).  Once The Missing Sync found all my files… I was in heaven.  It was a simple matter of selecting the playlists I wanted synced and that was it!  One of the creators of The Missing Sync let me know that he creates a smart list called “top 25 songs” so whenever he syncs his device it automatically updates his phone with whatever he’s been listening to the most.

Another cool thing is that in The Missing Sync, your playlists from all your media programs come up.  So my WMP lists appear with a WMP icon, and my iTunes lists are shown with an iTunes icon.  It’s very nice that I can sync playlists from both programs to my device (I no longer have to sync my WMP and iTunes libraries to each other).

At first I thought music could only be synced via USB, but you can also sync wirelessly.  Another nice feature.

Proximity Sync: [kudos] You can set up The Missing Sync to sync wirelessly at whatever intervals you might like (from never, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours, every day).  Kind of nice to not have to plug in or even remember to sync.

Contact Sync: [fail]  Evidently you must have Outlook installed for this to work.  There is no mention of this in the “Syncing Contacts” section of their website (I don’t know if they just expect you to have Outlook, or if they’re glossing over the fact that their software won’t work without this awful Microsoft program).  This is especially weird because in the “Syncing Notes” section they make it perfectly clear that you need “Fliq Notes” (free) installed before the sync will work.  So obviously the need for Outlook is a major shortcoming.  I don’t want to install Outlook.  More importantly, I don’t want to PAY FOR a subpar e-mail/contact program.  Microsoft has enough of my money, and there are PLENTY of (superior) programs out there for e-mail and managing contacts.  Why in the hell would I want Outlook?  It seems odd that The Missing Sync couldn’t just sync to a .cvs file or something so you could back up your contacts without having to pay for Microsoft Outlook.  This isn’t really that big a deal, as my contacts are all synced to my Gmail account, but it is a giant “fail” for The Missing Sync.

Notes: [meh] You have to have Fliq Notes installed for this to work.  I probably won’t install another program just for notes.  Some people might use notes enough to warrant installing another third party app.  I don’t.

Folder Sync: [kudos] A very nice feature for syncing any selected file or folder to/from your PC/Device.  Simply select the folder and you’re golden.

Photos: [kudos/pending] [update: fail] At the time of writing this post, I cannot yet get photos to sync.  I assume I have something set up wrong, as my SMS and Call Logs won’t sync either (see “Gold Service” section below).  I’m going to go ahead and post about the features I can see in the Photo Sync panel anyway, assuming I’ll be able to get things working once I figure out why my device isn’t showing up with a couple of the services.

So…  I like that I can not only import from the device, but export to the device as well (so I can take pics from my computer with me to share with people).  There’s even a “resize to device’s longest edge” option to save on size.  And like with music, it’s as simple as selecting (ticking the box of) the album or photo I want to transfer.  There are options for “import all items, including previously imported items” and “remove items from device after importing.”  It is however incredibly annoying that the window where you can select which photos to sync is only four folders high and there is NO WAY to resize the window.  Sorting through THOUSANDS of photos when you can only see four is way beyond ridiculous.

Videos: [pending] I haven’t checked out this feature yet, but evidently you can set this up to simply sync a file to your device, or use the program to actually convert files to device friendly format.

Install: [kudos] This is a feature that allows you to set up associations between file extensions and directories.  For example, you can set “doc” files to always be installed in your My Documents directory. I’m not sure how this will affect installs of programs with ReadMe files, etc.

Ringtones: [kudos] There’s a nice little Ringtone Creator incorporated into The Missing Sync that allows you to chop up songs for ringtones.  I wish this extended to device notification sounds (not just ringtones), but I think this may be a shortcoming of the device/OS, not The Missing Sync, as I can’t seem to easily change the device notification sounds even from within my Droid.

Gold Service Option: [pending] MarkSpace’s “gold” customer service came with my install of The Missing Sync.  Since I couldn’t figure out how to get my Phone Log, SMS Messages, and Photos to sync (The Missing Sync kept telling me a device had not yet been synced with the program even though I was successfully syncing music?), I used the opportunity to contact the peeps at customer service.  Supposedly they’ll respond in four hours or less.  It is currently 1:21pm Mountain Time on a Wednesday.  This “gold” service also comes with a pin number for instant online chat.  I’m gonna wait a bit to check that out though.

The one thing that every backup/sync program should do, and The Missing Sync doesn’t, is provide a button that will back up my entire device (for simple restoration in the event of complete device failure).  On this front, The Missing Sync fails (no “one click back up all” option).

[update 5/27/10] No response yesterday.  I did receive a response this morning requesting that I send in my error log.  I did so at 10:53am and have not heard anything back.  It’s 6:29pm.

[update 5/28/10] I got a response this morning that was basically “try again with your virus protection off.”  I did so, and SMS and Call Logs are now being backed up.  However, only numbers are listed, not names.  A long list of 10 digit numbers is pretty useless to me.  Unless the back up can figure out someway to pull in my contact name/number associations, SMS and Call Log back up is going to be a “fail.”  Also, Photo backup and/or sync is not functioning, so unless I get a fix from tech support, photo sync will also be a “fail.”

[update 5/29/10] Still no response regarding the fact that photos won’t back up or sync, and that SMS and Call Logs won’t display names (only numbers).  To be fair, it is Saturday, but I expected a response to the issue yesterday and did not receive one.

[update 8/10/10] After the holiday weekend the folks at MissingSync got back to me and were actually quite excellent with their communication.  However, in the end I’m still pretty disappointed with the Missing Sync.  There is no “total device backup,” you can’t sync via USB (only WiFi or Bluetooth, which is much too slow when syncing your entire music library), the photo sync does not work (in either direction), and the music sync would need to convert playlists to the correct Android playlist format (.m3u) for the software to be truly useful.  The people at Missing Sync turned out to be great, but the software falls short, especially for the price.

In my opinion, the best option right now for syncing music and other media is called doubleTwistSee my review here.

9 comments:

Alex Taylor said...

Hi! My name is Alex Taylor and I'm from Eltima Software, we are the developers of SyncMate. SyncMate enables all users to sync data between Mac OS X computer and a list of devices, such as Windows Mobile devices, Nokia S40 phones and other Macs and Windows computers, PlayStation Portable and USB drives. SyncMate also supports Google account synchronization. With SyncMate you can back up data to Online Storage Account.

Please, contact me at alex.taylor@eltima.com if you are interested in testing and I will send you registration details at once.

Waiting to hear from you soon and have a great sunny day!

Anonymous said...

I'm sort of disappointed in this review because I know so many people want to sync outlook with android via usb (not the cloud!) and this looks like it could be a solution.

ari-free

The Invisible said...

Hilarious. You're disappointed with my review because of something the SOFTWARE doesn't do.

Brilliant.

betweenthecurtains said...

I actually bought this software solely for photo syncing, unfortunately doing so before reading your review, as it FAILS to sync photos, completely. I take a lot of photos with my phone, so it would have been great if it had worked, now off to try WiFi File Explorer. Thanks for the great review.

The Invisible said...

@betweenthecurtains: I've had some success with photos and Double Twist (see my review). It's not super-robust, but it does a good job of getting your photos from here to there. Also... if you just need a good way to get photos off the phone (while you're keeping track of things), I use Picasa.

Derek said...

Disappointed.
I was ripped off.
I should have done more research of the blogs rather than believing one good review I found and an excelelnt sales pitch from the MarkSpace web page before I purchased an android phone.

The HTC Desire Z is a fabulous phone (and much cheaper than a iPhone). I thought I could buy the missing sync to sync to my MacBook Pro and not need to spend the extra money on an iPhone. That was my big mistake. the missing sync has so many bugs and it is so time consuming to try and set it up properly. (not that I have managed yet) and the customer support is so poor.....

Basically this is an early beta program that should be given away free to developers so they can sort out the bugs. It is definitely not worth $40.

The Invisible said...

Derek, I highly recommend you try the free program doubleTwist (as is suggested in the post you commented on).

Anonymous said...

My experience with this product has been nothing miserable. I have wasted hours with their tech support and it still does not sync consistently.

Anonymous said...

I had categories stripped from 1000+ contacts by this software. Back things up (I did) and don't expect any help from tech support.