In college, I bought a 4th generation 20GB black and white iPod at Sam’s Club (the HP Edition, actually). Back then, my music collection was only 10GB, and I figured that gave me plenty of room to grow. While using that iPod, I developed a pretty simple, yet strict method for keeping my music library clean and fresh. This system requires two pieces of metadata – star ratings and playcount/last played – to be synchronized between my portable device and my desktop computer.
For star ratings, I use this differently than most people. When I’m listening to music, if I come across a track that, for whatever reason, I don’t want to have in my library, I give it 5 stars. Why 5? Because on an iPod, that’s the easiest rating to give something, no matter what else you’re doing (driving, walking, etc). I can use my iPod all day long, rating tracks, and then synchronize with my computer, sort by star rating, and delete the 5′s. Super easy, and I’ve still got 1-4 stars for an actual rating system.
Playcounts/last played come into effect when I want to keep things fresh. My music library is now coming up to 20,000 tracks, and let’s face it – there’s no easy way to manage that. What I’ve done is setup playlists for each genre – these smart playlists are automatically populated with tracks that I haven’t listened to in the past XX days. The timeframe isn’t really important (sometimes it’s 30, sometimes it’s 60), but what’s important is that it’s music I haven’t heard in a while, conveniently packaged in a playlist.
These playlists are also useful on phones that have limited storage – rather than painstakingly trying to figure out what to transfer (or worse, risk the ‘random’ sync and take up space with junk), I can limit these playlists to ~1GB in size and have several of them on an 8GB microSD with plenty of extra room.
Since that original iPod died several years ago, I’ve tried in vain to replicate that system using various phones as MP3 players. I’ve tried every version of Windows Mobile since 2005, Symbian (various versions), Android, and even BlackBerry, and no phone that I’ve found is able to synchronize star ratings and playcounts/last played back to the desktop, which is the core requirement for my system to work.
Windows Mobile does synchronize this, but Windows Media Player on the desktop is such a pain to use, I just couldn’t handle it. My last-ditch effort was to try the new DoubleTwist player on my Nexus One. They advertise full synchronization of both ratings and playcounts back to iTunes, so I figured it was worth a shot. I’ll be honest, I never synced my phone twice. The DoubleTwist app on my computer is slow as molasses – it has to re-load *ALL* of my music every time I launch it – that takes quite a while when you have 120GB. Further, once it’s done loading all your stuff, it has to talk to iTunes to find out any changes to your media there. It’s easily 30-45 minutes of ‘loading’ before I’m even able to use the app, much less synchronize anything with it.
Thus, after fighting it for several years, I finally broke down tonite and bought the 160GB iPod Classic. I’m not really happy about it, and I’ve had to switch from MediaMonkey back to iTunes for my desktop solution, but I finally have just that – a solution, instead of a clunky workaround. I bought the 160GB iPod Classic mainly because it’s pretty mellow – there’s no frills, and this is purely a functional toy, I don’t need a touchscreen or any apps and such. Second, I bought it because, at least currently, I can fit my entire 120GB music collection on it – which means I always have my entire collection with me, which is something I’ve missed since I’ve been using my phones, even the N97 which had 32GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot.
It’s really unfortunate, honestly. There are so many benefits to using your phone as your MP3 player that it’s not even funny. I really find it quite depressing that no one in the mobile industry is working to address these two small (but incredibly important) issues. I’ve spoken at length with the http://blog.ovi.com/2009/11/12/welcome-to-nokia-ovi-player/ team about this, and they’ve simply (repeatedly) said it’s just not on their roadmap right now.
I’m keeping my eye on DoubleTwist, though – with a few speed improvements, they could finally be the key that I’ve been looking for. In the meantime, I’ve got my 160GB iPod Classic, and I’ll be using it to weed out the crappy music tracks I’ve accumulated over the years, until someone else is able to compete.
Have you found a way to synchronize ratings and playcounts/last played with anything other than an iPod? What do you use to keep your music library fresh? Have you given up on locally-stored media and gone cloud-only with Last.FM or Pandora?