Galaxy S3/Note2 to Mac Syncing Solutions

Discussion in 'Alternatives to iOS and iOS Devices' started by theluggage, Oct 14, 2012.

  1. theluggage, Oct 14, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2012

    theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    It seems that the only way of transferring files via USB between a S3/N2 and a Mac is Samsung's own Keis software - which is better than nothing... but not much. Googles Android File Tranfer software does not work with these phones (UPDATE: it does work if you uninstall Kies) and the 'USB Mass Storage' mode available on other Android phones is not present. The 'Camera' mode seems to be broken as well.

    This has come up in other threads, but I thought it would be useful to start a thread that concentrated on possible solutions, and ask people very nicely to keep the Android vs. iOS wars (good clean fun though they are) out of this one.

    NB: Kies does seem to work for me, both on Lion and ML, but it can be a bit temperamental (you may need to plug and unplug the USB a few times). It may do what you need, and may be worth persisting with a bit. I got a pretty bad 'first impression' so started to look for other things and haven't really tried all its facilities. One of the problems it shares with many solutions is its presumption that you want to use it as your go-to media library manager (although it will import your iTunes library).

    The 'holy grail' for Mac users would be a fairly simple app that assumed that you were going to be using iTunes and iPhoto and just let you choose to sync all or some of that. This shouldn't be rocket science as both of these keep a copy of their basic metadata, including paths to the media files, in an easily-decyphered XML file - no secret Apple APIs needed. Not found that yet.

    Edit: iSyncr looks promising and is on my 'to try' list.

    However: here's a brain dump on what I've found so far. Please chime in with your experiences/recommendation (but please read the above before suggesting using AFT or USB Storage mode!)

    Calendar, Email and Contacts

    I set up a Gmail account some time ago and use Google mail/contacts/calendar for this, which is supported across OS X and iOS - it's free and works nicely. The only slight glitch is getting OS X Mail to insert event invitations into your Google calendar instead of the local one. You don't have to use Gmail as your main mail account, but it's probably the easiest way to get outgoing mail and 'push' mail on the move. Maybe others, who are bought into other ecosystems, can relate their experiences.

    Music Sync

    OK - let's assume that all your media is unprotected and supported by Android (All my music is MP3, but I assume that unprotected AAC works too) - if you have older DRM-encumbered files from iTunes then they're not going to play on Android without shenanigans. There's nothing mysterious about how iTunes stores your music - and if you check 'keep iTunes Media Folder organized' in the advanced preferences it will all be in nicely named nested folders in Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Music.

    The simple but slightly fiddly way: get a 16,32 or 64 GB microSD card and an appropriate adapter for your Mac (USB or - for many MacBooks - a microSD-to-SD adapter, which sometimes comes with the card). Initialise it in the phone, then extract it, plug it into your Mac where it will mount as a drive. Then go to your Music/iTunes/iTunes Media folder and drag as much of it as you want to the 'media' folder on the SD card. Then put the card back into the phone and give the Music Player app a while to come to terms with all the new files. If you need to update, there may be Mac file sync applications that will do it efficiently without re-copying everything (if you're a command line fan, the most efficient of all is the 'rsync' command). The main con: taking the back off and removing the SD card is a faff. Oh - note - we're talking about the optional microSD storage card here - not the SIM.

    That's it for USB. The other options are WiFi or cloud based.

    Google Play Music has been recommended as an Android-friendly alternative to iTunes-in-the-cloud - I can't comment, because it's not available here in the UK. Edit: - it is now, and looks good. I haven't taken the plunge and uploaded my collection yet, but it is quite nice as a regular music player app.

    Amazon is offering a similar service that is available in the UK, which might be worth checking out.

    Spotify is also available in the UK (and, I think the US now). To use their full streaming service on a mobile phone, you need to subscribe for about £10 a month (which does get you access to a huge library) but the Android app is free and also acts as a 'local' music player and can connect via WiFi to the Spotify application on OSX. This, in turn, will import your iTunes playlists which you can then select for download on the phone, and subsequently play offline. It seems to work best if you only want to keep a few playlists downloaded to your phone at a time. Cons: I couldn't find out where it was storing the music on the phone, or find any option to tell it to use the removable SD card instead of internal storage. I also found the player a bit basic - no gapless playback, no lock screen interaction or matching widget. Also, when it says 'WiFi' it means it - I had to disconnect my Mac from the ethernet and connect to my router via WiFi to get it to go (even though they're both on the same subnet).

    WinAmp is another alternative music player that comes with a Mac OS companion that will import your iTunes library and sync it with your phone via WiFi. It's worth a try because, on first impressions, I prefer it to the default music player anyway. Cons: Although it would sync the music in selected iTunes playlist it didn't seem to re-create the actual playlist data on the phone. Again, I can't find out how to make it store music to the SD card using WiFi sync (although it finds music stored there by other means).

    Drag and drop file access

    For moving individual files, cloud solutions like DropBox and Google Drive seem like the best bet (and currently you get something like 50GB of DropBox space free for two years when you sign up from a Note 2 - but remember that 2 year expiry!) so what I was really looking for was something to mount the phone as a shared network drive for easy 'bulk' file transfers.

    AirDroid sounds worth a look, and could also be ideal for occasional files if you don't want to 'cloud' them. Edit: Airdroid is a beautifully produced app that lets you connect to your phone from your web browser and see a desktop-like interface to the files, text messages etc. on your phone. There are some issues on the Note 2 with it finding the 'external' SD card but they can be worked around.

    There is a Samba server available but it requires a 'rooted' phone. 'Rooting' Android (i.e. getting system admin permissions) is not quite as drastic as jailbreaking iOS but neither is it good for your warranty, so I wasn't ready to try that yet.

    WebDAV: I did succeed in mounting a non-rooted phone as a network drive using WebDAV. This involves installing a WebDAV server on the phone - several are available, such as Servers Ultimate then, on the Mac, going to 'Go -> Connect to Server ->' and entering 'http://IP of phone:port/' as the server (the Android App will give you the numbers). This basically worked, the phone mounted as a network drive, but I'm not sure if it is robust enough for big file transfers (it gave up halfway through my music library). I've found the Mac's access to WebDAV servers a bit flakey in the past - but it did work and it might be worth experimenting other Android server apps.

    SFTP: Servers Ultimate does this but, I've had more success with SSHelper which doesn't look very pretty but works - you'll need to follow a bit of command-line-fu (see the app author's website) to get public-key SSH access with no password up and running. Once that's done, you can connect using command-line SFTP or using a drag-n-drop SFTP client like FileZilla, CyberDuck or Flow (the latter is trialware that costs the price of a beer to buy, but looks nice, clean and simple).

    I'd hoped I could use sshfs to mount the server as a 'proper' drive (beyond the scope of this article) and had partial success browsing files - but it could only write files to SSHelper's home directory - the rest of the internal storage and ext SD card were read-only.


    This is now getting into techie territory, but if you're not scared of the command line, then you'll know that the one true way of syncing files is 'rsync'. The SSHelper app supports rsync-over-ssh, meaning you can have boundless fun writing your own scripts to sync particular directories too and from the phone. One for the unix-heads, but a very powerful possibility, although there are some gotchas when syncing to the vfat filesystem on the phone's SDcards. (I'll leave you to the SSHelper website and your own encyclopaedic knowledge of rsync and just note that the example on the SSHelper website has omitted the '-e ssh' option and assumes that you've created a .ssh/conf file to set the non-standard port).
  2. theluggage thread starter macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    Update - an App called "Easy Phone Sync" has appeared in the Samsung App store for free (at least in the UK) that (among other things) seems to offer a simple, no-frills way of syncing all or some of your iTunes library via USB. In particular, it also re-creates your iTunes playlists on the phone, and will sync to the 'external' SD card (just choose the correct device at the 'connect' stage).
  3. theluggage thread starter macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    OK - have now got AFT working. The problem seems to be that Samsung's 'Kies' sync software includes some kind of system extension or background helper app that messes up AFT. It's no good just quitting Kies or deleting the application - you have to find the .dmg that you downloaded for Kies, open it and run the uninstaller.

    AFT gives you straightforward drag-and-drop transfer, over USB, via an app that works something like a Finder window - however its not Finder, and the phone doesn't show up as a mounted drive.

    However, if you're syncing everything else via. cloud services, its ideal for rapidly copying across videos or big batches of music files that would be slow to do via the tubes.
  4. clborden macrumors regular


    May 12, 2009
    Derby, CT
    I'm actually in the same boat here. I have been using Kies, and up to about a week ago, I haven't had any real issues. But now I am. I am contemplating uninstalling Kies and doing what you did with AFT or Easy Phone Tunes. My issue with EPT is the same as DoubleTwist, I have to put the music I want into a playlist in order to transfer it. If I have to I will, it's just that it's a lot easier selecting songs or albums individually, then dragging & dropping... or what have you. I'm just hoping for a better iTunes alternative than this Kies. I constantly get the spinning beach ball and it's just so damn slow.

    If anyone has any advice or suggestions it would be great. Like I said, I will use the AFT or EPT if I have to, just hoping for something better.

  5. theluggage thread starter macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    Most of the alternatives (EPS, iSyncr) are playlist-based.

    Personally, I have a large SD card and sync the whole music library, and actually quite like having my playlists re-created on the phone. Alternatively, just creating a "Phone" playlist, maintaining that via drag & drop in iTunes, then using Easy Phone Sync or iSyncr to sync that to the phone doesn't seem like too much hassle.

    Or you could use AFT and just drag & drop files directly.

    The other 'iTunes replacement' I tried was WinAmp, but see the caveats above.

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