Is it time for an iPhone? Help a somewhat Luddite decide
May 6, 2016 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Finally, after a number of years of lugging around books, cameras, dumb phones, an iPod and an iPad, I'm thinking it might be time to streamline my daily life a little and cross over to the smartphone side. Because I use the iPod and iPad heavily already, I'm not really considering anything other than an iPhone, but I have questions, mostly about what it will do to my iTunes library.

I have about 80gb worth of stuff on my iTunes: mostly music but there's a large collection of podcast episodes on there too. If I want all of that to be available to be to me all the time, I guess I need the biggest possible iPhone, but that's pricey. (I don't like the idea of relying on the cloud because I often want to listen to stuff where an internet connection will be unavailable or patchy, and I never know in advance what I'm going to feel like listening to. Please disabuse me of that notion if it's misguided.)

So if I choose a smaller iPhone, how do I manage getting the stuff I want and only the stuff I want onto the iPhone? I do want to keep using my iPod classic as well, mostly at home, and I want it to have everything on it. To update my iPod, I plug it in to my PC and tell iTunes to sync, but if I can only fit a subset of the library onto an iPhone, will I have to go through manually checking and unchecking individual items each time? Surely things have moved on, but likely in a way I don't understand... How does the music even get onto my hypothetical iPhone?

I understand there will be a separate podcasts app on the iPhone - how will that interact with the podcasts in iTunes on my PC and on the iPod? At the moment I have the podcasts app on my iPad, but I only use it for things I want to download temporarily and then delete; it's not synced with the large back catalogue on my iTunes.

I'm nervous about the whole thing because iTunes has always been very fragile on my PC so I just don't trust it. About every other update causes me to have to restore from backup, and I hate the way the default display gets changed without my say-so. The thought of doing something that might in some way render unusable my beloved (and now irreplaceable) iPod is too terrible to bear. For these reasons it's my policy to update it as infrequently as possible.

Otherwise, if you have any tips for things I need to bear in mind - features I'm not yet using (how do iCloud and that iTunes Match thing help or hinder?), or options that would definitely need to be turned on or off, please let me know.

I'm also interested in general reflections on going from carrying many things that are each, IMHO, the best thing for one purpose, to using an electronic Swiss Army knife. My bag will be lighter, as will my wallet, but will I regret it?

And if Apple is on the verge of doing something new that is (a) exciting or (b) appalling with the iPhone range, that's also of interest as it might make me either hold off for a while or leap in with all possible haste.

posted by FavourableChicken to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I haven't done this in a bit so hopefully still applies, but you can tell iTunes to only select given playlists onto a given device. Then you can select a goodly chunk of your music that you want to have available on your phone, add/remove things to it at will, and it will automatically sync up with that playlist.

If you like the idea of a smaller phone, the iPhone 5se is brand spanking new in the lineup. Otherwise, I believe the iPhone7 is estimated to come out this upcoming winter.
posted by foxfirefey at 9:22 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh--and the iTunes podcast app is HORRIBLE, just awful. I mean, there were months where I couldn't even get it to open, much less function, for no explicable reason.

I recommend Overcast instead, though I don't know how well that will work on your PC/iPod.
posted by foxfirefey at 9:23 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

will I have to go through manually checking and unchecking individual items each time
Not every time, but you will have to set it up to tell it what music to sync. You can sync by individual song, but you can also do entire playlists (including Smart Playlist) and entire Artists and Genres. I think you can even do albums.

I haven't had problems with the podcast app, but I am a light user (1-2 times per month).

iCloud and iTunes Match
I don't use them much (only contacts and bookmarks), but the consensus in this recent thread is that they are both a headache. Turn them off.

If you really regret the switch, the phones hold their value pretty well, so you aren't stuck with it.
posted by soelo at 9:38 AM on May 6, 2016

I've had mostly positive experiences with iTunes Match/Music, but if you have a reasonably static set of music already saved offline then I wouldn't bother with any of that - creating playlists and syncing a subset of those is the way I would go.

Seconding foxfirefey's recommendation for Overcast instead of the default Podcast app, though you do need the paid version to import your own mp3s. You might look at downcast or castro as well.

I highly recommend taking advantage of the apple stores if there's one near you. A lot of these questions they can help answer in person/show you how it'd work.
posted by revertTS at 10:12 AM on May 6, 2016

Just another penny: I use the Podcast app, but I still manage my podcasts along with my music and apps via iTunes. They get synched together, and then are available in the Podcasts format (and, I think, no longer anywhere else as default). You also have the option of having the application download directly, either all the time or when you ask, but I only use that if I'm out of town, both for data plan reasons and to keep myself sane. iTunes is indeed a janky program, but it's hand to have one-stop organizing of All Your Content.
posted by acm at 10:15 AM on May 6, 2016

Granted, this can also be a pricey option, but when you get a smart phone, you will also have a data plan, and unless you are in a tunnel or Antarctica or something, you'll probably have a solid enough cellular data connection to listen to music from the cloud. This is the whole reason everything is going to cloud storage and streaming rather than bigger and bigger storage drives.

So really, your question is whether to take on the larger upfront cost of a phone with enough storage, or the incremental monthly cost of a data plan big enough to stream music without constantly worrying that you're going over your monthly limit. (Note, too, that some cell providers exempt music and/or video streaming from your monthly data limit. I don't have one of those plans, so I don't know how it works, but it might be worth looking into in your case.)

If you are honestly concerned for well-researched reasons (maybe you really do live in Antarctica) that you won't be able to access the cellular data network most of the time that you want to listen to music, you may want to rethink the smartphone idea for now.
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on May 6, 2016

Consider the 128GB (or largest) version of a not-the-latest phone, giving you the thing you need most, all that space, at the price of some whizzy new features you probably don't need anyway.

If you can squeeze all your music onto your phone, rather than rely on any streaming or syncing or cloud-based flakiness, you'll be so, so much happier.
posted by rokusan at 10:59 AM on May 6, 2016

Wait until the new iPhone comes out in late September. The cameras never get worse.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:04 PM on May 6, 2016

I have a pretty extensive music library, but I don't really listen to that much of it regularly, so I am happy carrying a small subset. You can do some neat stuff with smart playlists in iTunes to keep the assortment fresh and interesting on your phone. There's also an iOS/desktop combo of apps that let you stream music from your desktop to your phone: StreamToMe/ServeToMe, so you can have that as a backup. It's dated but it works. There might be other similar apps.

I would not get the iPhone with the smallest amount of storage, because it's easy to fill it up, even if you're really rigorous about what goes onto your phone.

I don't use iTunes Match or Apple Music, but I definitely do use iCloud for contact/calendar syncing, and that is great.
posted by adamrice at 4:22 PM on May 6, 2016

If you can wait until September when the iPhone 7 comes out then I would.

You can reduce the size of your music files with a very small (to me, anyway) loss in quality. If you're not putting your music through super expensive headphones then I doubt you'll notice.

To do this, in iTunes, click on the Device icon in the top-left corner to open the device summary. Under "Options" check "Convert higher bit rate songs to 128 kbps AAC", then click Apply.

This won't change the original quality of your files but the ones on the phone will be converted. You'll save a significant amount of space but the sync (especially the first one) will take a long time.
posted by mr_silver at 12:19 AM on May 9, 2016

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