03
Jun
doubleTwist
Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

Jon Lech Johansen from doubleTwist wrote to us today to let us know that they have launched a free app in the Market to pair with their popular desktop sync software for Mac and PC:

Today we launched our Android Player for music, podcasts and videos and it’s available in the Android Market as a free download. Google has built Android into a powerful, open platform; however users have been unsatisfied by the default media software built into Android and are not fully utilizing the media capabilities of their phones.

Jon goes on to list the features of the new Android app such as music and video playback in the same app with a simple interface, playback of iTunes-created playlists, support for audio and video podcasts, and support for ratings and play counts. He also hints that online radio, and wireless sync is coming soon as well.

doubleTwist Features

The app is definitely well thought out and intuitive and looks great but I’ve found some bugs and missing features in the app that are worth mentioning as they quickly became a “show-stopper” for me to adopt it as my full-time media player. Still, I give it two thumbs up for general users looking for a solid media playback application which pairs extremely well with the desktop app of the same name.

The Home Screen

The introductory screen that you see when opening the app is well laid out, allowing users to quickly dive into their library using Artist, Album or Song Title navigation. Also included are buttons to browse any videos on the device, view Playlists, or view Podcasts entries. It looks to me like there’s room for two more buttons, perhaps for the online radio and wireless sync options that Jon hinted at.

Image 1 - Main menu

Artist Navigation

Navigating through the artists in your library works as expected: when you tap on an artist, you list a list of albums by that artist, and tapping on an album gives you a list of tracks on the album.

Image 2 - Artist list Image 3 - Albums for a chosen artist Image 4 - Song list for chosen album

Album and Song Title Navigation

Similar to Artist navigation, browsing the library by albums will let you browse ‘various artists’ compilation albums a lot easier. Navigating by Song Title can be handy if you’re looking for a particular track. If you’re like me, however, and have a huge music library, a search feature like Gesture Search might be quicker than scrolling through your whole library for a particular song if you can’t remember the title.

Music Playback

By default, the audio player will show you a repeat and randomize buttons, and 5 dots which turn out to be a star rating indicator – perhaps hollowed out stars that filled in when a user taps on them might have been more intuitive. Jon also mentioned that there’s a play counter somewhere, but I didn’t see any indication of it in the mobile app itself, perhaps that data is only sent to the desktop application. Tapping on the album art hides or shows the repeat/random features. Browsing back through artists/albums etc leaves a stub at the bottom of the device that shows the current track being played. Tapping the submenu button on your device will let you navigate back to the home screen (Library), or set the current track as your default ring tone, or view a play queue. Unfortunately there’s no notion of an on-the-fly playlist queue system where you can add songs from the library on the device itself.

Image 5 - Playing a song Image 6 - Hiding the repeat and random controls Image 7 - showing stub at bottom for current track playing Image 8 - Submenu controls during playback

Video Playback

Three words: smooth as glass. By default, a video I picked at random that I took on the Nexus One itself opened up full-screen with no on-screen controls. Tapping on the screen showed some basic controls for 3 seconds to let you rewind, fast forward, pause, and see a progress indicator. I did not test any other video types or videos that weren’t taken on my Nexus One.

Playlist Navigation

I added some podcasts in the desktop application, and playlists were automatically generated for me, one per podcast, each with a list of new podcast episodes to enjoy. There’s also a playlist entry for “Recently added” which will find newer audio files added to your device. Unfortunately, this feature shows me my entire library of songs which have been on my device for several months now, so I’m not sure if this is a bug, or if the desktop application somehow recalibrated its timestamps because it was the first time I’d run the app on this particular computer.

Playlist Navigation

Podcast Playback

This playback works as expected: if you subscribe to an audio podcast, you can browse and listen to your audio files; if you subscribe to a video podcast, you can view them instead. If the desktop application doesn’t sync a podcast, or no episodes are available, you get a rather unfriendly “Playlist is empty” screen. Perhaps the podcast navigation screen could just have a counter for how many episodes are sync’d and not navigate to a podcast with no episodes. The other redundancy I found is that the podcast navigation essentially shows me the exact same information as the playlists that the desktop application created for me.

Podcast navigation Unsyncd podcasts shows empty playlist Redundant podcast list, just like the Playlist I already saw

Configuration Settings

From the home screen, tapping the submenu will give you a control for “Options” but try to contain your excitement for the plethora of configurable settings:

overwhelming list of settings

On one hand, I love that they have this setting in the app – it will make my wife’s life much easier, as she can simply plug her Motorola CLIQ into her PC and it’ll set up the USB drive mode for her and sync with doubleTwist on the desktop. For me, personally, I find it annoying that they’d set this on by default as I often plug my Nexus One into my laptop simply to charge it. I don’t want the bother of having doubleTwist auto-launch itself and try a full sync cycle every time I plug in my device for charging, so this setting was turned off on my Nexus One.

Why I Won’t Adopt It (But You Should)

The biggest deal breaker was lack of horizontal orientation support. Maybe it’s my Froyo build, or maybe my Nexus One needs to be docked, but I couldn’t get the app to rotate itself when changing the phone’s orientation from portrait mode to landscape mode. I commute to work, and my Nexus One sits in a Google Car Dock during my 45-minute trip in each direction, and until this app can handle horizontal orientation, I have to pass on it.

The second nearly-as-bad deal breaker: I’m a HUGE podcast fan (again, the commute), and Google Listen’s playback engine just plain sucks when you try to manually seek through an audio file. Manual panning around to seek to a new position in an audio file works GREAT in doubleTwist, but the expectation that I’m going to download new podcast episodes through the desktop app and then sync to my device, like iTunes, seems counter-productive when the device itself is fully capable of downloading podcasts on its own. That’s why my device has 3G and WiFi. Why not save the URL for the podcast RSS feed within the app, and let users configure how often to check for new downloads? There’s no reason my device can’t download new episodes, and NOT sync those to the desktop application if the desktop application has also seen the same new episodes.

My final beef with doubleTwist in general is lack of Linux support on the desktop application. Some support posts I’ve seen in their forums claim they’ll work on a Linux version of the app if there’s enough demand, but they want to focus on the Mac and PC versions first, which makes sense – take care of your bigger customer bases first.

Overall, the media player app is extremely solid, intuitive, and users looking for a way to escape iTunes will have even more reason to do so. However, if you need horizontal music or expect the app to download your podcasts for you, you’ll need to contact doubleTwist.

  • Vikas

    I want to have this app on my N1 but couldn't find it in the App Market. Tried using the app Barcode scanner but still couldn't get the Double Twist app. Is it only available for people in USA?

  • BobbyPhoenix

    I believe USA only (for now anyway). Also it is free now, but will be a paid app once established (so I've heard). The only issue I have is you cannot sort by track number on the PC (unless you create a playlist, and I'm not about to create 500 playlists), and that is my "show stopper", so until they make that a selectable option, I won't be using it.

    • Vikas

      Hi Bobby

      Thanks for the prompt reply....appreciate it. Will wait for the app to be available on Market for all, found computer sync app really useful.

    • Rob

      It's not USA only, I'm in the UK and can see it on my market.

  • Cromag

    Excellent review!
    I had some bad experiences with this app and wanted to share some warnings with others. Maybe you can help me as well. I installed the phone app as well as the mac app. I spent 5 hours organizing my itunes library, downloading album art for EVERY song, and creating playlists for syncing with doubletwist. When I was all done, I imported the playlists from iTunes and started syncing.

    The process went through without a hitch, I unplugged my phone and opened the app to enjoy the album art and playlists. Unfortunately, the phone app did not recognize that there was any music on the phone. I checked the sd card with Astro to make sure there were files there, and sure enough it was populated with all the music i had synced.

    Checked the default music app, and my new music was there, although missing half the album artwork (I put in artwork for EVERY song). So I deleted the music folder to try again. (this is after I restarted the app, then the phone with no luck)

    Tried the full sync again, no luck.

    Tried the sync, this time with less playlists, same problems.

    After the third time, my SD card got corrupted and I had to format it (lost all my movies, pictures, app data that was saved there, custom ringtones, EVERYTHING)

    So, in my experience, both the phone app and the desktop app do not work at all. Either they make an incomplete sync, the phone app doesn't pool the SD card for music, the album art doesn't all copy, or it corrupts the sd card.

    Very frustrated, both by the lack of "easy sync" capabilities, and the fact that the safest way to copy music is by hand, folder by folder.

    Hope this helps someone decide whether or not to use this software, that or someone out there sees this and lets me know what I did wrong :)

    • Alan

      Actually, the doubleTwist forum has an explanation for this problem here:

      http://forums.doubletwist.com/default.aspx?g=posts&m=6785&#post6785

      • http://iandouglas.com/ Ian Douglas

        Alan,
        Even as a registered user, I don't have access to the URL you posted. Can you give us an overview of the solution/explanation on whichever page you're referring to? Thanks!
        Ian Douglas

    • AlyssaSophia

      I cannot even get my phone to sync on my Mac. I plug the phone in and get a message that my phone/SD card is not even recognizable. Can someone walk me through the Mac process. I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. I've got double twist downloaded to my 3G Slide and my Mac.
      Can you help me? I can't even get as far as you did...

  • Alan

    This is what the forum post says:

    "When I unplug the phone, the music that I synchronized does not appear in the Android phone’s music application.

    The Android phone can take a few moments to realign its internal database with the SD card. It's possible the songs will take up to 5 -10 minutes to appear on the phone."

    It seems to relate to the built in Music application, but I have a feeling the same applies to doubleTwist.

  • mark

    Hey I just got the app on my droid. How do I take music from itunes on my desktop, and sync them over to my phone? Do I need to have the app downloaded on my computer as well as my phone? Could someone give me step by step direction cuz ive tried everyting and looked evrywhere on the web for directions.