However, this latest version of the iTunes software has really shaken things up. The interface and program as a whole have become much more streamlined and easy to use. Media libraries are extremely easy to sort and navigate to find what you're looking for quickly. Match that with full iTunes integration, and you have what has become a real winner of a program. Even if you aren't a user of any Apple products, check it out. You might just be pleasantly surprised.
Apple iTunes Pros
- Software has become cleaner and more streamlined.
- One touch access to iTunes store, podcast directories and iCloud.
- Easy sorting of available media content, and ability to quickly and easily create playlists. Searching through and subscribing to podcasts is incredible easy.
- iCloud allows quick sharing between all devices with access to a user's Apple account.
- One player gives full audio and video playback and access to purchase audio and video content, across devices.
Apple iTunes Cons
- Limit of 5 devices per iTunes account. To add a new one beyond that, user must first de-activate an existing device or computer.
- Installation footprint of player software on PC is gigantic when compared to other media players.
- iCloud only available as part of $27.99/year iTunes Match subscription.
Apple iTunes Review
Since there really isn't anything of note during the install process for iTunes, let's skip straight to using it. On initial load up, iTunes will do a search of storage locations to attempt to find and catalog all of your media. Since it can play both audio and video content, it's going to catalog both. You can tweak what appears for playback types within the program, though.
The first thing that impressed me about iTunes was that it started looking through the attached external drive that I use as a media drive. I can be a bit fickle with software at times, so I've made my way through several different media players. This was the only time that one actually bothered to deal with the external drive without needing to be prompted to do so. Also, the scan through all of the media (I buy a lot of music, so that drive is fairly packed) was quite quick compared to many of the others.
Once everything is scanned, you can immediately use the program. You do not need an Apple account in order to use iTunes as a media program. Actually, you can also access things like podcast subscriptions through the iTunes store without said account. If you do choose to sign up for one, or already have an existing account, adding your PC is a breeze. Just log in to iTunes through the program and it's authorized. This brings me to a quick minus : you only get five authorizations for your account. So if you max out and now want to give a different system or mobile device access, you first need to de-authorize something which currently has account access. It's going to be a pain for those with a lot of devices, who want access to music in a lot of different locations, or who change computers on a somewhat regular basis.
Regardless of whether or not you want to use an Apple account, all of your media are now there and ready for use. You can switch between movies, TV, podcasts, music and more from the dropdown over to the left. And each type of media has separate categories to make it even easier to wade through. For example, music can be listed by song, album, artist or genre. Multi-disc albums will show up together. Choosing an album brings up full track listings in place, with the new window the entire width of iTunes to enable easy reading. No tiny fonts and small sub-menus here. Choosing an artist will show each album performed by them, with multiple options for play order and the like.
Users can listen to radio stations based on every major genre of music out there, making for a nice change if someone is tired of their own collection or simply wants to try something new. iTunes Match is part of the Cloud service. It allows users to link music on one authorized device to every other authorized device, allowing for easy self-sharing across platforms. The downside is that the Cloud services also involve an annual $27.99 subscription fee. For a real power media user, this isn't going to be much of a roadblock, but it's worth mentioning that a cost is involved.
Finally, we come to Playlists. Most people are probably familiar with how a typical playlist works, but iTunes features a new 'Genius' feature. This tool will look through your music, then upload the results to your Apple account (obviously, you will need an account to utilize this particular option). The results will be analyzed, then sent back to your particular install of iTunes. You can start off a Genius playlist from any song in your collection, and it will attempt to build off of that initial choice based on what else you have available and what you listen to the most. It seems to work fairly well, kind of resembling a localized version of what a service like Pandora offers. Sure, not every pick is right, but the same is true of any other setup based on tendencies. The resulting playlist is added to the list available under the Playlists tab, and that selection of lists can be edited at any time. As well, each individual track can be moved around or removed from any list, so they can be adjusted once they're set up.
As podcasting becomes ever more popular, this deserves a bit of space in the review. iTunes has becomes one of the de facto locations for podcasts, and it couldn't be easier. Most websites with podcast content allow listeners to subscribe via the site, with the web browser integrating with iTunes to get it that way. Or, you can manually find podcasts and subscribe to them. Searching through a variety of categories and types is also an option. Once you're subscribed, iTunes will automatically download new episodes as they become available. Users can choose under what circumstances, if any, that these episodes are removed. It's a terrific way to check out podcasts.
iTunes Account Integration
The aforementioned Genius app is one piece of the iTunes experience that's added by having an Apple account logged in via the iTunes program. Using an account will also give you full access to the iTunes store, allowing a user to purchase music and video, which they can immediately use with the iTunes player. Choose where to save the content on your hard drive, and you can also access it with any other media player you may wish to use. Those paying the annual subscription can use Cloud features and iTunes Match using their account, too.