Review: Phone to Mac 4 – The best tool you’ll hopefully never need
Readers of my reviews are familiar with my love for Elgato’s Eye TV HD, which I have explained has allowed me to amass quite the library of TV shows over the years. But let me explain the exact process I use in full, just so you can have a little empathy (or a good laugh) at my recent misfortune. In order to create that wonderful library of “free” TV Shows for my family, I first record them off my Verizon FiOS box onto my Mac mini (in real time) in the living room, edit out the commercials using the Eye TV software, export them to iPod friendly M4v’s, move them wirelessly downstairs to my Mac Pro in the basement with its 7 TB or so of storage. I then import them into my master iTunes library where I then look up all the episode and season ID’s for every episode on Wikipedia, painstakingly enter all that metadata into iTunes, and then I set up smart playlists for each show which wirelessly sync with my kids’ iPod touches whenever they put them to charge. For example, the Spongebob playlist is set up to copy the 3 least recently played episodes of Spongebob onto their iPods. Once they have played an episode, and put their iPod to charge for the night, the iPod will wirelessly reach out to the main media computer and grab a fresh set of shows. I’m sure it’s all a very magical and seamless process for THEM, and a huge pain in the ass/labor of love for me.
So, now perhaps with all those countless man-hours in mind, I would like you to imagine my despair three weeks ago when suddenly the hard drive upon which I store all those countless hours of video (actually, I CAN count them, there were about 3250 of them) crashed. Now, usually when my friends and family tell me their hard drive “crashed”, I smile and smugly say “Let me see it” and a quick run of Disk Warrior will set things right. Unfortunately, this was a REAL crash, a hardware crash, and after 3 days of trying everything I could think of about four times, I admitted defeat and ordered a brand new hard drive – this one twice as large so I can lose twice as many shows when IT crashes. (By the way, I am not looking for a “Always Back U your stuff” lecture here – I have Time Machine going on the main drive, the Photos, and the iTunes music drive. There’s just only so much storage you CAN buy for backups though). Anyway, there I was with months of my life gone with more or less no TV shows to show for it.
Now, the good news is that out of those 3250 or so lost shows, my kids had out-grown a fair portion of them, and aside from nostalgia purposes, I could write them off in my mind. Long gone are the Blue’s Clues and Dora days, and luckily almost everything they watch now is shown about 40 times a day on the various Disney and Nickelodeon channels. Still, there were SOME classics that are not still on air, such as all the first three seasons of Pokemon, as well as a ton of Ren and Stimpy and Looney Tunes I had collected. It actually turned out I had a decent amount of these shows still on the Mac mini I recorded them on, but after scouring that drive and a couple others, I was still only at about 65% of the shows that my kids were still into.
It then occurred to me that between their iPod touches and my iPad, I actually might still have a fair amount of those shows saved – that is unless my kids had plugged them in to recharge which would initiate a sync with my empty iTunes playlists and erase all the shows! I quickly grabbed their iDevices, put them in Airplane mode, and began searching for a tool to rip back all my media from my devices.
I quickly settled on Phone to Mac 4 from Macroplant (makers of Phonedisk), and as you can probably assume from the title of this post, it worked like a charm. (By the way, Macroplant makes a companion product called Phone to PC for the one Windows user who reads our site). Basically once installed, the software will bring up a somewhat iTunes-esque window showing you every song, video, ringtone etc on your iPhone, iPod, iPad, as well as all your playlists and such. You can then choose which tracks and shows you’d like to restore, and it will automatically import them into your iTunes library. Phone to Mac 4 is free to use, although if you do not fork over the $24.95 purchase price you will begin to be limited by only being able to pull off a few tracks at a time and having to sit thorough a 1-minute “You must wait because you are cheap” message every once in awhile. For MY purposes, this would have probably been tolerable as between all my devices I had probably no more than 90 video files to pull, but if I had lost my music library, and was trying to grab back 5000 songs or something, it would have been killer. I would recommend if you have the money to spend though, you SHOULD fork over the dough for the full version to help support the developers. Plus, you could easily make your money back helping some of your less nerdy friends get THEIR stuff off an old iPod when THEIR drives crash. In fact, just this week a riend told me THEIR MacBook’s hard drive had failed and they wanted to get their songs off their 2nd Gen iPod (the clickwheel with those cool red light up buttons). Well, Phone to Mac recognized their iPod right away and I retrieved all their tracks AND playlists. Although I forgot to charge them…
The software is pretty damn straightforward, so I’m not going to go into a full “Step One, Two, Three” rundown. Here’s some screenshots, but basically, if you find yourself in need of software that can rip back any media that’s on your iPod or iPhone back onto your computer, Phone to Mac 4 is a life-saver.
Pros: Works as advertised, can be a real life-saver when you suffer an iTunes hard drive crash