A pop quiz: iPhone is to iTunes as Android is to what? If you're coming up blank, there's good reason.
Apple's mobile world is all about a one-size-fits-all philosophy: When you buy an iPhone, you buy into iTunes. You may love it or hate it -- but if you use an iPhone, you have no other options.
Android takes the opposite approach: Managing your media is up to you. Aside from the occasional carrier-provided utility -- which, let's be honest, usually isn't that good -- no standard iTunes equivalent for Android phones exists.
Although it can be overwhelming, a world without mandated standards isn't a bad thing. You can use a full-featured or lightweight program, or none. You can even use iTunes, if you wish.
Follow this guide to find an Android media management strategy -- and say good-bye to iPod envy.
If you like a bare-bones, drag-and-drop approach: Install nothing. Plug your Android handset into your PC's USB port and activate 'USB storage' mode when the phone prompts you. (On some devices, you may need to pull down the notification bar to find this option.) The phone will show up as a removable drive on your PC, and you can drag and drop images, music, podcasts, and video files to your heart's content.
Music and video files typically live in the 'music' folder of your phone's SD Card. You can either dump everything in there or create subfolders. You may need to convert certain files to 3GP or MP4 for your phone to play them; to do so, try Any Video Converter Free Version.
Want to build playlists? Open the Android Music app. Long-press on a song, and select Add to playlist.
If you want to stay synced with Windows: Use Windows Media Player. Connect your phone to your PC and enable 'USB storage', as described above. Click the Sync tab in the upper-right corner of Media Player. You should see your handset listed.
Click the white box below the Sync tab and select Set up sync. Type a name for your phone, and click Finish. Now, whenever you plug in the phone, Media Player will update it with any new music it finds on your PC.
If you want a full-featured interface: Install DoubleTwist on your PC. The free utility gives you a familiar-looking way to view all the photos, videos, and music on your computer, and then copy or sync them to your phone. It can import all of your playlists from iTunes, convert video to Android-friendly formats, and even download and save YouTube videos for your device. The program is integrated with Amazon MP3, and it has a podcast search-and-sync tool.
If you're craving podcast power: The Android Market has no shortage of podcast apps. I've found DoggCatcher ($7) to be the most polished and user-friendly one; its interface makes finding, subscribing, and listening to podcasts a snap. Other apps include BeyondPod Podcast Manager ($7, also available in a limited "lite" edition), Google Listen (free), and Stitcher Podcast Radio (free).
If you want to use iTunes: An app called iSyncr can keep your Android phone synced to iTunes. Remember, however, that Android can't play anything with Apple DRM (which currently includes all videos and some music purchased from iTunes).
Search in the Android Market, and you'll find both iSyncr for PC and iSyncr for Mac versions. The full versions cost $3. The free "lite" versions sync only one playlist at a time and limit you to 20 items per playlist. Getting started is easy; follow the on-screen tutorial and begin the sync process with iTunes.
An even easier alternative: Use the iSyncr Wi-Fi Add-On, available for $1 in the Android Market. It works over Wi-Fi, letting you sync your phone to iTunes without a physical connection.