Rhythmbox & smartphone sync - Just don't

Updated: January 24, 2015

Several weeks ago, while doing a review of Fedora 21, during the installation process, one of the little flying banners that happened to make the experience less boring told me that Rhythmbox supports easy peasy sync with smartphones. I said, strewth, let's check this.

As you know, Rhythmbox is one of the more popular Linux media players, and it's included as the default application in many a distro out there. The list of options and capabilities is fairly impressive, but I wanted to check this one claim. Can Rhythmbox really interface with your smartphone with ease and elegance and make it a pleasant media experience? Let's see what gives.

Connect your phone

I tested both with Samsung S4 and my favorite Lumia 520. These two phones have a bunch of media files on them, plus they represent different ends of the spectrum, with Android on one end and Windows Phone on the other.

Added media player

In general, connecting a smartphone should be plug 'n' play. It ought to be auto-mounted and then show in the sidebar on the left. Double click to access your files.

Lumia, mounted

Syncing your music

If you look at the contextual menu showing up above the list of songs, there are several options available, including the coveted Sync option. Which is what we want. However, it turns out the sync function is unidirectional rather than bidirectional. It will only try to sync files from your local machine to the smartphone and not the other way around. In my case, there were eleven tracks on Lumia and none in the Music folder. Rhythmbox actually wanted to delete my smartphone files!

Sync preferences

This is a very bad thing. But I let the sync run, just to see whether the player would indeed delete my smartphone collection. And it did. Very neatly, it ruined all my ringtones and songs. This is awful. And if we may use Yuri's voice from Yuri's Revenge, it has only just begun.

Other problems

After this, I manually copied the files back to the smartphone, but Rhythmbox had somehow corrupted the music folder, and Lumia was not able to see the music files. I had to actually boot into Windows and use the Windows Media Player to resync the content before I was able to use it again.

On top of that, trying to play any file from the device itself while mounted inside Rhythmbox would cause the player to crash. This is fully reproducible across a range of distributions, desktop environments and player versions. I tested in Fedora 21, Zorin OS 9 as well as Ubuntu Salamander, and in all cases, Rhythmbox would crash majestically. How awful some more. What's going on here?

Rhythmbox crashes

And then, there were some more seemingly random bullshit errors. Plus, testing with Samsung yielded similar results. At the very least, the would-be promised plug 'n' play lie is consistent in its failure. I'm out of here.

Random error


I really hate it when someone says, it's all so easy, one click and you're done and similar crap, and then it turns out that not only are you not done after exercising the promised number of clicks and actions, you get an unexpected bonus of other errors and crashes. Plus the media player conveniently syncs your files into oblivion.

I really do not know what went so horribly wrong, but it seems to be by design, and a stupid one at that. If syncing means deleting files, then someone out there needs to rethink their product. Moreover, crashes and corruption and other silly errors are utterly unacceptable for such a popular, mainstream software. This needs to be fixed immediately.

I'm angry, disappointed, I feel fooled, and here's your review. Verdict, failure. Anyhow, we will now test some other media players to see if any of those can actually do anything useful. But in essence, this is the same thing like LibreOffice versus Microsoft Office. A sweet and harmful illusion. See you around, dear fellas. Take care, and protect your would-be legally obtained music.


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