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February 19, 2012

Syncing MTP devices (like Android based devices) with Windows

Android Honeycomb and ICS use Microsoft's Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) to mount storage drives, in desktop OS like Windows, rather than as a mass storage device. The idea being that the Android device can be used simultaneously along with use in Windows and minimise data corruption. While the idea is good in concept it has its flaws. First let's see what MTP is.

MTP is a set of protocols designed by Microsoft, to connect portable devices to desktop operating systems like Windows. It is based on Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP) which was designed for cameras. MTP only gives partial control over the drive as compared to normal mass storage where the entire file system can be controlled but the OS. This can limit file corruption while giving certain advantages like a single driver for all MTP devices. You can read more about MTP on Wikipedia and Directions on Microsoft.
While this may sound good in theory, it has its own pitfalls. MTP devices are not mounted as traditional drives, so they have no drive letters. This means that many disk management utilities like undelete do not work. Software has to be specially designed to handle MTP devices.

I got a taste of this recently when I tried to sync a folder on my drive with a folder on my Xoom through Windows. What I thought would be a simple process turned out to be a nightmare as none of the syncing software could recognise my Xoom. I could have always used Dropbox or other online services, but it is a bit ridiculous to store files online when the usage is purely offline. Plus the file sizes were on the higher side and there were a few confidential things I would rather not publish online. In come PureSync.

PureSync is a powerful file sync software for Windows with a fair number of options to sync files as per requirement. This includes filters, limiting sync to one way, filtering by file extensions, excluding sub-folders as well as selectively choosing which files will be synced. It is also the only Windows based software I know, which can sync MTP devices through USB.

PureSnc also has sufficient file comparison methods which include comparison by date, size, binary and name. I won’t go into a detail review of the software, as that is not the purpose of this post, but below are a few screenies before we move on to the important part of limitations while syncing MTP devices with this software.

As we are interested in syncing MTP files, there are certain limitations which need to be kept in mind.

Comparison: PureSync cannot get file sizes from the device, hence it is not possible to compare by size and binary. The only options available are name and date, but these two will cover majority of the needs. I suggest that if the files to be synced do not change frequently use name comparison, whereas if they are modified frequently use date comparison method.

Folder creation: Sometimes when folders are created on the MTP device PureSync can crash. Thankfully, Windows has been stable.

Speed: While I have not times PureSync with other syncers, it did appear a bit slow. This got exacerbated as the number of files to be synced increased.

Verdict: 5/5
As there is no competitor to PureSync it gets 5/5. Even on a standalone basis PureSync is a powerful free file synchroniser. Recommended!


  1. Tried to sync my LG E970 with this software. No go. Not detected, no options anywhere for syncing MTP. I doubt this does the job for any MTP device.

  2. No go with:
    Goclever Tab R106
    Sony Xperia miro ST23i
    On the webpage they wrote: supports _some_ MTP devices.

  3. Doesn't work with Samsung Galaxy S4 mini GT-I9197. Unable to read file date.