Listening to podcasts on the iPhone? Great. Managing podcasts on the iPhone? Not so great. When Apple does things right, they hit it right on the head, but the system of downloading podcasts in iTunes and then jumping over to the Music app to listen to them isn’t very simple or intuitive. Luckily, since the introduction of the App Store in 2008 there have been countless third-party apps the make up for those first-party apps that don’t quite make the grade. Luckily, this is true for podcast management apps as well.
Last August I reviewed Pocket Casts, which I deemed as “the best podcast management app available in the App Store.” Being one to always put my money were my mouth is, I spend time with three other podcast management apps to see if my claim was indeed accurate. Join me after the jump to find out the verdict.
One of most popular podcast management apps available for the iPhone is Downcast, and for very good reason. Downcast offers the largest set of features for power users, but still maintains a fairly simple user interface. Some features and settings you’ll find in Downcast that aren’t included in any other podcast management apps include the ability to listen to podcasts while they’re being downloaded, shake to skip forward during playback, multiple sorting options (including by date, duration and title) and a choice of startup view (you can choose to startup the app on the podcasts list, a specific podcast, the playlists list or a specific playlist).
A recent update to Downcast greatly improved podcast and episode management. Before the update, streaming an episode was as easy as tapping on the individual episode, but marking episodes for download or deleting multiple episodes was a real chore. Now, you can long press an episode and choose to delete it, mark it as played or convert to it download. You can also perform the same actions to multiple episodes by tapping Edit, tapping your desired episodes (or Select for all episodes) and then tapping the familiar Share icon.
Like most podcast management apps, Downcast includes a downloads page that is used to manage all downloads. By default, all new episodes are automatically downloaded when you’re connected to Wi-Fi (another feature included in most other podcast management apps). The problem with this feature, for me at least, is that I don’t listen to every episode of the podcasts I subscribe to, so I don’t want them downloaded automatically. But if you turn the feature off, you will need to send individual episodes to the download queue, which turn you must enable manually.
iCatcher is another feature rich podcast management app. After spending time with Downcast and moving on to iCatcher, I was surprised at the similarities. Both apps allow for auto downloads, the option to delete episodes after they’re finished, sleep timers, manual backup options (both use iCloud) and gestures to skip forward and backward within the player (though iCatcher makes use of single finger and double-finger flick gestures that allow you to skip and different intervals).
A handy feature included in iCatcher is the ability to export episodes to different podcast management apps or utility apps (such as DropBox and Evernote); if you try out iCatcher and find it’s not to your liking, you can easily send any episodes you’ve queued up to any one of the other podcast management apps in this roundup. Another handy feature is the player’s ability to automatically resume playback if you’ve paused and exited the player for any reason.
One of the very few downsides to iCatcher is its overall uninspired and cheesy design. As you navigate through the app, you’ll noticed that it’s riddled with cheesy icons that were obviously taken from a free or cheap icon set. In certain areas of the app (like when you flick left or right on an episode to bring up secondary options), the use of Apple’s linen wallpaper feels strangely out of place with the app’s overall simple design.
Instacast is a podcast management app that really needs no introduction. Our own Shaun Takenouchi gave it a glowing review (score of 10 out of 10), it was featured in our list of the top 100 iPhone apps and most impressive of all, is an inductee of the App Store Hall of Fame. So, what makes Instacast so great? It’s really easy to use and doesn’t skimp on the features.
The interface is designed in such a way that all the content is displayed on one screen with three tabs to navigate to podcasts (referred to as “subscriptions”), playlists and bookmarks (a feature unique to Instacast). Instead of having a page dedicated to adding new apps or settings, icons are placed at the bottom corners to access both items quickly (as long as you’re not on the Episodes, which is accessed by tapping a subscription).
As far as features are concerned, Instacast sports the ability to export to other podcast/utility apps (similar to iCatcher), push notifications, sleep timer, manually reorder subscriptions (or set a sort order option in settings), AirPlay enabled functionality and the ability to tag multiple episodes that will download automatically.
A feature that’s unique to Instacast, and one I’m surprised hasn’t been copied, is Replay after Pause. Say you’re driving while listening to an episode and you need to pause, then after finishing what you’re doing you resume the episode but forgot what was being discussed. The Replay after Pause feature automatically rewinds the episode about ten seconds so you can refresh your memory. I found it a bit annoying at first, but after awhile the feature really grew on me.
Unlike other podcast management apps, Pocket Casts uses a grid view to display podcasts you’ve subscribed to (icons can be sorted manually or by date added, title or latest episode). Each icon displays an episode count, including that total number of episodes downloaded, unfinished and unplayed. When you tap on a podcast subscription, each available episode is listed; from here, you can tap the play button to stream the episode or the down arrow button to download the episode. Speaking of downloading, Pocket Casts is able to download two episodes at the same time (not available in the other apps).
One of the things I really love about Pocket Casts is how easily it is to navigate, especially when it comes to accessing the player. In Downcast, Instacast and iCatcher you access and exit the player by tapping a button in the top toolbar. Pocket Casts takes a different approach by making the player apart of the main navigation bar; so, if you want to jump between the player and podcasts page (or any other page for that matter), the buttons to do so are located right next to each other.
While Pocket Casts may be great to look at and offers some nice features, it won’t be favorited by power users, as it lacks a sleep timer, automatic downloads and continuous play. In addition, playlists are not as easy to manage as the other podcast management (playlists are a bit hidden away within the podcast page and player). However, Pocket Casts does provide some nice features like push notifications, AirPlay enabled functionality and touch controls in the player (similar to gestures, except you tap on the left or right to skip backward or forward).
So, with everything said and done, do I stick by my assertion that Pocket Casts is the best podcast management app available for the iPhone? No, it’s not, but it’s still the best podcast management app for me. Downcast and iCatcher are featured packed and provide a lot of great settings options for power users, but it’s more than I need for my podcast listening habits (plus they both lack push notification). Instacast, on the other hand, is right up my wheelhouse, sporting a bare bones user interface that makes it simple to use. However, jumping in and out of the player isn’t as convenient as Pocket Casts. So for now, I’m sticking to Pocket Casts.
What is your favorite podcast management app, and why? Let us know in the comment section!