Instacast: Podcast Subscriptions In Sync

Podcasts are an incredibly beneficial way to either gain entertainment or information. News, cooking, sports and technology are amongst some of the common areas which are popular for podcasters, but there is most likely a category to suit most users.

Instacast came on the market to help alleviate the troubles most users were experiencing when having to manually sync their podcasts using iTunes. After podcast clients started to gain in popularity, Apple split podcast out of the music app on iOS and created their own podcast app. Although many users are still not happy with the experience due to a lack of syncing between the iOS apps. Instacast version 3.0 was released recently which includes an update to the syncing mechanism and also an upgraded design. The app is universal now and changed away from the in-app purchase model which was in version 2.0. Let’s find out more after the jump. 

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Version 3.0 and Beyond

In the previous version, Instacast was two separate apps which required multiple purchases to gain the full iOS experience. With version 3.0, Instacast is now universal. This also means the price has increased to $4.99, which I believe is still fair. Similar colors and themes are used across iOS devices, so the experience remains consistent.

It is definitely worth a look into the settings to customize all of the option to your preferences.

It is definitely worth a look into the settings to customize all of the option to your preferences.

A main item which has changed in the new version is download management. Now the user can specify the max size that of downloaded episodes the app can keep before purging them. This seems to have been confusing for users and hard to really understand what is happening, especially since my used amount of podcast downloads is greater than the specified limit that I have set. I would prefer the old method, so that once an episode is marked as played, the download is cleared out.

Sync

Sync is hard. In previous versions, Instacast attempted to use iCloud to sync. This led to serious troubles and a promise from the developer to look at alternative solutions. With version 3.0, the general public is able to see the efforts of those promises.

Initially everything ported to the version 3.0 upgrade correctly, but I did have trouble with initial syncing. I set up Instacast on my iPhone and created a new sync account, and then I attempted to set up my iPad to sync with my iPhone. Unfortunately, this method was plagued with a bug. The developer fixed it quickly and issued an update which allowed me to get up and running on my iPad.

Once the initial sync problem was fixed, I never could get my databases completely in sync. The database on my iPad showed more unplayed episodes than on my iPhone. New subscriptions showed up correctly, but these older subscriptions had trouble getting in sync. After sitting down and manually getting it right by marking episodes as played, things have worked as expected.

Now when I stop listening to a podcast on my iPhone, the spot is synced and I can continue listening to that exact spot on my iPad. The saved spot syncing has worked consistently well; in fact, sync overall has worked nicely since my initial struggles.

Features

While keeping everything in sync is very important, subscribing to new podcast and managing subscriptions is equally important. Instacast also supports subscribing to podcast with its own podcast library. The podcast listing will show what is popular, sorted by genre, and allows searching through their podcast database.

Instacast has its own podcast directory so it's easy to find new podcasts.

Instacast has its own podcast directory so it’s easy to find new podcasts.

The main views include a Subscriptions, Playlists and Bookmarks. Of course, everything is synced through Instacast’s syncing mechanism. Subscriptions includes a listing of the podcast that you are subscribed to along with a number indicating the number of unplayed podcasts. This can be manually ordered to your preferred method of organizing.

The Playlist view includes four standard playlists, which are the unplayed, downloaded, favorites and partially played. Users can add their own playlist by pressing the + button in the bottom left corner. Two types of playlists can be added: smart playlists and regular playlists. The smart playlists are auto populated based on a criteria specified by the user. The four previously mentioned playlists are already smart playlists, but the user also has two more options to choose from, including recently played and most recent. The standard playlist option allows the user to add specific items to the playlist.

Podcast can be played or managed from the Subscriptions page or Playlists.

Podcast can be played or managed from the Subscriptions page or Playlists.

The Bookmarks page is the last view. While listening to a podcast, if something peaks your interest that you would like to bookmark much like a webpage, the user can do so. These can be listened to whenever the user would like to revisit the spot. The artwork is not centered with black space on the iPhone 5, but is mirrored and reflected underneath the original artwork to fill the screen. It is a clever solution, and I like that something different was done rather than just taking the easy way out and centering the artwork.

Podcast artwork looks great with the reflection to take advantage of the extra screen real estate on the iPhone 5.

Podcast artwork looks great with the reflection to take advantage of the extra screen real estate on the iPhone 5.

While the podcast is playing, a sliding control for pausing the podcast is present. Surrounding the play button is a fast forward and rewind button which the time of each press can be customized in the settings.

Customize your fast forward and rewind button to match your needs whether you would like to rewind 30 seconds or fast forward two minutes at each tap.

A scrubber is also present in for more exact control. Indicated by the two dots underneath the player, there are other controls including Airplay, speed control, sleep timer, continuous playback options and sharing.

Show notes are available for browsing right within Instacast.

Show notes are available for browsing right within Instacast.

One of the best features in a podcast is the ability to go along with show notes and truly understand what the podcaster is discussing. With Instacast, show notes can be browsed within the app and also shared to your read later service of choice. This makes it fun to either browse along or catch up later with that important story being discussed while you were listening to the podcast.

Conclusion

Instacast has not been without its problems, which might have driven some users away in the past. Syncing has always been a problem, but with version 3.0 and a few minor updates, syncing seems like it works very well. Even though I originally had issues getting my data in the sync, once taking the time to manually get it right, it has been smooth podcast experience. The updated design is nice, but nothing special over what was present in previous versions. All in all, with the minor upgrades to the app and the big improvement to syncing, Instacast is a solid choice when branching away from iTunes for all of your podcast listening needs.


Summary

a universal podcast app which allows users to download, manage and keep podcast position and subscriptions in sync to provide a better podcast solution than iTunes.

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