Podcasts are a great way of staying up to date with your favourite topics and expanding your mind by listening to new points of view or discovering new music. Your phone is the perfect device for listening to podcasts on the go, but a good app to keep track of, and play, your downloads is essential.
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Before we go any further, it’s well worth mentioning the best known podcast manager there is – iTunes. Apple has done a great job of making its iTunes Store the go-to directory for podcast producers, meaning that you can find just about anything you want on its store. If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod, it’s a simple case of syncing up your device to iTunes and any podcasts you’ve subscribed to will be copied to your device for listening on the go. If you have an Android device, you can use a number of solutions such as Salling Media Sync to push iTunes content on to your handset.
It’s not all rosy in iTunes land, though. It’s impossible to subscribe to podcasts on the go using Apple’s mobile iTunes Store, and you can’t download new episodes straight from your handset either. This means that you’re forever reliant on desktop syncs to get your latest fix of This American Life or This Week in Tech. Fingers crossed Apple incorporates podcast subscriptions into its iCloud service when it launches later this year.
While not the cheapest ‘podcatcher’ around, DoggCatcher is a beautifully realised app for Android that handles audio and video along with RSS feeds too. You can search across a number of popular podcast directories right from the app, or manually enter the feed URL for anything you can’t find. While you may balk at the price, the cash means that DoggCatcher’s developers are able to keep developing it. New versions are released regularly and recent updates have included a sleeker UI and support for playing at variable speeds – for when you want to get through a podcast that little bit quicker.
With a slick, graphics-led interface and the ability to download podcasts on the go, Pocket Casts is what Apple’s native podcast handling should be like. You can search and browse a wide variety of podcasts by network or category – or just import feeds manually if you prefer.
There are three visual themes to choose from, it supports background downloading and push notifications can be used to alert you when new episodes are available. Pocket Casts combines simplicity with a gracefully delivered feature set.
Stitcher is an alternative take on the podcast app theme, concentrating on streaming rather downloading. This means that you’ll need to watch your mobile data plan carefully, or ensure that you use it over WiFi.
As a result of concentrating on streaming, the result is that it’s tempting to jump around between different shows more than you might usually. This can aid discovery though, as you always have something new to listen to instantly. You can still subscribe to shows though, by marking them as ‘Favorites’ and ‘stitching’ them together into your own custom channels. The latest shows are then delivered to you, to stream on demand.
The app feels more ‘alive’ than its competitors due to treating podcasts like radio, rather than as static downloads, and it can even send breaking news alerts to your phone.
Free Lite version ($6.99 premium), Android
This Android-only solution is slick and includes a couple of very useful features. Google Reader integration means that you can do all the fiddly subscription management in Google’s familiar Web interface rather than on your phone. Meanwhile, you can set the app to run scheduled downloads of new content at a time convenient to you. No more forgetting to download the latest episode of your favourite show before you leave the house!
Smart Playlists allow you to set up a queue of programmes based on rules (e.g., “First play the 2 newest podcasts of feed A, Then play the oldest podcast of Feed B.”) and if you like to listen to podcasts in bed, a sleep function will stop playback after a set amount of time. BeyondPod is free in its basic form, but you’ll need to purchase a $6.99 unlock key to access all its best features.
If you find yourself wishing Apple already had good quality podcast management built into iOS, Podcaster is for you. It looks just like it could be an official Apple app and includes over the air downloading, feed importing and even push notifications for new episodes. It’s a solid stand-in for the missing podcast features of iOS.
Similar to Stitcher Radio, Mediafly OnAir concentrates on presenting you with curated content you can stream on demand. It’s beautifully presented (especially if you like the colour green, which is prominent in the Android and iPad versions) and offers categories from Business & Finance to Cooking & Drinks.You can browse and stream video and audio content without a Mediafly account, but once you sign up you can create your own custom channels consisting of your favourite shows too.
Perhaps the best known podcast app on Android, Google’s free solution is well worth a look. – although it’s a little different from standard podcast apps. Rather than being able to browse a directory of sources, Listen is tied to Google’s search index of audio. For example, a search for ‘New York’ and it will display audio related to the US state and city of the same name. You can then subscribe to updates from any feeds you like. Google Reader integration means that you can manage your subscriptions from the Web.
While it certainly has appeal as a ‘no frills’ product, it lacks some of the bells and whistles of more fully featured rivals. Also, as Listen is a product of Google Labs, a division of the company which is closing down, the likelihood of any future development of the app is uncertain.
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I asked our readers for suggestions for this article (thanks, everyone who responded is credited below) and two other popular choices we didn’t have space for here were Downcast and Instacast – both for iOS – so they come highly recommended too.