A podcast is like a radio show that you listen to at your convenience. Instead of tuning in at a scheduled time to listen to the show, you can download it and listen when you want to.
With iOS 8, Apple began bundling its own Podcasts app with all iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. Podcasting is very particular so depending on how you consume your on-demand audio, you may be left perusing the overwhelming selection available on the App Store.
Note: To most, podcasts are audio experiences that allow you to listen to shows on the move. This makes video podcasting less of a priority, and though we have included a couple of apps that support video, this article will judge apps based on how well they handle audio podcasts.
Apple’s Podcasts app comes pre-loaded on all new devices and has improved a lot recently. There is support for audio and video podcasts, and the app even curates podcasts just like the App Store curates apps. This makes it easy to find the most popular podcasts, which is good enough for many.
There’s support for streaming and background downloads too. If you also listen to podcasts on your iPhone, iPad, MacBook or PC, this app is probably your best option for syncing podcasts across devices. You can also use Siri to play specific podcasts – a feature unavailable to any third-party app.
The main drawback here is an inability to listen to podcasts that are not on iTunes. For those, you might want to try these alternatives.
Pocket Casts ($3.99)
Pocket Casts is a beautiful, full-featured podcast app that supports both audio and video podcasts, streaming and background downloads. A highly visual browsable catalogue of podcasts makes discovery really easy, but you can also manually add podcasts using the feed URL.
Pocket Casts couples great design with some useful customisation options. It lets you tweak forward and rewind intervals, playback speed, automatic downloads, and how many episodes are to be stored, among other things; and you can apply these tweaks to individual podcasts. It also lets you create smart playlists where you select filters once and the app automatically keeps gathering episodes that meet your criteria. Pocket Casts is also available on Android and syncs podcasts across devices.
Castro is a great podcast app for seasoned podcast listeners, but it may not be a great choice if you have just begun listening to podcasts. I say this because Castro lacks a browsable catalogue of podcasts to help you get started, but if you know which podcasts you want its search function is excellent.
Catalogue aside, Castro has almost all of Pocket Casts’ features with better storage management. Castro lets you choose a size threshold for downloaded episodes, which means you can limit how much space downloaded podcasts can occupy. If you are planning to buy Castro, check out these tips and tricks.
Overcast (free, $4.99 in-app purchase)
Overcast is an excellent podcast app with one big limitation – no streaming. I prefer downloads, so this hasn’t been a problem. It has two great features – Smart Speed and Voice Boost. Smart Speed automatically tweaks podcasts’ playback speed to eliminate silence. I realised how effective Smart Speed is once I started using other podcast apps, as Overcast can speed up podcasts without making them sound like a cassette tape on fast forward.
Voice Boost does what it says – boost voices on podcasts recorded with low-quality equipment. It’s very useful if you listen to amateur or emerging podcasts. This isn’t the most beautiful podcast app on iOS, but it still is very user-friendly. Overcast is a free download that lets you try Smart Speed and Voice Boost for five minutes at a time, but paying $4.99 unlocks all features permanently.
Downcast does not have an easy to use interface and feels like an app geared towards power users. Its array of advanced tweaking options include niche items like the ability to refresh podcast feeds based on your location. With this you can make Downcast download new episodes the moment you reach home or office.
This app has most of Pocket Casts’ features including video support, but it isn’t as easy to use. For example, Downcast has a browsable catalogue of podcasts but it displays them in a long list that you need to tediously scroll through. Downcast has a companion Mac app, which lets you sync podcasts via iCloud so it’s a good option if you listen on both your iPhone and Mac.
iCatcher is firmly in the nerds-only category. Its UI uses too much text for my liking, but has a vast array of customisation options – even more than those in Downcast. One great example of this is a setting that lets you restrict podcast downloads to certain WiFi networks. Once you’ve subscribed to a podcast you can even hide episodes that have certain keywords. If you love a show but don’t like episodes featuring one of the panellists, iCatcher lets you hide all episodes featuring that person.
The app has several customisable gestures – drawing an ‘L’ within the app moves the podcast forward by two minutes and two-finger swipes fast forward and rewind the current show. If you prefer functionality over form, you will like iCatcher.
Best of the Rest
Three other podcast apps are good enough for a mention, but fall short when compared with the apps mentioned above. Instacast (free) hits the middle ground between Podcasts and Downcast. It’s better looking than those two apps but doesn’t have Downcast’s advanced tweaking options or Podcasts’ ability to sync to Windows. It remains a good choice for podcast syncing between OS X and iOS.
Stitcher (free) is one of the most popular podcast apps on iOS, with a big catalogue of podcasts hosted on its site. It is a nice app if you want to listen to longform articles apart from podcasts. However the app itself doesn’t offer any standout features.
Soundcloud (free), like Stitcher, is an iTunes alternative where a large number of podcasts are hosted. I’ve come across some shows that are uploaded only to Soundcloud, so the app is useful to find and play these shows. It’s also great for music lovers who want to follow artists directly.
And The Winner Is…
Whichever podcast app suits the way you listen to podcasts, of course. I can’t tell you which iOS podcast app is the best, but I can certainly tell you which one I like the most. It’s Overcast – simply because it’s the only podcast app that improves the way podcasts are played. I listen to eight podcasts every week and Overcast’s Smart Speed feature helps me get through them quicker.
Its limitations – lack of advanced tweaking or streaming – don’t hinder the way I listen to podcasts. That makes it the perfect podcast app for me.
Which is the best podcast app for you?