App Review: Pocket Casts for iPhone

Long-time readers of this blog (hi, mom!) know my affinity for podcasts.  I’ve offered advice to aspiring podcasters. I even returned my first Android phone largely because I didn’t like how that platform handled podcasts (in 2010).  So when Apple came out with their own dedicated Podcast app over a year ago, I was ecstatic.  Though version 1.0 was full of bugs, it offered one feature that made it worthwhile: A single playlist that automatically showed all my downloaded & unplayed podcasts, ordered from oldest to newest.  That’s all I really needed.

And then Apple updated their Podcast app.  The bugs largely went away… but so did the one function I actually used.

The new “unplayed” list now showed all the unplayed episodes of all the podcasts I subscribed to, whether they had been downloaded or not. Here’s the thing: If I haven’t downloaded a podcast episode, that means I don’t want to listen to it. (I have zero interest in streaming podcasts while I’m out and about.) I kept waiting for a revision that would restore the ability to automatically hide undownloaded episodes, but, alas, that day would never come.

After a year of manually managing my podcast library, I decided to finally break Tech Guy Rule #121: “Never pay for an app when a decent alternative is free.” I emptied my piggy bank and scrounged up enough coins to buy a new podcast app. But which one? Downcast, Instacast, Pocket Casts and iCatcher all had good write-ups on the web, as well as largely positive reviews on the app store.  They all cost less than five bucks.  They all bragged about their customizability.  But only one had this on its app store page:

PocketCastsiTunesCopy

And that app was Pocket Casts, which I immediately bought.  Here’s what the app looks like once you get it up and running:

PodcastsScreenshots 1

Above is the app’s home screen, where you’ll find a bevy of filters and lists you can customize to organize your library.

PodcastsScreenshots 2

This is what the app looks like after you’ve subscribed to some podcasts.

Subscribing to podcasts is very easy. As soon as you hit the “+” in the upper right hand corner (from almost any page), you’re greeted with a page of Featured Podcasts.

PodcastsScreenshots 3

You can also see podcasts grouped by popularity, categories, and network.

PodcastsScreenshots 4

The Network view is very useful, though it’s far from complete. Earwolf and MaximumFun.org, for example, were both missing. (But their podcasts were easily found using the search tool.)

PodcastsScreenshots 5

Once you’ve subscribed to a podcast, you can see all available episodes.  You can then download only the ones you want to listen to. You can also set it to auto-download new episodes in the future, if you wish. Thanks to iOS 7, downloading is done in the background, and only on wifi if you don’t have an unlimited data plan.

PodcastsScreenshots 6

Some of the icons were unfamiliar to me. For example, I had no idea what that little checkmark meant until I clicked it. (FYI: It’s to toggle between “played” and “unplayed” status.)

PodcastsScreenshots 8

From the episode page, you can choose to start playing the episode immediately or add it to a playlist. There’s also a “PLAY NEXT” option I’ll go into detail more later.

PodcastsScreenshots 7

Viola. A list of just the episodes that are both unplayed and downloaded.

The app is not without its quirks.  For example, you can create a “filter” — like the one seen above — that will automatically sort your podcast library by whatever criteria you want, but it’s not the same as a playlist.  Selecting an episode in the “filter” list will only play that individual episode. It will not automatically go onto the next one in the filter.  You need to create a “playlist” to do that.  Adding episodes to a playlist is easy, but, still, it’d make more sense to just have filters and playlists be the same thing.  The reason I left the Apple Podcast app is because I didn’t want to have to manually add anything to a playlist, yet here I am, having to do just that.

But just when I was ready to give another podcast app a try (for another $3), Pocket Cast won me over.  The saving grace?  The “play next” button.  One of the reasons I hate playlists is this: Let’s say you see an episode you’d like to listen to after the current podcast you’re listening to is over.  So you add it to a playlist, where it appears at the bottom of the list, and then you have to manually move the episode up, in order to hear it next.

With the “play next” button, it’ll cut through all that.  Just hit that button and the app will automatically cue the selected podcast to start playing as soon as the current one is finished.  It’s a feature I never knew I wanted… and now it’s the main way I listen to podcasts.

Another cool thing about the app is the way it handles “chapters.”

PocketCastsScreenshots 1

Only one podcast I listen to — Scriptnotes — uses chapter markers, but I imagine more and more podcasts will start to.

Another thing it handles quite well: Links to additional content.

PocketCastsScreenshots 2

The app might not be quite what I expected (seriously, filters and playlists shouldn’t be two different things), but I’m not regretting the purchase. If the idea of super-customizable filters, a “play next” option, and an extremely user-friendly interface for finding & subscribing to new podcasts intrigues you, then I can easily recommend Pocket Casts.

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5 thoughts on “App Review: Pocket Casts for iPhone

  1. Pingback: The Apps I use: 2014 Edition | TECH GUY ERIC

  2. Hey I contacted the app developer about your main gripe. They informed me that you just need to hold the “play” button and you can select the option “play all from here.” That solves your issue that almost caused you to buy another podcast app.

    • The Play All feature is definitely something I use A LOT. It’s not a perfect solution, though, unfortunately, when dealing with Pocket Cast’s filters. Once you hit Play All, any new podcasts added to that filter won’t be added to the queue automatically. Another thing that bugs me a little: If you hit Play All, then see a podcast that you want to listen now and play it manually — the entire queue disappears. It’d still be ideal if Filters worked more like Playlists, where it always just moves to the next podcast whenever there isn’t a queue.

      Your comment definitely reminded me that I need to do another post on podcasts apps for iOS. Apple’s Podcast app just had a major update, Pocket Casts has made some tweaks since my original review, and there are other apps I’m hearing from readers they LOVE that I need to try.

  3. Pingback: Casts vs. Downcasts: Which (if either) podcast app is for you? | TECH GUY ERIC

  4. Pingback: Overcast is the best podcast app out there — but I’m using Downcast anyway | TECH GUY ERIC

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