With the release of Apple's new Podcasts app I saw a lot of talk about all the third party clients out there as well. As of late, I haven't been very happy with Instacast and so I decided to go ahead and try the other "podcatcher" I had heard so much about, Pocket Casts.
I've been an Instacast guy since it came out and loved it for the longest time. Then the 2.0 update came out just a month or so ago. And while I liked a lot of the changes — and what they were going for overall in principle — there started being too many things in the app that bugged me. For one, it became really slow. Almost unusable while it was refreshing and checking for new episodes. Moreover, the developers kept on flip-flopping how the app handled episode deletion vs. marking as played. In one release they finally got it the way I had always wanted it to work, albeit with a few bugs, but it was quickly changed again in the next release a week or two later. On top of that there were a bunch of other strange navigational quirks. I just no longer liked using Instacast anymore. So I tried Pocket Casts for $1.99 in the App Store.
Note: Yes, I do know of the app Downcast, but something about the app repels me. It seems to complex for what I want.
The second I opened Pocket Casts I fell in love with it. The UI is gorgeous and very well thought out — although more on that in a bit. As soon as I actually started to use Pocket Casts I immediately got the feeling that all this time I just did not know what I was missing. Let me take you through some of the many reasons why I like Pocket Casts so much:
- The tiled icons for browsing shows.
- Per-show playback speed settings.
- Ability to easily sort shows and episodes by date, title, etc.
- The entire app is always incredibly fast.
- The list of episodes can be navigated in four different ways: Recent, Unplayed, Downloaded, and Unfinished. All of which are awesome, but I particularly like the Recent (which you can adjust to specify just how recent) and Unfinished lists.
- You can download all unplayed episodes with the tap of a single button.
- You can play a video podcast as audio only with the tap of a button. This is great when you're in a place where you don't quite want to be watching something, and don't quite need the actual video to follow the podcast.
Now, I am aware that that was a mess of a list, but for any geek who listens to podcasts on a regular basis, like myself, the items on that list are a bunch of the things that will immediately hit you as making Pocket Casts great. In fact, I really do encourage you to try the app out for yourself and see what I mean here. I cannot truly convey the feeling of true organization, and control, of your podcasts that Pocket Casts gives you.
A few other things of note:
- The pull-to-refresh animation is very clever.
- Scrolling to far up in some of the settings reveals the "internals" of the app. Nice touch.
- You can set specific settings for individual shows. Right down to even being able to set your own custom artwork for a show — I suppose if you really dislike the official art.
Playing an Episode:
- Getting to the currently playing episode is super-fast and always in the same place — it's just a tab/button on the bottom of the app.
- You can choose from a 1.2x, 1.5x, or 2x playback speed.
- Show notes are accessed by simply swiping to the show notes "card".
- You can actually share the position you are currently up to in an episode.
- You can, as usual, skip forward or backward (whatever amount of time you set) with the FF or RW buttons, but there are also two invisible big buttons that allow you to skip forward or backwards with just a tap anywhere on the right or left side of the show artwork, respectively. Very handy if you're in a car.
Playlists? More Like Play List
I wanted this so much in Instacast. In Pocket Casts you can add specific episodes to a single "playlist". As in, you can create a list of the episodes, or "Play List", you want to listen to in any given sitting. I always thought this was how playlists should work. Let me just make a quick list, or queue, of the episodes that I want to listen to right now.
From the player, you can hit the Playlist button and then add any episode from your library (or you can go to any episode itself, hit the share button, and the add to Playlist). If nothing is playing, the player tab prompts you to choose an episode to play, but there is also a button to get to your Playlist. The whole thing is brilliant!
That all being said, I would love to see my Playlist in the main interface instead of, say, the "Downloads" tab.
There is another tab in the app that I have not yet talked about, and that is the tab for discovering and downloading new podcasts. It's very well done — and lists networks in addition to just shows — but there's not really much I can say about it other than it's not a part of the app I use very often.
All in all, there is so much I love about Pocket Casts. There are a few, very minor, things about it that could be better though:
- I wish the episode list had some form of show art instead of just the titles of the shows. I suppose this just takes some getting used to, but considering that the tiled icons are so beautiful in the "Podcasts" section, I wish I could see some of that in the "Episodes" section.
- It'd be nice if there was a setting to auto-download new episodes.
- There is no sleep timer. (Although I never really used it in Instacast.)
- Tapping on the time to scroll to the top of a list does not seem to work...
Importing your Instacast subscriptions into Pocket Casts is incredibly easy. Just hit the gear icon in the lower-right corner of Instacast, choose Export, and export the OPML file from Instacast. Then open it from the Mail app. There are actually instructions as to how to do this right within Pocket Casts when you first open it. A bit of a secret here though, in iOS 6 when you choose to export from Instacast, iOS actually prompts you to simply choose Pocket Casts and in just one tap, you're all set up.
The guys behind Pocket Casts seem really nice. I asked them about an iPad app and the told me that Pocket Casts would be updated for the iPad later this year. An update, not a separate app. So I would assume that would mean it will be free.
The one thing that still slightly throws me about Pocket Casts is that it is a dark app, as opposed to the bright white of Instacast. It's a very different take on a podcatcher UI so it will take a bit of time to get used to. (As a side note, I would say that it's sort of like the geek's version of Apple's new Podcasts app.)
Pocket Casts perfectly fits the way that I "consume" podcasts. Everything about it just fits seamlessly into the way that I have always wanted to use a podcast app. It makes total sense to me. Pocket Casts was made by people who really listen to podcasts.
Or at least the way that I do.