As podcasts continue to grow in popularity, the need to find a good way to discover, play, and organize them also grows. Podcasts have been part of Apple’s iTunes and Music app for years, but even Apple has now realized that podcasts are worthy of their own app. Dedicated podcast apps are essentially super-specialized RSS readers, because most podcasts are distributed via an RSS feed. Thus, the differences between the apps have to do with implementation, features, usability, and stability. Which one you prefer can vary based on your familiarity with podcasts and your need for more advanced features. Whether you’re a newbie or a grizzled veteran, we’ve collected the best of the best, and you’re sure to find one that suits your needs.
Downcast’s impressive feature list and customizability has made it a favorite among podcast aficionados and, conversely, likely scared off some newbies. While it’s true that Downcast can appear intimidating at first blush, the key to loving it is to focus on the important features (i.e., the features you foresee using regularly) and setting aside the other features for tackling at a later date. Once you’ve gotten the basics down (e.g., autodownloading on or off, mark new episodes for streaming or downloading, etc.) you can dive into the more advanced options, such as importing or exporting feeds, sending media files to Dropbox, marking podcasts for “priority play,” playlists, and podcast-specific settings. Downcast’s most impressive attribute, however, can’t be found in the settings menu. Instead, it's the fact that it is a universal app with iCloud syncing (of subscriptions, episodes, playlists, and settings) that works surprisingly well. Thus, for no additional cost, you can start listening to a podcast on your iPhone and finish it on your iPad without a hitch (provided you’ve turned on syncing in the settings app). The current version of Downcast can take a long time to open (especially if you have a lot of podcasts), but the developer is reportedly working on fixing this issue. Once they do that, Downcast’s only real flaw will be its lack of a comprehensive tutorial for new users, although information is available on the website. Downcast also stands out from the pack for the ease with which it implements features such as viewing show notes without switching apps; finding, importing, exporting, or adding podcasts; playback control via headphones; and marking individual episodes of podcasts for streaming or downloading without subscribing to them. If you’re on the fence about paying for an app that performs the same function as a free, Apple-built app, rest assured that Downcast offers far more functionality than iTunes or Podcasts, and is arguably underpriced for its features.
Pocket Casts is a great choice for those new to the world of podcasts, as it boasts an extremely attractive, intuitive interface that simplifies the process of finding, adding, and organizing your podcast subscriptions. The app’s design is so attractive, however, that it can be easy to overlook its flaws (which are few, but important). For example, Pocket Casts doesn’t support password-protected feeds, doesn’t allow users to download or stream single episodes of podcasts without subscribing, doesn’t display an episode list on the show’s information page, and opens links from show notes in Safari, not the in-app browser. However, it also boasts server-side episode checking, which means it refreshes your feeds extremely quickly and is less prone to hanging upon refreshing than other apps. Although power users may find Pocket Casts's lack of customization frustrating, it's a great choice for anyone who doesn't want to have to fiddle with multiple settings screens to listen to podcasts.
Instacast has many good qualities and some stand out features, but recent turmoil over a change to the pricing model coupled with the fact that the iPad app is a separate purchase make it difficult to recommend. If you’re solely an iPhone user, or don’t foresee wanting to use podcasts on your iPad (remember, there are video podcasts), Instacast is definitely worth a look. The app has a clean, simple interface that highlights the app’s features, especially pro features such as playlists. The straightforward navigation continues into the podcast catalog, where users can enter a link to a podcast, browse for a podcast, or search for podcasts to add. It also should be noted that Instacast is the only app to have a separate section for “video” podcasts. As a whole, Instacast feels streamlined, like the developers thought about the easiest way to implement everything. Power users, however, could be upset that pro features such as playlists and individual podcast settings require a separate in-app purchase, and some features that other apps include (e.g. the ability to use open in to add media files from other apps) are missing.
iCatcher! podcast app
iCatcher! is the closest app in spirit to Downcast, as it costs the same, is universal, and uses iCloud sync. iCatcher, however, doesn’t feel as polished as Downcast; its features and interface lack the intuitive ease of use of the best iOS apps. To counteract this, iCatcher has pop up tips, but they quickly become annoying, especially when you realize that you actually need them. Another way of looking at it is that iCatcher doesn’t feel like it was designed to fall within the typical iOS users’ expectations for app functionality. That’s not to say it’s a bad app, but it does have a learning curve. Once you master it, you’ll be rewarded with an app with features such as: playlists, extremely customizable settings, AirPlay support, continuous playback, support for password protected feeds, and a sleep timer.
Podcasts is probably the least functional or stable app released by Apple, so much so that one wonders why it wasn’t held back for further polishing— even if that meant it would be released with iOS 6. The interface is attractive, if a bit over-designed in places—the “top stations” section is extremely slow to scroll through and the playback interface that resembles an old school tape deck is unnecessary. Podcasts’s best feature is that its iTunes-like interface for adding podcasts to the app is easy to use and simplifies the task of finding new podcasts. The app will import your iTunes subscriptions, but does not sync subscriptions between iOS devices. Podcasts also brings long requested support for streaming podcasts. Podcasts’s flaws are not so major that they couldn’t be overlooked, except for the app’s alarming instability and tendency to crash (it even crashed upon opening a few times). Until Apple improves the app’s stability, anyone serious about listening to podcasts would be better served by spending the few dollars to purchase one of the other apps in this Guide.
PodCruncher - Podcast Player and Manager for Podcasts
Podcruncher isn’t flashy or overly concerned with design, but its basic interface and features make it worth a long look. The app’s focus seems to be on usability over interface, as it includes “pro” features such as playlist support (with several built-in smart playlists) and the ability to set show-specific settings as well as global ones. Podcrucher’s combination of swipes, taps, and gestures to navigate isn’t the most intuitive, but the app has an option to “show hints” readily available. Once it refines its interface and adds the ability to view show notes from within the app, Podcruncher may become a top destination for podcasts.
TuneIn Radio Pro
TuneIn Radio Pro isn’t generally thought of as a go-to app for listening to podcasts, but it does a surprisingly good job. The app is designed for listening to (and recording) radio streams, though it does have a built-in selection of podcasts for you to subscribe to and stream (or record for later play back). The app’s hands free driving mode is a plus for many, as is its built-in web browser for importing feeds. Although TuneIn isn’t a replacement for a dedicated podcast app, it’s a great option for radio fans to dip their toe into the world of podcasts. The free version is included below, but it does not include recording functionality.
Stitcher Radio is more than just a podcast player; in fact, its primary function is as a radio app. As such, Stitcher only supports streaming podcasts, not downloading them, which severely lessens its utility. Users can browse, listen, and even create custom radio stations out of one or more podcasts (these function like a playlist). However, Stitcher’s catalog is somewhat limited, and it doesn’t offer an easy way to import your favorite feeds.
RSSRadio Premium (Podcast Downloader)
RSSRadio Premium has a large amount of potential, but needs more user customization options to challenge the top apps. Specifically, RSS Radio should allow users to alter the global settings for all podcasts, instead of just the settings for each individual podcast. Although this may seem like a minor point, the fact that the default action for a new subscription is to download the latest three episodes elevates its importance. RSSRadio Premium is universal and supports syncing via iCloud. It is currently beta testing a new release that polishes the interface and supports location-based refreshing and downloading of episodes. The app, however, simply needs some basic tweaks to its usability and maybe a little more flair.
At first glance, Podcaster 5 appears to be a very minimalistic app, with information crammed onto a single screen that has one button in each corner, but this is merely a facade. In fact, the attempt to streamline the number of tabs/ screens almost makes Podcaster more complicated, as it’s not easy to navigate between episodes, subscriptions, and downloads. More, Podcaster doesn’t offer an easy way to display show notes, doesn’t allow you to download or stream individual episodes of a podcast without subscribing, and charges separately for its iPad version. Podcaster 5 does have one great feature— it has a “suggestions” tab in the catalog section that recommends certain podcasts to you, and displays related podcasts when you view a show’s details.