Castaway - Podcast Player ($2.99) by Philip Viso is a simple and clean app for managing your audio podcasts. If you want a podcast player that doesn’t make you commit to a show to tune in, then Castaway could be what you’re looking for. It is similar to other apps on the market like Overcast, Castro, Pocketcasts, and more.
Even though podcasts seem to have gone through a renaissance period lately thanks to shows like Serial, I’ve been a regular podcast listener for years. While it seems that most of the shows I listen to regularly are tech or game related, I like some comedy and storytelling every now and then. Over the years, my podcast app of choice has bounced around a bit, starting with Instacast, then Pocketcasts, and now Overcast, but I still don’t mind checking out new things that come along. Which is why I was intrigued when I saw Castaway hit the App Store. This may not be the podcast app for power users like myself, but it seems like a great option for casual listeners.
The interface for Castaway is fairly minimal and barebones compared to the competition. In fact, from a distance, Castaway doesn’t look like much, and one could even mistake it for a native Apple app if they didn’t look at it carefully. Castaway features a lot of white, with splashes of purple for contrast. The default Helvetica typeface makes things easy to read, and once you get some shows added in to the app, you’ll see that it’s organized well. Navigating around in Castaway is easy, and the app is fast and responsive.
The main view in Castaway features two sections that offer four choices: My Podcasts and Browse Directory under “Podcasts” and Unplayed and Saved under “Episodes.” Underneath these sections is the option to go to the settings, where you can customize playback, automatic downloads, refresh on startup, and even export all of your subscriptions. If you are coming from another podcast app, such as Overcast, then you can export your shows from that app and choose Castaway in the extension sheet that pops up. I managed to import over 30 shows into Castaway without a hitch.
If you’re new to podcasts and want to find something interesting, Castaway has a fairly good repository that you can peruse through. Just choose “Browse Directory” and then you can search by category or most popular on iTunes, or even by network. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, then there is the ability to search by title or author. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a way to manually add and subscribe to a show by pasting in a direct URL — maybe this can be added in the future, or perhaps this was done purposefully, after all, this feels like a casual podcast app that doesn’t need advanced features.
When you view a show, you’ll get a full episode list, and Castaway even tells you when the show was last updated. If you want to always stay on top of a particular show, just tap on the “Subscribe” button in the top right corner. However, if you just want to listen to one episode, just tap on the cloud-download button on the one you want — Castaway gives you two options on how to listen to it: stream or download.
As you view your own shows, episodes will fall under two tabs: Unplayed or All. If you would prefer to have all of your unplayed episodes in one place to choose from, the “Unplayed” section is handy. Another feature I liked is the ability to “save” episodes that you like a lot, which is done by tapping on the star on the playback screen. Swiping on these episodes brings up the “Mark as Played” option, in case you don’t want it clogging up the unplayed list.
Whenever an episode is playing, you’ll be able to see what you’re listening to with the playback bar at the bottom that shows podcast artwork, show and episode number, title, and a pause/play button. Tapping on the bar will bring up the full playback view, where you can view complete show notes with tappable links. Under the notes will be the audio scrubber, rewind and skip forward buttons (customize the interval in settings), play and pause, and playback speed (default speed is 1x, but can be changed in settings).
As someone who has been using Overcast and the Smart Speed feature ever since it came out last year, I have been having a hard time listening to shows without it. Even with the increased playback speed, it’s just not the same. I suppose I’ve just been spoiled at this point.
Castaway offers background refresh, which means that the newest episodes of your favorite shows will always be waiting for you as they become available. The app also has the option to automatically download new episodes (even over cellular if you have a data plan that accommodates a lot of downloads), so you don’t have to lift a finger to get your favorites.
While I always enjoy simplicity, I don’t think I’ll be switching from Overcast to Castaway anytime soon. Castaway’s minimal looks are nice, finding new shows is easy, and being able to save episodes is great, but personally, I depend on too many features of Overcast (especially Smart Speed) to use anything else, even if it still lacks streaming.
However, if you are looking for a barebones podcast client that allows you to subscribe to shows or listen to single episodes, and comes with some nice features like automatic refreshing and downloading, then Castaway could be a good fit for you. This is what a casual podcast app is all about.