Pocket Casts 4 for Android – The Best Looking Podcast App on Any Platform
Podcast apps cater to a niche market. There are many free apps on every platform that have basic functionality. A paid podcast app caters to a smaller crowd. I subscribe to 32 podcasts and try and listen to every episode of each show. While iOS has a native podcast app (albeit a shitty one) it gets the job done for most people. I have been using Instacast on iOS since version 2 and love it. It has push notifications for new episodes, auto downloads and a variety of other power features. It is also the best overall podcast app on iOS. Pocket Casts by Shifty Jelly is available on iOS and Android. While the app looked relatively better than the other podcast apps on Android, it had no tablet support and felt too ancient compared to the modern operating system Android has become. Shifty Jelly is a team of 3 people and they explained why they went Android first in updating their podcast app. Pocket Casts 4 for Android not only makes it fit perfectly with Android Jelly Bean but also makes it the best looking podcast app on any platform.
Coming from Instacast on iOS, Pocket Casts 4 (henceforth Pocket Casts) let me import the OPML file I exported from Instacast. The procedure was quick. Pocket Casts now looks great on my Nexus 7. It has near perfect tablet support and every little pixel in the app has been polished to perfection. The app features the popular sliding pane interface that most modern Android apps use. The sidebar allows you to switch between your podcast and the discovery page along with playlist options. The main podcast view features a nice cover art tiled interface and it adds solid colours to podcasts that don’t have cover art. You can sort podcasts by date added, title and latest episode. Tapping the plus symbol takes you to the discover page. The discovery section has categories like featured podcasts, popular podcasts, videos, networks and categories. You can navigate between them by swiping as is expected in a holo themed app. I was disappointed that each section in discover displayed podcasts differently. Some had them listed in cells while others had the same tiled interface seen in the subscribed podcasts page. You can also search for a podcast by tapping the magnifying glass.
Each podcast page has a short description of the podcast along with a list of episodes and episode details below. The entire app looks and feels perfect on an Android device. Tapping on an episode allows you to stream or download it and has the show notes and other details visible. You can mark an episode as played by tapping and holding until it is highlighted with arrows pointing to the right. Sliding it out marks it as played. One thing I did notice about Pocket Casts was how fast it was with retrieving information from the server and refreshing podcasts. Pocket Casts 4 allows you to setup an account and sync your podcast parsing to Shifty Jelly’s online server so everything is lightning fast. The new smart playlist feature is pretty amazing. You can create playlists based on episodes that match a number of conditions like playing status, type and download status. The ability to choose a custom icon for each smart playlist is nice as the playlists are added to the sidebar.
I’ve mentioned multiple times how much I love the expandable notifications in Android 4.1 and above. Pocket Casts 4 makes full use of these to give you playback controls for podcasts on the lockscreen and in the notification pull down. When you start downloading a podcast, there’s a nice animated icon in the status bar indicating the current download in progress. When you play an episode, there is a mini player at the bottom that lets you play or pause the current podcast. Tapping it brings up the full player that has other controls like forwarding and rewinding along with scrollable show notes. One thing I have come to expect from podcast apps today is a sleep timer. I often listen to podcasts with a 30 minute timer while reading before falling asleep and am glad that Pocket Casts allows you to set a timer for any amount of time. Other features such as playback speed for downloaded episodes and episode sharing along with current position in episode sharing are available.
The settings in the app give you control of almost everything. You can set the fast forward and rewind length and lockscreen controls in the playback settings. You can configure episode updates and notification settings from here as well. The sync section allows you to create an account to sync Pocket Casts episodes and played positions across devices including iOS devices. I like how the app displays "Syncsess!" when the syncing has completed. You can export your podcasts into an OPML file for other apps as well. The storage settings allow you to choose your download location and auto delete played files. There is also the essential "Remove downloaded files" button that is essential if you have an 8GB device like I do.
Pocket Casts 4 on Android raises the bar not only for Android app design in general but also podcast apps as a whole on any platform. It looks great and is near perfect. I for one can’t wait for the update to be available on iOS as well. Having cross platform sync is great for anyone using iOS and Android. Having 30+ podcasts refresh in under 5 seconds is amazing. I did however find a few places where the show notes were too small on my tablet screen like in the video podcast player. Nevertheless Pocket Casts 4 is an amazing free update to existing owners of Pocket Casts 3 on Google Play. For everyone else, it is currently priced at $2.99 and will be $3.99 in a few hours when the update is live.