Instacast, Downcast, and Pocket Casts all bring podcasts directly to your iPhone and iPod touch, which is one of the best ways to enjoy them when you're in the car, working out, sitting in the office, or simply lounging around the house. While all three allow you to browse and search for podcasts, which one has the best features geared towards the most users?
Let's listen and find out!
When it comes to podcasting apps, it's important to have an app that not only lets you listen to the podcasts you already know and love, but search for and discover new ones as well. Of course, it also has to be visually pleasing and easy to navigate. Sometimes too many features and too many options are a hindrance and not a help.
Instacast has an easy to navigate interface that's streamlined and simple. Upon launching the app you'll be presented with a list of your current subscriptions. You can tap through the top tabs to view playlists and bookmarks as well. If you'd like to create playlists, you can do so easily but you'll need to purchase the premium in-app upgrade.
Tapping the "+" button in the bottom left of the main page let's you add new content. You can search through popular audio and video podcasts as well as sort by genre or search if you already know what you're looking for.
Downcast also has a super simple layout. The tabs along the bottom are pretty much self explanatory and even those new to podcasts should have no trouble finding their way around the main portions of the app. Tapping into a podcast and tapping on an episode will cause the episode to play. This is a bit odd to me as I'd expect tapping into an episode to bring me to a detailed information list and show notes followed by an option to play.
You can tap the info button to view info but this feels like a more awkward layout. Once you've selected a podcast or viewed info, show notes and information are then presented.
As you start to get into other tabs, it can get a bit more confusing. While you don't have to pay an additional fee to create playlists, the amount of options presented is overwhelming and is probably unnecessary for most users. Those could be buried deeper for power users so the higher level remains cleaner for general users.
The settings sections of the app allows you to fine tune many things including refresh frequency, how you want the app to handle new episodes, and specific player controls such as skip intervals.
Pocket Casts is by far the most visually appealing of the podcast apps. When you first launch Pocket Casts you'll be presented with your list of podcast subscriptions. Tapping on the tiled button again will switch from titles and descriptions to a list view of episodes. (You can toggle these views from the top as well.) Selecting a podcast will give you a list view of all the episodes in that group.
The top of the screen also gives you a quick view of how many podcasts you have total, how many are physically downloaded, and how many you haven't finished listening to. Tap on any of the numbers at the top to view only those episodes. The second tab shows you what is playing, allows you to skip and stop, and gives you access to show notes.
Finding podcasts to listen to is easy with Pocket Casts. Either search for what you're looking for at the top or browse categories. When you find one you want to subscribe to, just tap add.
Settings is also easy to navigate and doesn't present overwhelming options. This may feel limiting to power users who want to tweak every last option, but its the better choice for most users who just want to play their shows.
When it comes to navigation and which app is more visually pleasing, Pocket Casts nails it on both counts.
No matter how slick the interface or granular the settings, a podcast app has to be judged on how easily it lets you play shows, control the playback of shows, and access additional information like show notes.
Instacast has a great player that's easy to use and nice to look at. It hides unnecessary controls out of view until you need them. Along the bottom you'll only see the play, skip, and back buttons. Slide them up and you'll see other controls you can use to fine tune scrub or jump back. While Instacast still seems to be struggling to nail proper touch targets for some of their controls, they're intuitive and when they work, they work well.
Accessing show notes in Instacast is simple. Tap the top left arrow on the play screen and you'll be brought back to the info screen, or choose the list icon in the upper right and view all links and bookmarks from the show notes. If you want to view a link within the show notes, clicking on it will bring up a built-in browser. You never have to leave the app while listening and following along but if you choose to close the app, Instacast will continue to play on in the background.
Downcast's player has a pretty straight forward player but it tries to pack too much onto one screen. You'll find the skip controls towards the top and some other controls towards the bottom. Show notes are located in the middle of the screen (when available). Downcast also has a built-in browser so clicking any links will take you to them within the app.
If you like having all your information on one screen at the same time, Downcast will give that to you, but at the cost of looking overly cluttered.
If you decide to exit Downcast, audio will also continue playing in the background until you choose to stop it.
Pocket Casts is less cluttered than Downcast but still squeezes a lot of information into a small amount of space. However, some of the controls feel hidden.
Tapping the left or right of the screen while playing a podcast brings up skip controls -- skip back 10 seconds or forward 45 seconds. Swiping to the left will bring up show notes. However, the show notes feel a bit cramped as they only populate the center of the screen.
Tapping any type of link will pull you out of the app and into Safari, while Pocket Casts will continue to stream in the background.
So this round goes to Instacast. It has the nicest experience when it comes to actually listening to podcasts and reading show notes.
Most podcasts in most podcast apps can be streamed or downloaded. Both serve a useful purpose. Streaming can save you local storage space on your iPhone, which can be particularly important if you have 16GB but still want to watch a lot of video shows. It can also give you access to the show you want, when you want, even if you're on 3G. Downloading means you have the show on your iPhone whether you're online or offline, and can be done ahead of time over Wi-Fi so you don't use up your 3G data.
Instacast allows you to easily choose whether or not you'd like to be able to stream or download when on a cellular (3G) network. If you don't want either of these options enabled, just tick them off and your podcasts will only download or stream when Wi-Fi is available.
If you don't want podcasts to physically download to your iPhone and prefer to stream, you can disable that within settings as well or tell Instacast to only download the most recent episodes.
Downcast also lets you choose how you want it to handle podcasts when Wi-Fi is not available. If you don't want episodes to automatically download you can set it to never, or you can set it to only download when Wi-Fi is available. Otherwise you can stream when you'd like or decide to download at a later time.
Pocket Casts won't automatically download episodes to your iPhone. It will add them to your subscriptions and you can stream them any time, or you can manually choose to download episodes when you like. You can also view how much available storage you have, and what episodes you are currently downloaded and stored locally on your device. If you're concerned about storage, you can also set cleanup to remove older episodes to conserve space.
While Instacast, Downcast, and Pocket Casts all allow you to adjust settings, Downcast continues to be the most confusing of the three. Instacast and Pocket Casts offer the easiest ways to manage download vs streaming when it comes to handling your content. Tie.
If you listen to a lot of podcasts and have both an iPhone and an iPad or iPod touch, you'll probably want the ability to pick up where you left off no matter which device you're on. That's where syncing comes in.
Instacast and Downcast both support iCloud syncing and have iPad apps. While the Downcast app is a universal binary for both iPhone and iPad, the Instacast HD app is a separate purchase.
However, iCloud data syncing is still problematic and it doesn't work all the time. Apple needs to fix this.
Instacast also allows you to sync podcasts from iTunes that may not be available as a standalone podcast feed. The Music App tab will show any podcasts that you've imported from iTunes. The first time you open the app it will ask you if you'd like to import any existing podcasts from iTunes into Instacast. Currently it only supports audio and not video. If you've got audio podcasts you listen to that may not have a direct podcast feed and are only available in iTunes, you can use this section to import your podcasts so you don't have to use two apps to listen to podcasts. You can also search for that podcast within Instacast's catalog and if it finds it, you can subscribe via the app and not have to use iTunes.
Pocket Casts currently doesn't offer sync, or an iPad app, but they do have an Android app.
When it comes to syncing, Instacast offers the best support. (When iCloud works.)
If you subscribe to tons of podcasts, playlists become increasingly important. Instead of scrolling through endless lists of shows, you can set them up to give you what you want, when you want it, in a nice and orderly manner. And that makes how playlists are managed an important consideration as well.
Instacast offers complete playlist support only if you're a premium subscriber. To create a playlist just tap the Playilst tab from your main screen. You can also tap the "+" button in the bottom corner to create a playlist. Name it and then check off the subscriptions you'd like to be a part of that playlist.
Smart Playlists are also supported by Instacast. Just choose to create a smart playlist instead of a regular one and you can automatically tell Instacast which types of podcasts to group in that playlist. For example, I've got one set to filter partially played podcasts by oldest first. It's a good way to remind me that I've got podcasts I haven't finished listening to yet.
Playlists within Downcast are a more customizable and allow you to group podcasts in several different ways. You can choose which podcasts you'd like included and then narrow that by which individual episodes you'd like to include by status. If you don't want played podcasts showing up, you can tick it off. If you don't want streamed podcasts showing up in a certain list, turn that off as well.
Most users probably won't use the extensive features that Downcast offers and, not surprisingly, they may appear confusing to those who are new to podcasts. Advanced users will appreciate the flexibility.
Pocket Casts doesn't support playlists as far as I can see. So if playlists are a feature you need to stay more organized, I'd rule out Pocket Casts as an option. Update: Pocket Casts does have playlists, they were just well hidden. I would, however, argue that the Pocket Casts interface is so simple and clean and easy to navigate that you may find yourself not even needing playlists.
When it comes to playlists, even though they cost extra, Instacasts has the best, simplest support.
If you look forward to your favorite podcast becoming available each week, it's always good to have push notifications to remind you when it's ready for you to listen to.
Luckily, Instacast, Downcast, and Pocket Casts all provide push notifications and provide them well. Pocket Casts takes it a step further and handles them server side
Tie with a slight edge to Pocket Casts.
Good apps should obviously cost more than bad apps, but all other factors being equal, what each podcasting app costs should factor into your consideration.
Instacast is $0.99 for the basic app, and an additional $1.99 for full playlist support (dubbed Instacast Pro). If you want iPad support, that'll cost you another $4.99 for Instacast HD. So, depending on your needs, you're looking at anywhere from $0.99 for he basic iPhone and iPod touch app, to almost $8 for the full Instacast "suite".
Downcast is $1.99 and is a universal app for both iPhone and iPad.
Pocket Casts is also $1.99 but is iPhone and iPod touch only.(There's also a free version, Pocket Casts Lite, that you can try before you buy.)
Instacast, Downcast, and Pocket Casts all provide a better and more powerful podcast experience than Apple's built-in iTunes and Music apps.
Pocket Casts has the best, most disciplined interface and is the simplest and easiest to use overall. If you're brand new to podcasts and just want something that works elegantly and well, check out Pocket Casts.
Downcast is the opposite -- complex to the point of being cluttered. That makes it best suited for power users who want to control and tweak as much as possible, and value accessibility over elegance.
Instacast is expensive if you want the full package, but it's also the best overall podcast app for iPhone right now. It strikes the best balance between simplicity and features, making it easy to use but still powerful. For most users, most of the time, Instacast is podcast app to get.