I’m going to tell you a secret: driving is really boring. Our forefathers figured this out way back in the day, and that’s why they started putting radios in cars. If I can’t do anything that sit in one spot and stare at things, I may as well have some sweet tunes to take the edge off. But as beautiful as the radio is, it isn’t nearly as good as being able to control your own audio destiny. That’s why we eventually added tape decks, CD players, AUX inputs and Bluetooth.
But what if, like me, you drive around alone and get a little lonely? Talk radio to the rescue? Well, only if you like news or polemics. Podcasts are where its at. These episodic audio programs are like radio programs that you can download to your iPhone and take with you in the car. And there are so many amazing ones: you’ve got news and politics, sure, but there’s also inventive storytelling podcasts, weekly chat shows, comedy roundtables, throwback radio dramas, and more. It’s kind of unique as an art form. Better still, it’s all completely free. You just need to find the ones you like and sign up.
The iPhone even comes with a built-in podcasts app called, appropriately enough, Podcasts. Unfortunately, it’s not that great. It gets the job done, sure, but if you have a lot of podcasts or want to listen to more than one in a row, you might get frustrated with it. So here’s the best podcast apps for iOS you can use to listen to podcasts on your iPad and iPhone.
Overcast comes from tech luminary and podcast evangelist Marco Arment, who created Instapaper and ran the tech at Tumblr. It’s a beautiful, well-designed app with a clean interface and carefully thought-out controls. It feels a lot like how Apple should have designed the podcast app: powerful, simple and functional. The buttons are easily reachable and contextually relevant, and adding and removing podcasts episodes is a breeze.
And the app has some cool, unique features too. Smart Speed automatically fast-forward over silences to save time and compress less-produced podcasts. Voice Boost applies an EQ that automatically amplifies the natural range of the human voice. And if you want to find more off the good stuff, you can discover podcasts based on what your Twitter contacts listen to.
It’s a collection of little nice touches that make Overcast a pleasure to use. Most podcast apps don’t show the podcast art on your lock screen. Instead, they show the generic music symbol. Not Overcast: you’ll always seen the right art when a podcast is playing. And the start and stop based on Bluetooth connection (like when you enter or leave your car) works flawlessly every time. If I could change anything, it would be to allow for per-episode download/streaming rules, but that’s just me and my unhealthy desire to control everything.
Downcast provides users with a lot more knobs that Overcast. Nearly everything can be adjusted on a per-podcast basis, but it can be a little overwhelming. In the same way, Downcast’s playlists are extremely powerful and customizable, but they take a little setup. The playlists can be arranged to automatically collect new episodes, partially listened episodes, just video episodes, and so on. Individual podcasts can also be prioritized, making it possible to create an automated listening queue that always bumps your favorite shows to the top.
The perpetual downside of powerful customization is a crowded interface, and Downcast is no exception. The interface isn’t quite as slick as Overcast’s, and there are some little things that don’t work right, but overall it’s a solid app for those seeking more control over their listening.
Are you getting the drift yet with the app names? I think having a “cast” suffix is a requirement for a well-known podcast application. Where Downcast is a little overwhelming, Pocket Casts is extremely simple. It uses a Flipboard-style interface, meaning that your podcast subscriptions are arrayed before you in a tiled layout. You select the icon of the podcast you want to play, and it starts playing. Like Overcast, Pocket Casts also includes some effects, like variable playback speed, a “trim silence” button that removes silences, and a voice/volume boost preset for mumblers. The $4 price tag is a little steep, but if you don’t like Overcast or Downcast, this is your next stop.
My favorite part of Pocket Casts is the change logs that come with each update. The most recently includes a references to “fan-dangled wireless headphone thingies” that “look like you shoved two toothbrushes into your ears.” Or, you know, AirPods.
Podcast apps abound, but there’s really just a few awesome ones. Overcast is a great all-arounder, and better still, it’s free. Downcast will cost you some coin but is perfect for control freaks. And Pocket Casts’ striking interface is a joy to navigate.
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