How Does Pocket Casts Stack Up to Downcast?

As part of my podcast purging I decided it was a good time to experiment with another podcast client. Pocket Casts has received solid reviews since iOS 7 was released, so it seemed like as good of a candidate as any. It has some great features, and things I prefer over Downcast (which I have been using for a couple of years now), but it also has some shortcomings. Typically when reviewing an app, it’s best to look at it on it’s own, but this review is just as much as a “which podcast app is better?” as it is a review of Pocket Casts.

The Great

Pocket Casts looks really great. Although Downcast got a nice improvement from it’s iOS 7 version, it doesn’t look as good as Pocket Casts. One of the best features of Pocket Casts is the ability to queue up episodes to play. This means that the episodes won’t just play in playlist order, but can be queued up on the fly. This is great when a podcast is near its end before a drive starts since it means that there is no need to fumble with trying to change episodes while driving or working out.

Another great feature is the ability to add a pre-skip per podcast. Essentially the long intros of some podcasts can be skipped in two second increments. So if a podcast has a long theme song, the first 26 seconds of the podcast can be skipped every time. This doesn’t save a ton of time necessarily, but it does remove the urge from trying to fast forward while driving.

The Good

The ability to tap on the left or right side of the artwork to move forward or backward in the episode is much easier that hitting small buttons or even swiping. It is not ridiculous easier, but easier is easier. It’s a nice touch.

Pocket Casts also has a more fine grained speed control that is done with a slider. This means rather than just even 0.5 increments the speed can be changed more gradually. This is nice because some podcast hosts talk just a smidge faster/slower than others.

The Bad

Pocket Casts has settings per podcast, such as auto download, that have to be configured every time a new podcast is added. Downcasts on the other hand remembers these defaults, and while they can be overridden per podcast, they don’t have to be reconfigured for each new podcast. It also seems like the auto download is a little unreliable. It could just be iOS 7 background processing not working like it should, so it’s hard to say if Pocket Casts is to blame, but it’s surprising to find episodes not downloaded sometimes.

Along the same lines, there seems to be an issue if podcasts haven’t been downloaded in a few days where nothing but the latest episode will be downloaded. This issue hasn’t popped up often, but once was frustrating enough. Like many other podcast apps (except Downcast), an individual episode of a podcast can’t be added without subscribing to that podcast. It seems crazy that more podcasts don’t allow for this, instead expecting the user to either subscribe or use a service like Huff Duffer.

A small annoyance is that the time remaining of a partially played episode is only visible in the player. The play icon gives an idea of percentage of time left, but the math involved here is unnecessary. It would make a lot more sense to have the time displayed by the episode represent remaining time instead of full length time.

Wrap Up

Before I started working on this post, I though Pocket Casts was an improvement. I was enjoying the experience for the most part. But it seems like it comes down to the fact that it just looks so much nicer and that is really all. It lacks other features that are far more useful, and it seems like Downcasts is still the best podcast option.