Up until recently, the word “podcasts” didn't mean much to most people. Despite being around since 2004, this method of downloading audio and video shows have been slow to catch on. With the breakout success of the “Serial” podcast in 2014, though, things are changing – the first season had over 70 million downloads.
Podcasts are particularly useful for travelers, for several reasons. With hundreds of thousands of shows available, there's something for everyone – including language lessons, travel and destination-specific shows, comedy, documentaries, music and more.
New episodes can be downloaded or streamed anywhere you have a reasonable Internet connection, and because they can be saved to your phone, tablet or laptop, you can listen to them while offline. I've lost track of the number of hours I've spent catching up on my favorite shows on long bus and plane rides.
To listen to a podcast, you need a podcast app (also known as a podcatcher, or podcast player). If you have an iPhone or iPad, the built-in Podcasts app is a good place to start – but it's quite basic. Once you've been listening to podcasts for a while – or if you own an Android device – you'll likely be looking for something a little better. Here are five of the best options.
Pocket Casts offers a wide range of features while still having a slick, easy to use interface. Your subscriptions are shown in a tiled format on the home screen, and a single tap brings up all of the episodes for that show.
It's easy to search for new shows, and you can also view only the episodes that have already been downloaded – great when you don't have Internet access.
Shows can be set to download automatically (only on Wi-Fi, if you like), and the app smartly manages storage space by letting you auto-delete episodes when you've finished listening, or only retain a set number of episodes per show.
It's easy to skip backwards and forwards (including when the screen is locked), and the player includes more advanced features like high-speed playback and easy access to show notes. All in all, it's an attractive, powerful podcasting app, and the one I use every day.
Downcast is a highly-regarded app that lets you easily stream and download podcasts, with a clean and reasonably easy-to-use interface. It has a powerful playlist creation tool, letting you listen to whatever combination of podcasts you like.
If you use multiple players or non-Apple devices, it's easy to export your subscriptions in the common OPML format.
The app handles automatic and background downloading, has variable speed playback between 0.5x and 3.0x, as well as other advanced features such as a sleep timer and two different options for skipping backwards and forwards. Well worth a look.
If you're looking for a clean, easy to use podcast app with a few useful extras, check out Overcast. It covers the basics of finding, downloading and playing podcasts well, with a couple of extras that are worth forking out the money for.
“Voice Boost” automatically levels speech volume, meaning that softer voices get boosted and louder ones are made quieter – particularly useful when you're wearing earphones, or listening in a noisy environment.
“Smart Speed” cuts out the silences in talk-based shows, reducing the length of time it takes to listen to them without distortion.
I still remember the days when Player FM ran only in a browser – thankfully, it's now a useful Android app as well. While it doesn't have any totally unique features, it covers all of the basics well, with a particularly strong search and recommendations system based on topics and sub-topics.
It also includes variable speed playback, a sleep timer and automatic management of storage space, and you can even start a podcast from your smartwatch if you're so inclined.
Given the price tag, Android users really have no reason not to check it out.
If you're an iOS user looking for a powerful podcast app at a reasonable price, iCatcher is where it's at.
Features include background downloads over Wi-Fi and cell networks, background playback, custom playlists, sleep timers, variable speed playback and many more, all with a functional (if not especially attractive) interface.
The app is highly rated by its users on the App store, and for good reason – it's one of the most fully-featured iOS podcast apps out there.