Until relatively recently, the word “podcasts” didn't mean much to most people. Despite being around since 2004, this method of downloading audio and video shows was slow to catch on. With the breakout success of the “Serial” podcast, though, things started to change–the first season alone 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. Long bus and plane rides become a welcome opportunity to catch up on favorite shows, rather than an endless slog.
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 want something a little better.
Here are six 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, ideal 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 backward 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 one well worth checking out.
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, and has variable speed playback between 0.5x and 3.0x. It also boasts other advanced features such as a sleep timer, and two different options for skipping backward 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. That's 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.
Many years back, Player FM worked only in a browser. Fortunately for travelers, it's now a useful Android app as well, with an iOS version in the works.
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.
One of the highest-rated podcast apps on the Google Play store, Podcast Go has all the features most users need, at a price everyone loves.
With a straightforward interface and hundreds of thousands of podcasts available with a couple of taps, it's easy to find new shows to listen to, or quickly subscribe to your favorites.
The app has three different themes so you can customize the way it looks, and features like variable-speed playback and sleep timers help keep even the power users happy. It's advertiser-supported, but paying a few bucks gets rid of the ads if you'd prefer.