Pocket Casts 4: The Best Podcast Manager Comes to iPad

As an fan of Apple, I’m sometimes bestowed the label of “fanboy” by some individuals. I often find these incidents to be humorous, as most of the individuals bestowing me the title could in fact be labeled fanboys as well — but for another tech company. I have zero qualms being called an Apple fanboy, as I’m proud to support a company that creates stellar software and hardware. Likewise, I’ve often touted my love for Pocket Casts over all other podcast apps, and could very well be branded a Pockets Casts fanboy.

Since my initial review of Pockets Casts for the iPhone way back in August 2011, I’ve continued to utilize it for all my podcasting needs. During that time I’d hear rumors of a iPad version in development, and eventually learned it would finally make its way with the release of Pocket Casts 4. So, when Pocket Casts 4 was initially released for Android over iOS, I was disappointed. When the new app was delayed after the announcement of iOS 7 at WWDC, I was disappointed even more so. With the arrival of iOS 7, Pockets Casts 4 has finally found its way to my iPad. The question is, was it worth the wait?

Like this article? Stay up to date with the latest changes by subscribing to our RSS feed or by following us either on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or App.net.

Designed for iOS 7

Though new to the iPad, the differences between Pocket Casts 4 and its predecessor for the iPhone are vast, with the biggest difference being the app’s design and UI. Gone is the dark design and navigation bar, which has been replaced with a bright interface and a singular sidebar from which you can access all areas of the app. Of the many apps that have been redesigned to fit in with iOS 7, I find Pocket Casts 4 to be one of the best.

Pocket Casts 4′s design goes hand in hand with iOS 7′s design aesthetics.

Pocket Casts 4′s design goes hand in hand with iOS 7′s design aesthetics.

Each view is sleek and minimal, with a playful color scheme. The player is particularly nice to look at, as various elements, including controls and the progress bar, change colors to match the podcast’s artwork. Depending on the artwork, the player’s color scheme can look pretty spiffy, but there are occasions in which Pocket Casts 4 samples from an odd color option — creating a bit of an eye sore.

The adaptive color scheme on the left is far more appealing than on the right.

The adaptive color scheme on the left is far more appealing than on the right.

In terms of animation, the app is also very true to iOS 7, but includes a lone oddity. The animation used to open and close the player by way of a faded zoom is a bit jarring. I’d prefer a slide down from top transition, but I can understand Shifty Jelly’s hesitance to use the animation since it could easily collide with Notification Center. This issue is relatively minor, and doesn’t take much away from Pockets Casts 4’s overall experience.

Syncing

Pockets Casts 4 includes support for both iPad and iPhone, and sync functionality, which is handy if you use the app on both devices (sync also works with Android). Because syncing is handled via Shifty Jelly’s own servers, and not the sometimes unreliable iCloud, you’ll need to create an account. Once signed up, your subscriptions, podcasts, playlists and playback progress with sync between devices. Likewise, if you end up picking up a new iPad or iPhone in the near future, you’ll be able to sign in to your account and access all previously stated items.

Creating a syncing account requires only an emaill address and password.

Creating a syncing account requires only an emaill address and password.

Settings, however, are not synced between devices. This decision makes a great deal of sense considering that you may want different settings on different devices (e.g. you may want notifications on your iPhone, but not on your iPad). However, it would be nice if settings synced per device, meaning that if I upgraded to a new iPad my settings would automatically be set once I logged into my account.

Settings may not sync, but at least they only take a minute to set up.

Settings may not sync, but at least they only take a minute to set up.

While using the app, syncing worked very well in most instances, and was far less error free than in Apple’s first-party Podcasts app. One area that I encountered issues with, however, was syncing playback position. On multiple attempts I began playing an episode on one device, which synced perfectly when I transitioned to my other device. When attempting a return trip to the device I used initially, the playback position didn’t sync with where the second device left off — even after killing and reopening the app.

Auto-Downloads

One of my favorite new features of Pockets Casts 4 is auto-downloads. This feature has been included in competing apps for quite some time, but much like how Apple’s proven time and time again, it’s not about doing it first as much as it is about doing it the best. Instead of determining whether you’d like all of your podcast episodes to download automatically, as it the case in Downcast, you can select individual shows to auto-download in Pocket Casts 4.

Set up auto-downloads from the Podcasts view or in the settings.

Set up auto-downloads from the Podcasts view or in the settings.

By default, auto-downloads only work on Wi-Fi. However, you can turn on an option that allows you to use mobile data. Of course, the mobile data option will only work if your iPad has data connectivity.

Filters & Playlists

The Podcasts view, which displays all of your subscribed podcasts in a gridview, is accessible from the main view. The Episodes view from the previous version of Pocket Casts, however, has been replaced with dynamic episode filters. Episodes automatically appear in episode filters based on each filter’s settings. For example, the Unplayed episode filter displays all episodes you’ve yet to begin playback of, while the Video episode filter displays all your video episodes (regardless of whether they’re unplayed or have been downloaded).

Episode filters is an odd title, but makes for a very good feature.

Episode filters is an odd title, but makes for a very good feature.

Most of the default episode filters were already present in the previous version of Pocket Casts, just not in this new context. What’s really new, though, is you can edit the settings of each episode filter, and even create new episode filters. You can also create playlists, but I find them to be less useful than creating an episode filter; simply because playlists require you to manually add episodes.

Playlists require manual steps, which isn’t as convenient as episode filters.

Playlists require manual steps, which isn’t as convenient as episode filters.

Player

When you begin playback of a podcast episode, a mini-player will display at the top of the screen. Designed similarly to the player controls in iTunes, you can see the playback progress bar (though it’s not interactive), and quickly skip, pause/resume and change the volume level. Accessing the full player is achieved by tapping the mini-player (swiping won’t work).

The Show Notes and Up Next queue can also be accessed by swiping left or right from the player.

The Show Notes and Up Next queue can also be accessed by swiping left or right from the player.

Compared to the iPhone version of Pocket Casts 4, the player’s UI is both familiar and different in the iPad version. Portrait mode is nearly identical to its iPhone counterpart, with very large artwork and controls displayed at the bottom. One difference is that the Show Notes and Up Next queue are both accessible via a single icon in the upper-right. Landscape mode, on the other hand, displays the Show Notes and Up Next queue side-by-side with the artwork, which I find to be preferable.

Podcasts Directory

The podcasts directory, which is where you can subscribe to podcasts, is quite good in Pocket Casts 4. Instead of being condensed into a single view with multiple list options (like some other podcasts apps), the podcasts directory feels more like a store within the app (e.g. the book store in iBooks). Accessible by tapping the + icon in the upper-right in nearly every view, the directory is divided into four tabs — Featured, Top Charts, Networks and Categories — with a search option in the upper-right. Each tab is uniquely designed, and combined, makes it easy to find new podcasts.

The podcasts directory offers a far more pleasing browsing experience compared to the previous version.

The podcasts directory offers a far more pleasing browsing experience compared to the previous version.

The Bottom Line

Overall, Pocket Casts 4 for the iPad is a very good podcast management tool. However, I did encounter a weird issue that’s not found in the iPhone version. All episode filters in the iPhone version include an action sheet that’s accessible via an icon in the upper-right; allowing you to play or download all episodes, or edit filter settings. For the life of me, I can’t seem to find the same action sheet in the iPad version.

As for accessibility, I was disappointed to discover that Pocket Casts 4 doesn’t quite make the grade. The app’s downfall is improperly labeled buttons — generically referred as “button” when using VoiceOver — making the app unusable for individuals with vision impairments.

If you own an iPad and iPhone, there’s no question in my mind that Pocket Casts 4 is the best overall podcast management available on iOS. While not perfect, syncing is handled very well in comparison to other apps, and the app’s overall experience is quite satisfying. If you’re a lone iPad user in search of a podcast management app, Pocket Casts 4 is a quality choice and should be heavily considered.


Summary

Download, stream and sync your favorite podcasts.

9