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Do podcasts have a face that only radio can love, as the old joke goes? The Pocket Casts ($4 in the iTunes Store) app puts podcasts’ best face forward, with a default main view that shows large thumbnails of the podcasts to which you’re subscribed ordered by the most recent episodes released. You can opt to have Pocket Casts show per-episode art for podcasts that offer that, too. It’s an attractive and neatly visual way to scan what you have available to listen to.
The latest major release of Pocket Casts, version 6, shipped in July 2016, and I reviewed version 6.5, which includes a variety of minor and major updates. Version 6 was the app’s first complete overhaul in its long history providing podcasts to iOS users. The app is fresh, fast, and fits people who want rapid access and quick triage to add to a current queue of episodes.
Pocket Casts can import existing podcast subscriptions in OPML format from various sources, including as exported from other indie podcast apps that offer an export option. The Discover section of Pocket Casts offers a searchable directory as well as modest but decent suggestions and genre categories to explore.
By default, new episodes from podcasts to which you subscribe download over Wi-Fi automatically, but you can tweak settings to include cellular downloads too, or enable or disable automatic download for individual podcasts. You can always stream episodes that aren’t downloaded.
To keep episode storage from ballooning out of control, Pocket Casts only keeps the most recently downloaded episodes and deletes episodes after playing. You can opt to keep more of every podcast or switch the setting on a per-subscription basis.
Pocket Casts’ triage options lets you add episodes at a tap to the bottom of a global Up Next queue. You can also choose for each podcast whether you want new episodes to queue themselves automatically as released. The app includes a Filter feature that’s like a smart playlist, letting you pick which podcasts, how recently released, and whether they’re starred. But the placement of the filters is a little awkward, and you can’t assemble static lists of preferred episodes—that only works in the Up Next queue.
The app offers the usual range of playback options: a scrubbing slider, variable playback speed, a snooze timer, and a volume boost. It can also trim silences, useful for snipping out the blank spaces in slower conversations. However, I find Pocket Casts trimming is a little too snippy, sounding in my tests too much like abruptly clipped audio.
Shifty Jelly charges separately for iOS (universal version), Android, and web. The web app costs $9, which seems like a steep price, despite its high-quality design and function. Syncing subscriptions, play positions, and other data across multiple copies of the app in iOS and among different platforms is free.
Pocket Casts’ simplicity targets people who have figured out the podcasts to which they want to listen, and who don’t spend a lot of time building playlists and switching between them, or triaging among a lot of episodes of subscribed podcasts to figure out which to listen to.
The graphical main screen approach and the straightforward Up Next queue pair nicely. Other features aren’t as deeply developed, but can be found in other apps with different strengths.