A Podcast Pick(er)
I listen to podcasts everyday. So much so, it annoys my family and baffles my friends. But I love them. Being new to Windows Phone 8, I require a solid podcasting application in order to use the platform. iOS has had them for awhile, Android recently caught up, but does Windows Phone 8 have what I need?
Over time, my feed tends to grow and shrink depending on the quality of the shows, and the current topics I am enthusiastic about. Currently I subscribe to approximately 30 podcasts, and consume them all on my phone. I listen to my shows on the morning commute (Bluetooth streaming to myFord Touch), in the office through headphones, and around the house via a Bluetooth speaker. I tried multiple podcast applications, and after two weeks of usage, feel that I landed on a winner.
Starting the app up brings you to the Subscribed panel.
It lists the shows in alphabetical order, with a bottom row of buttons. From there, you can add a new feed, manually refresh your list of subscribed episodes, access settings, and find app/developer info. You can add a feed by searching the library of thousands of podcasts, or by manually entering in (or more likely pasting) an RSS link.
I didn't have to manually enter anything, as all my shows were found in the apps library. Scrolling anywhere in the app works as expected, thanks to the smoothness of the OS. You have the choice to stream episodes immediately, or download episodes for offline playback.
Next up is where I spend most of my time, the Unplayed listing.
Here, in order of download, are your favorite podcasts waiting to be played. No buttons, no options. Just click on the podcast you want to hear. (There is a setting that allows a podcast to immediately play on click, but I like to manually do that.)
The Episode panel displays cover artwork between the show title and episode name. A nice row of buttons allows you to skip to the previous episode or next episode in the list.
Best of all, there are customizable rewind and fast forward buttons. There can be preset to jump by 5, 10 or 30 second increments. Smack in the middle is the Play/Pause button. Swipe left for Show Notes, and the ability to upload to SkyDrive, share an episode link or post a link to Facebook and/or Twitter via the People Hub.
The next panel is simple and is rarely used. It displays actively downloading episodes.
Scroll to one more panel, and find the Playlist. Here you can create your own playlist of just the podcasts you want to hear now. There is only one playlist. An option exists to allow all downloaded podcasts to be automatically added to your playlist. Personally, I keep that option off and don't use the playlist feature.
I have the app set to refresh the feed on launch, and automatically download new episodes whenever I am on WiFi. I let the app delete episodes I manually skip or that get marked as played. (Windows Phone 8 restricts some downloads to both WiFi and power, but I haven't run into many 100MB+ episodes.) In general, I can listen to podcasts, stream via Bluetooth, and fast-forward over sections of the episodes with ease. Refreshing of my personal feed list is very fast, both over AT&T's 4G and my home WiFi. Occasionally, it takes an extra beat or two to startup and states it is "Resuming..." but is typically as responsive as any other good Windows Phone 8 app.
Sometimes the application can behave unexpectedly. I have discovered an issue where previously listened to podcasts pop back up in my Unplayed listing. Sometimes I manually remove an episode, and find it appearing once again. The last played position can also be lost, and has been doing so more frequently. I have emailed the developer, and they are looking into the issues I am experiencing.
If you enjoy listening to podcasts, care about the experience, and want to easily take your collection with you... check out Podcast Picker. It could use some additional features, and the developers could squash a bug here and there, but it is the best app I have found for consuming podcasts on my (current) favorite mobile platform. Give the app a Try, and if it works for you, please support the developer and give it a Buy! [$1.99]
App: Podcast Picker
Author: Volker Voecking Software Engineering
Test Platform: Nokia Lumia 925
BringCast [http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/bringcast/e5abef38-d413-e011-9264-00237de2db9e?signin=true] has a unique interface. Buttons are all over the place in this app. I do not like this approach, and the way episodes are presented in general is lacking. Over half of my imported subscriptions (via OPML) were added with broken feeds. I also can’t find them in the app’s built in database. That is deal breaker for me, but BringCast is not the only app to fail in this regard. However, it is the only app I know of that successfully imports feeds from OPML but refuses to sync with them. [$2.99]
iPodcast [http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/i-podcast/c0e9110d-5d75-4970-9937-1854393b3f0e] does not offer the importing of OPML files, so everything has to be manually added. Not a terrible fault, as others (including my top pick) are manual as well. However, not all of my shows can be found. I don’t love the interface, and find it too simple and a bit unintuitive at the same time. Settings are all on one page, and for the most part make sense. Users with multiple Windows Phone 8 devices will appreciate the playlist, metadata and played position syncing. [Free]
Pod.ding [http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/pod-ding/1bd6fb14-8380-47e4-950a-6fdd97323398] was one of my first podcasting apps on the platform. The one “bug” I found, that the developer informed me is inherent to Windows Phone 8, meant that the playback of podcasts would resume automatically if a Bluetooth source was disconnected. I would be listening to an episode on my commute, get out of my car, and notice audio playback was still in progress. OS based issue or not, many of the other podcast clients tested did not have this issue. The interface tries to do too much, and the settings pages are a nightmare with some items not displaying correctly. This app did find all my shows when I manually searched for them. No OPML import option is present though. [$1.49]
Podcast Lounge [http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/podcast-lounge/83bc0329-8e02-410e-b6d2-da3c0c1d971d] states they fixed the Bluetooth audio bug thanks to “BlueSmart” and it appears to be true. However, other apps not touting the feature also work fine. I don’t love the interface, and there is a disconnect between show listings. I am not sure why, but imported OPML feeds go into a Favorites list, with My Library remaining empty outside of manually added feeds. I don’t appreciate how unplayed episodes have to be dug up. The settings are hidden on multiple pages as well, with lots of empty space. [$1.99]
Podcatcher [http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/podcatcher/5d5cebe9-420a-4566-a468-04c94aa34d93] is the final app in my roundup. It has a dead simple interface. Only OPML export is support, and I am not sure why they couldn’t add import as well. The app just works, but it did not find all my shows. With those that it did find, it did not always display cover artwork properly. This could work for some, thanks to the simplicity, so the app is perfect for the novice user. [$0.99]