An androidXperience: Pocket Casts 4 - The Premiere Podcasting Application for Android

The wait is over. The end-all be-all of podcast management applications has arrived for the Android operating system. Pocket Casts 4 by Shifty Jelly is bringing the awesome. So what's different? In one word? Everything. 

So let's quickly go over some of the highlights: 

  • New look: "Completely redesigned, completely awesome, modern Android user interface."
  • Holo design: "We've kept a close eye on the Android design guidelines while building the simplest and most powerful Pocket Casts interface yet."  
  • Tablet support: "We’ve targeted Nexus 7 and 10, and it looks great on others too."
  • Server based podcast parsing saves time & bandwidth: "Pocket Casts delegates podcast parsing to our online servers - it has friends in the cloud. Other clients spend time at launch checking each subscription one-by-one to see if there are any updates. Pocket Casts makes one call to one server and receives many results at once."
  • Powerful smart playlists: "Users can create smart playlists to match whichever criteria they'd like. Want a list of every downloaded but unplayed podcast? How about a list of video episodes that you haven’t downloaded yet? Easy with smart playlists."
  • Free syncing: "Cross-device syncing of your subscriptions, playlists and play states on every Android device you own. We *love* this feature." 
  • Backup service: "Remote backup. You can now drop your phone in a toilet and not lose your podcasts. Buying a new phone and setting it up has never been easier."
  • Native variable speed playback: "You no longer need to purchase a third party plugin to change playback speed."

Have these new and amazing features wet you appetite for more? Below is a gallery that even an iOS fanboy can appreciate:

 

So the next question is why is an application of this caliber making it's debut on Android first over the rival iOS platform? Here is a quote from our friend Russell Ivanovic at Shifty Jelly answering this very question. 

On Android there is no native podcasting solution, and we see a massive potential to fill that space. There are other apps out there, but we feel we have what it takes to become the dominant podcasting app on that platform.
— http://blog.shiftyjelly.com/2013/02/20/why-android-first/

Now how about that review: 

For starters, let's take note of the new icon. I like it. Here is a quick before and after comparing version 3 to version 4. The two icons below tell a better story about the direction in design the developers have taken with Pocket Casts 4. It's clean, minimal and modern. 

 

Now onto Pocket Casts 4. You are first presented with a grid of all your subscribed podcasts. If you don't have a list to import, don't worry. Pocket Casts 4 makes it an easy and enjoyable experience to find great content. In the upper right corner of your podcasts you will see a number representing every new and unplayed podcast or and unread badge (circle) for those podcasts you include in a smart playlist.

The top bar consists of shortcuts giving you quick access to the menu pane (left), a quick add option taking you directly to the Podcast Discovery pane (middle) and a settings toggle to quickly sort your list of subscriptions (right). The bottom Now Playing bar is consistent across the bottom as you browse through your podcasts or search for new content. 

By tapping the Now Playing bar, you are immediately taken to the Now Playing interface where you also have an options bar that resides on the top with shortcuts tailored to the Now Playing functions. The Pocket Casts 4 icon takes you back to your subscription list (left). The "1x" button (middle left) gives you instant access to playback speed ranging from 0.5x up to 3.0x for you speed listeners out there. The share button (middle right) gives you the same share functionality you have in Pocket Casts 3 with a quick share menu followed by the typical Android share menu. Then you have the settings toggle (right) offering you sleep times, show notes, "stop" and "stop & mark as played" options. At the bottom of the Now Playing interface, you have your skip forward and back buttons which are adjustable of course and a pause/play button that resides in the middle between the two just as it should be. Another nice gesture tweak included is found by swiping up on the album art. This gives you all your podcast show notes in a clean and  scrollable feed.

Now let's move on to podcast discovery. Finding new content to add to your subscription list is really easy and can be found from virtually anywhere in the app. SImply locate and press the new and improved Pocket Casts 4 icon in the top left of the navigation bar and you will be taken directly to the navigation menu where the Discovery tab sits right below the Podcasts tab. Let's take a closer look at the Discovery options.  

Once in the Discovery section, you will swipe to the left to get access to all the tabbed sections of the Discovery Store (as I call it.) The tabs in order from left to right are as follows: Featured, Popular, Top Videos, Networks and finally Categories where any category selected provides you with a list view of the related podcasts. If you can't quickly find what you are looking for, a search button is in the top right with a quick list of results available to you after you finish your search entry. 

Now let's get into some of my favorite things about Pocket Casts 4. One of the greatest design changes to me is the episode list view. It is just so damn pretty. Now let's get back to the navigation bar up top for a minute. In the episode list view, you have your consistently present Pocket Casts 4 icon for quick access to the sliding menu panel. And across from left to right, you have the share button, the "mark all as played button", and the settings toggle with options to "download all", "sort episodes", "hide played episodes" or even "unsubscribe". What I love about the design choices here is how the playback buttons are dynamic. To clear things up, check out the screen grabs below: 

This podcast has an episode queued for download and a list of older episodes that have either been listened to or have or are older episodes posted prior to adding the subscription to my list. 

This podcast has a list of episodes which have already been downloaded and are ready for play. 

This podcast has a number of things going on. There are two episodes ready for download. One episode currently streaming and playing and another episode currently downloading. 

Notice that whatever podcast list you are looking at, your currently playing podcast remains visible at the bottom of the screen. 


What about those new features? Well let's dig into the settings options to see what makes this new version of Pocket Casts so special. To get to the main settings panel, simply tap on the Pocket Casts 4 icon in the top navigation bar and at the bottom of the sliding panel you will see your settings icon. Let's go line by line and see what settings options exist in this new release:

  • Playback: This is where you can set how far ahead and back you skip within a podcast (this is new to Android as you are no longer required to install a 3rd party plugin to use this feature.) You can set your video orientation, headset controls and lock screen controls. 
  • Episode Updates: This is where you decide on how you would like your feeds to update. Whether it be when you open the app or at a particular time interval. It will pull those new podcasts with the same auto downloading goodness you are used to seeing in Android. You can also choose to download over Wifi only if you fear bandwidth might be a problem. 
  • Notifications: Want to be alerted when there is a new episode of a podcast you want to listen to? Check the box , set your alert tone and or vibrate options here.
  • Sync: If there was one true killer feature of Pocket Casts 4, this would be it. Set up your Pocket Casts account and enjoy a seamless save state between Android devices. Also added are backup and restore options should you lose or switch to another device. This is true cloud syncing and it is all handled by the Pocket Casts team. 
  • Storage: There is no longer a need to worry about podcasts taking up all your available device memory. Right from the options menu, you have the option to store your podcasts directly to an external storage card. 
  • Export: If you are looking for an easy way to export a subscription list for some reason or another, that option is still there as well.
  • About: Have questions or suggestions?

Pocket Casts 4 has Smart Playlist capabilities as well. In the screen shot above, you can see a number of smart playlists available to me that were preset upon installation of the app. Some are the standard popular smart lists such as Audio only, Video only, Downloaded (for offline play) and Unplayed podcasts. If you are looking for a more tailored list. You can create one right here. Just head down to the bottom of the sliding menu panel to find "+ New Smart Playlist".


Making a smart playlist is very easy. Check out the photo above to see a few that I have put together. (Morning Ritual, Favorites, Bible Study)

  1. Choose your playlist name. 
  2. Assign an icon. (This will make it easy to spot in the playlists section of th sliding menu panel.)
  3. Pick a play status.
  4. Pick a podcast type (Audio or Video).
  5. (Optional) Select all podcasts as to have your entire podcast library in a playlist.
  6. Pick a download status.
  7. Choose a sort order.
  8. Choose Starred or Non-Starred pisodes.
  9. Choose whether or not to "Auto Download".
  10. Choose whether to "Auto Download" over Wifi only.
  11. Choose whether to "Auto Download" if only your are plugged in and charging.

Name your smart playlist.

Here is a look at your icon options.

 

Shifty Jelly took their very well designed, well executed and stable podcast management application that they had in version 3 and not only raised, but set the bar very high for it’s competition.

So after that extensive look at all that Pocket Cast 4 has to offer, does it deliver the goods? Pocket Casts 4 has almost everything you would want in a podcast app. I would still like to see individual podcast settings, bookmarking capabilities and a well designed widget to compliment the application but those are some features I am willing to overlook for now. In my opinion, Shifty Jelly took their very well designed, well executed and stable podcast management application that they had in version 3 and not only raised, but set the bar very high for it's competition. Pocket Casts 4 leaves very little on the table for it's present and future Android rivals in terms of design and the included feature set. The Android operating system is getting more attractive with every day that passes and hard work and dedication by some determined developers are one of the reasons why.


Pocket Casts 4 is soon to be available in the Google Play Store and it will be a free update to existing users.