When the luminaries at Apple first conceived of the iPod, the goal was to start a revolution in the way music was consumed. The device was a success in that regard, allowing people to carry a wealth of music on the go, but Apple didn’t likely anticipate that its little device would cause a seismic shift in radio programming. The term “Podcast” has since become ubiquitous, as programs like Serial have become pillars of modern culture. Essentially talk programs in digital format, podcasts have their roots in the early days of the Internet, when services provided shows to radio stations in digital formats. It wasn’t until the dawn of high-speed Internet and the rise of portable media players, however, that digital radio shows could be widely distributed.
The idea of providing talk shows on the Internet may seem mundane, after all, what isn’t available on the Internet these days? Nonetheless, the rise of the podcast brought an unprecedented democratization of programming. Unlike traditional radio, podcast hosts can produce shows in their living room on any topic they choose, without being shackled by FCC regulations. Today there are hundreds of thousands of podcasts flitting about on the Web, covering every topic imaginable, including true crime, history, even gastronomy. And although podcasts are still a niche product, they’ve been steadily growing in popularity over the last decade alongside the smartphone.
For those new to podcasts, though, getting started may seem daunting. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to download and listen to a podcast. And while you could download a podcast from its homepage, there are several apps available for both iOS and Android platforms that allow you to download and sort episodes. Dubbed “podcatchers,” these apps are available on various systems and are generally cheap (or even free).
How to use podcatcher apps
A good podcatcher ought to do at least two things: it should have a comprehensive library of podcasts, and it should make it easy to listen to them. Such apps will typically have a clean, easy-to-navigate layout. Pocket Casts, for example, offers tabs for finding trending podcasts, featured podcasts, and the most popular podcasts, as well as a search bar so users can look for specific programs.
Selecting the “Top” tab brings up a list of the most popular podcasts among Pocket Casts’ users. One of the most efficient things about podcast apps is that they let you subscribe to a podcast rather than having to download individual episodes. On apps such as Pocket Casts, subscribing is as simple as tapping a button, in this case the “+” symbol next to a podcast’s name.
Once you are subscribed to a podcast, the app will typically alert you when a new episode is available, and give you the ability to manually download episodes, in this case by tapping the download button next to an episode’s name.
Clicking on the button to bring up the options menu — represented by the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner in Pod Casts — will bring up additional options for an individual episode, such as the ability to every episode.
Some podcatchers will also automatically download the latest episodes of podcasts you subscribe to. In the case of Pocket Casts, this is an option that users must turn on from the podcast’s main settings.
That is really all there is to it. Podcatchers make downloading podcasts onto iOS and Android devices far, far easier than the old fashioned way of downloading podcasts from a site and uploading them to a phone’s hard drive. These apps also tend to have extra features designed to enhance user experience, such as the ability to speed up or slow down audio.
There are many podcast apps out there, and some are better than others. Below are our picks for some of the more noteworthy ones, including the aforementioned Pocket Casts.
Best apps for Podcasts
Pocket Casts ($4)
As you might have deduced by now, Pocket Casts is an inexpensive app that’s available on most platforms. In addition to its library of more than 200,000 podcasts, the app is fairly simple to use, and presents information with clean design. In addition to the core features, Pocket Casts offers an array of additional functions designed make life easier. There are notifications to alert users if a podcast they subscribe to has new episodes, voice balance to ensure that all the speakers on a show sound about the same, and playback speed for those who want to blitz through their daily playlist. Users can also stream episodes rather than download them, saving storage space. At $4, Pocket Casts is one of the more expensive podcatchers around, but it’s well worth the cost.
Download it now from:
Committed iOS users may find Overcast to be their best option for podcast listening. Designed purely for iOS, Overcast has a minimalist interface that suits Apple’s design philosophy. Like Pocket Casts, this app has features such as customizable playlists, voice normalizing, and variable playback speeds, so users can listen to podcasts the way they want. There is also a sleep timer, so users can listen to a podcast as they fall asleep. Overcast’s library of podcasts is extensive, and discovering new programs is easy. The app is also designed to work on Apple Watch, making it one of the most versatile podcatchers for Apple fans.
Download it now from:
Stitcher Radio (Free)
Though likely the biggest name in podcast apps, Stitcher is not quite as robust as apps like Overcast. The app provides the basic features users need in a podcatcher, such as the ability to subscribe and make playlists, but it lacks quality-of-life features like sleep timers. The app can also be a bit buggy, meaning it’s prone to long load times, crashing, and the like. It’s free, too, though the app has ads as a result. Stitcher is fine for those who just want a free way to collect podcasts, but those who can afford something like Pocket Casts or Overcast will likely still find the money well spent.
Download it now from:
Google Play Music
Google just added podcast support into Google Play Music, and while it’s still in its early stages without as many features as apps like Pocket Casts, it eliminates the need to download another podcast app for most Android users. The app will contextually serve up a podcast, based on what you’re doing, what you’re interested in, or what you’re feeling. Of course, you can just search for your favorite podcast and hit subscribe — from there you can download the last few episodes, or turn on notifications for future episode releases.
Download it now from:
Apple Podcasts app (Free)
Believe it or not, but Apple fans don’t have to look far for a capable podcatcher. The company’s native podcast app is already baked into iOS devices, allowing users to discover and subscribe to a variety of different programming. Not surprisingly, the aptly-titled Podcasts fits into Apple’s larger ecosystem, and syncs with users’ iTunes accounts. If you subscribe to a podcast on iTunes, for instance, the app will recognize your choices. Unfortunately, the app can be annoying to navigate, which makes creating playlists and deleting episodes a hassle. However, it’s still sufficient for simply downloading and listening to podcasts on an iPhone, but it cannot compare with the ease and utility of an app like Overcast.
Download it now from:
Manually downloading: the old-fashioned way
The most direct way to download an episode of a podcast is to simply download it from the source. Most podcasts allow users to download or stream episodes directly from a site, so if you want to listen to podcasts on a computer, this is one way to go about it. If you have an Android phone, this is a quick and easy way to get a specific episode on your device.
Typically, there’s a download link that you can click in order to save an episode to a specific spot on your hard drive. For example, when browsing Death, Sex, and Money’s website on a PC, right-click the download episode link, then select “Save link as…”.
At this point, a box will open prompting you to choose an appropriate save location on your computer, such as your desktop or Downloads folder.
At this point, the episode is saved on your computer, and you can open it with any media player that can handle the file type. To upload an episode to an Android device, simply connect it to the computer, which will allow you to browse the various files and folders on your phone. Android devices will usually have a folder marked “Podcasts,” and, naturally, this is a good place to save episodes. Copy or cut the file from your computer, and paste it to the Podcasts folder.
Now, the episode should be on your phone. You can listen to it with any audio app that plays the file type, such as Google Play.
If you only listen to the occasional podcast episode, or want to archive a podcast on your computer, manually downloading individual episodes may work. However, it can be an incredibly time-consuming process, and it will likely be too much of a hassle for podcast addicts. At some point, downloading individual podcasts seems as ludicrous as downloading an album one song at a time. For regular podcasts listeners, a podcatching app is far more efficient, saving time as well as sanity.
Updated on 04/18/16 by Julian Chokkattu: Added Google Play Music to the list of best apps to listen to podcasts from.