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Pocket Casts: A Full-Featured Podcast App That Doesn’t Need iTunes

Last week I decided it was about time for me to subscribe to some podcasts I had been keeping an eye on, but never really considered as an option for my free time. Podcasts are so 2001, I know, but I’ve never subscribed regularly to any of them. Plus, I have noticed a dramatic increase in the quality of tech podcasts lately, mainly thanks to the empire built by 5by5′s Dan Benjamin and a few other gems like Minimal Mac’s Enough or Shawn Blanc’s Today. I have to admit, though, that it was the B&B Podcast (also by Shawn Blanc and Benjamin Brooks) to convince me to go ahead and finally enter the podcasting scene as an active listener.
There’s a huge problem with the way iTunes and iOS handle podcasts by default: they can’t be streamed off the internet / iTunes. You have to download every single episode locally, plug the cable in, sync, waste space and listen. All of this could be easily fixable if only Apple offered a way to stream podcasts via WiFi or 3G, considering how much they’re similar to radio or Internet video shows. As soon as I remembered about this iTunes limitation, I started looking for 3rd party apps that would allow me to import podcasts I already had subscribed to in iTunes, but stream them without the need of syncing. Cody reviewed Instacast, a great and elegant app to manage your podcasts on the iPhone. I, however, stumbled upon Pocket Casts, a beautiful and powerful application for iPhone that enables you to import podcasts from the iPod app or add them manually via URL, manage them and stream them.
Pocket Casts is literally packed with features: it can stream podcasts or download them for offline access; it presents podcasts you’re subscribed to in a beautiful grid in the main screen; it lets you read episode’s descriptions as well as search for popular podcasts to add to the grid or manually enter a new one. The fact that this app enables you to search by name, browse popular and add by URL is a huge advantage over other apps like Instacast that won’t let you paste a podcast’s feed URL. For example, Pocket Casts correctly imported Shawn Blanc’s Today podcast (which is not available on iTunes), whilst Instacast failed in the process. With Pocket Casts you can stay assured you can build the podcast library you want.
Streaming works exceptionally well both over 3G and WiFi: tap on a podcast, hit the streaming icon and audio will start coming in — it will also stay in the background if you close the app and you can send it to an external speaker using AirPlay. Video podcasts, though, won’t be converted to audio-only if you close the app, unlike Instacast. I look forward to a future update to Pocket Casts that will bring the possibility to listen to video podcasts in the background.
Anything else about Pocket Casts is really well done. The user interface design is beautiful and you can even switch between multiple themes, plus you can change the grid’s thumbnails to small size if you a have a large collection and you don’t feel like scrolling all the time. Another nice touch is the “pull to refresh” gesture to update the podcast list and check for new episodes available.
At $1.99 in the App Store, Pocket Casts is a must-have if you’re looking for a powerful (yet user-friendly and great looking) way to manage your podcast collection without being forced to use iTunes. Recommended.