Writers have favorite bookstores. Chefs have favorite restaurants. And you probably have a favorite podcast app. You might have more than one. We're going to take a look at some of the best podcast apps for android & iPhone (or iOS!), so you can figure out which one is the best conduit for listening greatness.
Before we do that though, think for a moment about what kinds of podcasts you enjoy, and how you listen.
- Are you listening to interview or discussion shows, with just a few voices and a little bit of music at the beginning and the end?
- Do you listen to shows with multi-layered sound design, many distinct voices and cliffhanger content?
- Are you using your car's speakers while driving?
- Do you listen with headphones while multitasking or relaxing?
- Do you tell a smart speaker to play something while you go about your business?
- Are you hungry for story, thirsty for information, or just needing something to pass the time?
Whatever your needs are, there's a podcast app that focuses on your needs, and others that don't. Let's look at some features you find in different apps. This way, you can narrow down what you want most in a podcast listening app for your smartphone.
Car Listening and Navigation
If you listen to podcasts while driving, and your car was built after 2014, chances are good that your car has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto installed in its system. This system makes it easier for you to use your phone's apps (such as for navigation or listening) from a screen in your car's dashboard.
If you listen to podcasts while driving, you want a podcast listening app that has some grouping system (like queues). This way, you can use only one or two clicks to hear what you want. Distracted driving is not good.
Many people don't listen in the car. Some prefer to listen when they have their eyes and hands free to make choices.
Not all voices are alike, and some listeners want control over how podcast voices are presented. Many podcast listening apps allow users to control playback speed. Some shorten silences, rather than making the speaker sound like a chipmunk. If you want to hear your daily news podcast in a third of the time, this is a helpful feature.
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Another option is what's called “voice boost.” This makes the speaker's voice stand out from background sound more. If you listen to podcasts with multi-layered sound design, this helps you focus on the primary speakers, rather than have all sound wash together.
Organization and Discovery
Some people open up their podcast listening app and scroll through what's trending. Others want to hear their preferred podcasts right away. Some are in wi-fi enabled environments when they listen. Others can't stream, and have to download their favorites. What your podcast listening app lets you do with how and when you listen can be crucial to your enjoyment. You can open up a podcast listening app and feel you have to listen to what it tells you to. Other podcast listening apps feel like you open the closet and find the shirt you want, right away.
So, I've laid out some criteria:
- ease of navigation,
- audio customization,
- access to podcast selections and discovery.
Let's see how these features fit into different popular podcast listening apps for your smartphone. Whether you use an Android or an Apple iOS smartphone, these will be solid ways to get excellent listening experiences.
Apple Podcasts App & the Spotify App: The Big Two Podcast Listening Apps
Let's get the two biggest kids in the sandbox out of the way first. If you're surprised to learn that these two are not the finest podcast listening apps, I have some very sad news for you.
Neither Apple Podcasts nor Spotify offers anything unusual in terms of audio features. You can skip forward or back by 15 or 30 seconds. You can speed up the recording. They lack an option to boost voices or shorten silences. If there is an option to create a custom playlist in Apple Podcasts, it's not evident. You have to make do with options on individual episodes, such as “listen now” or “listen later,” in one queue.
In Spotify, close examination reveals a few tiny dots hidden in the episode screen. Once you've found an episode you want, you can add it to an existing playlist, or make a new one. The most telling element is that Spotify refers to podcast episodes as “songs.”
Both of these podcast listening apps are modeled on music listening apps. They're meant to drive traffic to products created by big studios. There are much better ways to listen to podcasts, made by people who love podcasts.
The Best Podcast App for Listening on Android: Pocket Casts
Before Spotify waltzed into the podcast scene, Pocket Casts was preferred by Android users. Though most podcast listening apps are free, this used to have a $4 price tag. PocketCasts moved to a “freemium” model in the fall of 2019. The app and most features are free. Subscription allows some special perks (such as 10GB of Cloud storage) for Plus subscribers. It's become popular, regardless of operating system.
Like others, this app defaults to a screen of listening suggestions. Your library of subscriptions is laid out in a quilt-like image. It's quite pretty and makes the most out of good podcast art. There are some curated lists, such as Better Bedtime. From the default screen, filters are an instant option (Pocket Casts' word for playlists or queues). They can be color-coded or marked with symbols.
Within each podcast's window, you have a settings button. This leads to a submenu of listening options, including:
- Auto-download (yes, you can choose to subscribe without downloading automatically, to preserve your device's memory),
- Intro skip (have you heard your favorite podcast's intro 20 times? It's okay, you can skip it)
- Auto-Archive lets you keep episodes you want to hear again.
- In the episode window, you have all the audio options, a sleep timer, and you can share the episode to social media.
Pocket Casts is like a good Lego piece. It's pretty, it fits into whatever listening experience you're trying to build, and you can share the experience with others easily.
The Best Podcast App for Listening on iPhone / iOS: Overcast
(If you don't like Pocketcasts…!)
Overcast has all the good features of Pocket Casts, without the visual prettiness and intro skip feature. It operates as if you already know what you want to hear. On first opening it shows no podcasts, but asks you to add some (rather than displaying ranked charts). Tapping the plus to the upper right shows some recommendation lists. Most of these lists are based on what users tapped the star button on each episode to recommend. Some lists show podcast networks, such as Slate or Maximum Fun.
The beauty of Overcast is in the custom queues and audio settings. You can:
- set different speeds, shorten silences, choose whether or not to boost the voices, and know that those settings will remain for each episode of that podcast
- create queues and set them up so that new episodes of the podcasts you added will automatically download to those queues.
- choose whether to have all podcasts stream, all download automatically, or whether to stream or download on a podcast-by-podcast basis.
If you spend time working in wi-fi-free environments, and need to save memory on your phone, this is ideal.
Overcast also lets you share episodes on social media, even letting you create a custom clip. The app is free, with a subscription option. For $9.99 a year, you can upload files, and remove the banner ads for other podcasts at the bottom of your app's screen. The banner ads aren't irritating, anyway. In fact, they're a great way to advertise your podcast.
If you know what you want, don't need your app to look a certain way, and do want to start listening to your preferred shows in a few clicks as possible, Overcast is your best choice of podcast listening app.
RadioPublic: a Pretty Podcast App for Listening on iOS & Android
If you don't know what you want to listen to, and need friendly suggestions, RadioPublic wants to be that friend. This company prides itself on curated lists of podcasts, and they're based on listener recommendations.
Rather than lists of genres, RadioPublic has stations based on content type (such as Interviews or Explainer Shows). The language is mood and activity based. For “Crime and Murder,” it says, “Tidy up the house to tales of transgression and lawlessness.”
Much like Overcast's Smart Playlist queues, they have Smart Folders. They have an Ask A Librarian feature, and you can add a HearMark to moments that you want to save. All in all, there's a cozy, friendly feel to the interface. It's like walking into an IKEA showroom when you're sad, looking at beautiful living rooms and bedrooms, feeling the potential for order and enlightenment, and walking out with a six-pack of white pillar candles, some organization bins, and a few throw cushions.
However, the interface is odd. There aren't options to change the audio playback. The surfeit of lists, channels, options and pretty photographs is confusing. The app has a tour to explain all of its features right away. When I tested the app, it crashed several times. I had too many things to read, tap or swipe, and not enough focus. It was hard to find the same option or menu more than once.
RadioPublic strives to help podcasters grow their audience and monetize their content. If you genuinely want to help podcast creators, RadioPublic is not a bad way to listen. Unfortunately, my user experience was not great. I spent a lot of time swiping the screen like a game of Fruit Ninja, instead of listening to podcasts.
Podchaser: The network that powers discovery
This isn't a mobile app, rather a web app. It's worth mentioning because it's a way to listen to podcasts that's very good. Podchaser is a web site which offers a social media element that others lack. Users can post reviews, create profiles, curate lists and connect with other podcast listeners and creators. It makes podcast listening more social and educational.
Podcast creators can expand their profiles to include credits, which enriches the user's experience. For example, let's say you're listening to A Scottish Podcast, Episode 7, Season 2, and you hear this character Bruce. He sounds familiar. You think, “where have I heard him before?” So, you can scroll down to see the cast, or type the actor's name, Karim Kronfli, into Podchaser's search engine. It'll come up with a list of all his podcast appearances as a voice actor. Next thing you know, your world of listening experiences is wider. This helps listeners find more episodes they enjoy, and helps artists promote their work.
The embedded player is only about as good as most web-based embedded players. It lets you skip a few seconds forward or back, and increase or decrease the playing speed. You can download a file directly to use in your own player. Realistically speaking, as an app, it's not. It doesn't have to be. Podchaser partners with RadioPublic. Ultimately, you can get all the goodness of Podchaser's community building via RadioPublic's app.
What's the Best Podcast App for you?
Podcast apps are often free, or at least have decent free versions. So, there's no reason that you can't try several and see what you think are the best podcast apps for iPhone or Android.
RadioPublic and Overcast both make it easy to migrate your subscriptions from one app to another. If you feel overwhelmed by the volume of podcasts in your old app, a scorched-earth approach might be best. Try starting with a fresh app, subscribe to the ones you remember, and forget about the ones you don't. Just don't experiment with a new podcast listening app while operating a car or heavy equipment.
What Next? Resources for Podcast Fans
- Now that you've got your best podcast app sorted out, what are the:
best headphones for listening to podcasts?
- Looking for some new shows to listen to? Check out our roundups on:
best fiction podcasts
best space podcasts
best health podcasts
best podcasts for kids
- We've talked here about listening apps. But what are the:
best podcast making apps?
- And if you're interested in launching your own podcast, here's our handy step-by-step guide on:
how to start a podcast
If you want more details about making a podcast, join us in The Podcast Host Academy. You'll have access to detailed courses, downloadable resources, and our weekly Live Q & A sessions, to answer any questions you may have.