I listen to between 40 and 60 hours of podcasts a week. I also get several vodcasts which take the place of TV in my life. Listening to and watch the majority (I’d guess 95%) of these on my iPhone and iPad, my biggest complaint is always syncing them over from my computer. I’ve been using iTunes to aggregate my podcasts for over five years with little complaint. Now that I have Downcast, I have even less to complain about.

Downcast is a universal app that allows you to subscribe to podcasts and vodcasts and have them automatically download to your iOS device without any effort on your part. I’ve tried a few apps that advertise that they can do this, but none delivered. When I heard about this one, I was skeptical at first, but it won me over VERY quickly.

The search feature of Downcast is extremely robust. You can search by name or by topic and get a very complete list. The app allows you to read descriptions of each podcast, and view the available episodes (and individual episode descriptions) before you subscribe. Once you subscribe, the newest episode will download in the background unobtrusively. You can then adjust the settings to download only the most current episode or all new episodes. It’s all very flexible and global download/keep settings can be overridden on a per-podcast basis! It will refresh at almost any interval you want, as well, displaying a badge on the springboard to alert you a download has begun. Also, don’t worry, you can change the settings to ensure it only downloads when you have a WiFi connection, so no surprise data overages.

Once you’ve got your list, playback is as easy as pie. You can pick episodes individually, or you can make smart playlists inside the app. I was quickly able to set up one for podcasts and one for vodcasts. Both sort by the oldest episodes (grouped by show) and remove themselves after they’re played automatically. You can also play shows as a stream while they’re still downloading, or even by default (with a choice in the settings). Playback also features the ability to fast forward or rewind in 15 second and 30 second chunks, something greatly lacking from the iPod player. This means you can easily skip over any possible spoilers or those obligatory “words from our sponsors”.

Another useful setting is the deletion options. If you don’t delete podcasts, they’re going to take up all of your iDevice’s storage space in no time (especially vodcasts). Downcast gives you the option to delete podcast manually, have them auto-delete by age, or auto-delete once they’re played. Nothing is left to be desired here.

I have two small requests of the developer, which I’ve already mentioned on Twitter with positive response: The app could really use a setting to make the badge appear for unplayed podcasts. I don’t always notice when it’s downloading and may miss when I have something new. Secondly, it would be awesome to have the app able to sync your played/unplayed items between iOS devices (ie: if you watch it on your iPad, it won’t still show as new on your iPhone). I have a feeling that second one can be done once iCloud shows up in iOS5. The good news is that both issues are already being addressed by the developer for future updates.

In Conclusion

Downcast is a podcast fan’s dream. No more being tethered to your desktop or laptop for shows, which is even better when traveling. I couldn’t ask for a better design, and it’s well worth the very small $1.99 price being asked.

Jade’s Recommended Podcast List
  • Art of Wrestling – Interviews with great wrestlers, hosted by Colt Cabana
  • Best of YouTube – Just what it sounds like.
  • Buzz Out Loud – Tech news.
  • Chikara – Weekly wrestling matches from the best indy wrestling company out there.
  • Dilbert Animated Cartoons – A great comedic take on 9-5 office work.
  • Geologic Podcast – Science, skepticism, and comedy. Brilliant.
  • Hollywood Babble-On – Kevin Smith and Ralph Garmond take on pop culture. Hilarious, but not for the wee-ones.
  • Lio Animated Cartoons – My favorite comic strip brought to life.
  • NPR: Talk of the Nation – Very intelligent news programs.
  • NPR- Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me – Hilarious news quiz show.
  • The Portable Podcast – Seriously, why aren’t you listening to this?
  • Skeptoid – Weekly 10 minutes of skeptic.
  • The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe – Science news.
  • Star Talk – Science podcast with Neil DeGrass Tyson
  • We Talk Games – A very robust gaming podcast that I usually appear on.