As many people who know me are aware, Podcasts have almost replaced TV and movies as my main entertainment/knowledge source. I like watching TV, but I love my 30+ hours of podcasts I subscribe to each week. I’ve been listening to them since Steve Jobs introduced them to the “mainstream” back in 2005. As my podcast/netcast subscription grew and grew I became more and more locked into using iTunes on my computer. This was due to the fact I listened to and watched these podcasts on both my computer as well as my iPod and later my iPhone. I needed that ability to keep everything in sync.
As I would go on vacations away from my computer, and now attempting the pseudo Post-PC era even at home, I’ve kept an eye out for something to allow me to enjoy my Podcasts directly on my devices, without the need to try to manage everything with my computer. I’ve tried a few at this point, and iCatcher by Joeisanerd has been the only one to hold my attention.
$1.99 – Version 1.6 Works natively on iPhone, iPod Touch, & iPad
Requires iOS 4.0 and above. iPhone 3G will work, but it is slower and doesn’t play audio in the background when the app closes. Some features require iOS 5.
I’ve tried a few different podcasting apps. I started off with Podcaster ($1.99) when I would go on vacation without my computer so I could keep up to date with Tech news without having to play catch up for the previous week when I got back. Worked pretty well, but was a nuisance to figure out what I had or hadn’t listened to when I would sync back up to my computer back home.
When I got my iPad I started looking for other apps to use and ran across Instcast ($1.99). Was very similar to Podcaster, but did have some nice search functions. The problem is it had the same problems that I ran into that cause me to search for a new app in the first place: No syncing function and no native iPad support. Yes it would go full screen and almost fill up the screen at x2… but the interface was very apparently designed for the iPhone.
OK… so what do I want out of a Podcast app?
With that experience I narrowed down my criteria. Any podcasting app that I’d want would need to have both iPad and iPhone support. At minimum it would need the ability to sync across my devices (and ability to sync to iTunes would be a plus). Controls on how and when to sync would be required. And not having to manually delete after watching as well as having multiple playlists (smart and manual) would be useful.
iCatcher hits almost all of these points perfectly.
So let’s walk through using this thing…
First thing you’ll want to do it set up your default settings. Although you can retroactively apply settings to all your podcasts (as I unfortunately learned the hard way), it’s better to just set this up at the beginning. You have a number of options you can set:
- Media Backup – This allows you to either include your downloaded podcasts in your iOS backup. Not recommended if you use iCloud as your backup as it will fill up quickly
- iCloud Sync – My Favorite! This allows podcasts to be marked as played on your other iOS devices, as well as mark (mostly) where you left off a podcasts across devices.
- Use settings – This includes settings about Appearance (How it looks), Application events (time between refreshes, alerts, etc), Gestures (swipe to rewind, to change speeds, etc), Playback (what to do when done playing a podcasts, episode cleanup), and Sounds (sound settings for events)
- Daily Tips – helpful tips on how to use the app
- Podcast Defaults – These effect all new podcasts that you add to the app. However if you find that you forgot to set something and want to effect it globally to each podcast, there is a “reset all” option to set that setting everywhere (which I found out the hard way).
- Backup or Share Podcast – f backing up you can select here what to include or exclude. Again… not recommended if backing up to iCloud.
- Import Media – not technically a setting…. but located here. YOu can place audio or video files into iTunes and “share” them with this app.
The Podcast tab has two functions. The first is to add new podcasts. iCatcher does this 4 ways. The first is a great search dialog. Type in subject (Author, Title, Category) and it will bring back a list of everything in its directory. Macworld has a good review of this function over at their site. Second way is to manually added it by the RSS feed address. This also give you the option to enter a username and [password if it’s a protected feed. Another way is to just browse the web. Any site that has a RSS button can be opened directly in iCatcher. Last is the way I imported everything – an OPML file. Most podcatcher programs can export your list of podcasts as an OPML text file, and iCatcher will import that list directly into the app. No need to search for each for your 20+ podcasts.
Once everything is set up, the Podcast tab will show each podcast’s info. How many new podcasts are ready to be listen to / watched. It will show all episodes that are listened in the feed as well as how many it has already downloaded for you to listen offline. You can also swipe across a podcast (or episode) and additional options will show up.
From within the Podcast tab you can select each podcast and bring up additional information and settings. It shows a description and album art up top with a list of all available podcasts. You can mark all the episodes in the list as played, new, for download or streaming, as well as showing older episodes that are in the feed but not showing up in your list. you can delete all episodes shown in the feed or just one played. you can even tweak the global settings for the individual episodes. Great if you want to only stream this podcast, update the feed more or less frequently, or change how many episodes of the particular podcast to keep.
So you have all your podcasts imported. Now what? you can either use some of the default playlists, or you can create your own. Each can have their own name and image. Each can have specific settings (what podcast to include or exclude). You can set it by keywords, or if you want to get specific by episode. You can specify if you want only video or audio, or both. For your playlists you can set it to use continuous play (or play the next one in the list once the previous one is done). It’s an odd exception to not have in the default playlists, but nice that it’s included in ones you can set up.
Once you’ve chosen a playlist, you can do further editing. Clicking on the album art will select each episode. Then you can delete the episode, mark them as played or just remove it from the list. You can also set the sort order. Everything from oldest to newest, newest to oldest, by title, or manual sort are available to you.
The playlist also gives you information on the episodes in the list. On the right edge shows if it’s a audio or video episode. Under that is the date that episode was released. Beneath the episode name it will show the length as well as how much you’ve already seen. If you have the iCloud option turned on, this should be reflected the viewing times on other iOS devices as well.
What would a podcast program be without its viewer? All podcasts can be watched n landscape or portrait view, both allowing full screen. You can do all the normal things (play/pause, fast forward rewind). You also have buttons to skip forward or back 30 seconds, and with gestures enabled even a “Leo Skip” which will skip 2 minutes. Play back speeds are available in 3/4thX, 1X, 1.25X, 1.5X and 2X. I find that the 2X distorts most podcasts too much, so if speeding up i keep it to 1.25X or 1.5X. One thing to note (and not sure if this is a big or not) each playback setting is per podcast. If you set it to 2X you’ll need to do it again for the next podcast. It’d be nice to see a global setting available for this.
Clicking the upper right album artwork will bring up the show notes (if available). All with clickable links. You also have some interesting sharing options. Clicking the share icon (that box with the arrow in it on the lower right) will allow you to tweet the episode, email it, save it to your camera roll, email the show notes, or set a sleep timer. This last option is especially nice if you are the type of person that likes to listen to podcasts as you go to bed.
The app also allows for background play. So you can listen to your podcast while playing Angry Birds, or surfing the web. You can set it to not go to sleep in the settings or even force video to play in landscape mode (all set in the settings section).
Also not immediately apparent is the ability to use airplay. So for those that watch video podcasts and like to watch on your big screen that option is available to you. Or even if your just doing audio or an enhanced podcast you can stream those out as well. It also has a video out feature allowing you to use the HDMI and VGA out options even if you don’t have the mirroring option (which is currently only available on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2).
TLDR… Do I Want it?
This is the best rounded Podcast app out there right now. The inclusion of a native iPad and iPhone makes it stand out from its competition. Importing and searching for podcasts is simple with many options if you want to tweak things. With the inclusion of iCloud support to sync podcasts across devices makes it feasible to use this on multiple devices. Playback is good and the ability to speed up (or slow down) episodes is appreciated.
The only negatives I can think of is that I’d like to see some sort of Mac App to sync up with (for viewing on the computer) but not sure that’s in the cards. The oddity of playback speed being per podcast might be a feature or a bug, but something that’s easily overlooked in its use. Especially if you never change it from 1X. Enhanced podcasts with chapters don’t show up right, although chapter artwork does update as you play it. It be nice to have iCloud also sync what podcast feeds are in each (as in I add a new podcast on one device and it shows up on my other devices). So I suppose my negatives are more of a wish list than true “negatives”.
The only true glitch is that a lot of times if you have a podcast set to delete after its played, a lot of time the iCloud syncing won’t catch it and mark it as played on your other devices. A little annoying at times but for the most part only means that you need to go through every month or so and delete the ones that aren’t updated. There is a “reset iCloud” option, but if the episode isn’t there it won’t update on your other devices.
If you are looking to be freed from a computer based podcast manager, iCatcher is the way to go.
UPDATE 12/10/11: Just a heads up. With the most recent update (1.6.1) iCloud functionality has been broken on my iPad. There’s a good troubleshooting document the company has provided at http://joeisanerd.com/blog/2011/11/23/troubleshooting-icatcher-icloud-sync/ which allowed me to get iCloud functionality working on my iPhone (in my case deleting, restarting my phone and reinstalling) but my iPad still locks up if I try to access the iCloud options. Hopefully this will be addressed in a future issue. It doesn’t appear to be a wide spread bug since I can’t find any posts about it elsewhere, but something to be aware of if using the current version.
UPDATE 1/14/12: iCatcher is now at version 1.7.1 and is now acting like it did before… without the crashing sync issues. The developer (below in the comments) has said that he is working on fixing the “delete/mark as play’d” bug when syncing subscriptions between devices. So look forward to that in the future. For now though everything in the review still holds true. The most recent update includes a few things (like sleep as it’s own button) but still the same good basic program.