Every year when I get an email from Apple that a subscription for one of my apps is coming up for renewal, I like to rethink and reevaluate if the app is worth me continuing my subscription. Some of them are a no brainer to renew, like Ulysses and 1Password, but some have me struggling to stick with, like my favorite Podcast app.
Overcast has been my podcast app of choice for many years now. After using Apple’s Podcast app for awhile, Overcast provided features that just couldn’t be beaten. Not only is Smart Speed amazing but not having Voice Boost while listening to podcasts became a deal-breaker for me.
Marco Arment, the developer of Overcast, has also been someone I like a lot. I have been listening to his podcast Accidental Tech Podcast with his cohosts John Siracusa and Casey Liss, for over four years now. As an Indie Developer who builds and maintains Overcast all by himself, this is another reason I have supported Overcast for so long.
Smart Speed is excellent because it takes all the silent parts of podcasts and removes them, making the podcasts you listen to a bit shorter. Removing all the awkward pauses and delayed responses is great but Overcast also keeps track of all those removed silences and says I have saved an extra 628 hours by using the Smart Speed feature, which is pretty impressive.
Here is how Marco describes Smart Speed:
Pick up extra Speed without distortion with Smart Speed, which dynamically shortens silences in talk shows.
Conversations still sound so natural that you’ll forget it’s on — until you see how much extra time you’ve saved.
The Voice Boost feature was and has been a fantastic feature for listneing to podcast to this day. Here is another description from Marco on Voice Boost:
Boost and normalize volume so every show is loud, clear, and at the same volume.
Listen in more places, such as noisy cars, and still hear what everyone says without cranking the volume so high for quiet people that the loud ones blow your ears out.
Ultimately what Voice Boost does is make it so all the podcasts you listen to sound balanced. Many podcasters, especially those starting, might not have the best microphones or just have different voice volumes that can be hard to balance in editing. Voice Boost corrects all that and makes some very raw indie sounding podcasts listenable.
These two reasons alone are the reason I have used Overcast for so many years. It has been a podcast app that not only provided a new and exciting design compared to Apple’s very boring one, but these features made it so I could enjoy listening to podcasts more.
The problem is, Overcast has not changed much in the last couple years. This isn’t to say that a podcast app needs to have some significant redesign or monumental feature every year, but I feel the app is getting stale.
Smart Speed and Voice Boost are also some features that are not unique to Overcast anymore. Pocket Casts and Castro both have a Smart Speed or Trim Silence feature that works the same as in Overcast. Castro even has an Enhance Voices feature that is very similar if not the same as Voice Boost in Overcast.
Casto also offers something that Overcast does not: widgets and a better and more full-featured Apple Watch app. I have mentioned this before and will repeat that I like Marco Arment and will probably still support him even if I stop using Overcast because I want to support indie developers, but Overcast feels outdated and rusty.
Out of Pocket Casts, Castro, and all the other podcasts available in the App Store, Castro is the one that I always gravitate back to. Not only because it has similar features that I like in Overcasts, but because the way you view and listen to podcasts is very intuitive and makes sense.
When you subscribe to a podcast in Castro, it defaults to adding the new podcast episodes to your Inbox. From there, you can drop it into the Queue or select whether you want it to go at the beginning or last of the Queue. That alone makes me feel like I have more control over my podcasts. Instead of dealing with playlists, I can have all my podcasts drop into an Inbox to decide what to do from there.
Once you start playing a podcast in the Queue, they will continue to the next episode in the Queue until you tell it to stop. This is also really nice and something that I found frustrating with other apps. When a podcast would end and I didn’t start the eposide in a specific playlist the podcast would end, and I would have to fetch my phone to pick another podcast to play.
With Castro, you have no choice but to play what is next in the Queue, so unless you run out, which would never happen for me, podcast episodes will just keep playing. The simplicity of having only an Inbox and Queue feels right when it comes to podcasts and when you wish to listen to something. I also like that some podcasts that I don’t want to hear too regularly or right away can sit in my Inbox when I am ready, not interfering with the podcasts I am more eager to catch up on.
Castros Library and Discovery pages.
There is also a Library that lists all of the podcasts that you are subcribed to but rarley every go there since I can do everything I want from the Inbox. Discovery is also some that that is essential in every podcast app which allows you to find a podcast you want to subscribe too.
Another thing you can do, instead of always having to add podcast episodes to your Queue from the Inbox, is changing the default of where the new episodes go when a podcast releases a new one. For instance, when ATP releases a new episode, I set it up in Castro to automatically add it to be next in the Queue. So it bypasses the Inbox and is ready to play next after whatever podcast I am listening to currently.
Besides the way the app plays my podcasts, the features I mentioned earlier, Trim Silence and Enhance Voices, also make it feel like I am not missing anything out by no longer using Overcast. I have not noticed any discernible difference with these features compared to Overcast, which is excellent.
The app itself and design are a breath of fresh air. I like the card style and sliding things up and down to get to your list and back to the episode playing. I also like the design aesthetic and feel of the application when I am dragging things around; it feels new and futuristic.
I know Overcast has had some design changes over the years, but the app has been remained pretty similar. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the app’s design is part of Overcast’s uniqueness. So me going to Castro isn’t because I dislike Overcast’s design but because I am bored.
The other two significant features that I mentioned before that Castro offers over other apps are Widgets and Apple Watch support. Overcast has an Apple Watch app, but it has not been refined much since it was released. Sending podcasts to the watch to listen to without the phone I know Overcast had trouble doing for a long time, but just the controls alone are not always very responsive and frustrating.
Overcast has yet to release a widget too. Widgets are something that I continue to have a love/hate relationship with. I have enjoyed some of the glanceable information that they sometimes provide but do wish I could interact with them without opening the app. Still, apps that offer them I appreciate much.
For me, widgets have been a way for me to limit the number of apps on my home screen but then have widgets stacked to get to additional apps and see some information before doing so.
For instance, Robinhood provides a glance at where my portfolio is on a line chart in the widget before I click on the widget to open the app. If I found the line chart unimpressive, I may just ignore it and move on; widgets can provide a reason before opening the app.
Castro offers something similar in their widget by showing me what episodes I have in Queue before opening the app and starting a podcast. Sure, if I want to listen to a podcast, I will click the widget and play whatever episode is in Queue, but I feel the widget is a nice addition to my home screen instead of just another app icon.
The Apple Watch app I have not used extensively when it comes to sending podcasts to the watch itself. If I was running more often only with my watch, so far this year I have slacking on jogging, I am sure I would use this feature more, especially since I have a cellular Apple Watch and am paying for the service, so I don’t need my phone while I run.
From reviews from others, though, it sounds like this feature works great. And if you are someone who likes to have media natively on your watch, including podcasts, then Castro is an app you should check out for that. The reason why I like the Apple Watch Castro app, though, is the simplicity and reliability of the playback controls.
The app is minimal and doesn’t offer a ton of menus or settings, but this is why I love it. It provides glanceable and easy to hit playback controls that never fail. There have been times where I am tapping the skip 30 seconds button on the Overcast Watch app, and it just does not recognize my finger, which leads me to click it too many times and miss apart of the episode (yes, all this skipping are me skipping ads, of course).
Castro’s app watch never has this issue. All the buttons are responsive, and the app comes up right away when a podcast is playing or when I click the complication on my watch face. I also like that Castro shows the time remaining for a podcast in text instead of a useless line showing progress without any context — especially on a tiny watch screen.
My main goal in sharing all of this is if you are like me and love podcasts and listen to them regularly like me, a podcast player that fits your needs is essential. Sure, the Apple Podcast app that comes free is OK, especially for those who casually listen and don’t have regular podcasts whose episodes you listen to when they come out immediately.
Because podcasts are so important, it was also vital that I have the best tool to listen and enjoy them. Castro Premium costs $20 a year, the same price as Overcast for a year. Most of the features I mentioned above require a premium subscription for Castro, where Overcast offers more for free.
The cost of these apps doesn’t concern me too much, though. $20 a year, or under $2 a month, is nothing to support a developer that is creating something incredible to allow me to listen to podcasts the way I want to. The amount of hours and features that I utilize in these apps over a month is easily worth the $2 I am paying to have them.
So if any of these features sound exciting or thinking about listening to podcasts but don’t like Apple’s Podcast app, I would recommend looking at Castro. Overcast is always an excellent place to start in moving to a third-party podcast app since it is not as in your face with features like Castro can, but if you are like me a listen to a ton of podcasts a week, you will find Castro to be the best tool for the job.