19 July 2017

On iOS, Overcast is probably the best podcast client

As I mentioned in the article about the podcast app I’m using on Windows 10, Grover, I switched apps on the iPhone too, right after the most recent update to Overcast. Migrating your podcasts is not a particularly fun experience, as none of the apps I tried can replicate the list of unplayed episodes from other apps. First you need to manually subscribe to podcasts and then either download the episodes still to be played, or continue to listen to older episodes in the first app and start downloading new ones in the second app. I’m already on my third migration, I think: at first, I used the default Podcasts app, then switched to Instacast when Podcasts has some bugs and refused to play some files, then returned to it after Instacast was discontinued. I gave Castro a quick try as well, but that app has next to no features beyond a play button and simply doesn’t justify its price.

I had mixed feelings about Overcast as well: I hated the bright, orange-on-white design with all-caps buttons. I still think it’s barely readable, but fortunately the Dark Mode is now free and I immediately turned it on. It’s not very pretty, but at least it doesn’t hurt my eyes to look at the screen. Curiously, I think it uses another font than the white theme, a very odd design choice. Another thing that annoyed me immediately after installing the app is how it automatically adds to iFive podcast in your library; I don’t want to hear any more people mindlessly praising everything Apple does.

Moreover, I continue to find the overall design confusing: after months of (admittedly light) use, I’m still not sure what tapping or swiping does on most screens and I’m navigating the app carefully, so as not to trigger some hidden gesture that could interrupt payback or delete some episode. I find it odd that you manually ‘delete’ downloaded episodes instead of ‘marking as read’. I guess I’m too familiar with the menu items in Apple Podcasts to be comfortable with such a different system.

  • Overcast onboarding
  • Overcast playlists and main podcast list
  • Overcast playback options
  • Overcast download podcast episodes
  • Overcast episode list

Design complaints aside, the best features in Overcast (that you won’t find anywhere else at the moment) is the enhanced playback with Smart Speed and Voice Boost. Smart Speed shortens the silences occurring naturally in human speech, speeding up playback without distortion. I regularly get playback speeds of 1.15x normal or more, which can save 5 to 10 minutes for each hour of playback – not bad! You can also manually boost the speed in small increments, without affecting the quality too much. Voice Boost is a noticeable improvement in noisy environments – I often listen during my hour-long commute from work, in the subway, and I can tell the difference. At the end of the day, my design annoyances don’t matter that much, since a podcast app gets used for a couple of minutes on screen, as you select an episode to play and maybe add something to the queue, and the rest of the time in the background, when the playback quality is much more important. Definitely easier to recommend than any other app I used so far.

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