Comparing Podcast Apps: Overcast and Castro

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and the app I use for podcasts is one of the most frequently used apps on my phone. For the last couple of years, that's been Overcast. Recently I decided to give another app, Castro, a spin to see what else was going on in the podcast app world.

Castro

My favorite feature of Castro, by far, is how it manages your play queue. When a new episode is released for one of your subscribed podcasts, Castro places the episode in the Inbox. From there, you can quickly play the episode, add it to the beginning or end of your play queue, or archive it. This ends up being a fantastic solution for podcasts where you don't want to listen to every episode. For example, I generally skip over episodes of The Incomparable that discuss a movie or book I'm not familiar with, but I don't want to miss an episode about Star Wars. (Fortunately for me, there tend to be lots of those.) Castro makes that easy: as each new episode arrives in my inbox, it's quick and easy to either archive it or add to my queue.

I did find navigation in Castro to be a little tricky. At the very bottom of the screen is a row of buttons with play controls: play/pause, skip forward and back, that sort of thing. Above it is another row of buttons representing tabs in the main interface. There's a tab for your queue, the inbox, archive, and search for adding new podcasts. Although the two rows are visually separated by very different background colors, I found myself having to stop and think a bit about where to look for the button I wanted. To be honest I'm a little surprised by my own confusion, because the layout seems logical, but for whatever reason, it doesn't quite click with my brain.

After using Castro for a bit, I also discovered that I really missed a few unique features from Overcast.

Overcast

The thing that really sets Overcast apart is how it processes and plays the audio itself. Specifically, it has two key features: Smart Speed and Voice Boost. Smart Speed cuts out little bits of time when there's silence in an episode. Even though each slice is very small, it can really add up. An hour-long podcast might take only 55 minutes to play. The feature is also pretty clever about not trimming too much, thereby maintaining the pace and feel of each episode.

Maybe even more crucial for me is Voice Boost, which evens out volume differences between different people's voices. I often listen to podcasts in environments with other noise: on the subway, while cooking or washing dishes, etc. Voice Boost really helps keep everybody at an audible volume without making one person's voice painfully loud. In fact, I've come to rely on Voice Boost without even knowing it. I started listening to a recent episode of Upgrade in Castro and thought something had gone wrong before I realized that I was used to hearing the show in Overcast.

I've also come to rely on Overcast's support for podcast chapters. As far as I can tell, Castro doesn't support chapters, and I miss them when I use it. I don't skip around in podcasts all that much, but I occasionally find it handy to know how much time is left in a particular segment, or breeze past something that doesn't interest me.

On the other hand, Overcast's episode management isn't especially noteworthy. Smart playlists get me part of the way there, but now that I've been exposed to Castro's sublime inbox concept, I really miss it. The most recent major version of Overcast added some new queue management tools that help a bit, but it's still not quite the same. (If Overcast's smart playlists could include or exclude the contents of other playlists, it might be possible to set up an inbox-type system.)

For now, I think I'm sticking with Overcast. While I absolutely love Castro's organizational system, I can manage to work with Overcast playlists to come up with something that works pretty well. Conversely, there's no real equivalent to Smart Speed and Voice Boost in Castro, and I really got used to them. It's too bad that there isn't one single app with all of these features, but it's great to see so many interesting and useful innovations in podcast apps. I'd heartily recommend either one of these apps to anyone looking for a new podcast client.