Instacast for iOS review

Recently I realised I had a problem. I listen to a lot of podcasts and the built in iOS way of handling these is problematic. They are downloaded from the iTunes app and listened to in the podcast section of the Music app which is confusing from the get go and theres currently no way to download new episodes automatically or sync them between devices. So I went on the search for a replacement a few weeks ago and I settled on Instacast.

The reason I was drawn to Instacast (£1.49) was the added functionality it offered compared to the stock apps and that it had an iPad app. Unlike Apples effort this app is obviously purpose built for podcast listening. As soon as you open the app you are greeted with 3 options asking you to “Subscribe to Podcasts” “Enable iCloud Sync” and to “Import from Dropbox”. The Dropbox option is for people who have backed up the app to Dropbox previously. Perhaps if they have a new device or choose not to use iCloud. I selected “Enable iCloud sync” which was as simple as tapping the button and then jumped in to start subscribing to podcasts.

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The next page was a blank list with a + symbol in the lower right and the settings cog in the lower right. On pressing the + I was taken to the podcast catalogue. It had options for Popular, Video, Genres, Search and finally an option to import from the music app. I chose to search manually for my preferred podcasts and found everything I was looking for. I have a few podcasts from the 5by5 and TWiT networks as well as the BBC and The Verge so they aren’t the most obscure offerings admittedly. I expect this menu would be good for podcast discovery also as the genres are varied and the popular list will give you an idea of what others enjoy.

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After loading up each of the podcasts they automatically started downloading the most recent episode of each. Each of the Apps in the list had a numbered badge showing me how many unplayed episodes I had. I jumped straight in to an episode of “The Talk Show”. After you tap the podcast your taken to the page with the show notes for that episode. I find this really handy, especially with 5by5 podcasts as their show notes are always full of links relevant to the episode, these load in a built in browser window so theres no need to dump you out and into Safari. If you choose an episode that hasn’t been downloaded then you are given the option to download it or stream it. This is handy when on WiFi but with typical podcasts being around 50mb in size it would be wise to be vigilant with this option if you’re on a tariff with limited data. The playback screen itself is quite nice with basic controls for pause and skip/fast forward underneath the artwork with the title at the top. The skip forward and back intervals can be independently customised to different intervals. I have chosen 10 seconds back and 20 seconds forward.

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My favourite feature on the app however is position sync. With iCloud sync switched on if I stop listening on my iPhone and want to continue on my iPad I can. The delay for this to happen is only a few seconds and most of the time I never even noticed it. If you haven’t listened for a while then the app will start 30 seconds before so as to give you a little context. I’m not sure if I like this and I couldn’t find a way to disable it in the settings.

Speaking of settings, a few other notable ones are Push Notifications on new episodes. These can be up to an hour behind I found which is expected given the limits the developer will have refreshing so many feeds. Read Later functionality for show note links you may want to read in depth later and other more basic options like order sorting, number of episodes to keep etc.

I really like this app and its taken away a lot of the pain of listening to podcasts on my iOS devices. A few negatives are that the App is not universal, you have to buy the iPad seperately at a cost of £2.99 and the functionality seems to be exactly the same. The interface is different though and I didnt like that the playback controls weren’t always present on screen. Its not perfect but its a huge improvement over Apples stock effort.

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  • BigHairyWookie

    Can it be configured to download new episodes in the background over wifi only and not 3G?

    • http://twitter.com/ChunkyGeek Jamie Ryan

      They don’t download automatically in the background, instead you get a notification when an episode is available and you can initiate the download from there. There is an option for wifi only as well.

      • BigHairyWookie

        Aaah, I think I misunderstood what ‘works in background’ actually means on the app description. :)
        Thanks for the clarification.