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Podcasts are exploding in popularity. Nearly 39 million americans have listened to at least one podcast in the past month. That number is expected to grow significantly as the quality of podcasts goes up and Internet-connected cars become commonplace. And yes, we do one.
In this post, you will learn what a podcast is, how to subscribe to them, and what apps you can use to manage your inevitable addiction to this exciting medium.
What is a Podcast?
Think of a podcast as on-demand talk radio. Instead of getting your favorite talk show through a radio, you can download shows (using a podcast app) as a standard MP3 file that plays on your phone, tablet, or computer. It’s really that simple.
How to Subscribe to Podcasts
The two most popular ways to subscribe to a podcast are through iTunes and Stitcher. Both offer a huge marketplace of podcasts with programs that work on an array of devices.
Podcast Subscription Starter Pack
There are a ton of podcasts out there. The best way to find podcasts you like is just to open up iTunes or Stitcher and start browsing. But if you want some help getting started, here are some not-just-legal podcasts we recommend. Download an episode or two of each and subscribe to the ones you enjoy.
Lawyer 2 Lawyer
With over ten years in podcasting, Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams are showing no signs of slowing down. On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, they discuss current events through a legal lens with insights from industry experts.
This Week In Law
This Week in Law covers the latest in technology law with legal blogger and attorney Denise Howell. If you care about SOPA, the NSA, and the legalities of cutting-edge technology like drones, definitely tune in. New episodes are recorded (and broadcast live) every Friday.
It’s easy to get caught up in your own work life. Working, hosted by David Plotz, is a podcast dedicated to exploring how people do their jobs, and is inspired by Studs Terkel’s book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.
Guests, who tell all about their work lives, range from comedian Stephen Colbert to your local repairman.
If you haven’t heard of Serial, you may be living under a rock. Serial is Sarah Koenig’s investigates into a fifteen-year-old murder mystery, and it is the most popular podcast in history. As of this writing, it has over 5 million downloads in iTunes. Start at the beginning and try not to get hooked.
The Pen Addict
The Pen Addict podcast discusses and reviews the latest pens, pencils, field notes, and notebooks on the market with hosts Brad Dowdy and Mike Hurley. With 140+ episodes and counting, you’ll be a persnickety pen and notebook snob in no time.
Similar to a good blog reader, a good podcast app will let you subscribe to your favorite podcasts and automatically download new episodes for you. Here are a few podcast apps we recommend:
On Your Computer
Many people use a smartphone to listen to podcasts, but these podcast apps for your computer work on both Windows and Mac PCs, and can sync your podcast subscriptions to your phone or tablet.
iTunes is the most popular way to subscribe to podcasts. iTunes indexes thousands of podcasts through its store and will sync subscriptions to your Windows, Mac, and iOS devices if you have an iCloud account. iTunes also gives you the option to stream or download a podcast right on your computer. Using iTunes, you can even subscribe to podcasts not listed in the iTunes Store if you know its feed url.
Basically, if you are familiar with finding, downloading, and streaming songs in iTunes, you are familiar with doing the same for podcasts. This makes it the most user-friendly podcast app for beginners.
Stitcher is available in your browser and as an app for your Android or iOS device. Stitcher has nearly 25,000+ podcasts you can subscribe to in its directory. It also puts a lot of focus on its discovery features, which uses community recommendations to suggest podcasts you should try listening to. You can also pause your podcast on one device and pick up from the same spot you paused from on another device with Stitcher installed.
While it is convenient that Stitcher is available on your desktop and on two major smartphone platforms, its iOS app does have lower reviews than its Android and web app counterparts. And for those of you who sport a Fire Phone, Stitcher is also available through the Amazon App Store.
Pocket Casts is a great podcast app for Android and iOS and, much like Stitcher, it offers a web app. It’s Android app was a Google Play Editor’s Choice, and the iOS app sports a healthy 4.5 stars in the App Store.
Both apps can sync your podcasts across your devices, import subscriptions from other podcast apps, and auto-download episodes.
SoundCloud hosts a number of podcasts. Like iTunes, it is a media player with enough podcast-specific features to help you keep up with your subscriptions. SoundCloud apps are available for free on the web, iOS, and Android.
But you very much get what you pay for. SoundCloud lacks a robust discovery system, and advanced features such as auto-downloads and importing subscriptions from another service.
iOS and Mac
Many native podcast apps on iOS and Mac are polished and beautifully designed. If you own an iPhone, you are probably already aware of the default Podcasts app. We have left Apple’s default app out of the list due to its paltry two-star rating and lack of features relative to what third-party developers have come up with.
Overcast is one of the most popular iOS podcast apps. It has no companion app on the Mac, but that hasn’t burdened its five-star rating in the app store. It also comes from the founder of Instapaper, another wildly successful (and well-worth-getting) iOS app.
Overcast has both a free and paid tier. Its free tier is perfectly functional and allows you to manage and subscribe to podcasts. But for $4.99, you get with intelligent episode sorting, voice boost (so the volume is equalized across your podcasts), and a feature called Smart Speed that cuts out elongated silences in your favorite podcasts. Overcast will also recommend new podcasts for you to subscribe to from your friends on Twitter.
Overcast is our favorite podcast app, and you if you own an iPhone, you should try it.
Instacast works on all iOS devices and also has a Mac app. It will import your subscriptions automatically from iTunes and sync them across your devices.
While Instacast is free, it does offer a couple of in-app purchases you may find useful: an automatic night mode and a robust search engine for sorting through past episode notes. All-in-all, if you want a free podcast app that works reliably, this is the app for you.
Downcast is a robust “podcatcher” available on Mac and iOS. On iOS, Downcast is a reasonable $2.99. But for the Mac app, the price increases to $9.99. Put together, these apps are quite expensive, but for those who listen to a lot of podcasts, Downcast appears to offer the most advanced features.
You can rename podcast titles, access password-protected podcasts, define how long you want to retain episodes, and download podcast episodes in the background on iOS, among a number of other features.
For a beginner listener, this is a bit much. But for those who live and breath podcasts, this is an app worth investing in.
For a long time, podcast managers on Android weren’t nearly as polished as iOS apps. This has changed very quickly and, in some ways, they offer more than most iOS podcast managers do.
Podcast Addict is an ad-supported podcast manager. While its UI is certainly crowded, it offers a robust set of features at no cost. You can search and subscribe to its database of 500,000+ podcasts.
Podcast Addict lets you import, export, and backup your subscriptions. Additionally, it has an array of useful widgets to listen to your podcasts from the lockscreen. And for early adopters, Podcast Addict supports Android Wear notifications and Chromecast streaming.
DoggCatcher isn’t very pretty or elegant, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in functionality.
Like other podcast managers, it will automatically download and schedule podcast downloads. You can also import and export feeds as necessary. DoggCatcher will also limit downloads based on your connection speed and battery life left in your device.
Podkicker is probably the best-looking Android app in this list. Its minimal design allows for easy scanning of your subscriptions and episodes.
There is a free and paid version of the Podkicker app. The paid version is $1.99 and for that price you’ll get no ads and access to new features first. Podkicker supports audio and video, has a dedicated car mode, supports Chromecast streaming, and will let you transfer your downloaded podcasts to your Dropbox account. You can also give money to your favorite podcasts through its integration with Flattr.
Do you use a podcast manager that isn’t mentioned above? Let us know in the comments.
Featured image: “studio microphone for recording podcasts” from Shutterstock.