Pocket Casts 4: more than just a fresh coat of paint

Pocket Casts has been around for some time, and is always part of the conversation when talking about podcast apps on Android. But like many other apps, it was long overdue for a redesign. This latest update, Pocket Casts version 4, has thrown the app back into the forefront of quality Android design. But the update is more than just skin deep -- underneath that design is a whole bucket of new features that are just as appealing as the visuals.

Hang around with us after the break, and take a look at the completely redesigned Pocket Casts 4.

Phone UI

Take whatever you knew about Pocket Casts before and throw it out the window, because Pocket Casts 4 is basically a brand new app from top to bottom. Even the icon is new (and quite nice to our eyes). Developer Shiftyjelly has gone back and started over, rewriting a new interface and set of features for Pocket Casts that are extremely compelling. The interface follows new holo guidelines, but has its own bit of style with a red, white and grey color scheme that is clean and intuitive

The main interface is a grid of album art icons, with tags showing the number of unplayed podcasts in the corner. Tapping into each one will give an episode list, with detailed information for each. You can browse for new podcasts by swiping in from the left to reveal a navigation pane, and tapping "Discover". There are listings for featured, popular, networks and categories to choose from. You can also search at any time from the top menu bar. Those of us who use Google Reader to manage podcasts may have preferred a Google Reader list import features, but keeping things "limited" in this respect means you get a cleaner set of podcasts, better album art and up-to-date podcast listings.

7-inch tablet portrait UI

Also hiding behind that slide-in panel are options to view your playlists, which are configurable. By default you'll be given a few to choose from -- unplayed, played, downloaded, audio and video -- but you can delete the default ones and create your own if you'd prefer. For each playlist, you can make different rules (for lack of a better term) for how it should handle podcasts. For example you can choose whether to auto-download, when to update and how to handle deletion of items.

You'll do most of your listening from the playlist menu rather than the "Podcasts" menu, and it's executed nicely. Each listing for the podcast will show the name, episode number and length -- along with either a play button if it has downloaded, or an arrow displaying that it has yet to download. You can choose to either download or directly stream podcasts, which is also nice for longer shows. Taking a gesture out of the new Gmail interface, long pressing and swiping away a show removes it from the playlist.

7-inch tablet landscape UI

The entire UI is smooth and responsive, whether its navigating through the settings or playing podcasts from a playlist. Pocket Casts 4 also properly scales to different screen sizes inside of the same app, which is a huge plus for users with both phones and tablets. The interface scales up slightly to a 7-inch tablet from a phone, with smaller text and different scaling on the interface elements. Turning a 7-inch tablet to landscape (above) turns Pocket Casts to the 10-inch tablet UI (below), which changes the slide-in panel to a permanent fixture on the left side of the interface. It's really nice to see a developer paying attention to multiple screen sizes when redesigning an app, especially as tablets like the Nexus 7 gain popularity.

10-inch tablet landscape UI

We've left possibly the best feature for last here -- and that is that Pocket Casts 4 supports multiple device syncing. Once you have the app installed on your devices, you'll be prompted to sign in to sync. The app uses your default Gmail address to use for syncing, which keeps things simple (and well integrated). Once every device is signed in, changes made on any one device will be reflected on the others. Playlist changes, playback status, deletions and more are all synced between your phone and tablet(s).

Between the auto-download of podcasts and the auto-syncing of deletion and playback status, Pocket Casts provides a seamless transition in podcast listening between your devices. It's a fantastic feature to have that you really can't appreciate until you go back to other player that doesn't have it. It's easy to get overrun with old content if your devices aren't syncing together.

Pocket Casts 4 has made huge strides in interface and usability, bringing it up to the highest levels of how Android apps should look and operate. Even with all of these new features, the app is still just $3.99 in the Play Store -- which to our eyes is much less than it is truly worth with the new features. The update is live now as a free update to existing PocketCasts users also, which is a great gesture by the developers.

If you're looking for a new podcast manager that has a clean and useful interface backed up by a strong feature set, Pocket Casts is once again a great option.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.