Review: Overcast for iOS

I've been waiting since last fall when Marco Arment (the creator of Instapaper) announced he was making a podcast app. In a previous post I wrote about how I chose my previous podcast app of choice...Downcast. But now that Marco's Overcast app is out and I've been using it I don't think I'll be going back to Downcast anytime soon.

The Basics

Overcast at it's core is a very simple app. You can subscribe to podcasts or download individual episodes from the app's built-in podcast directory (that's right, no more cutting and pasting a podcast RSS URL to subscribe...although you can still do that if the podcast you want is not in the directory). Also in the app directory is the option to get podcast recommendations from your Twitter account. Of course, there is the ability to create playlists as well. The player controls are very simple, just a play button and a 30 seconds back and 30 seconds forward button (and instead of 30 seconds you can figure those buttons for 7, 15, 45 or 60 seconds if you wish).

Skip forward and backward buttons on the main player interface

Skip forward and backward buttons on the main player interface

The Extras

The basic app is free to download and is for iPhone only (no iPad app yet, although it works fine on iPad in 2x mode). The real power in this app is all of the extra features that you "unlock" with the single in-app purchase of $4.99. This unlocks:

  • Download podcasts over cellular
  • Set a sleep timer
  • Use "Smart Speed" to pick up extra speed without distorting conversation
  • Voice Boost mode to enhance and normalize speech audio
  • Adjust audio playback speed (see Marco's post on why the "standard" for defining increased podcast playback speeds are all wrong)

I don't listen to podcasts at an increased speed, I guess I like to enjoy the normal cadence of the speakers. I have to be a little bit pickier about how many podcasts I subscribe to, but that's ok. That is why the "Smart Speed" feature is such a killer addition for me. What "Smart Speed" does is it speeds up or all together removes dead space and pauses in the audio so you can get a shorter playback of the podcast without sacrificing the audio of the speech. It's not a huge amount of time you save, but it does help and you don't notice anything while playing the podcast (it's almost like magic).

Playback speed, "Smart Speed", Voice Boost and options for how you want these preferences applied

Playback speed, "Smart Speed", Voice Boost and options for how you want these preferences applied

The other feature I am really enjoying is voice boost. Voice boost enhances the spoken audio portion of the podcast to make it more clear and level out the differences in volume between speakers within that episode of the podcast. I have found that for some podcasts it really doesn't help much and can in fact enhance unintended audio components and make the podcast sound worse (I think this is for podcasters that have a very high end audio setup and do some post processing of their audio). But for other podcasts it makes a huge difference and I can't imaging listening to those podcasts now without this feature.

Which brings me to the last of my favorite touches to this app. You can choose to apply all of these settings I listed above on an app by app basis or choose to apply the last used effects to the current podcast (meaning if you haven't already chosen a specific setting for that podcast it will use the last used effects). Marco really thought things out when it set it up this way because it makes it so simple for users to set things up just the way they like them. Everything about this app makes it very clear that Marco Arment poured everything he had into it's design. I love this app...

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