Getting started with iPhone podcast app Overcast

From the developer of Instapaper, Overcast lands in the crowded iOS podcast app arena with a couple of features that might win you over.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Marco Arment has gone from developing Tumblr to creating Instapaper to yesterday launching a podcast app for the iPhone. Overcast is free -- and ad-free -- but a group of features can be unlocked via a $4.99 (£2.99/AU$6.99) in-app purchase. The app is iPhone-only, but Arment states that an iPad version is planned. Android is not in the cards.

You must create an account to use Overcast. With an account, your podcasts are synced between your devices and the Web player at Overcast.fm. An account also lets Overcast limit the frequency with which it checks for new episodes, saving on battery life and data usage.

After creating an account with an email address, you are asked to add a podcast to kick things off. Overcast's podcast directory is organized into 14 categories, and you can also search via keyword or add your own via the Add URL button.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

After adding your first podcast, you can add subsequent podcasts by tapping the "+" button in the upper-right corner. The other three buttons along the top, from left to right, open settings, show you the podcasts currently downloading, and show you the features you can unlock for $4.99.

In settings, you can adjust the seek back and seek forward time increments, and you can enable Seek Acceleration, which increases the interval during rapid seeks. You can also import your podcasts from another app and link to your Twitter account to get podcast recommendations from those you follow. Lastly, if you find Overcast not to your liking, Arment graciously links to five other podcast apps from independent developers.

So, what are these features hiding behind the paywall? Have a look:

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

The two features that might have you ditching your podcast app of choice are Smart Speed and Voice Boost. Like most podcast apps, Overcast provides a slider to let you speed up the proceedings if you are short on time or want to zip through a portion of a podcast to a topic that's promised later in the show. I find these Chipmunks-voiced speed accelerations not enjoyable and somewhat anxiety producing. I tend to scrub through a podcast, jumping around to find my desired location.

What Smart Speed does is shorten the silences in the conversation, which gives you only a modest boost in speed but keeps things sounding surprisingly natural. Voice Boost normalizes the volume across a podcast, so that one podcaster sitting close to the mic and another sitting further from the mic or speaking via cell phone come at you at the same volume. And it does what its name implies and boosts the voices of a podcast. I found it very effective in making podcasters' voices loud and clear. You can try both features out for free for 5 minutes at a time.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

You can get unlimited playlists and unlimited episodes in each of you playlists if you pay. The free service limits you to a single playlist of five episodes.

After using Overcast for an afternoon, I am giving serious consideration to switching over from Apple's Podcasts app. I think Smart Speed and Voice Boost are two useful features, and I love the look and feel of the app. The biggest drawback I find is that Overcast does not let you stream podcasts. I tend to do most of my podcast listening at home while on Wi-Fi and like to stream podcasts so I don't have to wait to download them and then remember to delete them later. Perhaps Overcast's iPad app will offer streaming, since you are more likely to use it over Wi-Fi rather than while on the go on a cellular connection.

 

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