If you love podcasts, but hate the hassle of booting up your computer and managing subscriptions through iTunes, the CastGrabber ($119) is designed with you in mind. The concept is straightforward: attach the Cast Grabber to your home network, connect your MP3 player, and wait as your podcast subscriptions download directly to your device. Unfortunately, life with the Cast Grabber isn't that simple, and at $119, it offers few advantages against the many free software options available.
The Cast Grabber has the sex appeal of a doorstop. We could forgive its bulky plastic wedge design if it concealed an internal Wi-Fi antenna, but alas, the Cast Grabber requires a wired connection to your home network to pull down podcasts. Other wires sticking out of the Cast Grabber include a detachable DC power adapter and a USB cable that runs to your MP3 player. A retractable shelf extends from the front of the Cast Grabber, offering a seat for MP3 players as small as the iPod Nano, or as large as the Archos 705 WiFi.
The Cast Grabber promises just two things: that it will charge any USB-powered device; and that it will download podcasts to your MP3 player without the aid of a computer. In our testing, the Cast Grabber delivered on its promises with one exception--video podcasts. Unlike audio podcasts, which conform to the MP3 file standard, video podcasts come in so many varieties that very few will agree with your particular MP3 player without first being converted using computer software. Even our fifth-generation video iPod and third-generation iPod Nano, devices for which the majority of podcasts are tailored, could not playback video podcasts downloaded using the Cast Grabber. Despite our disappointment with video podcast support, the Cast Grabber proved itself consistently capable of downloading audio podcasts directly to several of our iPod and non-iPod MP3 players.
When compared with the sophisticated audio and video podcast management of Apple's iTunes software, the Cast Grabber just doesn't measure up. As the most popular application for discovering, downloading, managing, and transferring podcasts, iTunes is a tough act to follow for any podcast-related product (it's also free). For users who dislike the iTunes interface or own a non-iPod MP3 player, alternative podcast software such as MediaFly, MyPodder, and Juice, offer free alternatives to the Cast Grabber system. If you despise your computer, however, making the case for software-based podcast solutions is a moot point.
In spite of Cast Grabber's appeal to those who wish to avoid their computers at all cost, it is not a product for technophobes. For instance, you'll need to run an initial one-time computer set up to associate the Cast Grabber to your MP3 player. A computer is also required any time you want to add or delete podcast subscriptions or clear old podcasts from your MP3 player. As a final bit of irony, hardwiring the Cast Grabber to your home network may place it alongside the very computer you're trying to avoid.
Unlike software podcast solutions that work in the background of your computer to download and store podcasts until you need them, the Cast Grabber does not include any internal storage. Instead, the Cast Grabber checks for new podcasts at the moment you connect your MP3 player, at which point it downloads and transfers new content in real time. Without a screen or any kind of system control, there's no way to cancel or prioritize Cast Grabber downloads. Put simply, if your podcast subscriptions number in the double digits, don't expect the Cast Grabber system to save you any time over a conventional computer-based setup.