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Instacast 5 is my new favorite podcast manager

Free, easy to use and loaded with smart features, this iOS app is a great choice for podcast fans.

Instacast 5 takes an already good podcast manager and makes it even better. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Apple's Podcasts app has a long and varied history of, well, sucking. First the company wrestled podcast management out of the Music app, which nobody wanted. Then it created arguably the worst app in its history. Now, adding insult to injury, you can't even delete Podcasts -- it's baked into iOS. (So are a bunch of other apps that should be optional, but that's a rant for another day.)

The only silver lining is that alternatives exist. Lots of them, in fact, and as someone who loves his podcasts, you can bet I've tried most.

Until recently, my preferred podcast manager was newcomer Overcast, which came from the developer of Instapaper. It's a great tool, no doubt about it, but I've discovered I like Instacast 5 (no relation) a little better.

For starters, Instacast has a native iPad version; Overcast remains iPhone-only. And thanks to Instacast Cloud, all your subscriptions, bookmarks, favorites and the like are synced between devices. I can start listening to a podcast in the car and then continue it on my iPad when I get home.

What's more, Overcast seems to have an odd limitation: It won't stream podcasts; it insists on downloading them. (If there's a setting to override this, I haven't found it.) With Instacast, I can stream an episode on-demand, no need to download it first.

My big complaint with most podcast managers: unintuitive interface. Don't cram together a bunch of icons that make no sense. Instacast is about as simple as they come, from the pop-out side menu to the Add button that lets you browse and search the podcast catalog.

Best of all, your personal podcast list just makes sense. Each show displays the total number of available episodes and the number of new/unplayed ones in your library. And when you tap through to any show, it's easy to see at a glance which episodes are new. You'd be surprised how many podcast apps fail to get this right.

Other features include choice of playback speed, a sleep timer, bookmarks, detailed show notes and show-specific subscription options. I was initially bummed to see that Instacast appears to lack a quick-skip option, but in fact a single tap of either the reverse or fast-forward icon jumps you backward or forward 30 seconds. And you can adjust the skip intervals for both. (Here's a full rundown of what's new in this version.)

Instacast is not only free, but also ad-free. There are two very optional in-app purchases: a night mode (toggled via a quick device shake!) and full-text search, each 99 cents.

Even without those add-ons, Instacast is a great podcast manager and my new top pick. If you've found something similar you like better, hit the comments and tell me what and why.