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Rafe recommends: Downcast smokes iTunes for podcasts

Like podcasts? You can do better than using Apple's software to subscribe and listen to them.

Downcast is better than iTunes for managing podcasts.
Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

I used to be a slave to iTunes.

It's where I put my music and where I managed my podcast subscriptions. But times change, and Apple's apps don't change fast enough. For managing podcasts, there is a far better solution than sticking with the combo of iTunes and the Music app on your iOS device. Downcast is an upbeat little app that smokes Apple's own app in the podcast department.

First of all, it's an integrated podcast player and manager. It's easy to find a podcast, subscribe to it, and play it all from one app. Yeah, you can already do that inside OS X iTunes on your Mac, but on iOS you have to leave the player app (Music) to go to the store app (iTunes) when you want to add a new podcast (there is a workaround for emergency podcast downloads from iOS, but it's clunky).

And both the podcast subscription and playback functions work beautifully. Finding a podcast is fast in the app, or you can enter in its URL if you want to do that. Downcast downloads new episodes when you want: On demand, or when you're on wi-fi, or every hour, it's up to you.

Downcast even makes playback special. You can use gestures to control the stream: A double-tap on the screen to pause or resume, a swipe left or right rewind or advance a few seconds, etc. I listen to podcasts in the car (using a Jawbone headset; when I update to a Bluetooth-equipped car I'll let you know) and not having to hunt around for tiny onscreen buttons is a big safety feature.

Downcast is Airplay-friendly (so is the iOS Music app, of course). Sometimes after I'm part-way through listening to a podcast as I walk in the door at home, I throw the stream onto my stereo system (I have an Airport Express) to finish it up.

The app is not iCloud friendly, however. If you have more than one iOS device, you have to subscribe to your podcasts on each of them, and you can't stop a show on one device and then pick it up on another.

There's more to this app, including nice geeky features for podcast junkies. But despite the app's depth, for simply subscribing to and listening to podcasts, it is actually easier to use than Apple's solution. I paid for this app two weeks ago and have not regretted my purchase for a moment.

Coming up soon: how to leave iTunes behind for music and videos, too.

Gratuitous plug: You know what looks really good on Downcast? My own Reporters' Roundtable podcast.

The endorsement: Downcast
Platform: iOS Universal app
Price: $1.99
Summary: Forty billion times better than Apple's own patched-together podcast management solution. Well worth the price.
Get it: | iTunes