The Overcast podcast app has switched from freemium to free, added streaming, and improved some of its custom audio settings—but it looks and works mostly the same. It changes the equation in choosing a podcast app other than Apple’s owns Podcasts app, which has minimal necessary functionality—the latest release only averages three out of five stars in its App Store review.
The original Overcast had a few key features that tried to set it apart from several mature competitors, like Castro and Pocket Casts. Some of these were on the back end, like extra-finicky monitoring and parsing of syndication feeds to provide rapid updates when new episodes of subscribed podcasts were available, as well as providing sync services for subscriptions, downloaded episodes, played/unplayed episodes, and the position within podcasts that a user had already started. (Other apps had some of these features; Overcast tried to do them all and with a higher degree of perfectionism; podcast feeds are especially diverse in how they’re misformatted.)
Many were on the interface and functional side, such as Smart Speed, which identifies and skips silence during playback, and Voice Boost, which was intended to provide real-time normalization of audio to keep voices within a narrower range, preventing a lot of volume adjustment. Both features could be enabled app-wide and set or turned off on individual podcasts. The developer, Marco Arment, says the audio features were improved in this release, but I didn’t rely on Voice Boost before, and I can’t tell any appreciable difference in Smart Speed, which he says now work better with quieter voices.
Voice Boost enhances speakers, while Smart Speed snips out silences.
But Overcast 1 limited its appeal by employing a freemium model. The basic version of the app limited the number of playlists and the number of episodes shown in them, and could only download over Wi-Fi. Purchase a $5 in-app upgrade, and that version added variable-speed pitch-adjust playback, cellular downloads, unlimited playlists and episodes, a sleep timer, and the above-mentioned Voice Boost and Smart Speed.
In version 2, everything is free, and developer Marco Arment is asking those who find the app useful to engage in patronage, paying $1 a month as a non-renewing three-month, six-month, or 12-month in-app purchase. It’s not mandatory and there are no extra features so far, and potentially ever. It’s somewhere between a tip jar and shareware.
Merrily down the streaming
What I want mostly from a podcast app are three things: to download podcasts automatically or otherwise have episodes be available so I don’t have to manage the download process; to let me easily add podcasts recommended by others or mentioned (often on other podcasts); and to help me discover podcasts when I want to find something new, different, or subject-specific to which to listen. In and around that, I don’t want storage of downloaded episodes to balloon on my phone. Nor do I want to have an endless list of unplayed episodes I know I’ll never get to.
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