After my issue with podcasts that I posted about last week, I decided to switch from using iTunes and the Apple podcast app to Instacast. I bought both the Mac and iOS versions. After using both for about a week, I’m mostly satisfied, but there are definitely a few shortcomings.
First, on the plus side, Instacast hasn’t arbitrarily deleted a bunch of podcasts from my Mac, as iTunes did last week. Instacast has a pretty interesting way of dealing with podcast files, actually. It’s not quite perfect for the way I’d like to do it, but it’s reasonable. Basically, you set a maximum amount of space that you’d like to use for podcasts, and Instacast deletes stuff once it reaches that limit. It’s pretty sensible about picking what to delete — it goes for episodes that you’ve already played and haven’t marked as favorites first, if I understand it correctly. I’ve set it to use up to 10 GB on my Mac, and 1 GB on my iPhone, so that should be good enough. I kind of wish, though, that you could set certain podcasts to keep forever. There are a few podcasts, like Warren Ellis’ SPEKTRMODULE, for instance, that I’d like to just keep forever. With Instacast, I can’t really do that, and I guess I’d want to copy the files out of Instacast and into a separate folder.
Which brings up a separate point: Instacast does allow you to right-click on a given podcast episode and select “Show in Finder”, so that’s good. But, unlike iTunes, it doesn’t organize individual podcasts into their own folders, now does it keep the original file names. Instead, it puts all of its files together in a single folder, and names them with (I assume) random GUIDs. So, to copy out all of the episodes of a given podcast, I’d really have to do “show in finder” on each one individually, and copy them one at a time. (And if I wanted the copied files to have reasonable names, I’d have to rename them too.) So I’m not too happy about that, but it’s not a terribly big deal.
In terms of the actual functionality of the apps, let’s start with the Mac app. It seems to be a reasonably well-written Mac app, not taking up too much memory or CPU, and launching pretty quickly. (I wish that was something I could take for granted with a commercial Mac app, but alas, no…) I’m using the Mac app mostly to watch Tekzilla. (If there were any other video podcasts that I was interested in, I’d use it for those too, but there isn’t anything else I’m following right now.) It does a good enough job on that. Basically, it just plays the video and gets out of the way, which is what I want. It works fine for playing downloaded episodes, and it can also stream episodes that you haven’t downloaded, which is nice.
For the iOS app, that also works reasonably well. I use it only for audio podcasts, and I follow a few of those. You can set it to download episodes only when on wifi, which is a good thing, as my Verizon data usage has been a problem lately. I’ve had it randomly stop playing a podcast twice so far, which is a bit puzzling. In both cases, I could start the podcast back up where I left off, no problem. I was driving both times, so I didn’t see what happened. I’m not sure if the app crashed or if it just stopped playing. And I think it was the same podcast file both times, so maybe there was just something wrong with that file. If this keeps happening, I’m going to get frustrated with it pretty quickly, but we’ll see what happens over time.
There’s a function built into both the Mac and iOS apps called “Up Next” that lets you create an on-the-fly playlist of a few random podcast episodes, so you can set yourself up if you’ve got a long drive. I used it today for my 90-minute drive down to a friend’s house, and it worked well. There doesn’t seem to be a way, though, to tell it to just continuously play consecutive episodes of a single podcast, which is a bit weird.
There are a few other things I could mention, but this post is long enough as-is, so I’ll leave it there, and just say that I don’t regret spending the $20 on the Mac app and $4 on the iOS app, but I’m still not sure if I’ll stick with it or switch to something else in the long term.