Apple Podcasts has always been my go-to podcasts app on the iPhone. Although it doesn't do anything fancy compared to the likes of Pocket Casts, I've always found it more than adequate for my on and off relationship with podcasts.
But that changed when Google released its own podcasts app — dubbed Google Podcasts — for the iPhone. If there's one thing I know, it's the fact that Google creates some of the best (free) third-party alternatives for iOS.
Despite wanting to stick with Apple Podcasts, I just knew I had to try Google Podcasts at the very least. And let me say this upfront — it really impressed me. But was it good enough to make me ditch Apple's Podcasts app for good? Let's find out.
Note: The name of the podcast app next to the feature indicates a preference or a winner.
User Interface - Google Podcasts
Just like any other Google app, Google Podcasts is built based on the Material Design visual language. Aside from making it awesome to look at, Material Design also helps the app pack in a lot of elements without cluttering up the user interface. The buttons and menus also feel snappy and responsive.
Furthermore, Google Podcasts' three tabs to the bottom of the screen — Home, Explore, and Activity — make navigating the app a breeze.
The Home tab lists all subscribed channels and new episodes, Explore provides quick access to new shows and search controls, and the Activity tab and its related sub-tabs make managing subscribed channels, the queue, downloaded episodes, etc., quick and painless.
In contrast, the fonts, icons, and thumbnails in Apple Podcasts look huge. Navigation also involves a lot of scrolling and menu diving, particularly with the Browse and Library tabs. Needless to say, this creates confusion most of the time.
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Discovering Shows - Google Podcasts
Apple Podcasts does a poor job of helping discover new shows. It does list featured shows and podcast categories, but scrolling and wading through those gigantic thumbnails gets tiring quickly. The same goes when searching for shows, where I have to be pretty accurate with my queries to generate proper results.
On the other hand, Google Podcasts sports a For You tab under Explore that recommends shows based on my activity and listening history. It also provides sub-tabs such as News, Culture, Education, etc., at the top of the screen, which allows quick navigation.
Google Podcasts' search capabilities also beat Apple Podcasts by miles. Search is kind of Google's thing, and it shows. The app comes up with suggestions quickly and generates relevant results fast.
Playback Controls - Google Podcasts
Google Podcasts provides three nifty buttons under each episode, letting me either play, queue, or download the ones I want easily. Tap anywhere else, and I get to see additional info such as the episode notes and download size.
On the other hand, Apple Podcasts starts playing as soon I so much as tap on an episode (even accidentally, which will end whatever I was listening to all along). That makes performing tasks such as queuing and downloading iffy at best. I like Google Podcasts' approach better.
When it comes to the actual playback controls, Apple Podcasts offers buttons to skip forward and backward (customizable via Settings), a seek bar, and speed controls. Just sufficient to get the job done.
At a glance, the playback screen in Google Podcasts also looks strikingly similar to its native counterpart. But looking closer, there are in fact a couple of options that make a difference.
Tap on the playback speed icon, for example, and you can actually perform minute adjustments rather than rely on the presets.
Google Podcasts also sports an option named Trim Silence that removes pauses and gaps from podcasts. You even get an adjustable sleep timer. Neat stuff.
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Downloads & Notifications - Google Podcasts
Both Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts support auto-downloads and notifications. But the latter actually streamlines the whole process right from the get-go.
Subscribe to a new show in Google Podcasts, and I get to decide if I want to auto-download or receive notifications whenever a new episode hits the shelves. I can also visit the Settings panel in Google Podcasts to manage my auto-download settings and notifications for each subscribed show.
Apple Podcasts, on the other hand, does provide quick access to notification controls via the Listen tab. But dealing with auto-downloads is another matter altogether.
For starters, I must head into the Settings panel of my iPhone just to change my download preferences. C'mon, Apple. Even then, there are no auto-download settings for individual shows, which make for bad taste.
Multi-Device Availability - Apple Podcasts
Apple Podcasts is tightly integrated throughout the Apple ecosystem. It's available on the Apple Watch, the iPad, and the Mac, so I can listen to my favorite podcasts on any of my Apple devices. The same can't be said for Android or Windows, where Apple Podcasts is practically non-existent.
In situations like that, Google apps often save the day due to their cross-platform availability. But not with Google Podcasts.
Aside from the iPhone, Google Podcasts is only available as a dedicated app on Android. But that's about it. Nothing for the iPad or the Apple Watch (at least for the time being).
Google Podcasts is available in web app form, so it's possible to listen to subscribed shows from a PC and Mac. But it's bare-bones at best with poor navigation and playback controls, and feels nothing like the stellar app on the iPhone.
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Verdict — Google Podcasts
Google Podcasts beats Apple Podcasts on almost every front. A better user interface, superior playback controls, easier management of downloads and notifications, etc., make it the clear winner.
But as I just mentioned, Google Podcasts falls apart when it comes to availability on other devices. Aside from Android, Google Podcasts won't do any justice with its inferior web app.
Personally, I don't really mind using either of them. I rarely listen to podcasts on anything else other than my iPhone, so I'm switching to Google Podcasts full-time. It's just that good.
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