Your friends keep bringing up talking points they learned from the latest episode of The Daily, or discussing a crazy fact mentioned in Every Little Thing. If you’re intrigued by podcasts like these but haven’t dived in yet, it’s not difficult to get started—all you need is a smartphone and the right app.
How to find shows
Apple added podcasting as an iTunes feature in 2005, and today you can listen to podcasts on pretty much every topic under the sun. When it comes to popular categories like history, science, tech, and news, you’ve got dozens, if not hundreds, of top-quality options—the scene is more vibrant than ever. In fact, odds are that you’ll find too many podcasts to choose from, rather than too few.
When you begin searching, start with your favorite radio show or news website. Although many podcasts function as standalone creations, others are produced by teams at existing media outlets (like PopSci). So visit your favorite radio show or website online and search for their audio offerings—chances are that they produce one or more podcasts already.
Search engines will also play a part in your hunt. Podcasts can come in the form of documentaries, comedy panel shows, in-depth interviews, historical research, fictional stories, and more, so choose your favorite format, an area of interest, and search for those keywords plus “podcasts.” This should turn up a wealth of options. If you use Google, you may see the company’s own podcast player promoted in your search results, but you don’t have to use it.
Perhaps the best way to find new ear-fillers is through the apps you use to listen to them. Once you’ve picked an app (see the next section), check out its search and discovery features. Many apps now trumpet their discovery tools as key features, allowing you to browse through popular shows in various categories and find the best that podcasting has to offer. The Apple Podcasts app is no exception: When you’ve found podcasts you like on this platform, check out the “You Might Also Like” box.
As podcasting has boomed, apps like Spotify and services such as Amazon Audible have started to retain some shows as exclusives, which is a shame considering the open platform that podcasting has always been. Nevertheless, the vast majority of podcasts that you come across will be available on whichever podcast app you want to use.
Apps that will help you listen and discover
From the Podcasts app that comes as part of iOS to specialist third-party tools, you have plenty of podcast-listening options at your fingertips. Beyond apps, you can download episodes and listen to them on any audio player on your computer or phone. However, only dedicated podcast apps will have features like podcast discovery and the ability to automatically download new episodes. To get you started, here are a few leading podcast apps.
The player that started it all, Apple’s own Podcasts app, has been overtaken by its competitors in terms of features and innovation, but it still does a solid job of queueing up podcasts and letting you listen to them. It’s the obvious choice if you spend all your time on Apple devices, and it comes with some useful discovery tools as well as a choice of variable playback speeds if you want to get through your podcasts faster (or slower).
Podcasts is included free on iOS and macOS.
Like many other Google apps, this one is clean and simple. One of its best features is the way it can sync podcast playback across multiple devices—it’ll even play them straight from a Google search results page, associating it with your account if you’re signed into Google. It also includes some more conventional features, such as a sleep timer.
The only downside of Overcast is that it’s not available on Android. It features a wealth of useful features, like smart speed for shortening silences, voice boost for improving the volume of dialog, and smart playlists for queueing up episodes from your library. Everything is intuitively laid out, and there’s support for the Apple Watch and CarPlay. If you pay for premium, you get exactly the same app experience but without ads.
From an intuitive and comprehensive discovery section to smart features for cutting out intros and speeding up playback, Pocket Casts sets a high bar for podcast players. It has a neat, easily customizable interface, handles cross-device syncing well, and you can sign up for a Plus account to get some useful extras—like Windows and macOS desktop apps and theming options.
This combination player lets you livestream more than 100,000 radio stations across the world, while also offering podcast support. It’s a great all-in-one solution if you want live radio alongside your podcasts. The app features a simple podcast discovery and subscription section, as well as a favorites page for keeping your most-loved stations and podcasts close at hand. You can use the app for free with ads, or pay a fee of $10 a month to cut down on the commercials.
This complete solution can go wherever you go, and it combines news, online radio, and podcasts into one coherent whole. Its discovery and organization tools are particularly well done—if you don’t really know what you’re looking for, Stitcher’s categories and trending sections will help you find podcasts of interest. With a premium account, you can remove the ads from the app and enjoy more original Stitcher shows too.
This app treats incoming podcasts like emails: They get lined up in your inbox, and you can decide whether to add them to a playlist or archive them for later listening. It works well if you want to sample a wide selection of podcasts without necessarily listening to every episode of each one. That said, you can add certain shows to your favorites list, so episodes will automatically end up on your playlist. The app also lets you search for individual podcasts or see the top-ranking shows in specific genres. Paying for the premium plan adds extras such as the ability to trim silence out of podcasts and to skip to marked chapters inside an episode.
Castro is free or $19 a year for iOS.
For non-iPhone podcast listeners, this app offers just about everything you could want: Powerful discovery tools, easy management of your podcast queue, and plenty of advanced tools (if you need to filter your podcast queue by a keyword or a topic, for example). You can tweak everything from the audio balance to the look of the interface too, making it one of the most customizable podcast players out there.
Podcast Addict is free or $1 a month for Android.
Spotify is pushing the podcast part of its app hard at the moment, signing up certain podcasts for exclusive runs inside its own ecosystem. You can listen to these exclusives and any other podcasts through the main Spotify app, though the podcast component fits a little awkwardly alongside all your other playlists and your music collection. You don’t have to pay for premium to listen to podcasts in Spotify, but if you do you’ll be able to sync episodes to your phone for offline listening.
This isn’t a podcast player in the traditional sense, but it’s fantastic for helping you discover new podcasts. Shuffle enables you to discover and listen to short 60-second excerpts from podcasts, curated by other podcast creators and listeners, so you can get a feel for the tone and topics of a podcast without listening to a full episode. It can lead you to podcasts you otherwise wouldn’t notice.
Shuffle is free for iOS, Android coming soon.