Our Top 5 Podcast Apps for Free and Easy Listening

If you’re an avid reader of The Manual, you may have noticed that we really dig podcasts (we even have one of our own!).

With so many amazing podcasts on the scene, we love recommending new shows for you to check out, whether you need something to get you through a grueling daily commute or need a binge-worthy audio treat to enjoy on your next road trip. Besides soaking up our choice recommendations, there are other ways to get the most out of your podcatching experience — and one of the best is to download a great podcast app. Here are our picks for the top five best podcast apps.

Pocket Casts

(Free for iOS and Android)

In May, it was announced that this beloved app was acquired by a group including NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago, and This American Life. While this news concerned some, the company remains adamant in their desire to preserve openness and the core values they have always held, and so far, they’re sticking to it. A new web beta version continues Pocket Casts’ pursuit to improve user experience. Syncing is now seamless between the desktop and mobile apps. You can quickly queue up a playlist so you can go about your business without having to reach for the app after every episode. An “In Progress” tab displays a list of every episode you’ve yet to finish (so perfect if most of your listening happens at work or anywhere with a heightened chance of interruption).

The mobile app is loaded with such an astounding array of customization settings that it feels almost bespoke. You can filter podcasts into specific lists to keep — for example, all your Monday episode drops in one place. You can change the “skip forward” and “skip back” button intervals. You can specify which shows you receive notifications for and tell the app which podcasts it should download by default and which it should stream. You can set an individual “start from” time for each show to skip repetitive intros. You can “star” favorite episodes for the next time you give your friend a primer on the show you’re currently addicted to so they can understand the weird in-jokes and references you keep repeating. There’s even a feature that lets you see personal stats, like your total listening time and how much time you’ve saved by skipping intros. The list goes on and on, and to truly appreciate just how much this app offers, you’ve got to try it yourself.

PodBean

(Free for iOS and Android)

PodBean is a quality app that pulls double duty as both a player for listeners and a platform for creators. The app has a host of handy features to enhance your listening experience, including an “auto play next episode” option, the ability to view comments from other users on specific episodes, and the “batch manage” feature that all binge-listeners have always dreamed of. Batch management lets you download, queue up, or check off several episodes of a show at once, making it so much faster to create and edit the perfect playlist for any occasion. PodBean also has one of the best Discovery features out there, with shows organized by popularity, genre, and network. There’s also a decent built-in library of classic audiobooks — it’s no Audible (and it’s not trying to be), but it can be handy if you’re ever in the mood for more long-form listening.

For creators, PodBean is like a one-stop shop for everything you need to get your show up and running and into earbuds. The platform offers website templates, an embeddable audio player, easy episode uploading, cloud hosting, SEO assistance, a crowdfunding platform, and an advertising marketplace that can help you find your very own sponsors. While you do have to fork over some dough for PodBean’s hosting services, the pricing begins at just $3 per month. If you’re looking to enjoy and create content, PodBean is a well-rounded platform that can help you do both.

Overcast

(Free with ads for iOS; $9.99 per year ad-free)

Overcast is all about streamlining your listening experience. It has the features you’d expect from any good podcast app; you can easily browse shows, control playback speed, create and manage playlists, specify whether to download or stream by default, etc. What sets it apart from the competition, though, are Overcast’s innovative smart features. With Smart Resume, the app will slightly rewind your show after pausing so you can jump back in seamlessly without missing anything. It also adjusts pauses and seeks slightly so they fall between words, so your playback will never start in the middle of a sentence. The app has a Voice Boost feature, which automatically levels voice volume for smoother playback, and a Smart Speed option, which will shorten silences in episodes. You can build Smart Playlists in Overcast, which will create a continuous playlist based on your chosen criteria, such as which shows to include and how to determine which episode plays next. You can also specify exactly how many unplayed episodes of a given show to keep on your device at a time.

There’s also the option to link Overcast to your Twitter account, which will allow you to receive podcast recommendations from people you follow (and you can make your own recommendations, all without actually posting). One of Overcast’s best features, however, is the ability to subscribe to private feeds that require unique logins. This is incredibly handy if you’re a donor and have access to bonus content from your favorite networks — just enter your creds and it’s all right there in the app. Overcast is an all-around great podcast app: It’s clean, easy to use, and has unique features that you can’t find elsewhere.

Stitcher

(Free for iOS and Android; $4.99 per month for Premium account)

Stitcher’s been around for a long time and is kind of the OG podcast app. It’s a hefty app with lots of great features, and it ultimately functions as a sort of personalized hub to satisfy all your podcast needs. You can browse shows by genre or network, create playlists, set a download storage limit, tell the app to only download new episodes when you’re on Wi-Fi, and tag shows as Favorites so you can quickly and easily get updates on the shows you love most all in one tab. When you first open the app, you’re greeted by your Front Page, which will recommend shows and episodes based on your interests and listening habits. Click on a recommendation and the app will create a playlist that includes everything on your Front Page. If you prefer, you can change the app’s launch page to show saved episodes, your favorites list, or premium content, and you can also set the app to autoplay as soon as you open it. Like most podcast apps, Stitcher will let you customize your forward and backward seek times, change how episode lists are arranged, and select continuous playback. Stitcher also makes it incredibly easy to share shows and episodes, which you can do with or without connecting the app to social media.

If you opt for a premium subscription (which costs $4.99 per month), you can listen to a huge archive of shows completely ad-free, as well as access tons of exclusive and premium content that ranges from comedy albums to original podcasts to concert tours. While it’s got more competition these days than when it first launched, Stitcher is still a robust app that is worth investing in, especially if you’re looking to continuously discover new content.

Feedly

(Free for iOS and Android; $5 per month for Pro account)

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a podcast without an RSS feed, and many people prefer to keep up with their favorite shows via a feed reader. Feedly is a simple and straightforward RSS feed-reading app that lets you organize information from all over the web into personalized lists for easier viewing (or listening, in this case).

Feedly’s search feature is reliable and is no more involved than your typical Google search. Type in the name of the show you’re looking for and then just add it to the desired feed. It’s impossible to mess up. Once a show has been added to your feed, you’ll get updates every time a new episode drops, which makes it crazy easy to keep up with the latest releases from all your favorite podcasters in one place. You can also hone in on a specific show by clicking its name in your feed, which will take you to a view of that podcast’s latest several episodes. Once you mark something as “read,” it leaves your feed to make way for new content, or you can add it to a Read Later list so you don’t forget to come back to it when you’ve got the time. Link Feedly to your Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest accounts and sharing is a breeze.

Perhaps the best advantage to using Feedly over a traditional podcast streaming app is that you don’t have to limit yourself to just audio. You can set up keyword alerts and follow blogs or YouTube channels to keep up with all kinds of other content related to your favorite shows and podcasters. The Basic plan is completely free, but it does limit you to three feeds and 100 sources. You can upgrade to a Pro plan for $65 per year for increased syncing speed, Dropbox backup, unlimited sources and feeds, additional third-party app integration, premium support, and more.

A great podcast app is a must-have companion for anyone who loves to listen. Check out our top picks and you’re sure to find something to enhance your podcast experience: road trips, productivity, men’s fashion, craft beer, true crime, our top overall picks for 2018, or The Manual’s own podcast.