We’re living in a golden age of podcasts, so no time like the present to get a good player to enjoy it all. Here are our top picks for listening to podcasts on your iPhone and Apple Watch.
Before you run to the app store to download a third-party tool, take a look at the stock app first. Apple Podcasts is a basic all-rounder that comes pre-installed on your iPhone (though you can delete it or re-download it from the App Store if you want).
It’s a solid choice for podcast fans old and new, especially those with a few Apple devices since it syncs over iCloud so you can carry on where you left off on your Mac, iPad, Apple Watch, HomePod, Apple TV, and more.
The app is surprisingly customizable for a pack-in, allowing you to do things like choose how many episodes of a show you want to keep offline on a per-podcast basis. You can customize some parts of the UI (the skip forward and backward buttons), and there’s a whole set of additional Apple Watch-specific settings if you prefer to listen that way instead.
Since it’s an Apple app, Siri will use it when you ask the assistant to play a podcast. This works fairly well most of the time, and you can even ask Siri to play podcasts that you aren’t currently subscribed to, and they will open in the app. Apple Podcasts integrates nicely with CarPlay, so you can enjoy your shows while driving too.
There’s not a lot to write home about in terms of additional features. You can modify the speed of a podcast so that it plays back faster or slower (though this will affect the audio quality), set a sleep timer, and save specific episodes indefinitely. There are limited podcast suggestions based on your listening habits, what’s currently popular, and editor’s picks.
Don’t write off Apple Podcasts just because it comes pre-installed, especially if you want an app that “just works” with your other Apple devices.
Overcast is a simple and easy-to-use app with some powerful features that set it apart from the rest. An App Store Editor’s Choice winner and podcast darling of many tech publications, the app is free and supported by banner ads on the playback screen. You can remove these by subscribing to Overcast Premium for $9.99, which also lets you upload files and supports ongoing development.
Two of the app’s standout features are Voice Boost, which applies equalizer settings to your podcasts that are designed to make spoken word easier to hear, and Smart Speed which shortens silences and speeds up episodes without distorting the audio. The app also features some powerful playlist tools with filters for building your own personalized radio station.
Customization runs deep, from the theme colors to a whole menu titled “Nitpicky Details” for those extra preferences that allow you to get your podcast app running precisely how you want it. There are per-episode settings for things like the number of episodes that should be downloaded and retained at once, and the app even remembers your Voice Boost and Smart Speed settings for each episode (if you want it to).
Overcast has a companion Apple Watch app that saves podcasts to your wrist and supports streaming over a cellular connection (if your watch supports it), plus CarPlay support for listening in the car.
Pocket Casts is a slick podcast app that feels like it was designed with power users in mind. The app is free to download and use, but to get the full Pocket Casts experience (and to support the app’s development) you’ll need to subscribe to Pocket Casts Plus for $3.99/month or $39.99/year.
Your contribution unlocks bonuses like access to desktop apps for Windows and macOS (plus a web app), the ability to organize your podcasts into folders, Apple Watch functionality, 10GB of cloud storage for your own files, and more themes and icons to further tweak the app’s appearance.
Despite paywalling some of its features, there’s still plenty to love about Pocket Casts even if you stick with the free version. By creating an account you can sync your podcasts with other platforms, including the Android app. The UI is uncluttered and easy to get along with, and all of your podcasts are presented in a tiled interface on the “Podcasts” tab for quick perusal.
The app’s most interesting feature is “Filters” which allows you to quickly make playlists based on set criteria. For example, you can apply a filter that only includes certain podcasts (like your favorite news bulletins), in an unplayed state, that were released in the last week. You can also filter by duration, download status, whether you’ve starred the episode, and media type. It’s a powerful tool if you have a lot of subscriptions and want a smarter way of getting through shows.
Pocket Casts works with CarPlay and lets you cast to AirPlay (like the rest of this list), Chromecast, and Sonos devices. The app also has a Volume Boost for optimizing voices and a Trim Silence setting, plus the usual speed controls, and a vast menu of options for tailoring the listening experience to your liking.
Castro takes a unique approach to managing your podcast library. You can use it like a traditional podcasting app where you pick a show and episode, but it works best as a curation platform. It’s great if you feel overwhelmed by an avalanche of incoming podcasts and don’t necessarily want to listen to every single one.
Subscribing to podcasts is fast and easy, simply search and hit the “+” plus icon right from the results page (you can also import your podcasts from other apps). New episodes will appear on the “Inbox” tab, where you can choose to put them into your “Queue” or archive them. You can then work through your queue as if it were a feed, with one episode rolling into the next.
Castro is free to use but some features are hidden behind a $2.99/month or $18.99/year subscription. Subscribing unlocks features like a companion Apple Watch app, a Trim Silence feature, the ability to trim audio from Safari and listen to it with Castro, per-podcast settings, and an Enhance Voice audio booster. The free version is supported by adverts that take the form of promoted shows, which also disappear when you upgrade.
There are plenty of options for customizing Castro outside of this, including download limits, UI tweaks, the ability to create Siri Shortcuts, plus color tints and light or dark themes. Castro is worth a shot if you’re looking for a unique method of taming your podcast problem, particularly if you listen to a lot of shows that post frequent (even daily) episodes.
More Podcast Apps You Might Want to Check Out
There is no shortage of podcast apps on the App Store if the ones we’ve listed above don’t do it for you. Google Podcasts is Google’s answer to a podcast app, initially created for Android but now available everywhere. It uses data gleaned from your Google account to recommend podcasts, which makes highly tailored but a bit scary if you think about it for too long.
Spotify is another big player in the podcasts field, combining music, audio books, and podcasts into a single app. You don’t need a subscription to listen, though you will get adverts if you opt for the free tier. Spotify invests in programming and includes a selection of exclusive podcasts, so check it out if you can’t find what you want elsewhere. Already subscribe to YouTube Music? It too has podcasts!
Breaker is an app that takes a social approach to consuming podcasts, allowing you to follow friends to see what they’re listening to and get recommendations that way. It also works as a standard podcast app, it’s easy to use, and its premium tier adds features like Apple Watch support and a space saver that can compress episodes right on your device.
If you’re looking for more exclusive podcast content then give Stitcher a look. In addition to being a good all-rounder with solid customization and useful recommendations, the app features exclusive podcasts for premium subscribers. Lastly, if you’re looking for a buy-outright premium experience try Downcast. It costs $2.99 and is geared towards an offline experience, allowing you to easily download, organize, and listen to podcasts from a single app (with CarPlay and Apple Watch support).
Download, Listen, Delete
Podcasts provide an unlimited amount of entertainment and you can consume them while doing almost anything. Unfortunately, this can lead to us being a little over-zealous when subscribing to new shows. Make sure that podcasts don’t take up all of the free space on your iPhone.
Looking for Android apps instead? Check out our favorite Android podcast apps.