I've spent the last week testing Overcast, a new podcast player from Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper. I spend most of my time in the car listening to podcasts, but I've never found a client that worked exactly as I expect. While there are several apps out there that should provide what I want in a podcast player--a constantly updated list of the shows I listen to, downloaded when I'm on Wi-Fi, and ready to play whenever I hop in the car or hit the play button on my earbuds--every client I've tested has had problems.
In my week of testing, Overcast hasn't had any of the issues I've come to expect from my other podcast players. Whenever I press play in my car or on my earbuds, the last show I was listening to starts playing. When a new version of one of the shows I subscribe to is uploaded, the app downloads it automatically so it's waiting when I want to listen. And once I created an Overcast account (the process is free and took about 15 seconds), my podcast subscriptions and current progress in each episode were synced automatically between my phone, iPad, and the rudimentary web client at http://overcast.fm.
The dynamic playlists are the real heroes of Overcast. The playlists collect the most recent or In addition to all the sorting options that are common to many podcasting apps, when you create a new playlist, you can choose which shows to include (or which of the shows you're subscribed to exclude) and note that a subset of those shows are priority shows. When you play the playlist, it plays episodes you've listed from priority podcasts first, then keeps going down the list of podcasts that are part of that playlist, until a new priority episode hits. Many podcast apps include similar features, but this is the first one I've used that consistently worked the way I expected.
The app is brand new, and has a handful of rough edges. I'd love to be able to set my own defaults for the per-podcast episode retention and notification settings. It's a hassle to have to open settings and adjust the retention from 3 to 1 and turn notifications off for every show I subscribe to. I also encountered some inconsistent behavior when setting shows to be included or excluded from playlists. It took a few times for my changes to stick.
Overcast is free, with a single $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock a handful of advanced features: variable speed playback, voice compression for shows with audio issues, and a nifty feature that shortens shows by removing some of those pregnant pauses. There aren't any ads, but you do need to sign up for a free account if you want syncing to work. If you give Overcast access to your Twitter account, it will pull recommendations for new shows to listen to from your feed. The free version of Overcast is already the best podcast client I've used for iOS and it's well worth the $5 if you want any of the additional features or just want to support people who make great software.