How to Set up Pocket Casts for a Better Podcast Experience

I’m relatively new to the joy of podcast listening. Although I’ve been invited to speak on some podcasts before, I never bothered to subscribe or listen to any as I’ve always preferred getting my news through reading. But preferences change and about three months ago, I noticed that I do at least ten hours of driving per week and that time is getting lost on radio shows with countless ads or on music I’m bored of hearing. Those ten hours had to be invested more efficiently and so I found myself tempted by podcasts.

Fast forward three months and I’m addicted to my podcast subscriptions. I’ve gotten used to the voice, the character and the style of every person I listen to, and I now prefer getting most of my news this way. It’s more personal than reading, more raw, and more engaging and interesting.

All of my podcast needs are catered by Pocket Casts — which we reviewed a while ago, before it got its major redesign — and I’ll show you in this post how I make the most of its features to stay on top of my 28 podcast subscriptions.

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Using Smart Playlists

One of the defining features of Pocket Casts for me is its ability to maintain Smart Playlists. You won’t need this feature if you only subscribe to a handful of podcasts, but if you have more than a dozen, it becomes a necessity.

I use Smart Playlists to organize my podcasts by topic, status and type. I have a playlist for audio files and another for video files, one for unplayed items that are already downloaded, one for items to download, and one for partially played episodes so I can easily spot those I’ve already started and finish them. I also have a smart playlist for my tech-centric podcasts, one for science podcasts and one for pharmacy and medicine oriented podcasts. Other topics — which fall more or less into general knowledge — don’t have a specific playlist. While it may seem confusing that an episode can appear in several playlists, it helps me pick up Pocket Casts and start listening in two clicks, no matter what I want to catch up on.

My Smart Playlists (left) and the settings for my Partially Played playlist (right)

My Smart Playlists (left) and the settings for my Partially Played playlist (right)

You can go crazy with your own Smart Playlists: create ones for starred episodes, organize them based on topics, or more. My advice would be to think of what you’re most often looking for when you open Pocket Casts and create a playlist that serves that need. Another thing to remember is that Pocket Casts allows you to manually add podcasts to a specific playlist, so you can create a tailored playlist with only a few episodes from different subscriptions.

Auto-Downloading at Night

Podcast listening isn’t time-sensitive, so you can easily afford waiting a day to listen to a new episode. That’s why I only set Pocket Casts to check for new episodes at 2:00 am. By then, I’m asleep and my phone is on the charger, connected to my home WiFi but doing nothing else. The processor, internet speed and other resources can all be used to download new episodes for me, instead of straining my phone and battery while I’m using them during the day.

But in order for automatic downloads to work, you’ll need one of your playlists to be set to “auto-download”. I have that enabled on my aptly named “To Download” playlist so basically at 2am, Pocket Casts refreshes my subscriptions, finds new episodes in the To Download playlist and fetches them. In the morning, I wake up to new episodes ready for me to listen to.

Scheduling downloads for 2:00 am (left) and setting my To Download playlist to Auto Download on WiFi when charging (right)

Scheduling downloads for 2:00 am (left) and setting my To Download playlist to Auto Download on WiFi when charging (right)

Finding Better Controls

The two biggest improvements to my listening habit were introduced through turning on Pocket Casts’s lockscreen controls option and using a Bluetooth headset. The first helped me control playback while driving without demanding any attention, while the second frees me up to listen to a podcast any time during the day while keeping my hands free for other chores.

My phone’s screen is off most of the time while I’m listening to audio podcasts, so having the playback controls on the lockscreen as soon as I turn it on was a major time saver. Pocket Casts also offers a widget, but I prefer not to use it as it stays on the screen even when I’m not listening to anything, whereas the lockscreen controls only appear when a podcast is playing. They also display a dimmed artwork and the podcast’s title so I always know what I’m listening to at a glance.

Enabling lockscreen controls (left) and how they display on your lockscreen (right)

Enabling lockscreen controls (left) and how they display on your lockscreen (right)

As for Bluetooth headsets, I recently purchased a Sony Ericsson MW600. It’s an old stereo Bluetooth headset, but it was well rated for its price — $30 when I got it — and features on Amazon, and so far it has lived up to the expectations. I currently keep my phone inside my pocket, and wear the MW600 all day by clipping it to my clothes and hanging the earphone cable around my neck. When I need to listen to a podcast, I simply put the earphone on and click Play. Even skipping forward and backward in podcasts is handled by the headset’s controls, so I don’t have to reach for my phone every time I miss something to rewind it, or when there are ads or a topic I want to fast forward through.

This is how I wear my MW600 — though I never look this elegant doing so!

This is how I wear my MW600 — though I never look this elegant doing so!

Adjusting Playback

Most podcasters speak slowly and drag on between words. That’s valuable time being wasted. I noticed that by setting all my podcasts to play at 1.5x speed, I can easily keep up and understand what’s being said without having to suffer with slow speakers through awkward pauses. The other benefit is that I can listen to more podcasts in less time! When needed, I fine-tune some individual podcasts to a different playing speed, but 1.5x is my default setting. You’ll have to find your sweet spot by testing different speeds.

You have probably also noticed that most podcasts start with a tune, an ad or a long intro… If you don’t want to hear those, Pocket Casts offers the option to start podcasts from each subscription at a specific time, basically skipping ahead to the important content. My advice would be to listen to a few episodes from each show until you’re familiar with its routine, then set that up. And even if it’s not exact, you can always skip back or ahead while listening.

Adjusting Playback Speed (left) and a specific podcast's starting time (right)

Adjusting Playback Speed (left) and a specific podcast’s starting time (right)

Skipping Episodes, Starring and Deleting

Given that I follow about 28 subscriptions, some of which update every couple of days, I’ve had to force myself to let go of some episodes. Just like when I mark articles as read when I’m catching up on my RSS reading, I can look at the topic of a podcast and automatically swipe it away as done.  There’s not enough time in the world for me to listen to everything so I pick my content carefully.

Another habit I had to teach myself was deleting episodes I’ve already listened to. I’m a collector by habit — music, movies, TV series,… — but since I’m only using my phone to listen to podcasts, I’m bound by the amount of portable storage it has. That’s why I have set Pocket Casts to automatically delete each episode after I’ve finished listening to it. I have, however, been using the Star option in Pocket Casts to keep track of my favorite episodes across all of my subscriptions — I even set up a separate Smart Playlist for them — that way I can easily go back and stream or download an episode when needed.

Marking an episode as done (left) and my favorite starred episodes (right)

Marking an episode as done (left) and my favorite starred episodes (right)

Syncing Across Devices

When Pocket Casts announced its ability to sync across devices with their new version, I thought it was a cool feature but I didn’t reckon I’d ever need it. However, I recently received a Nexus 4 for review and I loved the device so much that I decided to use it as my main device instead of my Galaxy S3. That’s where the sync feature came into play, as I simply created an account on my S3, let Pocket Casts get my data over to their service, then installed the app onto my Nexus 4 and signed in with the same account. Lo-and-behold, all my subscriptions came, as did my starred episodes, my Smart Playlists, and even the playback positions on all of my partially played episodes.

Setting up Sync (left) and settings to force a manual sync (right)

Setting up Sync (left) and settings to force a manual sync (right)

If you have several Android phones, or a phone and a tablet, I highly recommend you set this up. You could even do it if you only own one device — who knows, it might come in handy if you have to reset it and don’t want to lose your data.

Tailoring It to Your Needs

Despite its rather simplified UI, Pocket Casts is a very powerful podcast application full of options, tweaks and settings. In this article, I tried to go through the different settings and tricks that have optimized the app for my heavy use, but you can set it any way you want to tailor it to your needs.

Do you listen to Podcasts? If so, which app do you use, and what tips or settings have you found that help with your listening efficiency?