Google is late to the podcast party having only released their first official Podcast app just under 3 weeks ago. But despite its tardiness, Google hopes to win over the audio listening crowd with a sleek interface, a massive indexed library, and core integration with your smart home devices…
Right on time
Since Google added podcasts search to their index in 2016, one must ask why it has taken them so long to create this application for Android devices. I’d say despite that, Google’s entrance into a relatively quiet market — dominated by third party apps like Pocket Casts at the moment — is a fashionably late entrance. Once you load it up for the very first time, you can tell that Google’s refreshed interface design was central to the company’s approach, and it’s gorgeous.
The main navigation screen is jam-packed with options from the get-go, but being masters of Material Design, you’d expect a smooth and unhindered experience, which is duly delivered.
As I said, upon opening, you’ll be greeted with a collage of what you are currently subscribed to, with a ‘for you’ section with tabs for new episodes, episodes you currently have in progress and any you’ve decided to download for offline listening. Scroll down and you’ll find that popular categories and podcast from the largest networks dominate the homepage, which to be frank, is to be expected.
Swipes and scrolls are smooth, as you’d expect, which adds to the ‘stock’ experience of this first attempt at a podcast player. Nothing gets between you and your podcasts.
The best search
There are already a rumored 2 million indexed podcasts available within the app search, which is a serious amount of listening hours to dive deep into if you’re not yet invested in any specific podcast. Finding a specific podcast or podcaster is, as you’d expect from the biggest search-focussed company on the planet, quick and simple.
The search function is activated by tapping in the top left of any of the navigation screens. Google Podcasts picks up even the most obscure or niche podcasts that I’ve tried searching for which is a major reason I’ve found the switch so seamless. The interface in Google Podcasts is much more organized and straightforward than using Google Play Music in my opinion.
When you’ve found your podcast of choice, you’re greeted with a synopsis or overview of the podcast and then a chronological list of previous and current episodes to listen to. And to download an episode to your local device you have to select it, and then use the download function. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet an auto-download feature for recent episodes — hopefully that’s coming soon.
From there you can add your favorites to your home screen for even faster access, which as far as I can tell, isn’t available in many other podcast apps on the Play Store — or at least isn’t just yet.
Being able to add your favorite podcasts for direct opening is a pretty neat inclusion, one that I didn’t expect to use as much as I have already. It saves a couple of taps which is always a major bonus, especially, if like me, you plug your phone into your car aux port for podcast listening whilst driving.
The playing bar is displayed in minimal fashion at the bottom of the app, swipe up and you’re not greeted with a full-screen control center, instead, you get a pop-over player with a few extra controls, including play speed — which you can adjust from half speed to double speed — not that I would suggest anything over about 1.3x if you want to understand anything.
The controls are simple enough, and they translate exactly the same into the notification shade. Which often isn’t the case with a lot of ‘third party’ applications that offer podcast playback.
If you want to edit your subscriptions, click in the top right and you can edit en masse — which at this point only allows for the deleting and reordering of your subscription feed.
Future feature updates
The best thing Google have done is to stick to a simple and easy-to-use interface, which we know will develop over time, but in its current incarnation, it’s a solid experience. You have to remember that this app isn’t even its own standalone app, and might not ever be. It’s built-in to the Google app, and when you download it on the Play Store, you’re really only downloading a shortcut.
Certain features are missing, including, oddly, the ability to Chromecast to other devices — which we’ve actually found is likely being released in a future update. But you’d think that this would have been something Podcasts had from the get-go to provide connection to its ubiquitous Chromecast.
Despite this pretty major oversight, you can pick up where you left off though if you ask your Home speakers to play a particular podcast episode. In fact, we have a couple podcasts of our own, so feel free to give it a try and say “OK Google, play Alphabet Scoop”.
Google Podcasts is clearly a valiant first effort, and we’re excited to see how it develops. But for now, don’t delete Pocket Casts just yet.
Download Google Podcast right here.