Most of us listen to a podcast or two, three or ten. Podcasts can be in video or audio form. When you have a good queue of podcasts lined up, you have entertainment for hours and they always provide useful news, interesting stories, or just fun chat with friends.
I’ve been listening to podcasts for years, and even though Covered still my favorite app Castro comes second. The previous version of Castro gave us a UI overhaul and served as a triage for our podcast subscriptions (it only has a queue and the inbox – no playlists).
Castro 3 has just been released and is an even bigger improvement that brings it more in line with Overcast in terms of features.
cut the silence
Castro’s biggest novelty is the all-new cut the silence characteristic. It works a bit like Overcast Smart speed feature, where unnecessary moments of silence are removed, saving you time while leaving no spoken content behind.
In Overcast, I saved dozens of hours with the Smart Speed feature, and struggled to use another podcast app that didn’t have something similar.
After testing Castro’s Trim Silence, I think it’s on par with Overcast and a great addition to Castro. The vocals still sound natural, and I certainly don’t notice as many awkward silences in the shows as is supposed to. You can also combine Trim Silence with faster playback speed to save even more time, although voices sound less natural the faster you go.
The only thing Castro lacks is the little stat telling you how much total time you’ve saved with Trim Silence. You can see how much you’ve saved on individual episodes, so at least there’s that. I like seeing the total in Overcast because it reinforces the purpose of the feature with solid data. I hope Castro will add it in the future.
Another page that Castro pulled from other podcast apps, like Overcast, is comprehensive on chapter support. While not all podcasts have chapters, there are a few that do, and that’s usually a godsend.
Why is Chapter support so important? Simply put, it gives listeners the option to skip topics that don’t interest them, or you can even skip past sponsored ad plays and other fluff segments. Having chapters also gives you a visual reference guide to what’s covered in a particular episode, so you know how your time is going to be spent.
To view chapters, simply tap the ticker under the podcast art in the Now Playing screen. Castro however does an Overcast in terms of chapter support, as it tells you how long each chapter is, while Overcast just tells you the start time of each chapter relative to the entire episode. Another nice touch is that it shows how much time is left in a chapter you’re listening to right now.
To top it off, Castro even displays chapter-specific artwork if the podcast implements it.
Mix in Mono
Personally, none of the podcasts I regularly listen to use stereo channels. This is when podcasters pan vocals in the left and right channels, making it harder to hear certain vocals if you don’t have a stereo audio output.
Fortunately, the new Mix in mono feature automatically fixes this for you. When enabled, Castro mixes stereo channels to mono, making it easier for you to hear regardless of your audio output.
Again, I don’t listen to podcasts that use stereo sound settings, so this isn’t a necessity for me. Overcast doesn’t have this feature, and I’ve managed to live just fine without it. But I can see how great it is for those who listen to shows that use stereo sound.
The Mix to Mono function works very well with the Improve voices free for all Castro 2 users and also included in Castro Plus.
A redesigned player screen
Having already used Castro 2, I must admit that the new Now Playing the screen is an improvement, although it’s not without a new set of flaws.
For the most part, the design feels simple and informative without being overbearing. Podcast art is displayed prominently in the center of the screen, with the episode name and chapter title (if supported) scrolling below the artwork. Below are your playback buttons (back, play/pause, and forward), as well as the audio slider at the bottom.
Swiping left on the playback screen reveals the options. You can adjust the snooze timer, playback speed, and switch between Enhance Vocals, Cut Silence, and Continuous Play.
If you’re looking for show notes, it’s a bit hidden away from the Now Playing screen. To access it, simply swipe right on the podcast art. Alternatively, you can also go back to Queue or Inbox and press the arrow button, but this requires more steps.
Overcast clearly handles this better, as the show notes appear below the chapters, and they’re both within easy reach in the currently playing view. Honestly, it’s just easier and much simpler. I hope to see Castro make the show notes more accessible when you play the episode, rather than making you go back.
Controls per podcast
For listeners who prefer having specific settings for individual podcasts rather than some kind of one-size-fits-all coverage, then rejoice! Because Castro 3 has answered your prayers.
In Castro 3, you can adjust the settings for each podcast while you listen to them simply by swiping left once more after the playback options. Options per podcast include managing new episodes as they are released, episode limits, and playback. Playback options include Playback Speed, Silence Reduction, Vocal Enhancement, Mix to Mono and skip the intros.
I know some podcasts can have intros that are too long, so I like having the option to skip intros, depending on the show. When you select “skip intros”, you have a dial to select the elapsed time in minutes and seconds. When you set this, new episodes of that show will automatically skip up to that point, skipping everything before.
While Overcast provides basic settings for every podcast, Castro ups the ante with this new update. There are plenty of other settings you can toggle, and it seems a lot more flexible overall. This is ideal for power users who are particularly attentive to their podcasts and have settings that work best for individual shows.
New Apple Watch app
With Castro 3, users get an all-new Apple Watch companion app. It lets users start playing episodes without their phone, and it’s incredibly easy to use.
If you’re already listening to an episode, the Watch app displays standard play/pause controls. Doing Force Touch on the screen reveals options to archive or star the currently playing episode. When you tap “Up Next,” your full queue is displayed, then you simply tap an episode you want to listen to. Peasy easy!
Unfortunately, much like Overcast, there’s no offline listening on the Apple Watch, or even volume control with the Digital Crown. This is due to WatchKit limitations unless Apple decides to change this in the future.
Castro 3 also brings about a change in the price structure. Previously, Castro was a premium app that had an admission cost to enjoy the features.
Now Castro 3 is free to download, so anyone can grab the app and try out the unique triage system. If you purchased Castro 2, you will continue to get Enhance Voices and Dark Mode for free.
Castro Plus is a new subscription model that costs $2.99 per term or $8.99 per year. With Castro Plus there’s Trim Silence, Chapter support, Mix to Mono, Podcast controls, Enhance Voices and Dark Mode.
Castro Plus is priced a dollar less than Overcast Premium ($9.99 per year) and, in my opinion, includes more features that are worth it. The feature set is now very similar, so it’s mostly a personal choice.
The Castro we deserve
I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetics of Castro on Overcast, but have continued to use Overcast because of the feature set. Now that Castro 3 brings a host of powerful new features, it’s much harder to choose between the two. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, but the playing field is now much more level.
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