Cas­tro 3

Price: Free from fave.co/2vxAwAx

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS - Glenn Fleish­man

As the pop­u­lar­ity of pod­casts con­tin­ues to grow, the apps used to lis­ten to them have ma­tured. Ap­ple of­fers its own free Pod­casts app, but sev­eral freemium and paid op­tions re­main, each with their own ap­proach and op­tions. Su­per­top’s Cas­tro stands out for its in­box ap­proach, which al­lows triage for deal­ing with an abun­dance of pod­cast sub­scrip­tions.

The new Cas­tro 3 adds re­quested fea­tures to the app, in­clud­ing a trim si­lences op­tion (long avail­able as Smart Speed in the com­pet­ing Over­cast app), as well as

bet­ter chap­ter sup­port, a rewrit­ten voice en­hancer, and per-pod­cast set­tings for sev­eral con­trols.

But Cas­tro 3 also comes with a new busi­ness model. While Cas­tro 2 was a one­time paid app, the new re­lease is free, of­fers a Watch app, and in­cludes all of Cas­tro 2’s fea­tures with one ex­cep­tion. To get the en­hance­ments de­scribed later in this re­view, you have to pay £7.99 per year or £2.99 ev­ery quar­ter; both start with a seven-day free trial.

This isn’t a sur­pris­ing move, be­cause Ap­ple hasn’t evolved the App Store model, which is par­tic­u­larly bad for de­vel­op­ers who keep their prod­ucts fresh and rou­tinely pro­duce sig­nif­i­cant new ver­sions. Sub­scrip­tions have largely evolved as a re­sponse. Over­cast 4 is free from fave.co/2AR9DwC, but of­fers an £8.99 a year in-app pur­chase to re­move ads. Pocket Casts is £3.99 from fave.co/2AVO4uV, but it was re­cently pur­chased by a con­sor­tium of NPR, pub­lic ra­dio sta­tions, and the pro­duc­tion com­pany for This Amer­i­can Life, mak­ing change likely. Down­cast is £2.99 from fave.co/2Mw7Y13.

New fea­tures

This up­grade de­serves a full ver­sion num­ber – while the app re­tains its ap­proach from the pre­vi­ous re­lease, it adds sig­nif­i­cant fea­tures and im­proves a few key as­pects of its de­sign.

Cas­tro of­fers pod­cast triage as its pri­mary ori­en­ta­tion to­wards deal­ing with sub­scrip­tions. While other pod­cast­ing apps rely on a time­line of new episodes from shows that you sub­scribe to – some of­fer­ing a jump-the-queue pri­or­i­ti­za­tion for pod­casts you se­lect – Cas­tro fo­cuses on the in­box/queue/ar­chive split. The in­box is more like no­ti­fi­ca­tions of new episodes, while the queue is an ac­tive playlist. The ar­chive re­tains list­ings (but not files) for episodes you’ve al­ready lis­tened to or passed by, as well as let­ting you view the past episodes for given shows and man­age sub­scrip­tion op­tions.

For each sub­scrip­tion, you can opt to have new episodes drop into an in­box or at the top or bot­tom of the queue of episodes that will play in or­der. If in the queue, the episode is down­loaded ac­cord­ing to the net­work rules you set; if in the in­box, it’s not. I mark shows I al­most al­ways want to hear to drop into the

queue, and I re­view episodes in­di­vid­u­ally in the in­box for oth­ers that I dip into. Hold­ing down on the In­box but­ton at the bot­tom of the dis­play brings up an Ar­chive Episodes but­ton that lets you wash away your guilt at what re­mains there.

With that struc­ture the same, Su­per­top im­proved on other as­pects of the app, adding fea­tures and re­vis­ing weak el­e­ments, in­clud­ing nearly ev­ery­thing I men­tioned in my Cas­tro 2 re­view ( fave.co/2vJ3q0Q).

The big­gest ab­sence was a coun­ter­part to Over­cast’s Smart Speed, which dy­nam­i­cally re­moves si­lences in spo­ken-word pod­casts with­out dis­tort­ing play­back. Some peo­ple pre­fer to speed up pod­casts, but Cas­tor’s Trim Si­lence op­tion of­fers real com­pe­ti­tion with Smart Speed. Even with care­ful lis­ten­ing be­tween reg­u­lar play­back and episodes with si­lence trim­ming en­abled, I can typ­i­cally not hear the re­moved pauses. As with sev­eral set­tings in Cas­tro 3, you can choose which pod­casts have the fea­ture turned on or off: some, you won’t hear the space be­tween the notes, as it were.

In ad­di­tion to Trim Si­lence, Cas­tro 3 rewrote its voice en­hance­ment op­tion, which can boost and nor­mal­ize talk­ing, which is use­ful on some pod­casts that aren’t mixed well or for those that are in some loud or chal­leng­ing lis­ten­ing en­vi­ron­ments. A MonoMix op­tion also helps for some peo­ple, episodes, or cir­cum­stances by con­vert­ing stereo episodes to mono only. Cas­tro also of­fers an in­tro-skip­ping op­tion, which lets you au­to­mat­i­cally skip a de­fined amount of time per pod­cast if you want to omit things like theme mu­sic, a re­peat in­tro, or po­ten­tially pre-roll ad­ver­tis­ing.

Cas­tro 3 threw out a player in­ter­face that was both dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand and to use. The new player, reach­able by tap­ping a but­ton or swip­ing up from the nav­i­ga­tion bar at the app’s bot­tom, presents sev­eral per-pod­cast op­tions, AirPlay, shar­ing, and other fea­tures in a neater ar­range­ment. It also dumps the wave­form vi­su­al­iza­tion on the au­dio scrub­ber that pro­vided lit­tle in­for­ma­tion. In­stead, it’s a plain bar, and you can drag in it to ad­vance by large in­ter­vals, or grab the play­back head (a white line) for finer move­ment.

The player also of­fers a view that dis­plays pod­cast art, from the pod­cast logo to a per-episode im­age to chap­ter-based images if

in use. Chap­ter sup­port is ter­rific: as you scrub through au­dio, the cur­rent chap­ter ap­pears be­low the episode ti­tle. On episodes that have chap­ter di­vi­sions, you can also tap that ti­tle to get a chap­ter list, or use back/for­ward but­tons to move among chap­ters. Show notes are still found only in the episode view, in Queue, In­box, or Ar­chive, by tap­ping a right-point­ing tri­an­gle.

The Cas­tro Plus sub­scrip­tion in­cludes si­lence trim­ming, voice en­hance­ment, Mono-Mix, a night mode, and chap­ter-based art and se­lec­tion. Free users can set play­back speed, au­dio pref­er­ences, in­tro-skip­ping du­ra­tion, and choos­ing how many episodes to re­tain on an app-wide ba­sis, but re­quire a sub­scrip­tion to vary them for in­di­vid­ual pod­casts. (Those who paid for Cas­tro 2 will get Night Mode and the new voice en­hance­ment as per­ma­nent up­grades in Cas­tro 3.)

A con­cern I had be­tween ver­sions 2 and 3 was ad­dressed in the 2.6 up­date, by the way: start­ing with that re­lease, Cas­tro backs up all its app set­tings to iCloud, so if you set it up on a new de­vice or have some sort of de­vice cor­rup­tion, you can re­store

back to ex­actly where you left off. This fea­ture can also be dis­abled.

The app still lacks good pod­cast dis­cov­er­abil­ity, of­fer­ing just some loose large cat­e­gories for brows­ing, and a search/paste URL field. Other apps help you find more shows that might meet your in­ter­ests. And my ver­sion 2 search com­plaint re­mains ac­tive: there’s no in-app search across show notes, episode and chap­ter ti­tles, or pod­cast names for find­ing things you’ve sub­scribed to or spe­cific episodes.

I found one bug in the ver­sion 3.0: on any of the mini-player views, such as the lock screen, the back/ad­vance but­tons worked as ex­pected, but the time and progress bar dis­play was un­changed. Only paus­ing and re­sum­ing cor­rectly up­dates the dis­play show­ing the cur­rent play po­si­tion. For­tu­nately, the com­pany fixed it in its 3.0.1 re­lease.

Ver­dict

Cas­tro 3’s free flavour should be enough to let you know whether or not it’s for you be­fore com­mit­ting to pay­ment. The seven-day free trial on paid sub­scrip­tions of­fers a chance to do a test run, and all ma­jor pod­cast apps let you ex­port your sub­scrip­tions in the stan­dard OPML for­mat – you may be able to ex­port di­rectly from one app into an­other through a Share op­tion, too.

I’ve found Cas­tro’s triage ap­proach suits my style of pod­cast­ing sub­scrib­ing and lis­ten­ing bet­ter than playlist-driven ones, and if that sounds ap­peal­ing to you, the rest of Cas­tro 3’s im­prove­ments make it an eas­ier rec­om­men­da­tion as well.

The Queue view shows you episodes ready for lis­ten­ing and re-or­der the play­back

To man­age sub­scrip­tions or see which episodes you’ve lis­tened to or passed up, the Ar­chive view pro­vides all the con­trols

A new (and pre­mium) Trim Si­lence fea­ture lets you re­cap­ture lost sec­onds in spo­ken pod­casts, but you can pick which pod­casts to de-pause

Su­per­top thor­oughly im­proved its player, pro­vid­ing bet­ter con­trols and a smarter vi­su­al­iza­tion

A pre­mium fea­ture re­veals a chap­ter nav­i­ga­tor for pod­cast episodes that fea­ture these la­belled di­vi­sions

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