App Review: Podkicker Pro

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Quick Facts:

Developer: skiplist
Price: $2.80 CAN
Size: 279k
Google Play Link: Here

History

Podkicker Pro is the new, paid version of the popular free podcast app Podkicker. I had been using Podkicker for the past year or so as the main podcatcher on my Android devices, mainly because it was one of the few free podcatchers to allow for either streaming or download caching for all shows. I listen to a lot of podcasts on my phone, and Podkicker was the app that best suited my needs. I'd seen mention of a "big brother" for Podkicker in the app description for a while, and skiplist finally launched Podkicker Pro onto Google Play last week for the very reasonable price of $2.80 Canadian. I bought it immediately, as the developer has more than earned that amount for the mileage that I got out of Podkicker without being bombarded by ads. It turns out that the Pro version is not just a few added features; it's practically a whole new app, with a new UI and the removal of a few things from the OG app.

The New Look

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As you can see, skiplist has been paying attention to the Android Style Guide. Instead of the old tab arrangement along the bottom, with each tab label doubling as a button to reach the screen, Podkicker Pro allows you to pan across screens of the app with horizontal swipes. There are now three main pages in the app: Channels, Episodes, and Downloads. These replace the old tab views of Channels, New, Player, and Downloads. I really like that the app now behaves in a manner consistent with the newest apps on the platform. The swipe gestures are intuitive, though some initial overlay prompts might help users that are used to tapping on the section names to navigate.

You might be thinking, "Wait. Isn't that Player tab kind of important for a podcast app?". Well, see that circle below the Channels label? Tapping it opens the player pop-over, which you can do from any of the three main tabs. Tapping the bar to the right of the circle cycles you between the categories of podcasts that you've set in the app, and the left bar switches the order of episodes from alphabetical to chronological. The player controls are clear, and both the current time mark of the podcast and the total time are included, which I like to know. I do wish that this same info was displayed in the notification area during playback. The icon with three lines below the play button looks like it would show the playlist of podcasts, but it actually just pops up the episode description, as show below. This a is a little disappointing. The free version of the app had pretty good playlist management, but Podkicker Pro just plays episodes in the order that they are present in your download list. You can get around this by deleting episodes and re-downloading them to juggle them into the correct order, but that's a hassle if you want to set up a string of them for a long drive or workday.

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New Functions and Options

skiplist wasn't kidding when they called this app the big brother of the original Podkicker. First, let's dive into the Settings menu.

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First option on the menu is a big win for me. I like to listen to a podcast as I fall asleep at night, and being able to set a timer within the app is great. The Automisation menu contains a lot of the features that differentiate Podkicker Pro from the free version. While the original was dependable and solid, it was very much a podcatcher for those who wanted manual control over their subscriptions. The Pro version brings in some features that make things a little bit more seamless while still allowing you to control which shows get downloaded automatically, which you are notified about, and which just live in your Episodes page until you choose what to do with them. You can also control options to dictate how much mobile data the app uses by dictating when it syncs and the maximum size allowed for episodes being downloaded. To actually control which podcasts notify you of new episodes or download automatically, you must long press on a show from the Channels page, giving you this pop-up:

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Quite the list of options! I've set some of my podcasts to download automatically, some to notify me, and some to just sit until I want them. For me, being able to dictate the behaviour on an individual show level is great, but I could see it being annoying if you have a long list of podcasts that you want downloaded automatically. A universal option to automatically download all new shows would be nice for users to have. Adding notification or auto-download options to a show puts little icons overtop of the show name. You can see a few of these in the first screenshot in this review. While I like having the reminder that I have those shows set to behave that way, it looks ugly to have the icons interfering with the text of the show title.

You also now have one of the most common "pro" features, lockscreen controls: Screenshot_2012-04-02-14-17-34_medium

Not the most exciting for me, since I use a headset with inline controls, but it can't hurt.


Performance

I'm using Podkicker Pro on an HTC Desire Z running an ICS ROM called Ice Cream JIBwich. I do have some overclocking going on, as well as 2d GPU acceleration being forced, but I am still very impressed with how well Podkicker Pro scrolls through long lists of episodes and transitions between pages of the app. The app certainly isn't flashy, but it doesn't seem to put too much of a hurt on my battery even when streaming an episode. I've yet to have the app force close or freeze up on me in the three days that I've had it installed.

Is It Worth It?

Many people loved Podkicker because it worked so well while being free of both a purchase price and ads. Are the new upgrades enough to get the same crowd to pay for the Pro version? There are definitely benefits: the new UI is slick and smooth, especially on Android 4.0 handsets, you get even more control over how and when your podcasts get to you, and little tweaks like lockscreen controls and easily flipping between categories put it right up at the top of Android podcatcher apps in terms of features. Personally, I'm very happy with the improvements that Podkicker Pro has brought, and think that it competes very nicely with everything else available in the Play store for podcast addicts like myself.

Scores

Look and Feel: 9/10

-Matches the theme of ICS much closer than the free version

-Navigating with swipes smooth and intuitive

-Could use initial UI prompts; took me a bit of time before knowing how to switch categories from the bottom player area

Features: 8/10

-Even more granular control over how podcasts end up on your device and in your ears

-Good data management features for those with device storage or data plan constraints

-Still not the best with video podcasts

-Playback progress in the notification area would be great

Performance: 9/10

-Smooth and fast

-Not a CPU or battery hog

Overall Score: 9/10