Review: Supertop Castro
For a lot of people, Apple’s Podcasts app will be a great way to listen to podcasts. Others may want more power with apps like Instacast, Downcast, or PocketCasts. After using a mix of Apple’s app and Instacast, I decided to give newcomer Castro a try, a $4 iPhone-only podcast app by Supertop that aims to provide a new design and only the most important features.
Requiring iOS 7, Castro plays along with the content-is-king minimal interface found in many other apps for Apple’s latest version of iOS. The main screen features only a few controls: a settings button, an add button, and two “columns” of content. One lists all your podcast subscriptions alphabetically, while the other lists all episodes that are unplayed.
The items for settings are revealed by the main screen flipping backwards. Castro features a number of standard podcast listening features, including playback speed, a sleep timer (up to an hour), continuous play, streaming (none, Wi-Fi only, or always), episode sorting, fast forward interval, rewind interval, auto-refresh, auto-download, and downloading large episodes (none, Wi-Fi only, or always). Finally, the app does away with the traditional “Back button” for navigation, requiring users to swipe from the left edge, much like a lot of other apps.
When you tap a particular show subscription, you are taken to a screen that shows information about the show, all episodes, as well as a button to override the default settings. The interesting thing is the way Castro displays this and individual episodes—in a very iOS 7-like manner, it shows the album art in a circle and the background is a large, blurred version of the album art. It’s interesting, a bit fun, but not annoying.
Looking at the unplayed episodes list, Castro sorts shows chronologically by day. Few podcast clients explicitly label unplayed shows in groups like this, which is good if you listen to daily shows, as opposed to the more popular weekly ones. There is lots of white space, and each episode can be swiped to modify: right to delete/download the episode, left to mark as played. Once an episode is played, the audio file is automatically deleted from your device. That’s a nice touch.
Playing an episode uses the similar blur-the-album-art design, with a few large controls above the episode summary: delete episode, mark as listened/unlistened, and play/pause. Below the summary are play controls, much like every other podcast client. The time elapsed and time remaining flank back, play/pause, and skip controls. Another nice touch is that Castro’s scrub controls. You can “grab” the edge of the controls and they immediately turn into a scrubber that is really easy to use, even on a long episode. While on screens other than the episode playback one, a small bar appears with the episode name and a play/pause button, allowing you to control playback from anywhere in the app. It will also hint at the next episode if you have continuous playback enabled.
If you want to add a show, there are two ways—searching (which is incredibly fast), or entering in a specific feed URL. Both work as expected.
Another big feature of Castro is its enhanced audio, designed to improve audio quality when listening to podcasts at faster speeds. As someone who generally listens to shows faster than they were originally recorded, I appreciate this feature—different clients do distort sound in the mode, and it’s nice that Castro looks to make this a great experience. There are some samples on the Castro site.
Although Castro plays podcasts well, has a great interface, and an excellent design, there are three limitations that may give you pause. The first is that there isn’t an iPad version—although most people listen to podcasts on iPhones, it would be nice to avoid 2x of the iPhone version on the iPad. The second is that Castro doesn’t offer any sort of synchronization service, so this may also make an iPad or Mac version moot at this point. Finally, the third is that Castro does not play video podcasts (only audio from these). I mostly listen to audio podcasts while I’m working or driving, so this isn’t a big deal. These points are well-advertised, so you should be aware of these limitations before buying Castro. Still, this uncluttered, highly-focused product design allows Castro to work one way and well. Just as Clear is not trying to be OmniFocus, Castro is not trying to be Instacast.
I actually found another way to use Castro in tandem with my Macs—App Dynamic’s $15 AirServer was a tool I already had and I simply use that to get the oh-so-great-sounding sped up audio to come through my Mac’s speakers. It’s a bit kludgy compared to a synchronizing family of apps, but I’ll take it.
So, looking at these limitations, should you buy Castro? If you do most of your podcast listening of the audio variety and care more about great user interface design and faster playback speeds that actually sound good, purchasing Castro is a no-brainer. It doesn’t necessarily offer much more than Apple’s free app (and less in some cases), but it really focuses on convenience and enjoyable experience.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
Castro is a new take on the podcast app, with some limits, but lots of great features.
Pros:Simple design, enhanced audio, quick search
Cons: iPhone-only, no sync, no video support