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Overcast 2.5 review: Patron-backed podcast app gets more efficient and adds exclusive features

Glenn Fleishman | March 21, 2016
The original Overcast locked its best features away. It added streaming and Handoff in 2.0, and adds patron features and better battery efficiency for all in 2.5.

The Overcast podcast app unlocked all its features in shifting from a freemium model in version 1.0 to a patron-backed approach with its 2.0 release. The latest major update, 2.5, brings the first features exclusive to donors, while free users retain all previous ones and get all the general improvements.

Overcast 2 added a number of much-requested features, like streaming audio, and added interesting ones, like Handoff support to allow moving among devices while retaining your current playback position. Version 2.5’s marquee additions appear mostly under the hood. Developer Marco Arment says he’s improved battery efficiency somewhat, while dramatically reducing unnecessary network file sync operations (and thus bandwidth and time). The new release also clears up a couple of rough edges I noted in the 2.0 review.

Patrons receive two unique benefits in 2.5: a dark theme for the app that uses the San Francisco font, and the ability to upload as much as 2GB of audio files that aren’t distributed through podcast feeds.

The first release of Overcast had a few key features that tried to set it apart from several mature competitors, like Castro and Pocket Casts. Some of these were on the back end, like extra-finicky monitoring and parsing of syndication feeds to provide rapid updates when new episodes of subscribed podcasts were available, as well as providing sync services for subscriptions, downloaded episodes, played/unplayed episodes, and the position within podcasts that a user had already started. (Other apps had some of these features; Overcast tried to do them all and with a higher degree of perfectionism; podcast feeds are especially diverse in how they’re misformatted.)

Many were on the interface and functional side, such as Smart Speed, which identifies and skips silence during playback, and Voice Boost, which was intended to provide real-time normalization of audio to keep voices within a narrower range, preventing a lot of volume adjustment. Both features could be enabled app-wide, but disabled or customized for individual podcasts.

Voice Boost received additional work in version 2.5. Arment says that he tuned its performance when used with an iPhone’s speakers; previously, the profile was designed only for headphones. Version 2.0 added improvements Smart Speed for quieter voices, though I don’t use the feature routinely and thus couldn’t tell the difference.

Overcast 1 limited its appeal by employing a freemium model. The basic version of the app limited the number of playlists and the number of episodes shown in them, and could only download over Wi-Fi. Purchase a $5 in-app upgrade, and that version added variable-speed pitch-adjust playback, cellular downloads, unlimited playlists and episodes, a sleep timer, and the above-mentioned Voice Boost and Smart Speed.

 

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