Listen to Podcasts on Android Phones and Tablets
Have you ever had someone recommend an interesting podcast, only to leave you wondering how to get it on your Android phone or tablet? You might have thought that podcasts were only available through Apple's iTunes market. You may have flicked through your phone's preinstalled apps, for anything related to podcasts. Next, you went to the Play store and looked for iTunes. (Don't bother; it's not there.) In desperation, you typed podcast into the Play search . . . and got over 1000 results.
The number of Android podcast apps out there is daunting, but listening to podcasts has been so valuable to my personal and professional life that I hate to see anyone miss out on this wealth of information and entertainment just because they got stumped by which app to download, or how to configure it.
Poll: Why Podcasts?
Before we begin, I'd like to know: Why are you interested in listening to podcasts on your Android device?
Step 1: Get the App
The top two podcast apps for Android seem to be Stitcher Radio, and BeyondPod. I like BeyondPod. It's easy to use, once you understand the basics, and it lets you automatically download content over WiFi which you can play later. (Stitcher streams the podcast content, so if you're listening to podcasts away from WiFi, you're using up your monthly data plan.)
You can get BeyondPod from the Play store. Just search for "BeyondPod". If you have a smartphone, the one you want is BeyondPod Podcast Manager. If you have a tablet, you'll want BeyondPod for Tablets. Both of these apps are free, but they're essentially trial versions. You get full features for seven days, then you need to purchase and download the BeyondPod Unlock Key to use some of the best features. As of this writing, the Unlock Key is $6.99, which I think is a great price for such an essential app.
Like I said, though, you get seven days to try out the app before you have to decide whether to purchase the Unlock Key. My goal in the rest of this article is to make sure you get the most out of your trial period.
Before We Begin: Terminology
Once you've downloaded BeyondPod (the phone or tablet version), you need to set it up. (I'm going to use the phone version to demonstrate, but the tablet version operates under the same principles.)
Let's start with some terminology:
In BeyondPod, the collection of podcast episodes from a single source is called a feed. A feed is like a radio program or a television show.
Episodes are exactly what you would think they are. An episode is an individual podcast. Most podcasts stick to a particular length, though that's not required. Some (like 60-Second Science, for example) are about a minute long. Others (like the Survival Podcast) are a couple of hours long. Good podcasters like to release episodes on a regular schedule, whether daily, weekly, monthly, or some other frequency.
That's all the terminology you need to know to get started. BeyondPod starts you out with a pre-selected list of feeds. You can keep these, or you can get rid of them, and, of course, you can add to them. More on that later. First, let's get familiar with the interface.
You'll notice there are three tabs along the top of the screen: The first tab on the left is the Feeds tab; the middle one is the Episodes tab; and the last one on the right is the Player tab. When you're on the Feeds tab, it's label changes to All Feeds (or the name of the category you're viewing, which we'll talk about later). For now, notice that you have a dozen or so feeds in your list, and that they are organized by categories like News, Sports, Entertainment, etc. These are podcasts you are subscribed to. (Subscribed is just another way of saying the podcast is in your feed list, and new episodes of it will be downloaded to your device.)
When you tap Episodes, you'll see that it's label changes to All Episodes. You'll also see that this section is empty. That's because no episodes have been downloaded yet.
When you tap Player, you'll see that the playlist is empty. The Playlist is the collection of episodes that are in queue to play on your device. We'll get to this later. First, we need to go back to Feeds.
Feed List Management
Now that you know how to get around, let's talk about adding and removing feeds.
Listening to Individual Episodes
To begin, let's take a look at the feeds already included with BeyondPod. You probably don't know what most of them are. That's OK, you can give them a listen to find out. Listen to any episode of any feed by doing the following:
- Tap the feed you want to preview. You'll see a list of episodes.
- Tap the square picture to the left of the episode. The episode will immediately start playing, and BeyondPod will switch to the Player tab.
- To stop playing, press the big pause button at the bottom of the screen.
You won't normally play podcast episodes by selecting them individually, but this is a good way to figure out which podcasts you want to keep and which you want to delete.
Deleting a Feed
I'm guessing you don't want all the feeds BeyondPod subscribes you to by default. Let's say you hate sports of any kind, and you want to get rid of ESPN Radio Daily. Easy fix:
- Tap the feed you don't want.
- Tap your phone's menu button.
- Tap Delete Feed.
- Tap OK.
(Alternately, you can tap-hold the feed name, wait for the menu to appear, then tap Delete Feed.)
You may find that some episodes don't have little square pictures next to them. These are not podcast episodes; they're blog posts. As the name suggests, BeyondPod does more than serve up podcasts on Android. It also acts as a blog viewer of sorts.
Don't worry if you have a feed that contains both podcasts and blog posts. The blog posts won't interfere with your listening, and, unless you manually look at the episodes, you'll never know they're there.
Adding New Feeds
If you're reading this article, it's probably because you have one or more podcasts in mind that you'd like to listen to. Here's how to subscribe to those podcasts on your Android device.
Start in the Feeds tab, and tap Add Feed, at the bottom right of the screen.
If you know the name of the podcast, (or if you just want to see a list of podcasts related to a specific topic) type it in the search box, and tap the magnifying glass. (If you don't get the results you expect, you may need to go find the podcast URL, which is usually just the podcast's Web page address, but you'll only need to do that for very obscure podcasts.)
You can also browse using the Browse Popular Feeds options in the center of the screen. The instructions to subscribe are the same.
Once you've searched or browsed, you'll be presented with a list of feeds. You'll notice that you can choose between Popular, Audio, Video, and All. If the podcast you're looking for is fairly popular, it's going to show up under Popular. If it's more obscure, you may have to switch to the Audio tab or the All tab to find it. I don't have much use for video podcasts, since I'm generally listening while I'm using my eyes for other things (like driving!).
Assuming you've located the podcast you want to subscribe to, you now have two choices. You can Preview, or Subscribe. If you tap the Preview button, you'll see a list of the most recent episodes. Tap one to start playing that episode. When you're done listening, tap the back button on your phone to bring you back to the episode list. Tap the back button again to bring you back to the search results.
When you're ready to subscribe, click Subscribe. You'll be asked to add the feed to a category. When you first start out, you may not care much about categories, but, trust me, you'll want to use categories. If this podcast doesn't seem to fit in one of the predefined categories, scroll to the bottom of the list, and tap New Category. When you're ready, tap the category to which you want to add this feed.
You should see a tiny notification, saying that the feed was added. Don't blink, though, you may miss it. Tap your phone's back button a few times to return to the Feeds tab. You should see the feed you added listed there.
Don't worry too much about which feeds you're subscribed to at this point. Let's talk about how to set up your playlist first. Then you can go back and modify your subscriptions.
Designing Your Playlist
One of the best features of BeyondPod is SmartPlay. The SmartPlay playlist allows you to make sure you always hear the podcasts that are most important to you. Here's how to set it up:
- Tap your phone's menu button.
- Tap More...
- Tap Settings.
- Tap Playlist and Widget Settings.
- Tap Configure SmartPlay.
- Tap the green "+" to add a new SmartPlay section.
Each section has three options. Starting from the bottom, and working our way up:
- Which feed or category do you want this section to play? I've found that using categories is the way to go here. Trying to manage individual feeds in SmartPlay can become annoying, so don't do it unless you have a particular reason.
- How many episodes of this category (or feed) do you want to play? I usually stick to "1 episode", with one exception: I have a category called "Quick Hits". In this category, I have three feeds that are all under five minutes. I usually want to hear these first, and one after another, so the first item in my SmartPlay is "3 episodes" of "Category: Quick Hits".
- Do you want to start with the newest or oldest downloaded episodes? For news feeds, you'll probably want to play the newest episodes first. For others, you may want to play the oldest, since they will expire sooner. (We'll talk more about expiration below.)
As you add sections, you can move them up and down in the order by tapping the arrow buttons on the left. The sections will play in the order they are listed. If there are no episodes to play in a particular section, SmartPlay will just move on to the next section.
You'll probably want to add a final section that tells SmartPlay to play the oldest episode from "Category: All feeds". That way, if you missed any categories, or if you have an uncategorized feed, it will still get played eventually.
When you're done configuring SmartPlay, tap Save.
At this point, you've subscribed to feeds, and created a SmartPlay list, but you haven't yet downloaded any episodes. You're going to want to control how many episodes of each feed are downloaded, and how long you keep them on your phone. You do this by editing the properties of each feed.
- Go to the Feeds tab.
- Tap the feed you want to modify.
- Tap your phone's menu button.
- Tap Edit Feed.
There are a lot of options on this page. The ones we're concerned with are Feed Categories, Feed Podcast Episodes, and Automatic Episode Cleanup.
You can assign up to 2 categories to each feed. You don't have to, and it only really has an effect in SmartPlay. For example, I have 60 Second Science assigned to Quick Hits and Science and Technology. Since both of these categories have spots on my SmartPlay list, I could end up hearing two episodes if there are two unheard episodes in my queue. I will not, however, hear the same episode twice.
BeyondPod defaults to downloading the three newest episodes of each podcast. That's usually a good number. You don't want to download too many at once, or you could fill up your phone's storage space. The other interesting option here is that you can (by tapping Download Newest Episodes) select to Download Episodes in Order. If you want to "catch up" with a podcast from the beginning, this is the way to do that.
Assuming you didn't choose Download Episodes in Order, you should see two settings that allow you to specify how many episodes you want to keep, and how long you want to keep old episodes around. Defaults are to keep up to 20 episodes for no longer than 7 days. If the podcast is released daily, you'll never have more than 7 episodes on your phone at any one time. If the podcast is released weekly, you'll never have more than one episode. I find that I like to adjust the age setting. For daily podcasts, I like to set it to 3 days. That way, I never have more than three. For weekly podcasts, I like to set it to 22 days. Again, this gives me three local episodes.
You will almost never have to go into More Settings. When you're done, tap Save.
Automatically downloading new episodes is done through an update schedule. BeyondPod allows you to set different update schedules for different categories. I don't find this to be all that useful. I just set an update schedule for All Feeds, and forget about it.
- Tap your phone's menu button.
- Tap More...
- Tap Settings.
- Tap Feed Update Settings.
- Tap Automatic Updates.
- If this is the first time you've been here, BeyondPod will ask you if you want a Single Schedule or a Per Category schedule. Tap Single Schedule.
- Check Update on Schedule.
- In Start At, set a time that is prior to the time of day you will normally start listening to podcasts. I set mine to an hour before I wake up.
- Set Repeat Every, to 1 day.
- Tap Save.
When the automatic update starts, your feeds will be updated using the download and retention settings you set for each feed.
Note that the time you specify for your updates should be a time when your phone is likely to be connected to WiFi. Downloading podcasts uses bandwidth, and you'll want to be on a non-metered connection when you do it.
Other Important Settings
BeyondPod has a ton of settings. Here are the most important ones that I've found:
Settings > Player Settings > After Playing: Set to Delete and play next. That way, episodes you've heard will automatically be removed from your device. They'll get removed eventually anyway, but this is just cleaner. You can always re-download an episode by viewing the feed details.
Settings > Player Settings > Streaming Preferences: Set to On WiFi only. This prevents you from accidentally streaming an episode over your mobile data connection.
Settings > Player Settings > Skip to End Button: Set to Use Long Press. The first time you accidentally hit the skip to end button in the player, you'll see the value of this. By making this change, you're required to hold down the skip to end button for it to work.
Settings > Playlist and Widget Settings > Auto Rebuild SmartPlay: If you check this, your SmartPlay playlist will automatically rebuild when BeyondPod downloads new episodes. Essentially, you'll start from the top of your SmartPlay every day. If you don't check this, you'll start where you left off, and BeyondPod will play through the rest of the current SmartPlay list before starting at the top of a new one.
Settings > Playlist and Widget Settings > When Playlist Ends: Set to Restart SmartPlay. This will just start a new SmartPlay playlist when you reach the end of the current one.
Settings > Feed Update Settings > Use Mobile Data: Uncheck this! This will prevent BeyondPod from updating feeds using your mobile data plan.
Settings > Feed Update Settings > Toggle WiFi on Update: Check this. This will ensure your WiFi gets turned on when it's time to update.
Settings > Feed Update Settings > Download on WiFi Only: Check this! It seems the same as the Use Moblie Data setting above, but better safe than sorry.
Finally: Playing Your Podcasts
Once you've subscribed to a few feeds, and completed the initial setup, it's time to play some podcasts.
First, you need to update your feeds, which will download the episodes. From the Feeds tab, tap the middle button at the bottom. It looks like two circular arrows. You'll see little musical notes, and numbers show up next to the feeds in your feed list. These represent the number of new items that have been downloaded.
As soon as at least one episode has been downloaded, you can start your SmartPlay list.
- Go to the Player tab.
- Tap your phone's menu button.
- Tap Start SmartPlay.
BeyondPod will switch to the Player tab, and start playing the first episode in your SmartPlay list. When you want to pause, tap the big pause button. When you want to resume playing, tap the play button. That's it. The next time you start BeyondPod, just tap the play button to start playing your SmartPlay list again.
If you want to skip back a few seconds, tap the first button on the left. If you want to skip forward a few seconds, tap the second button on the right. If you want to skip ahead to the next episode in your list, tap and hold the first button on the right.
A few Podcasts to Get You Started
Interesting Science Tidbits
Stuff You Should Know
Humorous and down-to-Earth discussions of a huge variety of topics
Business and Life Q&A by motivational speaker, Dan Miller
This is Your Life
Leadership, Marketing, and more by Michael Hyatt
Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips
Stuff you Missed in History Class
Down-to-Earth presentations of things you may not have known about history.
Once or twice a week
This article should have provided enough information to get you started listening to podcasts on Android. Don't worry if you don't have too many feeds in your list yet. Once you start listening to podcasts, you'll find more and more that you want to listen to.
If you found this hub helpful, if you have a suggestion to improve it, if you have a question, or if you have your own podcast story, leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you and answer your questions.
If you have a favorite podcast to suggest, that would be great too!