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How to Listen to Podcasts: A Guide That Still Has to Be Written in 2015

With lots of GIFs and pictures.

An iPhone with a pair of on-ear headphones surrounding it. Re/code

To steal adapt a line from Re/code’s co-founder Walt Mossberg: Podcasts are just too hard to listen to, and it isn’t your fault.

And that’s a shame, both because it’s almost 2016 and because podcasts are great (I may be a little biased). Plus, they’re free, which makes the absence of a one-size-fits-all solution all the more frustrating.

Here’s an illustrated guide to start listening to podcasts on your computer, iPhone/iPad, Android device, or in your car.

On Your Computer

For some people, a desktop application such as iTunes will be a fine option. In the iTunes Store, click on the large word “Music” to get a drop-down list of options, one of which is “Podcasts.”

From there, you can click on any show that looks interesting to get more information about it and a list of episodes.

Podcast makers like Re/code want you to click that big, friendly “Subscribe” button because it means you’ll receive our future episodes automatically.

But one nice feature of iTunes is that you can hover your mouse over any episode on that page and click the “Play” icon that appears to preview an episode in its entirety.

To get the most out of podcasts, though, subscribing is the way to go. Some sites, like Re/code, will announce when a new episode is available to stream or download, but not all do.

So long as iTunes is open and you’ve told it to download new episodes automatically (which you can do from the “defaults” menu of your local “My Podcasts” library), it will do so in the background at whatever interval you specify — from weekly to hourly.

There are few good desktop alternatives to iTunes for non-geeks who don’t want to mess with things like menu bar widgets. And if you are a geek, you probably know how to get podcasts already and aren’t reading this.

Spotify said in May that it would soon support podcasts, but at the time of this writing, they’re completely MIA from the desktop app and only spottily available on mobile.

By the Way …

It’s also common for podcast creators to let listeners stream episodes through their Web browsers. For instance, you can find all of Re/code’s past podcasts on this page.

There are also websites that aggregate podcasts and let you stream them from one central location. Product Hunt is a good one for the tech crowd, and NPR recently launched (pictured above), which is premised around podcasts recommended by other listeners, celebrities and NPR staffers.

On iOS

If you have an iPhone or iPad, you already have a free podcast-listening app called Podcasts and it’s … okay. But our sister site The Verge recommends the free app Overcast, which is just as easy to use and more powerful than Apple’s offering.

To find a show, tap on the plus sign in the upper-right corner of the screen and then pick from the categories or search for a subject you’re interested in. New shows on iTunes are added to Overcast’s searchable directory within a day, and new episodes will appear and download automatically.

Once you’ve subscribed to a couple shows, you can create playlists based around themes or moods that will automatically fill up with newly downloaded episodes.

And if you want to customize how you listen to episodes, you can set a sleep timer within Overcast via the “Playback” menu, which is on the bottom left when an episode is playing …

… or tweak how fast an episode plays, in the “Effects” menu in the bottom-right. Just don’t do it when a radio purist is watching.

If you have both Android and iOS devices, you may want to go with the Android pick shown below, Pocket Casts, which is on both platforms. Overcast is iOS-only.

On Android

For Android users, The Verge recommends Pocket Casts, which costs $4. It’s worth noting that Google is planning to launch its own podcasting directory inside Google Play Music soon.

Pocket Casts has a very pretty design for suggesting new podcasts to listen to, or you can just tap on the search icon in the upper right to look for something like, say, “Re/code Decode.”

While an episode is playing, the dial-like icon on the bottom left will let you customize playback speed:

And the “Zzz” icon on the bottom right sets your sleep timer:

If you have multiple devices on which you like to listen to podcasts, you can create an account with Pocket Casts to sync your subscriptions and progress if you’ve paused in the middle of an episode. The app is available on both Android and iOS, and can sync between the different platforms.

In Your Car

This can be a bit of a mixed bag, but when it works, it’s an invaluable asset to the long commute or road trip. Let’s assume you’ve already figured out what podcasting app you want to use on your smartphone.

From there, all you need to do is get the audio your phone is outputting into your car’s sound system. The options for this are many: You can buy adapters that go into the “auxiliary” ports of a car stereo on one end, and the headphone jack of your phone on the other end.

Of course, Apple and Google are trying to follow you into your vehicle with their integration services CarPlay and Android Auto, which let you plug in your phone and use your car like an extension of many mobile apps. That includes listening to audio like music and podcasts, but if that’s all you want to do, then your car doesn’t need to be in one of those programs.

In many newer models, including those that don’t support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, it’s increasingly common to find cars that can connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth.

You’ll need to make sure that your phone’s ability to search for other Bluetooth devices is turned on (shown above on an iPhone). Then, you can navigate to your phone’s Bluetooth settings to see what other devices are “discoverable” in the vicinity.

With any luck, something that looks like your car will be one of them, and you’ll be able to “pair” them wirelessly.

Anything we missed? Lingering questions? Tweet me at @HeyHeyESJ or email

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