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ACastaway Catches a Dogg

August 18, 2011

Vista busy cursor Immediately after buying my first Android phone last September, a Samsung Galaxy S, my first priority was to find a podcast app. That’s what I use my phone for – listening to podcasts, audiobooks and, yes, occasionally phone calls.  There is a “native” podcast app called Google Listen but I didn’t know about it until later so went hunting in the Android Market.

The number one Android podcast app appears to be DoggCatcher, but it wasn’t free to try so I picked on another reasonably popular choice, ACast, just to get started.  ACast is ad supported and therefore free. It worked fine so I stuck with it. After a while I paid for the companion “unlock key” app that switches off the ads.

ACast served me well for months but ultimately it all went a bit wrong and had to go.  It is all to do with variable listening speed and it may have been my own intervention that helped set ACast on a downward path. I tend to listen to podcasts at 1.5 x the normal speed, just to get through them all in the available time.  If you have an iPhone there is a native option to vary the playback speed, but there is no built-in equivalent in Android.  I got by for a while using the web-based Podshifter service which creates new RSS feeds delivering sped-up versions of all your favourite podcasts, but Podshifter has its own downsides including, at times, a long wait for the Podshifter servers to process the podcasts you are waiting to listen to.  

I asked the ACast developer if he would consider adding a variable speed playback feature.  Somewhat to my surprise he did just that, bless him. Maybe he was getting a lot of requests along those lines.  Variable speed playback was added as an “experimental” feature.  At first it was prone to jitters but he kept releasing updates and it became quite stable.  But other bugs began to creep in. ACast developed some annoying habits. If you tried to advance to next podcast it would sometimes go to the end of the current podcast but not advance the “now playing” cursor.  Worse than that, it became prone, when coming to the end of one podcast and starting the next, to grind to an inexplicable stop.  Often it would run out of memory and crash, needing an app restart before being able to resume playback.  

These niggles were getting worse.  I was deleting every other app I thought might be starving ACast of memory space.  The developer seemed to disappear.  No more updates or attempts to fix the problems.  Maybe he wasn’t making enough out of it and gave the whole thing up as a bad job. Who knows? In the end with regret I cast away ACast and went with the crowd, purchasing DoggCatcher.

The latter now also supports variable speed playback but requires you to purchase the separate Presto app at extra cost. Still, I was out of options and the costs are hardly prohibitive.  I now wish I had bought DoggCatcher on day one.  It is the top podcast app for a reason.

It is simpler to use than ACast.  It took a while to get used to the different UI paradigm but I’ve got it working the way I want it.  It doesn’t seem quite as robust as Acast when it comes to waking up every X hours (or whatever interval you set) and checking for and downloading new podcasts. ACast was rock solid in that regard at least and DoggCatcher occasionally seems to be playing catch-up. But the sound quality with speeded up podcasts is far superior.  I had not appreciated how much the ACast variable speed feature was impairing the sound quality until I switched to DC.  Presto does a far better job – hardly any change in quality, just faster, and no jitters or jumps. And DC does not get stuck on one podcast or stop unexpectedly.  It is less memory hungry – no crashes.

But the most amazing thing is the reduced battery consumption!  Before I upgraded to Gingerbread (Android 2.3) around a month or so ago there was no chance of getting through the day without a battery boost on the mains or via USB cable from my PC.  The upgrade from Froyo to Gingerbread made a quite noticeable difference – I could get through the day without charging maybe 2 days out of every 5. Since ditching ACast in favour of DC my phone nearly always lasts the day, often quite comfortably.  And I am not using it any less.  The only conclusion I can draw is that ACast is an absolute battery hog.


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