Review: CastCenter


I know, I know, yet another podcatcher for Windows Phone. How is it that this app genre is getting so crowded when other genres remain sparse and barren? Must be something to do with the Lumia hardware being pretty good for playing back media, I think. In any case, by virtue of being developed after other solutions, CastCenter manages to be fully formed at launch, with every feature I normally demand and a few others besides. It's an easy recommend, with a trial version handling 3 podcasts and only £1.50 or so to unlock CastCenter fully.

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CastCenter looks for all the world a polished solution from moment one, as if the developer has cast(!) their eye over the other podcatchers, worked out what the baseline must-haves are, added plenty of 2015 secret sauce and calculated that enough people will buy the in-app upgrade to make the production of CastCenter worthwhile in the aforementioned crowded market. Maybe they will - I did. But there are SO many alternatives that I do have doubts. 

The polish starts from the very first launch, with a sequence of intro slides highlighting some of the unique selling points - variable playback speed is a biggie, in that this is the first third party tool I've seen that can do this - no doubt it'll come to other podcatchers in upgrades now that Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 is more widespread. Personally, I never use variable speed, finding that I'd rather hear the original cadence of the podcaster, but I know others that swear by it etc.

Screenshot, CastCenterScreenshot, CastCenter

The variable speed system does work very well though, at a decent set of options: 0.5x, 0.8x, 1x, 1.2x, 1.5x, 1.8x, and 2x, just in case you're thinking of using it. The sleep timer also works as advertised, with delays before shut-off of 5, 10, 15, 30, 45 amd 60 minutes, plus the somewhat obvious option to stop at the end of the current podcast. All very handy, and nicely flexible.

The opening screens are two panes, for podcasts (as you'd expect, with the option for any of three different layouts) and playlists, of which more later.

Screenshot, CastCenterScreenshot, CastCenter

Once something's playing, it appears as a tappable bar at the top of the main UI and then you tap into the 'now playing' screen to see a default set of playback controls, with 30 second nudges, and a 'v' control - this changes the controls to advanced options, including the sleep timer, playback speed and sharing, tapping '^' toggles this bar back to the playback set - it's easy to get used to and all works well, plus the nudge controls also work in the Windows Phone volume/media pop-up bar, from anywhere else on the phone, thankfully.

Screenshot, CastCenterScreenshot, CastCenter

As you'd expect from the graphical look here, you can also drag the playback indicator to find a particular spot, it's all kept very clear. Swiping left and right on the main podcast artwork brings in information on the podcast or on the programme, all garnered from the RSS feed, of course.

Playlists are more exciting than they sound, because they provide the curated views of your downloaded podcasts that are downright essential once you get beyond a dozen shows.

Screenshot, CastCenterScreenshot, CastCenter

The playlist names are self evident and each provide the view you'd expect, I like to always stay on top of whatever's most recent (just in case) and 'recent episodes' has everything reverse sorted by time of release, while 'unfinished episodes' reminds me of what I was halfway through when I got distracted and started doing something else.

Within each playlist, the episodes are neatly sorted and colour coded - and with a handy indication of whether something's waiting to download (e.g. for Wi-fi), downloading or already downloaded. Handily, there's a settings pane for each playlist, wherein you can customise the heck out of what it shows:

Screenshot, CastCenterScreenshot, CastCenter

The podcast directory used is terrific - it's not clear what it uses, but it does claim to be country-specific and I'm wondering if it ties into iTunes's catalogs at all - every podcast I tried it with was found first time, even those which flummoxed other podcatchers on Windows Phone. Colour me impressed.

The look and feel of CastCenter is very much Windows 10-ish, or at least with a nod or two in its direction. Everything's clearly laid out and linear where it needs to be, with the settings hub below a model of clarity in particular, with each setting shown in smaller type below the setting name/control:

Screenshot, CastCenterScreenshot, CastCenter

Podcatchers these days have no problems configuring a background agent to do the podcast RSS refreshing (it goes down to every hour, but this is excessive, even for me!) and downloading. There's the usual handy 'Only over wi-fi' switch and otherwise podcasts just 'arrive', on the right days and while you're in the range of home or work wi-fi. It worked seamlessly.

Screenshot, CastCenterScreenshot, CastCenter

So far so good then - a modern interface, flawless functionality and at least one standout feature on Windows Phone, in the variable speed playback. There's just one note of caution and it relates to the touch interface. Surely a bug, but I found that taps were missed surprisingly often (several times a day) - there's room for some small bug fixes in the touch events being detected. When these are sorted out, I'll be ready to give CastCenter my top recommendation, perhaps even equalling the likes of Podcast Lounge.

Well worth a quid or so for any other Windows Phone user whose life revolves around podcasts, see if you agree with my praise.

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