Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Great Podcast App: DoggCatcher


Podcasting for Android

A Thorough Review of DoggCatcher for Android

As a kid I was baffled by the fact that my Dad always listened to talk radio.  I could not comprehend why anyone would rather listen to another person ramble on about politics or news.  When I got out of college and began working for a big tech company I was surprised to find that my tastes were changing.  It wasn't long before I too was listening to talk radio, although a different sort that what my Dad liked.  It's been 10 years since my interests shifted and thankfully the age of the internet has brought a new change called Smartphones.  My favorite media app is a great podcast app called DoggCatcher.

Android has not been out for very long (4+ years) and DoggCatcher (DC) was one of the earliest podcast applications available on Android.  I found it back in early 2009 when I was learning to use my HTC G1 and purchased for $7.  I used DC for a while, but when I ran into a problem where downloading wasn't happening consistently, I switched to Google Listen.   I might have stayed with Google Listen, but Google decided to decommission it and so I switched back to DC.




Media

DoggCatcherDoggCatcher has always offered multiple ways of obtaining a podcast. For new users there is a Discovery section called "Top Feeds" where popular podcast shows can be found.  There is also a space for Recommendations from other users.  But you can also search for shows by any word or category.  Additionally there are some great podcast groups that have their own directories like TWIT (This Week in Tech), Revision 3, NPR, and the BBC.

Video podcast shows are very popular and many people like to include YouTube videos in their Feeds list.  Personally, I like Hak5.org, TED Talks videos, and TWIT, which are available in audio as well.  Most of the larger networks provide the podcast shows in more than one format both for audio and video, so if your bandwidth, or screen size, or device capacity is limited, you have other options.

One other thing that I might not have mentioned in a podcast app, is the ability to read text news.  DoggCatcher goes one step further offering this feature, so if you really want all your media in one location, it's available too.

Display Features

DoggCatcher
When you open the app the first screen shows the logo, then immediately following you will see the Main screen.  Across the top of the screen you will see the DoggCatcher logo, a pull-down filter, the refresh button, add button, and menu button. Once you have a larger feeds list, the filter may help you to find the type of podcast that you are looking for more easily.  If you hit refresh (circle icon) DC will check the status of all your shows and update any that have new episodes.  The add (+) button will take you to the Add Feed screen, where you can get more shows to add to your feeds list.  And last but far from least is the menu (three vertical dots), that I will get to later.

DoggCatcherThe Feeds list is the body of the Main screen and will list all your shows. For example, on the left are the Podcast show icon graphics that will give you a visual reminder of the show. Immediately to the right of that is the Title of the show along with a couple status notes.  In small print under the name is the current status of the last update and whether there was a change.  During updating this will say either "Updating" or "Queued".  On the far upper right are two numbers, each encapsulated in a square.  The number in green is the episodes that have been downloaded, but not played.  The number in blue is the episodes that you have started playing, but not finished.  And below these numbers is a small faint triangle for yet another huge sub-list of settings for that specific show.  (This is detailed in Sub Features)

DoggCatcher
At the bottom of the main screen is the control bar.  It displays the tracking bar, timers (start / end), a speed variable toggle, bar-size toggle, the autoplay toggle, and the familiar media control buttons.  The only toggle worth noting here, that is not noted anywhere else, is the bar-size toggle.  Per the the icon, it is possible to increase or decrease the size of the control bar.  The smallest setting shrinks the bar down to the size of the icon, revealing more of your Feeds List.

Menu

All android apps, that have additional features, have a menu. This app is not much different.  Thankfully, the Menu is mostly just a short table of contents and not a technical manual like the Settings.
  • Settings - See below
  • Categories - Can be set to help you better organize your media
    DoggCatcher
  • Download queue - While the media is downloading, this screen will show you the list of what is in the queue.  Also the top bar will change to allow access to this two additional features during downloading; Feed Options and Hide episodes that are done. (these are detailed in the Settings)
  • Sleep Timer - If you are likely to be playing some media and have the Autoplay feature on, or if the podcast is particularly long and you would like your phone to not drain its battery on media, you could use this option.
  • Application log - A short list of information about what has happened recently in the app. More of a developer tool, if anything
  • Send log to developer - And what do you know, a way to send "said log" to the developer.
  • Help - Contains a short glossary and web links to more help
  • About - a page of neat stuff about the app.
  • Exit - Gets you out of the app. There is no "Are you sure?" question.


Settings

The available media through DoggCatcher is second only to the incredible number of settings. I'm going to break down the settings into multiple sections because there are so many of them.  In any other situation this sort of granularity might be considered overkill, but to a Systems Administrator (like myself) it's awesome.

Feeds

To begin, I need to talk about what the "Feeds List" is.  All the shows that you choose, are placed into your feeds list.  There are feed updates, global feed options, and limits to the feed.  Just about everything you do, except for actually playing the media is going to be in the feeds list.
  • Feed Updates - I listen to several shows weekly and at least one daily, so I have the feeds list updated when my phone boots, and when I first run the app and at least once every hour. Yes, I update a lot.
  • Global Feed Options - You may have a dozen different episodes that you want to watch or listen to, but how many do you want to be updated at once? And how many do you want to keep locally?  I keep no more than 5 at one time and never download more than three at once.  The term "Global" is used here because it is possible to set these same features individually (aka Locally) for each show.
  • Auto Delete Policy - I usually delete an episode to save room after I'm done with it.  The app will automatically delete the files once you either finish listening to the entire thing or you "flag it as done".  There are other options including "deleting as space is needed" and "keep the latest X".  The former option isn't as good because files can vary in size and it can cause the app to crash when space is needed but the new file is already in the process of downloading.
  • Play Order - Often I miss shows that are weekly, so I used to run the order in reverse. But sometimes this is confusing, if you just want to find the latest episode. I recommend leaving this option set to the default.
Audio / Video

Again with the almost unnecessary number of settings, just about everything that you can do with this app has it's own option and description.  For example, I use the LG Tone, a stereo Bluetooth headset with my smartphone and it has several buttons on it.  They all have multiple functions in the app, allowing for some pretty comprehensive control without directly touching the phone. 

Headset (Bluetooth/Wired) - there are at least 10 options here so I will group the most important ones to keep it concise.
  • Respond to headset / Forcefully Respond to headset - Any user of Android knows that you can listen to music and do other things at the same time. But if you want to control the audio in DC you may need to "force" it to override other apps.  I do occasionally run an app that will not allow me to control DC while it's in the background.  At a minimum I use "Respond to Headset", but rarely "Forcefully..."
  • On connect - It is possible to interact with DC with you connect a headset.  You could set it to start DC on connect, or show the connect screen, or even play / pause the audio.  As much as I use DC, I only use the "pause" function here.
  • Headset controls - These are more like mapping features allowing you to change the default on the headset that you're using.  If you prefer a different setup, to the one provided for your convenience, these options are available.
Audio - More control settings here for audio.
  • Audio Player - If you prefer a different audio app to play the audio from the shows, here's where you can change that.  I've always just used the default.
  • Auto Play - I used this feature for a while when I was a programmer because each coding session was very long. But I get interrupted so much now, I don't want to forget and have all my episodes auto play and then auto delete when they're done, because I forgot to hit pause. 
  • Variable Speed - I know for a fact that some of the people who listen to my favorite podcast show, listen to the show at slightly more than normal speed.  I guess they like the talk to sound like chipmunks? (It allows you to get through the podcast faster) Please note that this option is buggy
  • Pause Audio on power removal - Self-explanatory 
  • Fast Forward / Reverse / Seek  - You can set the number of seconds that Forward or Reverse jump when you hit the button.  For Seek however, you can set how long of a press is required. I have changed the Forward to 30 seconds so that I can skip an ad in 1 or 2 clicks.
Video - There's not much here, since the majority of the controls are in the Audio section.
  • Video Player - Just like in the Audio section, if you have a different preference on the player, here's where you can change it.  I have to admit that for a while back in the early days this was a definite benefit to have as Android wasn't very good at playing a wide range of video.  But now I don't find it to be as much trouble because most shows have unified on a video standard.
  • Video Orientation - You'd think this would be simple, right?  If screen rotation is on already, the app would just react to whatever you had it set to.  But if you're really picky about this, there are 8 possible orientations.  I just use the default.
User Interface

Who doesn't like to change the look of the interface?  There are another long list of options here in the UI most of which do some fairly nice things for your use of the app.  
  • Theme - It's pretty simple here, no fancy graphics or psychedelic color schemes, just black or white.
  • Lock screen buttons - This is not something that is available to all versions of Android (only 4.x), but a feature I quite appreciate.  If you use the screen lock, and don't want to punch in the code every time you need to play, pause, or shift the audio, this will allow you access to the controls.
  • Hide episodes that are done - Don't like a messy episode list? With this option you can hide them.  I like to see what I've listened to, so I don't hide them.  Although this feature might be more useful to someone who lists episodes in reverse order
  • Episode display order - Pretty simple option, which do you want to see first (oldest / newest)?
  • Jump to the oldest unread - As noted at the end of the Media section, DC offers the ability to read news, not just listen to or watch media.  Here you can jump to the oldest unread article in your news feeds list.
  • Screen on (when playing / downloading) - In the early days of my use of this app, I was enamored with it, so it was pretty cool to see the episodes as they were playing or downloading.  DC can override the screen shut-off timer while either of these actions are running..     
  • Notification (success / failure / lost focus) - If you're really into knowing what's going on with the app, you can select to have it tell you when a download has Succeeded or Failed.  I used to have this on for both, but stopped the Successes because of all the notification bar spam. It is quite useful on Failures though.  For example, if you change from one wireless network type to another and lose the connection, it won't be a surprise later when you're expecting to be able to listen to / watch an episode  that isn't there. If you want the app to notify you when you move on to another app, check the "lost focus" box.
  • Action after external play - This is not something that will apply to you unless you send video out to a different app.  Because the app is external however, DC gives you the option of setting the status of the episode when you send it to that other app.
Backup / Restore / Export

As of the writing of this post I have transferred between 6 different Android devices since I first used DoggCatcher.  As a someone who has a long list of shows, it has been a saving grace that DC has a backup feature.  Only once have I had to completely retrain the app to keep all the episodes and if I can at all avoid it again, I will.  I'm not saying that I am lazy, but the process can be quite lengthy.  

If you plan on switching phones or just have a 2nd or 3rd device that you would like the list to be on, I recommend using the Backup / Restore / Export features.  You can export the feeds list to OPML (a form of XML for outlines).  

Miscellaneous

Believe it or not after all that you've read about so far, there are actually more things that fit into the category of miscellaneous (and yet there are still more features to discuss after this).  
  • Share media - If you would like your Android device to be able to recognize the shows in DC as valid media types (they are hidden by default), this option will allow it.  Maybe you are using DC merely as a download manager and have other plans for the media
  • Anonymous usage tracking - Like it says, if you like donating usage statistics, check this box.
  • Storage Directory - Some Android devices have very limited on-board storage.  This option gives you the chance to move the storage directory.  I recommend this if you have limited storage, or plan on having limited storage.
Widget

DoggCatcherDoggCatcher has a widget.  It's simple, you have three options here for its background color, either none, transparent, or dark. Changes to the widget after placement do not take effect, once you change them in the app.  You will need to replace the widget to see the change.

Advanced

In case you have odd problems with your Android device, DC provides a few workarounds.  
  • Resume hack - In some devices, when you attempt to resume the playback, it will instead return to the start.  This can be quite annoying as it was the very issue I had with the Motorola Cliq
  • Seekbar hack - This also was a problem on the Cliq, where the seek bar would never show where I was in the episode.  Enabled this hack to get around the problem.
  • Feed Capture - This is mostly just for debugging

Sub Features

For those who are serious about media, DoggCatcher will not let you down.  As noted in the last section there is yet another sub-list of settings for each podcast show.
  • Update Feed - Like the refresh button at the top of the main screen, but just for this show
  • Feed Options - Nearly all of the options that are available in the Settings list above, are individually available via this selection, with a few slight modifications.  For example, if you, like me happen to subscribe to a Private podcast that requires a username and password, this is the place to enter that info. If you would prefer to customize each feed here is where it will be done.
  • Flag all done - To the point, if you want to change all the episodes to "done", this will do it.
  • Flag all new - like the point above, but the inverse. All to "new".
  • Add episodes to user playlist - If you like to make playlists of your media, here is where you can add them.
  • Assign categories - If you've previously made categories for your media, here is where you can tag the episodes.
  • Move up/ down - There is no simple sort function for the Feeds list, but you can move shows up or down in the list. You can do this by making this selection and then tapping on the show that currently occupies the desired position.  The selected podcast will take the place of the tapped show and push the other down the list.
  • Delete feed - You will be prompted on this action, so be sure that you either have a backup, or actually don't want this podcast.
  • Update status - Gives you an in-depth look at how status of the files for this Podcast show, complete with dates on the feeds list and publication of the latest episode.
  • Diagnostics - Further information on the episodes of the show, likely to be something that a programmer would be more interested in. 
  • Share - A familiar button that gives you access to the Sharing features of Android, allowing for this show to be shared with whatever other applications accept sharing.
  • Feed description - The Full description of the show.
  • Force Update/ Update thumbnail - In case you feel that you are having problems with a particular show,  you can use this feature to Force the update.
Conclusion

Wow, if you've made it this far I am impressed,.it's a good lot of stuff to consider. I don't know if I would fault the developers for shoehorning so much into into this app and staying relevant, but they did it.  I'll be the first to admit that I have not used every Podcast App, but DoggCatcher was one of the first and pretty good from the start.  There are other options out there like Podcast Addict and BeyondPod.  So far DoggCatcher has kept up with the the pack, sitting in at #2 on Google Play (as of this article).  I hope you find as much use from DoggCatcher as I do.  Check it out on the Play store. (Lite version here)

Google Play


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