August 30, 2014

App Review: Listen

listen_mainPodcasts are addicting. This is a fact that I’m sure Google had in mind when they created Google Listen, their latest Android Labs addition. Though touted as an audio search engine, its included features more closely mimic a standard podcast client. With tools to discover, subscribe, download, and listen to your internet audio all in one app, they are trying to be the one-stop shop for podcasts, but are they up to the task?

For starters, the interface is intuitive and easy to use, having few buttons, which are generally well labeled or self explanatory. The main page offers you two different discovery options to get you started quickly. If you’ve got an idea of what you want, they have a standard search, or if you’re interested in browsing, they offer a list of the most popular searches for you to choose from. Once you’ve found a search or feed you like, subscribing is a simple checkbox, and you’re good to go. Playing the episodes in your subscriptions and queuing them up are both one click tasks, and the downloading is so streamlined, I often can’t tell which are stored on my phone, and which are streaming.

Play

However, Listen is not without its shortcomings. The search interface seems to search more by keyword than title, and searching for a particular show has occasionally suffered as a result. The “popular searches” will occasionally sound interesting, but there is no guarantee that there will be any quality results, often I’ll find a search that sounds really neat, but will only return vague references. The wheat to chaff ratio is perhaps the biggest problem with Listen right now; finding quality programming is often harder with their tools than without.

Do I use Google Listen to discover the latest and greatest podcasts? No, not yet, but I do use it to subscribe, download, and listen to all my current favorites, and I’ve yet to find any other app that does all that better. It’s important to note that Listen is still in Labs, so while it may be stable, they may still have a few ideas up their sleeves for the near future. I’d imagine with a bit more polish, they could very well be the one-stop shop they aim to be. In the meantime, Listen has found a permanent spot on my home screen, and deserves a look from any fellow podcast junkies.

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