November 28, 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.

Feed Search


  • Matt

    "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"

    You're kidding, right? This is the most absurd statement I've read on this site. Have you actually tried all the other podcast apps on the market? Doggcatcher beats Listen across the board. In every category (well, okay, other than price).

    I really wish you guys would re-review Doggcatcher, this time ignoring the feed reader aspects of the program. Those features were shoe-horned in later, and frankly aren't representative of how the app handles podcasts. Yet, when you reviewed the app, you spent much more than half the review dissing its feed reading capabilities. I'll admit that the developer shouldn't tout it as a feed reader, but there simply isn't a better podcast app on the market.

    And without a single doubt in my mind, it beats Listen in every category.

    A question for you: can you tell Listen to only download podcasts when on WiFi? When only on power? Can you tell it to pause podcasts when power is removed? Can you specify exactly how many episodes of each podcast to store in memory? These any many more features are present in Doggcatcher.

    I tried Listen. I hated it. Yes, the interface is clean, as you'd expect from a Google app, but the app its self is a bit confusing. I couldn't tell if I was subscribing to a podcast, or if it was just downloading one episode of it. And then it would throw all episodes into one list, instead of listing them by feed, which is essential when you listen to lots of podcasts and sometimes miss episodes of daily podcasts.

    Anyway, there's my 2 cents (or 24 cents). I really liked Google Scoreboard (though it has its own problems), but Google hasn't released another great app that didn't come with the phone. Finance is alright, but simple and frankly useless to me, and Listen, as I've discussed here, is a disappointment.

    • Devin Duval

      To your questions regarding Listens settings, it can be directed to only download when on wifi, or when charging. It will not pause a podcast when power is unplugged, but will if the headphones are in use and unplugged. You can specify how many episodes to store, but the options are limited to 10, 20, 40, and 80, admittedly a bit restricting.

      I hope that I have answered the majority of your questions, I am interested in writing a follow-up, comparing Listen and Doggcatcher's podcasting features at some point, perhaps once Listen has had a chance to mature a bit more.

  • David

    Perhaps I'm missing something, but I couldn't find a way to make Listen pick up where I left off in a podcast. As I listen during my commute, and I rarely listen to an entire podcast in one sitting, this is a deal breaker for me. I'm currently using Car Cast, another free player available on the market, but it's very bare-bones. Does anyone have another app to recommend that has this functionality?

  • Alicia Collins

    Okay a year later… Google listen is great. The search is still ineffective. I was hoping they’d fix that. I just find the podcasts I love on my own and subscribe. All the shows pick up where they left off, even after a battery pull which is awesome. Search aside I think that Google listen has completed my Android experience.

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