Podcasts are a kind of an audio blog—series of episodically released audio content, whether it’s educational, informational, or plain entertainment. They can be thought of as highly specialized, on-demand radio stations.
The episodic nature of podcasts makes them a great resource for language learners. You can subscribe to several podcasts in or about the language you’re learning and listen to them when in transit, at night, or whenever you find a few minutes of free time.
There are many guides on finding and organizing podcasts on the iPhone, but if you’ve bought (or plan to buy) a recently released Windows Phone 7 device, it may be difficult to find any good how-tos explaining how to get started. Below, we’ll look at how to discover and listen to podcasts on a WP7, and in my guest post at yonasu, we’ll check out a few examples of good podcasts for learners of Japanese.
Podcasts on Zune and WP7
There are two ways you can listen to podcasts with Windows Phone 7. The first is to use the Zune software to find and subscribe to podcasts on your PC (go to the marketplace, then podcasts), and synchronize them with your phone over USB or Wi-Fi connection.
This option allows you to subscribe to specific podcasts, auto-download new episodes as they get released, listen to them on your desktop computer, and selectively synchronize with your phone. If you have regular access to a desktop or notebook computer, this is the best way to go as you’ll have great flexibility over your subscriptions and many features not available otherwise.
If you happen to be a Mac OSX user, you can use the official Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac to synchronize your iTunes podcast subscriptions with your phone. The Connector does not feature the full Zune experience, but after synchronizing the media from iTunes to your phone everything will be completely as if you were using the Zune software.
The problem with the first method is that it requires access to a computer with Zune software installed. At least at the moment, podcasts are not listed in the Windows Phone 7 marketplace, and thus the only way to access podcasts directly from the phone are 3rd party apps.
Fortunately enough, there is the gorgeous, functional, and free app called Podcasts!, which should cover most of your needs.
The interface of the app is very similar to the official marketplace, which is a good thing, and makes it really easy to use right away. You can either browse the podcast directory by categories, or use the search.
After finding a interesting show, you can play it back, or add to favorites for easy retrieval in the future. The app also integrate into the Zune (Music & Video) hub where you can find all the episodes you’ve played back recently.
Podcasts! is a prime example of good app design, but it also has its drawbacks. While the podcasts continue to play when you lock the phone, you can’t listen to them in background, in other words when using other apps. This is a platform limitation, however, and something that should be resolved in one of the upcoming WP7 updates.
Also, there is no way to automatically, or even manually, download episodes to your phone. You have to stream the podcasts from the internet, and thus the application becomes much less useful if you aren’t subscribed to a data plan.
Whether you use it to learn a language, or anything else, I hope that this guide helped you to start listening to podcasts on WP7.