After our review of Castro, I assumed I wouldn't be reviewing another podcast player till Marco Arment's Overcast hit the App Store, but then Network crossed my path so I figured why not give it a try. Network by Andrew Conlan is the latest entry in what appears to be a genre as hot as Minecraft clones. Network's twist on podcast apps? Minimalism, bare-boned minimalism, that blesses Network with austere good looks, while cursing it with an at times confusing interface and super-light feature set.
Your main gateway into Network is your podcasts page, where subscribed to podcasts are arranged in two tight vertical rows. Podcasts with a new episode have colored tiles, those with no new episodes are grayed out. Missed out on a couple of episodes of your favorite podcast? No problem, Network helpfully supplies numbered badges to clue you into unlistened episodes (Network also badges the app's icon with a new episode count). Want to add a new podcast? Scroll down and tap the last tile labeled “+”. Listen to a podcast? Just tap a tile. Sounds easy, and to this point, it is, but dig a bit deeper into Network and it feels like user friendliness is tossed overboard in order to maintain a rigid interface concept.
Network's first stumble is adding podcasts. Once you tap the “+” tile mentioned above you're taken to Network's search page where one would expect to tap on a search result to learn more about a particular podcast. Network however has that tap instantly subscribing you to the podcast, no info, and no previewing a podcast's episodes before subscribing. Also you'll need to be careful while scrolling through search results as Network inconveniently will subscribe you to any podcast under an errant finger tap.
Come back to your podcasts page and first time users will likely be confused. "Where's the color?" you'll wonder, and yes, the irony isn't lost on me given this site's sombre B&W looks. As we said before, a podcast tile is only colored if it has a new episode downloaded . Logic says tap the podcast tile to download a new episode, but once tapped you're greeted with “no new episodes” (in a hard to read light plum on dark plum color palette), so now what? A quick glance to the upper right corner reveals a “+” icon. Tap that and voilà! You've got a list of that podcast's episodes that you can swipe to download or tap to stream. My idea? Skip the page that says “no new episodes” and take me right to the episodes list. That'd be easier, still minimal, and more intuitive.
Once you're all set with playing or streaming an episode, Network's lean aesthetics start working in the app's favor again. Super clean and big player controls bounce into view, an edge swipe reveals show notes, and “press and holds” on the play/pause and skip buttons let you customize playback and skip rates.
Unfortunately, the fact that Network's playback page works like it ought to isn't enough for me to sing its praises. With Network, there just isn't enough there there to satisfy. Even if I wanted to forsake Castro's or Pocket Cast's colorful good looks, Network doesn't make it any easier for me to find or listen to podcasts, it doesn't offer more features, and at present, can't really be customized (how many podcasts to keep for example). I'm sure there's more to come in Network's future, eventually forthcoming updates will flush out a feature set, iron out rough edges, and add clarity to the app's interface. I wanted to like Network, but right now this fledgling entry in a “getting more crowded by the minute” arena doesn't offer any compelling reason to switch from several much better options (as of now, we prefer Castro).
- No (for now)
Network by Andrew Conlan is $2.99 and is available for iPhone