I have an old HTC Wildfire Android 2.1 smartphone. It’s more underpowered than the newer Wildfire S and is not compatible with a wide range of apps that need bigger screens or newer Android versions.

However, I had been happily using Google Reader both as a pinned App tab on my PC’s Firefox browser and as a widget and application on Android. Better still, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to numerous podcasts with Google Listen (a beta product from Google Labs) which although a little buggy would happily stream or download podcasts in MP3, AAC in MP4 and Ogg Vorbis formats from normal RSS feeds all served to it by Google Reader, keeping my ‘mark as listened’ in sync with my web browser. Nice.
It would also automatically play another unlistened item at the end of the one I started, making it a great hands-free companion on car journeys, and it could automatically download many hours of content in the background prior to leaving, negating any demand for mobile data bandwidth which is inconsistent outside of major towns and cities and potentially very expensive when roaming.

Even though it was removed from the Google Play Store in about July 2011 when Google Labs was closed, I happily kept using it until a little after July 1 2013, when Reader stopped supplying it with updates to the feed.

I tried a number of podcatchers, but they all seem to suck in some way.

HAPI Podcast Player was dreadfully unresponsive and wanted to download hundreds of episodes I’ve already heard having imported only I presume subscriptions.xml from my OPML file from Google Takeout with no apparent way to remove older episodes from the list of unlistened episodes.

iPP (short for itunes top podcast player) looked plausible but kept hanging and losing its streams and didn’t seem to want to populate a playlist or play queue.

I’d previously tried Podkicker but couldn’t make it work right or respond properly.

Stitcher Smart Radio looked promising but hangs from time to time and simply won’t let me find some podcasts I love (which I can play on my PC via Feedly in Firefox) such as The Infinite Monkey Cage from BBC Radio 4, despite numerous other Radio 4 podcasts being available. Walled garden apps? Count me out! It was already annoying me with unresponsiveness and complaints about insufficient bandwidth or lack of network connection. It clearly wants to stream only, not to download ahead of time, which means I will be left without content when I’m stuck on a rural GPRS connection at less than 30kbps or potentially forced to pay more for my data plan if I have to stay online in places where 3G data is available to me.

I’ve heard good things about doggCatcher but it’s incompatible with my HTC Wildfire so can’t vouch for it.

Since the demise of Google Reader as a main RSS service, I considered The Old Reader briefly, but plumped for Feedly, which is fine for my PC.

The official Feedly App for Android starts but doesn’t reach a state to accept any input before blowing up. The same is true of both its large and small widgets too. I can’t even view the web interface of feedly, as it continually redirects me to the android.html app download page.

Fortunately, there are alternatives, some of which are obliquely mentioned on that android.html page, so I’m not completely lost.

One alternative that I’d previously tried on a loaned low-end phone after Google Listen’s removal from the store was gReader – an RSS reader with podcast support – and that has been updated to support Feedly and The Old Reader since Google Reader has been pulled.

gReader s a very viable replacement to Google Listen that knows which podcasts I’ve listened too, thanks for feedly’s proper import of my full Google Takeout data and integration with my Google account, and although it lacks a widget, it also works to view RSS News Feeds which it can display in preview (and even read it to you in your preferred language – click the Loudspeaker icon)( open in my web browsing apps (I use the Android Internet browser sometimes, but often use Opera Mini). Firefox isn’t compatible with my phone.

gReader seems quite happy on a low-end phone – I believe it uses the Android OS’s internal audio decoders for MP3, AAC (MP4 or M4A file extension) and Ogg Vorbis (OGG) and it’ll keep me happily occupied with interesting podcasts while I’m doing mundane tasks and occasionally losing WiFi coverage.

A feature it lacks in the free version is downloading. It pops up as a button next to Stream, but says it’s only available in the paid version. I don’t think the paid-for Pro version actually supports automatic downloading (essentially pre-caching) of new episodes ahead of time – instead requiring the Download button to be pressed beforehand (that’s all I can glean according to http://www.greader.co/podcast/) so it doesn’t encourage me to upgrade to Pro at this time. Then again, after reading a thread on the gReader list, I was referred to, it seems it might automatically download podcasts (Settings-> Offline Reading-> Download Audio/Video and the setting menu on the free version does seem to match the menu on the Pro version but report that such functions are available only in the Pro version. I’m very tempted to give it a try, seeing as doggCatcher won’t work on my phone)

My other option is to use either my laptop to click through various pages from Feedly and download the MP3 files I want to play in the built-in Music app, or simply click on the Globe in the bottom-of-screen transparent bar in gReader upon which Opera Mini’s minimisable download manager can grab the MP3 for me to play in Music or my app of choice, which can automatically play one file after another. OK, it won’t display the show notes, but that’s fine for handsfree audio only use (and it will offer pause control on the lock screen too).

My other option is probably to get my hands dirty and really try to use a language like Python (Google’s lectures on beginner’s Python are on Youtube and demonstrate the power of what it can handle via libraries). I could use the web-interface libraries to download my list of unread podcasts from Feedly and parse them for the URLs of however many episodes I wish to download and get those in one operation. I’d hope I could also send something back to feedly to optionally mark them as read. If I do get something like that up and running, I’ll endeavour to share it on this blog.

In the end, I’d also like to try my hand at Android app development, and I think there’s a good deal I can hand off to built in functions of Android (Music playback, internet handling, even HTML display, which should all be compatible with the capabilities of the device, so should remain responsive) and really do the job of linking it together and providing an interface and suitable options with little fuss.

Back to gReader as it stands, I’m sure there are features I’ll miss and extra features I’d like (e.g. a dynamic range compressor or volume leveller for boosting quiet podcasts on speaker), but gReader will satisfy my desire for my favourite podcast content without having to sync my phone to my PC and it’s a responsive, fairly intuitive app to tide me over at least until I upgrade my phone, perhaps when 4G finally arrives in my area.

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