In recent years, some of the biggest media houses in the world have adapted to the podcast culture: a new mode of storytelling that leverages the power of a host and a microphone. The New York Times now has close to 10 podcasts, including The Daily, a news-based podcast launched in 2017. According to a Forbes report last year, other print brands such as The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal have also made the most of the recent podcast boom to “tap into new audiences".

Now, these audiences have a new app that lets you search and stream podcasts for free: Google Podcasts. Back in 2009, Google had launched the Google Listen app, which was dubbed a “podcatcher". It was discontinued in 2012. The Podcasts app, available only on Android as of now, is Google’s attempt to start anew.

The app’s design is light and minimalistic. Playing options are fairly simple. Users can rewind and fast-forward a podcast, and control the playing speed. An “info" tab gives you details about the podcast you are listening to: episode descriptor, download size, playing time, etc. You can subscribe to specific podcasts, and add them to your personal library of “new episodes", “in progress" and “downloads". You can even pin a particular podcast to your home screen for quicker access. Podcast episodes buffered smoothly on mobile data and even better on Wi-Fi.

The app shows recommendations based on your listening history. After listening to a couple of episodes of Reply All (a podcast on how people shape the internet, and how the internet shapes people), the app showed us a list of podcasts that are popular with listeners of Reply All: This included Waking Up With Sam Harris and Revisionist History, a podcast by journalist Malcolm Gladwell. There are recommendations from other categories and topics too.

According to an official post on The Keyword blog from Google, users can sync the app with other Google devices like the Google Assistant and Google Home. So, if you have been listening to a podcast on your way home from work, you can resume it on your Home smart speaker later. The blog post says the app uses AI to make suggestions, but we feel that’s something any content-based app does. Google should roll out more refined features that will harness AI more efficiently.

While the app is a nice fit for casual podcast listeners, some users have pointed out a few things missing in their reviews on Play Store—like the option to create playlists. Sophisticated podcasters might go for other apps like Pocket Casts, Podbean and Stitcher, which are available on both iOS and Android. But if you are looking for a simple podcast experience, then Google Podcasts is worth checking out.

—Nitin Sreedhar

Tune in: picks from the Lounge team to start you off

Keeping It Queer

Hosted by queer comedian Navin Noronha, Keeping It Queer is a podcast that aims to tell the stories of the country’s LGBT+ community. Each week, Noronha has an in-depth discussion with a special guest, with past interviewees including Queer Ink founder Shobhna S. Kumar, author Devdutt Pattanaik, and journalist and activist Harish Iyer. Each episode also features a special Culture Vulture segment, where Noronha is joined by Farhad Karkaria for a discussion on queer lives and stories in pop culture.

—Bhanuj Kappal

Bikram on 30 for 30

Bikram Choudhury, the once charismatic yet notoriously stern yoga guru, arguably birthed the yoga revolution in America. In 30 For 30’s latest offering, a gripping narrative charts how Choudhury stormed to eminence, the coterie of celebrity devotees he picked up along the way, and his dark, subsequent downfall. Told over five episodes, the podcast provides an insight into the Speedo-clad guru’s bizarre techniques: “For 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees, you perform a sequence—26 postures and two breathing exercises," says host Julia Lowrie Henderson. It takes note of his A-list students: Elvis Presley, Shirley MacLaine, Richard Nixon; and investigates his alleged sexual misdemeanours. This quasi-biography will be an eye-opener.

—Radhika Iyengar

Marbles Lost & Found

On this podcast, which aims to increase conversations on mental health, music producer Zain Calcuttawala and therapist Avanti Malhotra (who is more of a confidante on the podcast) lay bare their experiences with depression, social exclusion, grief and self-doubt. Through personal anecdotes, they address subjects like toxic masculinity, examine the long-term effects of internalized labels and share stories of breakthroughs in therapy sessions. The conversations might not immediately draw you in, but the ease and candour with which these fraught issues are addressed makes them a crucial addition to understanding mental health. New episodes air every Tuesday and are available on the IVM platform.

—Vatsala Chhibber