I'll cheerfully admit that this can be a bit tricky on Android phones, certainly trickier than on an iPhone or iPod. There's only really one way to get audio on to an iPhone (and associated iPods), and that's via iTunes. I use iTunes to manage my own music library, but it doesn't sync to Android, so getting music and podcasts on to the phone involves a bit of drag-and-drop, and trying to remember what you have and haven't already synced. That's more effort than I really want to put in to ephemeral entertainment.
Enter Listen, from Google Labs. It lets you subscribe to, download, and listen to arbitrary podcasts without needing to sync the content from a desktop or laptop.
Once installed you'll see this screen. I can search for new podcasts to subscribe to, review the episodes I can listen to ("My listen items") and see the podcasts I'm subscribed to ("My subscriptions"), as well as see popular searches to find new and hopefully interesting podcasts. At the bottom of the screen you can see I'm part way though listening to an episode of "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me".
Subscribing to new podcasts is easy. I can either search from the main screen, or tap through to "Manage my subscriptions" and enter a feed URL directly, as shown here.
Tapping "My listen items" shows me items I've queued up as well as items that are freshly downloaded. Listen normally plays through the queued items first, before moving on to fresh content, so you can control the order in which episodes are played by adding them to the queue. In this example many of these podcasts are new to me, so I've queued up a number of their back-episodes which I'm slowly working my way through.
Pressing through to any of the existing subscriptions allows you to unsubscribe, or queue entries, or mark them all listened or unlistened as necessary. Tapping on an episode lets you add it to the queue, listen to it immediately, and manage the subscription.
Actually playing an episode shows a screen like this, where as well as playing or otherwise navigating through the episode some of the options to manage the subscription to this podcast are also provided.
Finally, Listen has a number of thoughtful configuration options, which amongst other things can be used to ensure that you don't rack up a large bill downloading content without a WiFi connection, or consume too much power doing so.
Listen certainly makes it easy to keep up with your podcasts. It's very refreshing to start the morning commute knowing that there's almost certainly something new to listen to that's come in overnight, and the UI does a good job of getting out of your way.
In a stroke of genius, or idiocy, depending on which way you look at it, recent versions of Listen store your podcast feed subscriptions in a folder in Google Reader. This has the distinct advantage that your subscriptions are not tied to the phone, they're tied to your Google account, so they'll follow you as you upgrade your phone, and you can use Reader as another client to manage your subscriptions. You can also use the recommendation feature in Reader to find new podcasts to listen to. The downside to this is that if you're not careful you may inadvertently mark one of these podcasts as 'read' in Reader, at which point Listen will ignore it.
The only thing I still have to get used to is the notion that these aren't automatically available on my home media system. The rest of my audio collection is, and so at the moment I've subscribed to these podcasts twice, once to download so that I can play them when I'm at home, and again for when I'm on the move.
Listen is available for free. Search for it in Android Market, or scan this QR code with your phone to install it. And for more details (including FAQ and discussion groups) see http://listen.googlelabs.com/.
And if you'd like to listen to what I'm listening to, here are the podcasts I'm subscribed to at the moment.