Existing paid users of the app get the Plus service for free for 3 years (which is decent sweetener) but everyone now gets the basic mobile app for free with discovery, variable speed, silence trim, filters, dark/light theme, playback of individual episodes, and cross-platform sync excluding desktop browser. Both the app and desktop UI have a new fresh look. Pocket Casts Plus includes 10GB of cloud storage for people who want to upload their audio and video content.
I have chiefly been using Pocket Casts paid app for the last few years for their incredibly good sync between mobile and desktop apps. It really works smoothly. I know Player FM (I also pay annually for their subscription service) had introduced a similar syncing with desktop which was a little glitchy back then but may have well all been smoothed out by now. Google Podcasts has also introduced sync to desktop and a really excellent search (includes searching for audio words in episodes) but whilst Google does sync to desktop browser there is no portal page on the browser to view and manage your subscribed podcasts which renders the desktop browser version basically unusable.
Cloud sync on listening progress does cost a bit for the provider as it has to sync continuously and both Player FM and Pocket Casts charge the same $10pa so it may come down to the finer detail between the two. But a decent podcast player is worth paying something for, considering the time you save by syncing, variable speed, trimming silences, etc. Podcasting is also getting more popular so expect more competition and you may need to be prepared to switch providers as things change.
$0.99 a month for cloud storage.