Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 15, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, hello, sorry in advance for all my terrible jokes, and also, you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.)
I also have for you a new webcam, a new word game, a new show about monsters, a new iMessage hack, and a whole bunch more. Oh, and a favor to ask: we’re doing a survey on how people use The Verge and what you might want from a “Verge subscription.” If you have thoughts and are up for helping us out, please take a second to fill out the survey. Thanks in advance!
We’re off next week for a Thanksgiving break, so I hope you all get a wonderful and restful break, and I hope there’s enough here to keep you busy for a couple of weeks.
And of course, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. If you find a new app this week, discover a new podcast, crack open a new book, build a new Minecraft world, or anything else, I want to hear about it. Tell me everything: insta[email protected]. And if you know someone else who might enjoy Installer, forward it to them, and tell them to subscribe here.
Alright, lots of fun stuff this week. Let’s dive in.
- Gubbins. Imagine Scrabble, except you’re trying to build the whole board in one turn, and there are a bunch of trumpets trying to help you and monsters trying to stop you. It’s pure word-game chaos, and I love it so far. (This was easily the most popular recommendation this week, too — thanks to everyone who sent it in!)
- Microsoft Loop. It’s a collaborative, customizable productivity… you know what, it’s Notion. Microsoft made Notion. And after months in beta, it’s now available to everyone! It’s a nice app, though Notion’s much better, and I officially don’t understand why Loop, Planner, and OneNote all need to exist. But that’s for another day.
- The Opal Tadpole. Opal’s first webcam, the C1, looked really good and didn’t work very well. (I think I even underestimated the issues some people have had with it.) But the Tadpole, which is explicitly made to clip to your laptop, both looks good and works well. It’s now a staple in my travel bag.
- “Cobell Energy.” Adam McKay’s production company made an entire relatively high-production show that exists only on social platforms, a few minutes at a time. There’s a whole What It All Means thing here that is truly fascinating, but the show is so weird! And also funny!
- Google Notes. Google’s plan for search is weirdly bifurcated: it’s both trying to replace the whole internet with generative AI and also trying to help you find more human voices and human content. This experiment, which lets you annotate search results so others can see them, is a neat idea but really hard to do well at scale.
- The Netflix Cup. I’m honestly not sure I’d recommend watching this entire thing, which felt like a livestreamed golf tournament created by people who had never heard the words “golf” or “tournament” before. But this is a Cultural Moment just the same: Netflix is trying hard to carve out its own part of the future of sports TV, and the show might be the beginning of something big.
- Nothing Chats. We’re in the middle of a truly fascinating trend: companies figuring out how to hack iMessage onto other platforms in increasingly brazen ways. Beeper did it; Texts did it; now, Nothing is doing it for the Phone 2 and basically daring Apple to stop it.
- Rooms. Remember a couple of years ago when everyone was suddenly trying to build interesting digital spaces for people to hang out? I wish they were all like Rooms: a super customizable, really charming tool for creating almost any kind of space. This is my kind of metaverse.
- Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. The premise of this Apple TV Plus show — half Godzilla-style caper, half history-of-monster-movies Wikipedia page — is only ever going to be great or terrible. But so far, the reviews lean great. And I mean, the trailer alone made clear that I’m going to watch this whole thing no matter what.
It’s gift guide season! Friends, I will not lie to you, I love a good gift guide. And the niche-ier and weirder the better. It’s also about to be Black Friday, though Black Friday sales are starting earlier than ever this year. Deals for everybody! But shopping on the internet is somehow more confusing and complicated than ever, so I figured it might be a good time to dig in a bit on a few simple tricks I’ve found for deal hunting and gift searching.
First, a few thoughts on how to look at gift guides:
- Start with The Verge! Sorry, sorry, some ruthless self-promotion here to start. But we work really hard on deal roundups and gift guides, so be sure and check ’em all out. I particularly like our digital gift guide, our under-$50 guide, and (my personal fave this year) the For Dads guide. We’re also already deep into Black Friday, and have a big guide of the best deals this year.
- Only trust obviously human-made guides. If you see a guide that’s mostly populated by quotes from Amazon reviews, written by ChatGPT, or pulled from product listings, run the other way. A better way to start is by going to websites you already trust. Personally, I’ve found Gear Patrol also does a good job with buying and gift guides, Wirecutter rarely steers me wrong, and I’ve found a lot of good kitchen gadgets from our friends over at Eater. Oh, and nobody finds weird gifts like BuzzFeed does.
- You can always deal-shop old recommendations. A Thing or Two is one of my favorite sources of product recommendations, and their Secret Menu archive is just a long list of cool stuff to buy. Tina Roth-Eisenberg over at Swissmiss keeps a running list of gift-guide-y products every year, and every year, I scroll through the archive and end up buying a couple. Holiday-specific guides are often less useful than lists of cool stuff that someone made just because they’re excited about the stuff.
- You have to comparison shop yourself. All the price-comparison tools out there suck and are compromised in one way or another. Even the prices that show up in search previews often aren’t the real price! This is the most manual and annoying part of the process, but there’s really no shortcut.
So far, my advice is just “don’t trust the internet,” basically. But here are also a few tools worth installing or keeping open in a tab as you shop:
- Camelcamelcamel. Sales prices are lies — you’d be amazed how often they’re like, “20% off!” except it has never once actually cost that full price. Camelcamelcamel is a price tracker for Amazon, and it’ll show you whether the thing you’re about to buy might actually be cheaper some other time. The browser extension is the most convenient way to use it, but I like just using the website.
- Honey. I’ve spent a lot of time Googling, like, “Bose coupon codes” and then trying 100 coupon codes that never work. At least in my experience, this is a total waste of time. The Honey browser extension automates the coupon hunting, so if there is a deal out there, it’ll find it for you. It doesn’t always find the best possible deal, but it’s good enough and a lot less annoying than cutting and pasting all those codes. (I’ve also heard good things about Capital One Shopping, but I haven’t used it personally.)
- Fakespot. You really can’t trust most online product reviews anymore, you know? There are the obviously paid-for ones, the obviously AI ones, and then just a stream of less obvious but equally sketchy reviews on everything everywhere. Fakespot does a pretty good job of filtering out the fake stuff and up-ranking the human reviews, which is particularly helpful when you’re on Amazon deciding between two brands you’ve never heard of.
My most important piece of advice here is to never just Google the name of a product and buy from whatever shopping listing is the cheapest. That’s how you turn into me, buying a (fake) Dyson Airwrap from a (fake) Shopify store like a moron. Shopping search in general is a gameable, ugly ecosystem that often won’t lead you to good products at good prices. Instead, pick a site or a person whose taste you trust, do some research, and cross your fingers for a coupon code.
Oh, and always, always, always check return policies. People get weird about returns during the holidays.
I have found myself wondering many times in the past how much storage The Verge’s Becca Farsace has on her phone. She’s constantly doing some long-term camera testing, trying 100 different phones, and filming all kinds of stuff for her (recently Emmy-winning!) “Full Frame” series.
I asked Becca to share her homescreen with us, figuring she’d have 25 different niche camera apps and a brand-new phone with maxed-out storage. I was so, so wrong. Here’s Becca’s homescreen, plus some info on the apps she uses and why:
The phone: iPhone 12 Pro, graphite, 128GB (which is too small), and bought used, which is important because we should all buy more used tech!
The wallpaper: One of my favorite shots from an epic road trip that my mom, sister, and I took last spring through Ireland. Trip of a lifetime.
The apps: FaceTime, Calendar, Photos, Camera, Clock, Weather, Settings, Google Authenticator, Phone, Messages, Messenger, YouTube Music.
I’m an Android stan at heart, and I hate a screen filled with tiny cubes, so I try to keep my homescreen as minimalist as I can. Only the essentials! Also, I get a lot of sh*t for having YouTube Music (twice — the widget is for aesthetic purposes!), Google Search, and Facebook Messenger all on my homescreen, but again, I am an Android stan at heart, and Y’ALL ARE SLEEPING ON YOUTUBE MUSIC.
Now, all of this probably has you wondering, “Becca, why don’t you just have an Android phone?” And to that, I say, hello to my partner Hannah (hi, Han <3) who I talk to the most and therefore head to iMessage and FaceTime on my daily device for. What’s that thing they say… love conquers all?
I also, as always, asked Becca to share a few things she’s into right now. Here’s what she sent back:
- I’m very into climbing all of the peaks above 3,500 feet in the Catskill Mountains. Like, I’m really into it, David. When I’m not traveling or working or traveling for work, I am hiking up these things alone thinking, “I really hope I don’t see a snake” over and over again. Currently, I am at 17/33 peaks, with a goal of being done by May 2024.
- I’m endlessly searching for new creators to watch on YouTube. Please send any and all recs, the less views and subs the better! It’s always the folks making videos in their basements or backyards after work who are the most creative and therefore best in my book. I’ll watch anything as long as there is someone who cares a whole lot about whatever they are talking about on the other side.
- And lastly, my partner and I just got an apartment nestled in the woods. So we spend a lot of time searching GoodwillFinds, eBay, and local thrift stores for mostly shelves, a pull-out couch, and funky mirrors. Again, send recs!
Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email [email protected] with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week.
“The Big Dig! Some of the best reporting and narrative nonfiction audio I’ve heard in a long time. I’m rationing the episodes so I can savor each one.” – Christine
“ShortSheets. It’s an iOS app for using Siri Shortcuts to interact with Google Sheets. I thought to share it when Installer mentioned tracking finances in Google Sheets, as it’s how I track finances. I even have automations set up so whenever I get a text that my credit card wasn’t present, it logs the charge, and I am looking into one for Apple Pay.” – Brad
“I’ve really been loving this app, Elfster, to manage my family’s and work’s gift exchanges. It’s clean and easy to use!” – John
“I’ve really been enjoying Apex Legends’ new limited-time mode: Three Strikes. It’s like Warzone’s Resurgence mode, where you get 3x lives, redeploying with all your loot and weapons. It’s a high-octane (pun intended), hectic, lovely mess. Super refreshing.” – Sentinelite
“Super Woden GP 2. This game is flying under the radar right now. Amazing soundtrack, fun gameplay, lots of tracks and cars, great for Steam Deck or other portable PCs as well. Did I mention the soundtrack? Because it smacks.” – Alan
“For people who are into bartending, I cannot recommend Highball enough — it might be somewhat old, but the design is gorgeous, and it is great to keep track of all your favorite drinks.” – Evgeny
“A Murder at the End of the World on Hulu / FX. Fun, dark mystery from the OA team that blends vibes of [David] Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo and the remote unhinged tech billionaire vibes of Glass Onion with a side helping of AI, smart homes, wearable tech, and Reddit true-crime sleuthing weirdos.” – Wheat
“The latest in The Murderbot Diaries series of (mostly) novellas is out this week: System Collapse. While I just started today, I will probably finish by the time you publish. The entire series is hilarious, entertaining, and all-around fantastic!” – Jason
“If it’s an older classic book, I’m reading it in Serial Reader. The app splits up books into small chunks and sends you a new one each day. Each day’s section is pretty short, like 10–20 minutes, which is perfect for me to sneak in some reading over breakfast before work. I’ve managed to get through a bunch of classics I’ve been meaning to read for years — I’m starting Middlemarch next.” – Jay
“Halo Infinite brought back a classic playlist of Halo 3 maps from 2007, and it’s giving me life.” – Jason
One weird thing about the internet (and I guess any ecosystem or industry, really) is that there’s so much more going on at all times than you might think. When you type in a URL and hit Go, so much happens! And you never have to think about it! That’s why I’ve been telling everyone to read this blog post from Signal, which goes into an unusual amount of detail about how the system works and what it costs. It’s long and wonky, but I guarantee I will spend part of Thanksgiving talking about the true cost of sharing too many memes in the group chat. I’m just trying to help.