Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 10, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, hooray! I’m so happy you’re here, and also, you can catch up on all the old editions at the Installer homepage.) We made it through 10 weeks! It’s been so fun to make this every week and to talk to you all about the cool stuff you’re into. Thanks for being part of the Installerverse (we’re gonna make that a thing, it’s gonna happen), and as always, tell me everything you think we can do to make it better!
This week, I’ve been reading about Marvel’s plan to fix its TV shows and all the wild testimony from the Sam Bankman-Fried trial, making lots of deranged art in the improved Bing Chat, watching the David Beckham documentary and debating many new hairstyles, asking all the teens if they actually love LinkedIn, and blocking out my weekend to seethe Eras Tour movie as many times as possible.
This week, I also have for you a new flip phone, a big Roblox release, a new messaging app, some sneaky browser hacks, and oh so many ways to keep track of all your media. And a deal on some truly rad Verge merch!
As always, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What do you want to know more about? What awesome tricks do you know that everyone else should? What app should everyone be using? Tell me everything: firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want to get every edition in your inbox a day early, you can subscribe here.
This week’s a really fun one. Let’s get into it.
- Omnivore. One of the best (and free and open-source) read-later apps got a bunch of updates this week — better highlighting, better text-to-speech — but I’m really into the upgraded browser extension, which makes organizing much easier. I tend to save a billion things and then never find them again, so a good tags system is a game-changer.
- The Verge’s dbrand collab. Yes, this is brazen self-promotion, but I just got the skin I ordered, and honestly, it looks awesome. We worked with dbrand on phone cases, skins, chargers, and more. And just for this weekend, just for us in the Installerverse (I told you we’re making this happen), if you use the code INSTALLER, you’ll get 15 percent off everything dbrand sells.
- How Do We Fix It? “The Polarization Series.” I’m new to this podcast but have been enjoying the three-episode arc on the current broken state of American politics, how we got here, and where we go next. I took a particularly large number of notes on the episode about whether social media is to blame.
- Space OS. The idea is super compelling: a personal, private computer in the cloud that is completely yours and not subject to the whims of app providers and social platforms. The reality of “a private thing in the cloud” is way more complicated, but the team behind Space OS has some really interesting ideas about how it should all work.
- Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul. A three-episode dive into the spectacular rise and brutal fall of the biggest name in e-cigs. You can see bits of everything from Juicero to Theranos and WeWork in this story, and the doc tells it well. (Fair warning: I was interviewed for this, and I’m in it a bit, but you can just fast-forward past those bits.)
- The Motorola Razr. I think flip phones are the future of phones. I really do. And so I’m psyched to see Motorola showing up with a flip phone designed to manage your relationship with your phone, and most importantly, it’s $699.99 — a lot cheaper than other flip phones we’ve seen. (I’m even seeing it on sale for $599.99 right now.) Yeah, I wish it had a bigger outer screen, but it’s nice to have options.
- Roblox for PlayStation. A long-overdue release, if you ask me, but still a big deal, especially as Roblox tries to become a platform for all ages and all uses. Forget what Meta’s building; Roblox is the company most trying to make the metaverse happen.
- The Fall of the House of Usher. Mike Flanagan’s horror shows have been a Netflix staple in recent years, and his latest (and maybe last) sounds like a fitting finale: truly bonkers but ultimately a lot of fun. And bonus: plenty of critiques of modern tech-forward life.
- ActivityPub for WordPress. This is a huge deal: it means anyone with a site on WordPress.com, which is an awful lot of people, can now automatically syndicate their stuff to Mastodon, Pixelfed, and the rest of the fediverse. I’m all in on the open web future of social, and this is a big step in that direction.
- Lightroom Ultra HDR. This is the good kind of HDR, the kind that actually makes your photos crisper and more lifelike, and now Lightroom’s Android app can work with it natively on your phone. For now, Ultra HDR is just for Pixel phones, but in general, Lightroom is an excellent app and a great step up from your typical smartphone editing app. (Also, check out all the wild AI stuff Adobe showed off at Max this week. I know we talk too much about “what is a photo,” but seriously. Everything’s different now.)
Last week, I thought I’d try something I’ve been wanting to do for a while: see if we, as the whole Installerverse (it’s HAPPENING), could all work together to figure out the same thing. So I asked, what do you use to track all the stuff you want to read, watch, and listen to?
Oh, boy, did you all come through. Thanks so much to everyone who emailed and texted and DMed! I got a lot of great app recommendations, a bunch of truly wild hacky systems, some seriously elaborate spreadsheeting, and much more. So here, as best as I can summarize it all in one place, is how the whole Installer community does its media tracking.
- The overall favorite. Sequel was by far the most-recommended app in my inbox this week. It is sadly only for Apple devices, but folks love its design, the fact that it can track basically all kinds of media, its notifications for new stuff, the extra info it adds, and more. Oh, and good news: Romain Lefebvre, who makes Sequel, tells me version 2.1 is coming soon with even more stuff, and you can get in the TestFlight beta right now.
- The all-in-one apps. Sofa was probably the second most popular recommendation. Everybody also seems to love the design of Trakt, Play is a nifty up-and-comer, and Cronica has some fans, too.
- The media-specific apps. For movies, lots of people recommended Reelgood and JustWatch, and there was a lot of love for Letterboxd as well. For TV shows, Hobi seems to be a favorite, and SeriesGuide and TV Club both came up a few times, too. For book consumption, Goodreads seems to be the go-to, but StoryGraph got some love as well. For tracking music, MusicHarbor and MusicBox seemed to be the choices, though there are some Last.fm diehards out there, too. For video games, GameTrack was really the only one I heard about!
- Drop them in a link bucket. I heard from a few people who use bookmarking tools like Raindrop, into which you can just drop IMDb or YouTube or Amazon links. Others used Instapaper and Pocket for saving links.
- Make them tasks. A bunch of you are repurposing to-do list apps like Things, Todoist, and Microsoft To Do as ways to track this stuff — some have it in a big “Stuff to Consume” list; others have it separated by media type. One upside of this is that it can be collaborative: share a list with a partner or roommate, and everybody can add to it easily.
- Go to the source. I heard from folks who keep their to-watch list in IMDb, their shopping list in their Amazon account, their podcast recommendations in Overcast, and their music queue in their Spotify library. The goal, it seems, is just to dump everything where it’ll end up anyway.
- Just keep a list. Notion; Apple Notes; Evernote; Anytype; Bear; Obsidian; Capacities; Google Keep; OneNote; lots and lots of others. So many of you said the best thing to do is just write everything down somewhere — ideally, somewhere you’ll find it again — and be done with it.
A few other specific apps that people really liked: Mela for tracking recipes; Copilot for tracking finances; Discogs for managing physical music; Habitica for tracking habits.
And a special shoutout to the most impressive system I heard about this week, from someone who asked to be identified only as Stealth1248, which I’m just going to quote in its entirety:
“I’ve looked into some of the collector apps, but they are expensive and seem like a lot of work. The joy of an Excel spreadsheet is that it’s super easy to modify to contain whatever kind of information I want. I can sort things, categorize them, keep track of if I already own them or not, etc.
“I also set up a couple Microsoft Forms to add things to them. The reason for that is 2-fold. 1: Excel on mobile (while possible) is really hard to work with. Forms adjust far better to a small vertical screen. You can set up free fill answers, multi select questions, fields that require dates/times/numbers, and make certain questions mandatory (so I don’t forget to fill out a certain field of data) 2: You can export the results from Forms as rows in an Excel document, so this makes it easy to add them to the main spreadsheet when I have time to sit down on a real (aka large with a horizontal screen) computer. Each question becomes a column of the spreadsheet and each complete survey response becomes a row.”
Here’s what the resulting spreadsheet looks like:
I love it. I’d never manage to keep it up to date, but I love it. Thanks again to everyone who wrote in with recommendations and ideas, we’ll do something like this again really soon!
Every once in a while, I like to text Casey Newton just to see which note-taking app he’s using — because he seems to change his mind almost as often as I do and is just as willing to throw his life and hopes and dreams into anything that might help him do a little more a little more easily. And honestly, same. Casey gets it.
But on the other hand, Casey is also one of the most thoughtful internet users I know. If you’ve read his excellent Platformer newsletter or heard the delightful Hard Fork podcast, you know he’s deeply knowledgeable about how and why tech influences us. So I was curious to see what apps he uses, where they live, and how he thinks about his phone’s job in his life.
Here’s Casey’s homescreen (two of them, actually!), plus some info on the apps he uses and why:
The phone: iPhone 15 Pro.
The wallpaper: “The system wallpaper that shows you where on earth you are. I don’t think it has a name.”
The apps: Todoist, Barry’s (lets you book Barry’s classes on the go, or even more importantly, cancel them when you’re hungover), Clock, Cron (actually the more I look at Cron, the more I miss Fantastical. What am I doing to myself here?), Stripe, Pocket, Messenger, Google, Google Maps, App Store, Settings, Overcast, Spotify, Phone, 1Password, Threads (Threads has felt much more lively over the past week, and I basically think it’s three or four big releases away from achieving escape velocity), ChatGPT, Messages, Gmail, Bear, Safari, Chrome, Dark Sky (I will never delete this app icon because it reminds me of what we lost. Valar morghulis), Day One, Holedown (it’s 400 years old, is never updated, and can fill absolutely any amount of time between 10 seconds and 90 minutes), Grindr, Mem, Ivory, Artifact, Poe, Bluesky, Lutron, Amie, Capacities (my new favorite note-taking app, and if you’re in the market for a place to do your personal knowledge management, you should absolutely check it out), Epik, and Bonk.
I also asked Casey to share a few things he’s into right now. Here’s what he said:
- Artifact. This little AI newsreading app from the Instagram co-founders is shipping new features faster than any product on the consumer internet. I increasingly discover news there that I put in Platformer, and I always find something interesting that I haven’t seen before. I’m not totally sure where it’s going, but I know Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have huge plans for it, and I’m enjoying being along for the ride. One cool feature is that if you’re a writer, they send you push notifications when other people link to your stories. Which is always fun to see.
- Bonk. Bonk is the best new social network. You add friends and then “bonk” them, and every time you bonk, they get a separate notification telling them. So you can quickly take over someone’s entire phone with your horrible notifications, and every time you bonk, you get haptic feedback, and the Bonk app itself is taken over by the word Bonk. The best feature (aside from every other feature) is that there is a leaderboard that tells you which of your friends has bonked the most over the past few days. The funniest feature is that the app, which is still in beta, requires iOS 17 for reasons known only to the developer and to God. It also has the best URL for an app I have personally ever seen: bonkbonkbonk.app.
- ChatGPT. A mistake I made this year as a tech reporter was not immediately subscribing to ChatGPT Plus when GPT-4 became available. It turns out that if you’re only using 3.5, you really have no idea what is about to happen to all of us. GPT-4 makes many fewer mistakes and is better in every way at helping you think through subjects or analyze text than its predecessor. I assigned the voice-operated version of it to the Action Button on my new iPhone 15 Pro, so now I can talk to ChatGPT at the press of a button. It feels like getting a glimpse of the future.
Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email email@example.com with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week. And for way more great recommendations than I could include here, check out this Threads thread.
“Dex. It’s a ‘personal rolodex’ app: it lets you take notes about people in your life, set reminders to follow up, keep track of birthdays, and sync with Gmail / LinkedIn. For a freelancer, my memory skills leave much to be desired. It helps me remember details about conversations with people the next time we talk — both professionally and socially.” – Ryan
“Two recent excellent series, both on Apple TV Plus: Silo and Foundation.” – Dennis
“I use multiple browsers for different things, then I use BrowserFairy to automatically route apps and sites to specific browsers. For my newsletters and related things to read, I have BrowserFairy open Microsoft Edge. In Edge, I sync between devices, group tabs, and all the normal built-in-browser things Edge brings, especially vertical tabs (which is like Safari reader, just so much better).” – Brent
“Making a smart lamp using a Shelly RGBW and a custom firmware mod to get it to work with Apple Home. Probably a huge home network security risk, but it works. Also, too much Stardew Valley on Apple Arcade.” – Timothy
“After years of trying to warm up to GTD apps, with little success, I finally tried Agenda, and it really works for me. I’m not using it for note-taking (I have Apple Notes, Google Keep, and Obsidian for that). But the way it handles triaging to-dos and integrates with your calendar and Apple Reminders is really slick. It is loaded with features, looks beautiful, is constantly being updated, and has a unique paid tier that you can get via subscription or a one-time payment. But the free version is so good, most people will never need to pay. Finally, I’m GTD!” – David
“Just got Patrick Stewart’s new memoir, and I’m super excited to read it! I also got to see him during his book tour, which was amazing.” – Aaron
“Oh my god, I just got a Nitro Deck from CKRD, and it is absolutely my new favorite video game gadget. It’s a deck for the Switch, with Hall-effect joysticks, programmable rear bumpers, and a nice wide grip for big-handed folks like me that find the Joy-Cons cramped. I ordered the unit in GameCube purple and can confirm it is as righteous in person as it looks on the store.” – Nick
“The coolest thing I’ve seen recently, I don’t know how to share with anyone. It’s a movie called Hello Dankness that seamlessly cuts together everything from Napoleon Dynamite and Wayne’s World to Pen15 and RoboCop to create bizarre cross-world interactions and make a satirical commentary on the absurdity of the post-Trump political landscape. But because it’s basically a pirated work, I think you can only see it at film festivals and special screenings. Oh, and it has a bonkers trailer.” – Thomas
“I used iTunes exclusively until about 2018, and though it was bad software by the end, it did offer a music nerd a lot of things that Spotify and some of the others do not. There is an iOS app called Marvis, which has a pro version that offers many of those features. The rub is that it only works with Apple Music, but I’ve found that, for old iTunes holdouts, this isn’t much of a problem.” – John
A few days ago, on The Vergecast, I mentioned that one of the best phone accessories I’ve ever bought is a really long — mine is 10 feet — charging cable. I have one next to my couch and another next to my bed, and y’all, the freedom that comes from not having to lean over to be closer to my outlets!
But then, I got an email from Eric telling me how wrong I was. Here’s what Eric said: “I used to work at Apple retail, and when people would come in looking for longer charging cables, they would balk at the price — longer Lightning (at the time) cables were (are?) expensive! — and I would always recommend going to Target and looking at regular extension cables. Way more options (colors, lengths, thicknesses, cord styles, etc…) and often way cheaper. Can’t tell you how many folks came back in just to say thanks for the idea, just saved them $25. All this to say: David! Don’t buy a 10-foot Apple USB cable, buy an awesome 12-foot extension cable instead.”
I’ve done some looking, and Eric’s not wrong. There are some lovely, inexpensive extension cables out there (I searched “braided extension cable” and found lots of good ones), and they’re way more multifaceted than just having one long USB charger. Apparently, I’m going to redo all my charging stations again.