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.)
This week, I’ve been watching André 3000 talk about life after “Hey Ya,” reading this fun profile of Marques Brownlee and this wild story about the Mirai hackers, finally conquering all 48 Mario Kart 8 courses, watching unhinged Phil Collins music videos on repeat, and trying to find the silliest possible custom GPTs. (Add a walrus is a tough one to beat.)
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
“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.
See you in two weeks!