Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 8, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, first of all, hi, hello, welcome, and second of all, you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.)
This week, I’ve spent an alarming amount of my free time playing EA Sports FC 24, the new soccer game that just released in full on Friday. I’ve also been reading about Apple’s plans to change the sports TV world, the truly unhinged Survivor casting process, and Sam Altman’s plan to either save the world or end it. I’ve been watching Special Ops: Lioness, listening to NSYNC’s new song on repeat, and taking copious notes on Kashmir Hill’s excellent Longform interview.
I also have for you a new VR / AR / MR headset, a browser you should download everywhere, an awesome Android launcher, some Baldur’s Gate 3 fanfiction, and much more. (Also, Linda Yaccarino, I have a lot of questions about your homescreen, so if you want to be in next week’s issue, get at me. Mail and Gmail? Really?)
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: email@example.com. And if you want to get every issue of Installer a day early in your email inbox you can subscribe here.
- Meta Quest 3. It’s not VR anymore, it’s mixed reality. The $499.99 Quest 3 seems to be a big improvement on the Quest 2, and in a brief demo, it showed some pretty solid mixed reality chops. But I’m genuinely curious: do you care about headsets? Are they the future / too early / totally stupid? I think they’re really interesting game consoles and maybe cool TV setups. But I want to know what you think! Email me all your thoughts (and fave Quest apps if you have ’em): firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. I love a filmmaking experiment, and this has been a fun one: Wes Anderson made a bunch of short films based on Roald Dahl stories, and they’ve been dropping on Netflix all week. It’s kind of a show, kind of a movie in four parts, kind of an old-fashioned web series? Whatever it is, it’s delightful.
- ChatGPT’s voice commands. Two good things happened to ChatGPT this week: it got back the ability to browse the web in real time, and it became a really handy voice assistant. (You’ll need the $20 a month ChatGPT Plus subscription to get them, at least for now.) I now ask ChatGPT all the questions Siri never seems to get right, and it’s pretty impressive. It still makes mistakes and can’t do basic things like share a link, but it’s the most usable voice assistant I’ve ever tried.
- macOS Sonoma. I include this otherwise relatively straightforward operating system update for one reason and one reason only: the screensavers. Apple basically took those gorgeous, moving screensavers from the Apple TV and ported them to the Mac, and they look so good. Also, you know, widgets and whatever. But the screensavers.
- Raspberry Pi 5. There’s still no better computer tinker toy than a Raspberry Pi. The new one, which starts at $60, is a spec upgrade across the board, and it’s as easy as ever to make it a smart home controller / simple media computer / basically anything else you can think of. I’m certainly no computer-building genius, but I’ve had a blast for years playing with these. And with the new Pi OS coming next month, this one will be even more powerful out of the box.
- The Creator. This movie has a premise I’m sure you’ve seen a million times before — humans fighting the AI takeover, what does it mean to be human, yadda, yadda, yadda. The Verge’s Charles Pulliam-Moore was left somewhat cold by the movie’s big ideas, but if nothing else, it sounds like totally gorgeous sci-fi. One for the big screen for sure.
- The Vivaldi browser. Vivaldi is one of my absolute favorite browsers. It’s superfast, wildly customizable, and as of this week, available just about everywhere! The new iOS app syncs easily with your other browsers, and just like other platforms, has a huge amount of options and features. (The Android app has been around for a while and is terrific.) Plus: an actual tab bar on my phone? You love to see it.
- Windows 11’s fall update. Microsoft would tell you the big upgrade this fall is Copilot, its built-in AI assistant for getting things done all over the OS. I’m also into the File Explorer redesign. But I’d argue the new Paint — which got a bunch of Photoshop-lite-ish features like layers and transparency and is getting AI tools for editing and creating images — is going to be an even bigger win for most people.
- Murder in the 21st. This new show, a true crime series looking at some major investigations and murders through the lens of the victims’ digital footprints, is going to be very popular in my house. It’s the most iconic crossover of my family’s interests since Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce started hanging out.
One thing I’ve struggled with in Installer so far is how to talk about things that aren’t new but not everybody knows about. I don’t want to bore you with stuff like, “Have you heard of the iPhone, it’s neat!” but I also do see more stuff than your average internet person, you know? So I figure, let’s try this: when I come across something cool that’s new to me (and reasonably likely to be new to most people), I’m going to share a bit about it and why it’s worth checking out.
First up, and the reason I’ve been thinking about this section at all: I’ve become a total convert to the Kagi search engine. I wrote a big story about Neeva and search a few months ago, and a bunch of people were like, “Try Kagi! It’s awesome!” It is, in fact, awesome. Here’s what I like about it:
- It’s customizable. Kagi looks a lot like Google and generally feels very similar to use. But unlike Google, Kagi lets you block sites you don’t like and promote sites you do like. You can also create “lenses” to only search certain sites or domains — Kagi has a bunch built in, too, like a “Small Web” lens that favors blogs, forums, and other parts of the web that tend to get blotted out by the giants.
- No ads. The catch with Kagi is you have to pay for it. You get a few searches a month for free, but $10 buys you unlimited access. That’s a lot of money for a search engine! But the pages are so much cleaner and less confusing that I was surprised how quickly I paid up.
- It’s great for videos and podcasts. Podcast search is, like, impossible. But I’ve had surprisingly good luck Kagi-ing topics I’m interested in and finding related podcast episodes, and the engine does a similarly good job of scouring YouTube for interesting stuff.
- Its AI is handy but not in the way. For a lot of queries, Kagi puts a little “Quick Answer” button at the top — click it, and you get a brief AI-generated answer, with cited sources you can click on. That’s exactly the amount of AI I’m looking for in most of my searches.
- The mobile browser is great. Kagi’s mobile app is a browser called Orion, and it’s as no-frills a mobile browser as you’ll find. But that’s cool by me! It’s fast and easy to use. You can also supposedly download Kagi as a Safari extension on iOS, but I haven’t managed to make that work. (On Android, you can just switch to Kagi as your default search engine because Android is much better at this.)
- It seems… good? I’ve tried basically all the search engines, and I usually end up back on Google because Google has better results. (Or at least the results I’m expecting and looking for.) With Kagi, I’ve found myself going back to Google less than usual. I don’t know if that’ll hold up forever, but I’m impressed so far.
Ten bucks for search, when Google exists and is great and is free, is a tough ask. But Kagi CEO Vladimir Prelovac tells me the company’s doing well and growing quickly and says he knows he’s not going to reach Google scale with Kagi but also says he doesn’t need to. “I have all the respect for Google and their people and technology,” he says, “I just don’t like their business model.”
So far, I’m sold just because I can make the search engine work the way I want it to. That’s worth the price to me, at least for now. But I also want to know: do you use a non-Google search engine? What would make you switch? Does anyone even care about search as long as you find what you’re looking for? Let me know; I’m all ears.
Ash Parrish always seems to be playing 35 games at once. As The Verge’s gaming reporter, she’s covering everything from the nooks and crannies of Hyrule to the huge businesses of Epic and Unity — and all the chaos and culture in between. And I’ve learned that every time she gets excited about a game, either on The Verge or just in Slack, I should write it down and play it ASAP.
That’s part of why I asked Ash to share her homescreen with us this week, along with some things she’s into. Because if Ash is into it, it tends to rule. So here’s what’s on Ash’s homescreen, plus some info on the apps she uses and why:
The Phone: A Samsung Galaxy S21 that’s had its life saved many times by a cheapo Amazon phone case.
The Apps: My homescreen is a mixture of priority work and communication apps along with the fun stuff. I’ve got Slack, X / Twitter, Gmail, and Facebook Messenger (which, oddly, is the primary way I communicate with my husband). Beyond that, I’ve got Google Maps, DoorDash, and a neat photo app called BeautyCam that takes the best selfies. I have the Overwatch League app so I can keep track of my teams, schedules, and standings because the Grand Finals (which will most likely be the last Grand Finals ever) is going on right now.
Finally, I am neatly, firmly, and happily in Baldur’s Gate 3 hell. I eat, sleep, and breathe this game, and my mind is so ravenous for content that I’ve adopted habits I haven’t had since my younger years as a fixture in the Dragon Age fandom. I’ve downloaded (or redownloaded) so many apps that I hope will deliver me the fan content I crave. Tumblr’s for fan art, Archive Reader is the unofficial Archive of Our Own app that I use to read fanfiction. And because my chosen Baldur’s Gate 3 pairing isn’t the most popular, I downloaded Wattpad in hopes of finding more fanfiction that feeds my needs. (I have not. Wattpad… doesn’t have the greatest content.)
The wallpaper: I got married last year, and this is one of my favorite pictures that was taken. That’s me and my husband cutting our cake in our sunroom. Look at that man! In’ he cute!
I also asked Ash to share a few other things she’s into. Here’s what she said:
- Google Docs. Baldur’s Gate 3 has awoken one of my primal animating forces: writing fanfiction. After years of being out of the game, I’ve started writing again with a zeal I haven’t seen since I was 25 spending a whole eight-hour shift at my office job writing a 21,000-word fic in one sitting.
- The Roman Empire. You know that meme going around about how a lot of women don’t understand how often the men in their lives think about the Roman Empire? Well, I’m one of the women who constantly thinks about the Roman Empire. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney posted a now poorly aged tweet likening Epic to the Roman Empire. (The screenshot was from a movie and featured Roman soldiers in a forest. I spent about an hour trying to track down the battle referenced in that movie to see if it was one of the many times the Romans got their ass beat by Germanic tribes, which would have made Sweeney’s tweet oddly prescient. My results were inconclusive.)
- The Overwatch League. I don’t like meat sports, but I love esports. And of the many esports, the Overwatch League is my favorite to watch. However, because of reasons, this season will likely be the last. And worse than that, this season wasn’t that interesting to me. But the Hangzhou Spark, a team from a country where you cannot even officially play Overwatch, just beat the team highly favored to win it all, reminding me of how much I love this game. I’m rooting for the Spark to win now. It’d be a fitting end to something that has brought me so much joy.
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.
“Energiza Pro, an app for better battery life in the long term. I bought it a few weeks ago. I’m finding it very useful.” – Dennis
“Radio Paradise plays an electric mix of music, ad-free, totally free, and has multiple ‘Mixes’ you can listen to (Rock, Mellow, Main, Global). They play a great mix of music I wouldn’t usually listen to, and you can skip the song if you don’t like it. They even let you customize the stream quality from Low to FLAC quality. They just updated the app to a new interface and are fully listener-supported, and I give when I can.” – Jonathan
“Bombas socks and Kizik shoes. Both the socks and shoes are so comfortable, and the shoes are easy to put on / slip on and off.” – Marty
“Not sure if this is a new feature, but I just noticed when you’re viewing all tabs in mobile Safari, you can long-press the button that shows how many tabs you have, and it will pop up an option to copy all the links to your clipboard! I’m a pretty obsessive iPhone tips reader and haven’t seen this one before.” – Andrew
“Recently, I’ve been sucked back into Thumper, one of my favorite games of all time. This playthrough on iOS!” – Arden
“My favorite launcher of all time is the Z launcher by Nokia. It’s been unsupported for a while now and was eventually taken off the app store (breaking my heart). My second favorite launcher, and the one I’m currently using, is Niagara Launcher. It’s clean (making your wallpaper visible), can adjust pinned apps automatically by usage, and most importantly, can find any app on your phone one-handed. I love the app scrollbar (reminiscent of the One UI app settings scrollbar) since you can accurately get to any app on your phone in a fraction of a second.” – Samuel
“Raycast! It’s this powerful and modern Spotlight replacement for Mac that’s similar to Alfred but way better and more modern. I use it all day, every day, and it just keeps getting better. Part of it is due to software updates and new features but most of all because I dig deeper into all the amazing and powerful community-made extensions for it!” – Edvard
“I’m really liking Death Glitch by Tamara Kneese about how the social platforms and internet culture handle user death. And obvs, I hear really great things about Kashmir Hill’s new book.” – Joe
This week, the folks at the Dropout streaming service announced that, five years after launch, they’re fully getting rid of the name they had before — CollegeHumor. Dropout is great, love Dropout, go watch Dropout, but the official end of CH sent me down the deepest YouTube rabbit hole this week. Have you watched Pete Holmes as Badman? Trust me, watch it again. Then, go watch all of “Troopers,” the fantastic Star Wars parody. “If Google Was a Guy” is still one of the funniest tech-related things ever. I still say “no brandcuffs” out loud probably five times a week. There were a lot of stinkers on CH over the years, but that team also did some of the funniest stuff ever on the web. And 14 years later, “If All Movies Had Cell Phones” still rings in my ears every time I watch somebody who could absolutely solve all their problems with one text message.