The apps, movies, games, and everything else we loved in 2023

Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 19, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, welcome, so psyched you found us, and also you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.) 

It’s the last Installer of the year, so we’re going to do something a little different! We’re going to talk about all our favorite things of 2023. Some ground rules / disclaimers: this list is not exhaustive, not everything in here is new this year it’s just new to us, this is not an Official List of Every Single Good Thing That Exists, and most importantly, if there’s something missing that you find outrageous and unacceptable you know where to find me: [email protected] and (203) 570-8663 on all the messaging apps.

Thanks to everyone who sent stuff in, I discovered so many cool things that are going to inevitably take over my life in 2024. And hopefully you find some stuff here too! I know I say this every week, but it’s always true: the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What are you into right now? What apps / games / movies / podcasts / sacred rituals / philosophical musings do you wish everyone liked as much as you? Tell me everything: [email protected]. (And if you know someone else who might enjoy Installer, tell them to subscribe here.)

Oh, also! The Verge has an amazing 2023 in review series running right now, which you should check out. This was the year of Fitbit and Google, of Matter and the smart home, of Game Pass games and Hulu shows and arthouse movies and a new social web. Don’t miss any of it.

That’s enough preamble, let’s just dive in. My favorite things, and yours, of 2023. Happy Holidays, friends, here we go!

David’s favorite things

One reason I love working on Installer is that it constantly forces me to try new things. I’m always watching and reading and downloading stuff I wouldn’t otherwise, which is terrible for my Netflix algorithm but otherwise extremely fun.

A lot of that stuff comes and goes — some of it is awful, much more of it is fine but sort of transient. Just not sticky for me, you know? But a bunch of stuff this year graduated from “I’ll try it out” to something more. That’s what this list is: in no particular order the stuff I discovered in 2023 that I’m still using, talking about, and recommending today.

  • Number Go Up. The best tech book I read this year, and one of my favorite “the future is weird” books ever. It’s an adventure story and a financial investigation, and I absolutely devoured it. Crypto is even more bizarre than you think.
  • Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses. Two days with these things, and I was convinced that smart glasses are going to be a thing. They’re already my go-to gadget for phone calls on the go and are replacing my headphones more and more.
  • Kagi. I’ve tried all the search engines, and I always ended up back at Google — until Kagi. It’s private, it’s fast, it’s super customizable, it’s a little ugly but I’m getting over that, and it’s the first search engine I’ve tried that feels just as good as Google.
  • Shrinking. I laughed, I cried. I did both those things several times on a plane while binge watching this show, which really confused the person next to me. It’s a winner from beginning to end. 
  • Anytype. It’s like Notion, only offline-first and super fast. Which turns out to be exactly what I was looking for. It’s also in beta, and has a steep learning curve, but now it’s set up to help me run basically my entire life. For now, anyway. 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. This was not the year of Serious Movies in my life — it was the year of “the baby’s finally asleep, what fun silly thing can I watch?” This was one of the most fun and one of the most silly. I loved it.
  • Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology. A history of the chip industry, which is also a story about startups and geopolitics and all the things in the world you don’t think of as “technology” but very much are. Miller’s appearance on The Ezra Klein Show was also one of my favorite podcast interviews of the year.
  • Super Mario Bros. Wonder. It’s probably not the best game of the year, but it’s certainly the one I played the most. It’s a perfect mix of old ideas and new ones, playable but challenging, and endlessly (like, endlessly) replayable.
  • A hybrid charger. The single best quality-of-life tech upgrade I made this year was to buy an Anker gizmo that is both a wall charger and an external battery. It charges my devices, and then itself, so next time I don’t have an outlet it still charges my phone. Game changer.
  • Beef. This show had a moment, but I still don’t think enough people saw it. It’s such a bizarre premise, but one of the funniest and best-written things I watched this year. I just rewatched the whole show in two days.
  • Mimestream. I haven’t opened Gmail’s ugly and cluttered web app in months, and I don’t miss it a bit. I’m terrible at email, and this Mac app has made me much better at it — here’s hoping an iOS version shows up in 2024.
  • Twos. My never-ending quest for the perfect to-do list app led me to this app, which is both super simple — just a list of stuff you write down — and incredibly clever. Cross-platform, free to use, and improving really fast. I’ve been using it all year.
  • BlackBerry. Nobody believes me when I tell them to see this movie! But it’s excellent, regardless of whether you care a lick about the BlackBerry story. 
  • Google Bard. Definitely not the AI tool I would have guessed would end up here. But the thing I use chatbots for most is finding stuff — in my email, my documents, YouTube, the web — and Google is just better at that. Bard’s bad at a lot of stuff, but it’s a solid search engine. 
  • 1Password. I’ve been using this app for years, but I really went all-in in 2023. Now all my two-factor codes, all my passkeys, all my important documents live here — and centralizing all that stuff in one place I trust has made my online life a lot easier.
  • Working it Out. This and Search Engine are the two podcasts that entered my “listen to every episode no matter what” list this year. Listening to comedians tell jokes, talk about jokes, and think about life and process, is just perpetually fun.
  • Tubi. A surprising amount of my TV watching time is now happening on Tubi, because it’s just easy: I don’t have to log in or search for anything. I just open the app and stuff starts playing. (The BBC Earth channel gets a lot of airtime in my house.)
  • Backbone. Most of my phone-gaming time is either remote playing my PlayStation or playing silly driving games. The Backbone controller makes both better and is super easy to connect and carry around. Now I just have to find some new games to play.
  • The Roku Voice Remote Pro. I’m on record about how bad I think all set-top boxes are, but this remote? This remote rules. A headphone jack for private listening, a useful voice assistant, a bunch of lovely buttons — it almost makes my stupidly slow smart TV bearable.
  • It Was a Sh*t Show. This and Hot Ones are probably the YouTube series I talk about the most. The channel chronicles the making of shows and movies, and all the ways they go spectacularly, hilariously wrong. The Arrested Development double feature is excellent (and is how I found the channel), but almost every video here is a winner.

Your favorite things

Thanks again to everybody who shared their favorite things over the last couple of weeks! I got so many more responses than I could fit here — if you want a bunch more recommendations here’s a bunch on Threads and a bunch on Mastodon. 

A few names showed up most often, so special shouts to the unofficial top five:

  • Arc. My favorite browser, no question, and clearly I’m not alone.
  • The Steam Deck. A lot of us got into handheld gaming this year, it appears, and this was by a mile the most-recommended gadget in my inbox. 
  • Scavengers Reign. One of The Verge’s favorite shows of the year, and definitely one of yours as well. 
  • Artifact. The hot new thing in news apps! I’ve been getting a little annoyed with all the clutter and AI stuff recently, but it’s still a great way to find new stuff.
  • Omnivore. An app for reading articles, newsletters, PDFs, and basically everything else. It’s a bit of a power-user tool, but it’s a really good one.

Now for the specific recommendations, from all over the Installerverse:

“I’m currently on month 8 of what was supposed to be a six-month deployment. I have a love-hate relationship with the Wi-Fi that was installed just before we left. With that said, because we have Wi-Fi access (sometimes) the Shonen Jump app and subscription has been my favorite app. When the ship’s Wi-Fi works, I can download and read offline up to 100 chapters of manga at a time. I’ve used it to relive a bit of my childhood by reading through all 700 chapters of Naruto and discover new stories like Demon Slayer and One Punch Man.” — Chris

Citizen Sleeper really, REALLY hit the right vibe for me this year. It came out last year, but I had a lot of downtime Jan-April this year, as I was on medical leave and then recovering from an appendectomy. I read all of Murderbot (more than once, and the most recent one just came out in November!) and got deep into Citizen Sleeper and the ennui and pessimistic optimism (optimistic pessimism?) that both franchises share worked just right for me.” — Zoe

The Town podcast from Matt Belloni. The best source of Hollywood and entertainment news. Excellent guests, every episode is a banger.” — Myke

Arc browser definitely took over all my computers this year. It was pretty impressive to see something take Chrome and Firefox on in a big way.” — Wisdom

“I travel A LOT. I’ve been working remotely in Costa Rica for 6 months of the year, and then when I’m back in the States, I’m all over for work and family. This Anker Nebula Capsule projector has been a GAME CHANGER. You never know when your Airbnb or hotel will have a shitty little TV. This thing makes any wall a giant screen, has a decent built-in speaker, and it’s TINY — like can of soda tiny — so I don’t even notice it in my carry on. Oh, and built-in apps, no need for an external streaming device or laptop.” — Mitch

“My biggest time investment had nothing to do with tech. It was a physical trading card game called Flesh and Blood! So good. Really gets your brain working and is highly addictive.” — Thore

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins is like Almost Famous meets a thriller murder mystery. A fantastic book that’s stuck with me most of the year! Also, the show Jury Duty is a must-watch for any fan of The Office / Parks and Rec. A truly new take on a modern sitcom or reality show.” — Tyler

“I’ve been getting tired of Apple Music misorganizing my music collection, so I finally started a Plex Music library to go with my TV and Movie libraries. Turns out they have a great mobile app called Plexamp that creates awesome radio stations from my library.” — Michael

“The Artifact app that I actually got from you guys at The Verge. It’s such a better scrolling experience from Instagram and I find as it learns who I am it is getting better at recommending stuff to me.” — Vishal

“My favorite thing of 2023 has been JustWatch. The sad demise of Netflix’s DVD business — yes I was a subscriber — motivated me to find a new place to track the obscure movies I like, and JustWatch is solving the problem. My watchlist filtered by streaming services I subscribe to: ‘Things I want to watch, available to me right now.’” — Ron

TickTick. So many random things need to get done daily, from random house work, gentle reminders, to dos… if I don’t put it in TickTick, chances are that I will forget to do it at all.” — Omesh

“My new years’ resolution was to listen to more albums. To that end, Musicboard has been a great companion, sorting the stuff I want to hear, allowing me to rate / write a few thoughts about them, and also having a community of reviewers. It’s a simple app but it helped me a lot!” — Nathann

“Book: Barbarians at the Gate. Old book; new to me. Made me better understand seemingly wacky Wall Street things, like why banks helped Elon buy Twitter. It’s probably all about the FOMO and fees. Thing: Garmin Instinct 2X. I ran my first couple of miles for over 10 years in June. And a little more than 13 miles last week. This watch helped me find my inner runner. Cool look, awesome battery life, and an unexpectedly useful flashlight.” — Robert

Slow Horses on Apple TV Plus is excellent. Really enjoyed the games Dead Cells and Vampire Survivors on various platforms.” — RoBo

“My favorite thing of 2023 was Rude Tales Of Magic, an RPG podcast that, while older than 2023, had its final episode of its first campaign. Now that it has a beginning, middle, and end, I feel better recommending it to people! It’s hilarious, well-edited, and doesn’t resemble D&D — in a good way for listeners.” — Hunter

“2023 for me was the Year of (Brandon) Sanderson. Remember his record-break-breaking Kickstarter for four secret novels? Well, this was the year they all got delivered monthly. I have enjoyed opening the swag boxes each month and reading a LOT of his books. I fell in love with his work when I read Mistborn a few years ago, but this Kickstarter really kickstarted (heh) a deep dive into his bibliography and it was so worth it. 10/10 would recommend.” — Doug

MUBI and MUBI GO! It was Apple’s TV app of the year. Here in the UK, MUBI GO is £18.99 a month to access a streaming platform AND get a free cinema ticket a week (MUBI picks the film — normally a great pick, last week was Godzilla Minus One). It’s my favorite subscription.” — Chris

“This was a year I got back into reading in a real way, and one of my favorite books (and almost definitely my favorite book from this year) was Doppelganger, by Naomi Klein. Essential reading IMO!” — Jeanne

“The Steam Deck has been my personal favorite tech thing of 2023. I bought the cheap one and upgraded the internals so it scratched that long dormant itch. I can hook it up to my monitor and use it like a desktop computer which is super useful for… emulation things. And finally, it feels so good in the hands to play (and it gives me access to my entire Steam library!). It has been a long time since I’ve been this delighted by a device.” — Scott

All right, friends, that’s it for Installer in 2023. We’ve got some big plans for next year, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has subscribed, commented, shared recommendations, gotten very mad at me for not including enough Android apps, and reached out to say you’re enjoying Installer. Keep the recommendations and feedback coming, have a wonderful rest of your holidays, and see you in 2024!