The perfect music streaming app does not exist


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Plus, in this week’s Installer: the new Nothing Phone, Rivian’s upcoming crossover, the M3 MacBook Air, and much more.

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Image: William Joel / The Verge

Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 29, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, welcome, I promise I don’t always complain about music streaming, and also, you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.) 

I also have for you a cheap new smartphone, a cheap(er) electric car, a fun new show on Netflix, a high-end webcam, and yet another reason to watch John Oliver. Let’s dig in.

(As always, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What are you playing / watching / reading / coding / sculpting right now? What are you into that everyone else should also be into? Tell me everything: And if you know someone else who might enjoy Installer, forward it to them, and tell them to subscribe here.)

  • The Nothing Phone 2A. It has been a long time since I was this excited about a cheap smartphone. It doesn’t work on every network in the US, but a $350 phone that looks good and makes mostly reasonable compromises? More of this, please.
  • Last Week Tonight’s Boeing segment. Telling you to watch John Oliver is not groundbreaking information, I know. But this is a really good one! And it tells a story about how companies and products change that will sound like an awful lot of the tech industry.
  • The Logitech MX Brio. This high-end $200 webcam might be two years too late to really be everywhere, but I’ve been looking for a webcam that is both good and simple for… forever and still haven’t found it. Logitech always nails simple, and this one sounds like it might really be good.
  • The Gentlemen. A high-budget, high-concept Netflix show about fancy people and drugs based on a deeply silly action movie? I’d watch every second of this even if it was awful — but based on the early feedback, it’s not awful at all.  
  • MyMind. This has long been one of my favorite apps: it’s like a personal Pinterest, a place to keep all the stuff you care about and like and want to remember. The newest feature — Serendipity, which resurfaces stuff you’ve saved in a super-focused way — is only on iOS for now, but the MyMind Android app is also getting better fast.
  • CleanMyPhone. MacPaw makes some of my favorite device cleanup devices (CleanMyMac and CleanMyPC have saved me a million times), and I’m already digging this as a way to clean up my iPhone’s camera roll. The app’s expensive ($24.99 a year), but you can get a lot done in the three-day free trial… just saying.
  • The BEST remote control was made in 2005.” I will never stop wanting great universal remotes to be a thing. Never ever ever. This very funny 16-minute video about the Harmony 880, one of the all-time greats, had me eBay shopping for one of my own. 
  • The M3 MacBook Air. I will always miss the wedge design, but I’m already beginning to talk myself into upgrading — the new Air’s battery and performance both sound ridiculous, and I’m extremely into that midnight color. I don’t need a new computer, I don’t need a new computer, I don’t need a new computer.
  • The Rivian R3. The new R2 also looks good — cheaper, glove compartments, two scroll wheels?! — and is definitely coming sooner. But I’m really into the R3, which is smaller and sportier and gives me vintage Land Rover vibes in a way I very much enjoy.

Group project

Last week, when I mentioned at the end of the newsletter how silly I feel paying for so many music services, I didn’t expect to hear from anyone — except maybe the folks who like to remind me that I’m an idiot. But it turns out, I’m not alone! I heard from a lot of folks who are also struggling to figure out which music service to use, which to pay for, how to switch, and more. 

Also, fun fact: the only music services I heard about at all were Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal. There are a million others out there, but none seem to matter much. Oh, wait! Except for Qobuz! One person mentioned Qobuz! Big day for Qobuz!

Anyway, I thought I’d offer some of the thoughts and guidance you all shared over the last week or so. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Maybe all the music services are bad? I heard from a lot of what I’d call “Begrudging Music Streamers” who hate the interface and the lack of high-quality audio in their app but feel stuck for one reason or another. (Family plans keep us all locked in, it seems.) Spotify was the primary offender here, but even folks who use YouTube Music or Amazon Music seem to be perpetually searching for something better. Except something better might not exist.
  • Apple Music wins on interface. Almost everyone who told me they liked Apple Music told me they liked its tools for managing playlists and libraries. If you’re the organizing type, there’s no better music app.
  • But Spotify wins on recommendations. Turns out, the same thing keeps you all hooked on Spotify that has me there, too: personalized playlists like Release Radar and the Daily Mixes, along with being able to see what your friends are listening to. Apple’s new “Heavy Rotation Mix” is a good start, but nobody can touch Spotify in this realm.
  • Spotify is also everywhere. It’s integrated into Bluetooth speakers, Sonos speakers, lots of car interfaces, fitness trackers, voice assistants, and practically everything else. That was important to a lot of folks — your music service should be available everywhere you want music, and Spotify has that pretty much covered.
  • YouTube wins by being YouTube. I really thought you’d all make fun of me for spending a billion dollars a month on YouTube Premium, but it turns out, I’m not alone! YouTube Music is kind of a meh app, but it’s included, and the overall YouTube corpus of music is just unbeatable. If I leave Spotify, I think this is where I’m headed.
  • Tidal is still kicking. I honestly think every single Tidal user emailed me this week to remind me that Tidal is good. I believe you! One person, Marcus, said they Plexamp to stream both Tidal and their local music collection, which is a pretty good trick.

My big takeaway is both sort of bleak and very clarifying: there is no perfect music app, which means both that you can happily stick with the one that you have and also easily bail if you want to save money or try something new. And as a few people reminded me, there are practically always ways to get deals on music services, whether you’re getting free Apple Music when you buy a new device or getting Spotify through your wireless carrier.

Personally, I finally finished using Soundiiz to copy all of my playlists to YouTube Music, and I think I’m going to give that a whirl — but I have a feeling I’ll end up back on Spotify. I just can’t leave my Daily Mixes.

Screen share

Sometimes, The Verge’s Liz Lopatto writes about technology. Just as often, she writes about how much she doesn’t like using technology — or about, like, pens. Which I know she would argue counts as technology, so we’ll call that one a tie.

Anyway, I asked Liz to share her homescreen precisely because of her forever-conflicted relationship to her phone. She immediately told me that, well, actually, her homescreen is her *second* homescreen, for reasons even she couldn’t explain. This is the stuff we love here at Installer.

Here’s Liz’s homescreen, plus some info on the apps she uses and why:

The phone: An iPhone 12 Mini.

The wallpaper: A photo of Jeeves from when she came with me to New York for the SBF trial reporting I was doing last October. We stayed in an apartment on the 27th floor, and she was completely obsessed with the view. I have a ton of photos of her looking out the window, including one where she’s looking down so intently that her little ears are bending from where she pressed them against the glass, but this one is my favorite.

The apps: Google Maps, Fantastical, Slack, Carrot Weather, Green Yogi, Gmail, Phone, Safari, Spotify.

This is the second page of my phone, which is functionally my homescreen. Why did I do it this way? Great question, no idea. My best guess is that 10-ish years ago, when I switched away from BlackBerry, I didn’t bother to move any of the Apple preloaded apps and just started on a fresh page. 

You’ll notice I have a “$$$$” and “Finance” folder… one of them is my personal money stuff, and the other is apps I use for reporting. My yoga studio has an app for signing up for classes, so that’s one of my most frequently used apps. I like Carrot for weather better than Apple’s preloaded app even though I find its “sassiness” annoying. The reference folder contains the OED app and my favorite search engine, Wikipedia. 

The more I type, the more deranged I feel I sound? But yes, I live like this.

I keep all my social media, etc. stuff out of my direct line of sight when I open my phone, which works really well for keeping my use low. Bluesky, etc. are on the third page, in a folder, and deliberately annoying to get to. Also, I have alerts off for every app except my text messages and work Slack. It’s very peaceful; highly recommend it.

I also asked Liz to share a few things she’s into right now. Here’s what she sent back:

  • Right now, I’m reading the new translation (by Douglas Weatherford) of Pedro Páramo, and I’ve been astonished at how much better I like it than the previous version I read. I’ve kind of been reading it more slowly than I usually read books because I don’t want it to end.
  • And after writing a goofy pen blog and getting a bunch of reader emails — and a bunch of DMs from my fellow staffers — I bit the bullet and bought a fountain pen, which I quickly fell in love with. Then, I immediately bought more. And because the pens are fun to write with, and the ink samples I have are beautiful, I’ve been sending family members old-fashioned mail, pen pal style. I love physical media; touch is such an important sense to me.
  • In terms of internet stuff, I love “What Makes This Song Stink,” which posts like once every six months — perfect for me, I don’t like trying to keep up with YouTube — and though it seems casual and shaggy, Pat Finnerty actually scripts it tightly. I am so delighted by his writing and editing. Every joke has a payoff! I have inadvertently been learning a bunch of music theory, which has made me appreciate the songs I do like a lot more. I recommend starting with the Weezer episode, which turns out to be a sweet meditation on getting older.


Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email or message +1 203-570-8663 with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week. 

“Two clutch MagSafe mounts for the bathroom: one for next to the mirror and one for the shower. One says JOYROOM on it, which is hilarious in the context of a bathroom, but if you want to listen to a pod in the shower, it’s unbeatable. The Peak Design mount is better — it’s for watching YouTube TV while I shave.” – Nilay

“I’ve been addicted to the new game mode “No Return” in The Last of Us Part II. The goal is to survive a series of encounters involving an impressive number of maps, objectives, modifiers, and characters that can be randomly picked or manually chosen. I had to improvise a lot, cause the enemies are smart, the modifiers can handicap you severely and dying ends the playthrough. Be warned!” – Xyan

“Missing the iPod click wheel? I bought this macro pad mostly to make it so that rotating the knob with one finger scrolls up and down.” – Miguel

“Listening to the smart kitchen Vergecast episode, I thought I’d share the meal planning service I use from Rainbow Plant Life. Since it does a lot of what was mentioned in that episode just without using cameras and sensors. They send you a weekly grocery list, the recipes, tips, storage instructions, what to do on the weekend vs. in the week. Basically everything you would want to know. This one is set up for 2 people but you can scale the recipes as needed.” – Zach

“Check out newsmap.js. It visualizes Google News in a helpful way.” – Jeremy

“This is the best explainer video you can watch about AR smart glasses tech and why it is so difficult to make them look like regular glasses.” – Dhiliphan

“I’ve been getting into Disney’s trading card game Lorcana. It’s a neat, fun, and surprisingly easy-to-learn TCG that I just got my nine-year-old sister to start playing, and she loves it. I can see myself spending a lot of money on it.” – Bryan

“I’ve been rewatching Michael Fisher’s “When Phones Were Fun” series on YouTube, a delightful dive into a much more interesting time in mobile.” – Josh

“The new season of Tokyo Vice is fantastic! The first season was good enough, with some fun ‘fish out of water’ bits and a compelling Yakuza story but season two is really driving the shit out of the character development- especially the side characters. I love it.” – John

“Fell in love again with Fantastical. The free version is damn good. Great design and what makes me love it more than Amie or Notion Cal is the intelligent natural language input and ability to sync with Todoist.” – Irfan

Signing off

Jacob Collier is one of those people I’ve seen a million times on TikTok and YouTube — big wild hair and cool sweaters, always talking about some esoteric musical theory I don’t understand but nonetheless will watch him talk about for an hour — but I know almost nothing about him. But now, with an album coming out, there’s been a glut of great Collier Content: an interview with Colin and Samir, a really fun Switched on Pop episode, and an interview with CBC. However you feel about his music, the way he thinks about creativity, collaboration, the internet, and streaming, is just fascinating. Also: the sweaters just keep getting better.

See you next week!

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