Narrato Journal: Life-Logging at Its Beautiful Best

Personal history is something most of us hold dear. The heart-warming nostalgia of looking at old family photos, or reading the written-out thoughts of our younger selves, is a special feeling.

In most respects, technology has enhanced the recording, storage and accessibility of these memories. We will have more photos of ourselves than any previous generation — video likewise — and every single image is in a format that can be converted again and again to suit future media standards. But what of written records? Not the social type — that is just airbrushed fakery. The writing down of our innermost feelings and everyday happenings is something few of us find the time for in the always-on world of today — a world which technology has shaped.

At last, though, technology is reversing this trend. Digital journals are gaining popularity, in part, because apps make it easy for us to record our thoughts anywhere, at any time. One such diary app is Narrato Journal, which has just hit version 2.0, complete with a brand new design and several notable extra features. But can it provide a compelling personal archive whilst making life easy to record?

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Setting Up

Unlike a physical diary, Narrato Journal does need some setting up. This is in a good cause, though – namely, automation.

Take the time to connect these account, and you'll be able to import a wealth of data.

Take the time to connect these accounts, and you’ll be able to import a wealth of data.

After creating an account, your first (optional) task is to sign in to your social accounts. Doing so allows Narrato Journal to capture your tweets, your Instagram photos, the locations you check into on Foursquare, and your movements, as recorded by Moves (if you have it installed).

You’re also asked how often you’d like to be reminded to update your journal. Then the recording of life’s little happenings can commence.

Life-Logging

Those little happenings can be logged in a variety of different ways, yet Narrato Journal never seems to stray from simplicity and straightforwardness.

Text updates are in distraction-free plain text.

Text updates are in distraction-free plain text.

Text updates do not use formatting, meaning that thoughts of pretty presentation don’t disrupt your flow. Photos can be added either as they are taken (you can select a camera other than the iOS default from the settings), or from the Camera Roll. For the simplest of updates, Facebook-like mood stickers are also provided, allowing for feelings to be captured with a tap.

Are you "Meh" or "OMG"?

Are you “Meh” or “OMG!”?

In addition to the data collected from your Foursquare account, you can manually add the locations you visit via Narrato Journal’s check-in system. This is actually powered by Foursquare, though, so a database of known places is available for the naming of your location. A nice feature here is data-less storage; if Narrato Journal can locate your position, it will happily save it and allow you to fill in the details later.

You don't need a Foursquare account to check in with Narrato Journal.

You don’t need a Foursquare account to check in with Narrato Journal.

The final option for adding content is via your feeds. Thankfully, tweets, check-ins, images and movements from the apps and services mentioned above are not added to your log automatically. Instead, they are compiled in a time-ordered list, from which you can then import only those social updates which are relevant to your real-world existence.

Journals

By default, all of this information is stored in a journal named Day to Day. You can, however, create additional journals, each being a separate timeline, and as you add updates, you can choose the journals to which the content should be added.

You can send updates to multiple journals.

You can send updates to multiple journals.

Given that a journal is a highly personal thing, you might think that the use of multiple timelines is unnecessary. But for folks with a passionate interest — a favourite sports team, for example — events relating to this interest might outnumber updates about daily existence. In these circumstances, a separate area for the given subject would probably work nicely, and improve the browsing experience.

Freemium

One thing to bear in mind when reading all of the above is that Narrato Journal is a freemium product. For the first year, everyone who downloads the app is given a Pro account, and receives 250MB of upload storage per month — essentially the same model as is employed by Evernote.

After the initial twelve-month period, your account is downgraded to the Free tier, and your storage cap reduced to 60MB per month. Retaining the original storage space requires a very reasonable in-app upgrade of $4.99 per year (or $0.99 per month), though.

A third tier, Awesome, is available for $39.99 per year ($4.99 per month) as well, and this banishes the upload restrictions altogether.

Browsing

Only once you stop logging, and you start looking, does the understated beauty of Narrato Journal really enter your consciousness.

It is an interface of which Jony Ive would approve — flat, various tones of light grey, with thin fonts and a hint of bright colour — and it is also very easy to navigate. Journals line up in a list on the left of screen, while their contents are listed, by date, on the right. Each date displays the number of entries made that day, together with a small preview of them.

The browsing interface is a beautiful thing.

The browsing interface is a beautiful thing.

Tapping on a date reveals more prettiness. Below a large, multi-coloured header is a timeline of entries, with each entry displayed in full (none of the “Read More” or “Expand” kind of irritation). I can definitely see the influence of Path, which is a very fine lead to follow.

Away from the design, there is one truly notable feature missing from the browsing options: search. I realize that journal-keeping is all about chronology, but I would counter that by saying that sometimes, you’d like to revisit particular events. On what date did that party happen? When did we visit the beach? I think you can see why a search would be handy.

For general perusal, though, Narrato Journal provides a very pleasant and practical environment.

Data

Narrato Journal’s parent company, Narrato, claims that the app’s subscription-based revenue model means they have “no incentive or interest in advertising or selling your data.”

However, given how personal the data is, you’ll need to trust Narrato’s word and security. This, of course, is a purely personal decision.

You can export or delete your data at any time.

You can export your data at any time.

You can export your data at any time though — in the developer-friendly, if user-unfriendly, JSON format — or just delete it.

Verdict

Narrato Journal is an impressive product. I can honestly see myself using it to store my history in digital form, which is not an accolade I give out lightly.

My liking for this app can mostly be attributed to its silky smooth operation, and while the design isn’t eye-catchingly flashy, just viewing the clarity of the text and the design of the icons is to pamper your eyeballs.

Issues? Not many, really, and they are mostly confined to browsing. I’d like to see better previews of each day’s entries, and a search engine would definitely be welcome.

But, looking at the bigger picture, Narrato Journal is beautifully made, works like a charm, looks great and is very reasonably priced. What’s not to like?


Summary

High class life-logging, with just the right amount of intelligence. Only a better preview and a search needed.

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