I have been on a quest to find the best tool to chronicle the events of my life. This quest has led me to look for the answer to the question of which is the better journal keeping method, pen and paper or an electronic gadget? Analog or digital? Or maybe a combination of both? Part one of my article looked at traditional journal keeping (analog). This second part is going to focus on digital methods.
When we think about keeping a digital journal, we might not think that there are that many tools for this method other than a dedicated diary application on a computer, smartphone or tablet. But if you use your imagination, there are other ways to keep a digital diary like using a Livescribe pen, Facebook and Twitter posts, generic text files and even Gmail.
To research digital journal keeping, I asked myself what kind of features I wanted. Here is the short list I created:
Digital Journal Must Have Features
Must be able to add text via a keyboard – There are many journal and note keeping apps in the iOS and Android app stores that are stylus based. For me, they feel awkward to use because I’m a lefty and even with a palm rejection feature, I have troubles using them.
Must be able to include images – I like the old saying “a picture is worth a 1000 words”. I want the ability to add images to my diary entries because I’m a visual person and they can help me relive a memory sometimes much better than words.
Must be able to export entries for backup purposes – I don’t think I need to explain this one. The thought of having years of journal entries on a computer with no means of backing them up sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
Must have longevity – By longevity, I mean that I don’t want to make the mistake of choosing an application to keep my journal only for the application to become unsupported or the format to become unreadable by future gadgets.
Ability to add handwritten text or drawings with a stylus – Although I don’t want to the stylus to be the primary input method, I’d like the choice of using one if I desire.
Ability to sync entries between multiple devices like an iPhone and iPad – Being able to add a new journal entry or read / edit an existing one on multiple devices is a feature I’d love to have.
I realize that these features are important to me personally, but might not be important to everyone.
Keeping a Journal on an iPhone or iPad
It would take forever to review all the journal apps in the app store. So I just picked a few to get a feel for what’s out there. I’m leaving Android out of this article mainly due to the fact that my only Android device at the moment is an Amazon Kindle Fire. The number of journal apps in the Amazon market is pretty limited. I will have to revisit Android options if/when I get a full blown tablet at some point.
$2.99 for iPad version, $1.99 for iPhone version.
This is one of the first diary apps that I found when I was searching for apps that would allow me to include images along with text.
Chronicle is very easy to use and allows you to easily insert pictures that can be resized, rotated and even tilted. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the images can’t be locked down, so they can accidentally be moved when you’re flipping through pages reading your entries.
I tested the iPad version, but there’s also an iPhone version. Unfortunately, the application is not universal, which means that you have to buy it for both devices if you want to use it on both. There is also no automatic syncing between the devices, although you can export entries from one device and import into the other. Not exactly convenient. Although I like the simple interface, the lack of a universal app quickly made me look elsewhere.
$4.99 for iPad version. There isn’t an iPhone version.
PhatPad is an extremely powerful and feature rich note taking application. Except for the fact that there isn’t a version for the iPhone, it ticks off almost all the boxes of my needs and wants list. You can write with a stylus, type with a keyboard and even convert handwritten words to text. Text and handwritten notes can even exist on the same page.
Images from your photo stream can also be added to entries as well as a variety of clipart that is included with the application.
PhatPad has several ways to backup your entries, including printing, emailing, exporting to PDF, Google Docs and Evernote. Exporting to Google Docs will create a document called Document 1.pdf. There’s no way I’ve found to name the entries to anything other than Document #.pdf.
With Evernote, the entry is also saved as a PDF file, which you have to click on to actually view.
Although PhatPad can do pretty much everything I want and need, I just can’t get enthused about using it. During this experiment I’ve found that writing entries by hand with a stylus on the iPad’s display is not very enjoyable. My handwriting is 10x sloppier than on paper and making corrections to handwritten notes is not all that easy. Typing entries into PhatPad is much easier and faster, but the lack of an iPhone version was a deal breaker for me.
$2.99 iPhone version. There isn’t an iPad specific version.
Wonderful Days is my current favorite journalling app on the iPhone/iPad. It has a friendly interface that is both easy and fun to use.
Each entry can have its own theme (background) and font. Pictures can be added along with weather and mood stamps.
You can view your entry in a list view like you see above on the Left.
Or as thumbnails. You can also have it show on a map where the entry was recorded.
One of my favorite features of Wonderful Days is that it will sync with Evernote.
The best thing about Evernote syncing is that it syncs BOTH ways. If you pay attention to the date format that it uses to name your entries, you can create new ones using that format and sync back to the app. That means that you can write your diary entries on your computer (and even attach images) and then sync them to your iPhone. I also like that the entries in Evernote can be easily viewed. You don’t have to open a PDF file. They show up just like you see above. What makes this very powerful for me is that I can take pictures of my paper journal entries and save them to Evernote so that I have a back up and I can have access to them on my iPhone.
The only features that Wonderful Days lack to make it perfect is the ability to write entries with a stylus and an iPad (full screen) version. Other than that, it’s my current go-to journal app on my iPhone.
Other Digital Journaling Methods
Besides dedicated applications for your smartphone and tablet, there are other ways to keep a digital journal.
Starts at $99.95
The Livescribe Pen combines analog and digital features. It’s a physical ballpoint pen that records audio as you’re writing on special dotted paper. You can then jump to a specific spot in the audio by tapping on the written words. It’s been awhile since I’ve used a Livescribe. It’s a neat gadget that is very useful for students who record lectures. I’m not sure it makes the best journal / diary method although your written notes are digitized and can be saved, viewed and searched on your computer.
I love the idea of the Livescribe, but the fact that you have to use special paper with it and special computer applications, make me worry about the longevity of the platform.
Facebook and Twitter
Using popular social media sites like Facebook or Twitter might sound like a strange way to keep a diary, but if you think about it, they have some definite benefits. You can access them from almost any computer, smartphone or tablet. The entries are automatically date and time stamped and backed up on a server out there in the cloud. There are even 3rd party services like Fonicle and Twournal that will take your entries and use them to print a physical book.
You’re probably wondering how an email client could be used to keep a journal. Well, like Twitter and Facebook, entries stored in Gmail can be accessed from any connected computer, smartphone or tablet. You can start an entry on your iPhone and finish it later on your laptop. Images and other files can be attached to entries and you can even write an ink entry with your stylus when using Gmail apps for iOS and Android.
It’s easy to keep your diary entries organized. Just compose an email to yourself, then assign it a label like Journal/2012/Feb20 and archive it. Simple. Since it’s Gmail, it’s doubtful that the format will go extinct.
Is my quest over?
Yes it is. After trying various journal applications on my iPhone and iPad, I found that I prefer good old fashioned paper and pen. There’s something exciting about taking the wrapper off a brand new blank Moleskine or Rhodia notebook and writing my name inside the cover. I like taping pictures and things to the pages where it almost ends up becoming a scrapbook. Typing or writing entries on my iPad/iPhone just doesn’t feel the same.
So there you have it, for me, it’s analog journal keeping that works best.
Please share your comments on this topic. Are you also an analog journaler, or is it digital for you?