Day One App Review

Day One is a premium journaling app for iOS, Android and Mac. It allows you to create information-rich journal entries using a variety of built-in and external sources, helping you track your day with minimal input.

Whether we like it or not, our phones and computers are collecting huge amounts of information about us every day. The Orwellian implications of this data collection aside, Day One allows our phones can be turned into a tool for our own personal benefit, rather than a surveillance device for corporations and marketers. The places we visit, number of steps taken, the weather and a myriad of other things are available to us to create incredibly full entries in your journal. By taking this data and using it to look back at how we spend our time we can gain a better understanding of ourselves in the present, and create something to look back on in the future.

I would consider Day One to be a premium iOS app, having both the aesthetic, functionality and build quality of native iOS apps. I have been using it for 18 months and although I have not used it every day, it has become an important part of my lifelogging and journaling workflow. I tried a variety of options, methods and apps and I found Day One to be the easiest to use and best at what I needed it for. It is not without its faults, but at the moment it leads the pack by a considerable margin.

Who is Day One for?

Day One is for anyone who wants to create a record of one or many aspects of their life. It can be a personal dairy, a work journal, a task list, film or food log, or a combination of these and many other things. At the moment the entries are limited to images and text but audio and even video are roadmapped for future releases.

Why I use Day One?

Day One has become my catchall program for digital recording. It is not a direct replacement for anything because no program or system ever really worked for my purposes before this. Private blogs, Evernote, Dropbox, even text documents all have their place, but everything else I had tried was too disjointed and fragmented to be of any tangible benefit.

Day One allows me to keep almost all of my journaling information in one place, and I can access it anytime from both my phone and the more recent web app. It also allows me to easily include other metadata which fills out my entries and provides a more complete picture without any additional effort.

Benefits of Day One

  • The app design is the best of all the iOS journaling apps I looked at and feels like the most polished. Since I started using it Day One has felt like a finished product, whereas other alternative apps have felt like works in progress.
  • It is very easy to add entries both in and out of the app. Photos and text can be exported from other apps to form full journal entries without leaving your current app. There are also options to mark your location in the activity feed widget on the Today View screen, creating a location-specific entry for that point in time. This is a great feature, as it allows me to mark places I’ve been with all the associated metadata, and then fill in the specifics later. The metadata is not necessarily something you would think to add yourself due to the time it would take to do so, so it is a great function to be able to do this at no extra effort.

  • Their geotagging and location based logging is the best part of the app (when it works – there have been a few instances where updates have stopped this working for me). The way the activity feed uses your location data to provide a summary of your day is fantastic. The data that my phone is always collecting in the background is now useful to me, and not just the third-party app company secretly storing it away. The history of locations in the activity feed also allows me to retrospectively add journal entries, allowing me to pick out the important places from everywhere I’ve been. This is an essential feature for me as it fits better into the way I journal.

  • IFTTT integration makes automation even easier and Day One is one of the few or only journaling apps that allow this.
  • As a long time user of Day One, I am grandfathered into the plus membership level. Among the benefits of this level is the ability to add up to ten photos per journal entry. This is a good cloud based backup solution for important photos with the benefit of being contextualised by the journal entry. We take so many images and rarely curate them, an unfortunate practice that only becomes obvious when we need to find one image among thousands.
  • Entry tagging works really well for searching through past entries, and multiple journals means you can separate your different types of journal entries.

Downsides to Day One

  • A few of the previous updates have caused lack of functionality due to bugs in the system. While this happens to every app at times, there was a period last year where it seemed to be frustratingly regular. Recent updates have been better.
  • The app allows you to make multiple entries per day but when viewing past entries there is only a vague delineation between the days. This can be a little confusing when figuring out when specific events happened. This is one of the few criticisms of the app’s design I have.
  • Visiting multiple locations per day means creating multiple journal entries. Some kind of system whereby multiple locations were collated into a single entry with an end of day summary would be a step forward, as I don’t think the current daily summary works all that well.
  • As a Windows user, there is no dedicated Windows app which means I am only able to get full functionality through the iOS app (although in fairness to the Day One team, a Windows app has never been promised). The recently released web app is read-only (not all that useful) and browser extensions are not the same as a fully functional web app. If you are a Mac user, you get the benefit of a fully MacOS app.

Subscription models

The decision for Day One to move to a subscription model last year proved controversial, as it has for many other apps that have similarly taken this route. As a grandfathered Plus user, I can continue to enjoy a level of service above that of the basic user. However, many others in this situation saw the move to subscription as a reason to leave the app immediately. While I can understand their problems with the new model and especially the way it was rolled out, this seems like an overreaction. I still get to enjoy the same level of functionality I did before, although I am unsure of which of the future developments I will have access to. So while this is ok for the time being, I will be keeping a careful eye on future developments.

I believe the way that the subscription model was introduced played a big part in the backlash against the app. It came as a surprise to most, and the price hike from the cost of the app purchase was significant. It is one thing to justify paying a few dollars for the app once (I think I paid $5 AUD in 2016) but it is a more serious investment to then pay many times that price every year. If that one-off price became a yearly subscription I would say this was fair, as new functionality is essentially giving you a new app every twelve months. But the increase was too high for some, especially since it came with little additional benefit from the outset. As far as I could see, the main benefit to the subscription was access to future updates like audio entries, which I’m not sure if were promised to regular users before this (although I could be wrong). If this is the case, it would be a cynical way to try and string along customers into subscribing.

I don’t want to come down too heavily on either side of the debate. I understand that the app store revenue model does not benefit the small developer, and maybe the high subscription price was the only way for the company to stay solvent. However, it felt disingenuous for the subscription service to be sprung on users in the way it was. There was no consultation as far as I am aware, and it seems the company misjudged the feeling of at least a significant minority of their consumer base. It may be common knowledge that this sort of shift needs to happen in the development world, but not all customers operate within this field. For those left on the outside, it may feel like continued access to their much beloved app and all their data has been snatched away from them unless they pay up.

Final Word

Day One is the best looking and most functional app available on iOS for journaling and lifelogging. It has an extensive feature set that makes it adaptable to many different uses, more so than other apps I have tried. With inbuilt IFTTT integration this feature set can only get larger.

However I am in a fairly unique position being grandfathered in to the Plus membership level. As a new user I would find the single photo per entry limit a deal-breaker. As a Plus user I have found the implementation of the Premium level to be handled quite poorly, which is a worrying sign as this is the future of the company.

Although Day One is currently the best option, if they do not continue to innovate and make good on their promised future features, other apps could well come along that would knock them off the top spot (Journey by 2AppStudio for example). Until that point, Day One will be my preferred solution to digital journaling, archiving and lifelogging.