Life: A New Option for Journal-Keepers

For many of us, recording memories and life experiences is a labour of love — and as with most things in modern life, “there’s an app for that.” Or, more accurately, there are now many apps dedicated to personal journal-keeping.

MacJournal and the now-retired Chronories led the way on Mac, and in their wake have come new, original offerings such as Bits, as well as iOS imports such as Day One.

The latest addition to this genre is Life, a heavyweight diary app built by the folks at MacAppStudio, which features an advanced search and numerous methods of capturing day-to-day happenings, as you might expect of an app that costs $59.99. But does it make life-logging sufficiently frictionless to be worth the hassle? I went hands-on with the premium beta to find out…

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Environment

For me, a diary app should be as close to a physical diary as possible in terms of complexity — or, indeed, simplicity — of use. Unless you can be bothered to enter happenings into your journal, a long feature list is irrelevant.

Measuring Life by this yardstick, I think it does a pretty good job. Configuring your digital diary is just a matter of inputting your name and photo, and choosing how often (if at all) you’d like Life to prompt you. Not that any of this is actually required.

The overall design of Life is clean and practical.

The overall design of Life is clean and practical.

The entry view — Life’s central hub (and the first thing you see when opening the app) — holds a simple, clean text area that is flanked on the left by a timeline of the day’s updates. The look is very flat and the icons are in the style of basic line drawings; I’m not sure I would quite put it in the “pretty” category, but it is handsomely practical.

Entry

Unsurprisingly, text is the primary method for the noting of events in Life. There’s no formatting in this beta version apart from bold, italic and underline, but Markdown support will be added in the future.

There are plenty of non-text inputs, too.

There are plenty of non-text inputs, too.

For folks who like their multimedia, there’s a very respectable array of supplementary inputs, too. Updates can be given a Type (text, photo, etc), assigned a Facebook-like emotion, and marked as notable. Equally, you can attach images to your entries via drag-and-drop, add a location, and enter tags.

Reminiscing

All of this data is for a purpose: making moments more findable.

The search engine is currently imperfect, but highly detailed.

The search engine is currently imperfect, but highly detailed.

Life’s much vaunted search is great if you’ve entered plenty of data with each entry, as results can be filtered by date, tag and type. Unfortunately, the basic term-based search engine struggles in this beta version, but the advanced search is as accurate as it is speedy.

The calendar provides a unique overview.

The calendar provides a unique overview.

Life’s other main history-browsing option is a calendar view. Each date has coloured dots below it, with the colours signifying the Type of updates that were made and the tags that were used. Initially, this view is meaningless, but after a while you start to memorize the colours, and this area begins to provide a good overview of your updates.

The full version of Life will also include a map, which will turn the location info you’ve entered into an explorable digital atlas.

Outlook

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with Life. Once Markdown support arrives, it will provide a wholesome, accessible writing environment, with just enough rich media to supplement the typed-out thoughts. The search is very detailed, the calendar view is nicely constructed and the map view will make for an interesting geographical insight.

In fact, the only thing to baulk at is the price; it would be unfair to judge the value of an app before seeing it in its complete state, but Life does need to bring some serious quality to the table to justify that $60 asking price.

Apart from beta bugs, though, I have to say that Life is a well-made product, and a very worthwhile home for your personal diary.


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