We recently rounded up ten of the best journal and note-taking apps here at Mac.AppStorm. Many people commented, listing their favourite apps and why they’ve remained so dedicated to them all this time. While some of the apps in that roundup have probably been in your Launchpad at one time or another, there is a newcomer that has only been recently released.
The new guy is Sockii’s Capture 365 Journal. After mentioning it in the roundup, we felt it was time to compare it to Day One and have a full look at what the app’s capabilities are and why you should or should not use it. If you’ve been waiting for this kind of a read before you spend your hard-earned cash on such a young app, the following review should prove most helpful. The main question is, does this app live up to reasonable expectations for a digital journal?
Skip Setup, Jump Right In
Capture 365 Journal does not have a setup process, so you can just start using it right after you download the 7.9 MB file. Even though this can seem inviting to some people, a journaling app should have some sort of setup for importing your old journal or even pulling your recent Tweets or Facebook status updates to make something. There’s not another app out there that does the latter, but it’d definitely be a nice thing to have and people would use it.
Not having a setup process simplifies things — anyone will tell you that. However, it doesn’t necessarily help the features list get bigger. It’s also unfortunate that there is no tutorial or introduction video for this app because it can get more confusing down the road. For instance, adding an entry to a specific day requires that you click it and then click the Add Entry on [day here] button instead of just the usual + button. Two separate buttons makes things confusing and can be frustrating to some people.
No Importing, But Adding Entries is Simple
I briefly mentioned importing an older journal in the previous section. Now it’s time to go into more detail on the matter. As I said before, Capture 365 doesn’t support importing entries from MacJournal, PDF documents, or even plain text. You would at least expect there to be support for the last one, but instead the File menu holds an Export feature. All this lets you do is select a date range and export things as PDF or print them. The exported PDF document looks nice, though the font is nothing to get excited about (it’s Helvetica).
Without a way to import all my old entries, how am I to use this new app as a replacement for something like Day One? This is a obligatory feature in all journaling apps without even considering what crowd you are looking to serve the software to. It’s as if the apple strudel has no sweetener in this case.
When it comes to adding a new journal entry, it can be done from anywhere in the app with the click of a button. The big red ribbon in the top right corner with a + on it will create a new journal entry in separate window when you click it. You can then type whatever you wish into the text box and click Save to finish things up. This process starts out streamlined, but then it just gets tedious due to the clicking of a button to save what you’ve typed. It seems like an unnecessary step in the composition process; why not just use CMD + Return or something instead?
Speaking of shortcuts, this app desperately needs to make use of them. CMD + N will create a new journal entry as you would expect, but the interesting thing is the developer doesn’t tell you that. In the File menu, CMD + N’s command is titled New Journal, hinting that it will create a completely different journal window or something of the sort. It’d help if things were a little more clear on the menus, and there should be more shortcuts for navigating the interface. The Escape key would be good for closing an entry, but instead you have to press it and then Return, even if the entry is blank. It’s all a bit too tedious.
A User Interface with Potential
The main reason Capture 365 Journal looked promising was its user interface. It’s not skeumorphic as many Mac apps have become. Instead, the designer took a nice simple approach to things, which is good. The main background of entries is a paper-like texture that can barely be told different from a regular white background; the journal entries pane has a nice leather background that is also dimmed so it doesn’t jump out at you like Apple’s Calendar app; and finally, the ribbon at the top does not try to look realistic, but rather like a computer-generated image, which is much better than many others out there.
From top to bottom, the user interface doesn’t really mix well. One would hope for a simplified approach to things, but this app has different types of design all throughout. First there’s the leather, which, while perfectly fine, does not mix with the paper and ribbon. Likewise, the ribbon doesn’t mix with the leather, but it looks fine alongside the paper. These are just some little mistakes that throw things off.
Markdown is Left in the Cold
A favourite feature of many Mac apps is support for John Gruber’s Markdown code. Everyone enjoys being able to type quickly without putting extra symbols like with HTML. Sadly, not all apps support it, and this one is on that list. When you’re developing an app in which the user handles text extensively, a good thing to remember is that it will be hard to format it with rich text, and it’s always been the ugliest thing anyway. Markdown is clean when typed out and looks great when it’s formatted. If only this developer remembered that.
Photos are Nice, But Incomplete
As with Day One, you can add a photo to your entry. That’s about the only thing you can do with a photograph though. If you feel like actually looking at the image, it’s too small to view, but you can go through three screens to get a larger version of it. Another problem with this feature is the way the image is embedded in an entry. Day One has things right: inline images. Capture 365 just doesn’t understand what to do with an image besides make the caption the main point of the entry. There’s also no way to just browse photos, like with a library view of sorts.
Journal on the Go with iCloud Sync
Capture 365′s last most notable feature is iCloud synchronisation, which works well and keeps everything backed up to a safe server maintained by Apple Inc. The funny thing is, this feature does not come enabled by default, nor does the developer tell you that it’s there. If you venture into the Preferences window, you’ll find a checkbox in the iCloud tab that switches on cloud capabilities. Once you’ve checked it, things will begin uploading. One thing that’d be nice is a progress bar so you know if things are finished or if you can continue your work and close the journal. That can be added in a future release though.
The main purpose of iCloud sync with this app is so you can take your journal with you everywhere. There is an iOS app titled Capture 365 Journal Pro and it costs $3.99, which is less than Day One’s iOS companion. The app is universal and shouldn’t be too hard to use on an iPad if you’ve already figured out the desktop app because it has the same basic design. On the iPhone, it’s just like browsing your calendar with extra information on days and photos here and there. The nice thing is, the photos in these apps actually work much better than in the desktop one.
Having iCloud gives this app a distinct advantage when compared to most journaling software out there. Day One does have this feature and the developer has implemented it well, but most other apps are lacking it. Having the same information on every device is a plus for any app or service.
Comparing It to Day One
At the end of Day One, the good old Bloom Built app comes to haunt you with its steadily beautiful interface and good deal of features. When it comes down to it, Capture 365 has nothing to hold up as a weapon in its battle against the the mighty Day One. Day One is much simpler for a first-time user, not having a menu bar app for quickly adding an entry is disappointing, and the user interface is nowhere near as beautiful, nor consistent, as it could be.
Worth Your Time?
If you don’t already use Day One or are new to journaling on a Mac, consider this app one that’s still in development. It’s not going to be as good as Day One, even if you do like its current user interface and lack of core features. You could always start here and then export things in the future, but again, importing them somewhere else could end up showing the same problems. You don’t want to get stuck and end up losing all those precious thoughts and memories, that’s for sure.
On the other hand, you could be a journaling legend, in which case this app is out the door right from the start. Without a way to import things that you’ve already written down, how are you supposed to use this as a replacement for, say, MacJournal or Day One? The only way right now is to copy and paste everything, which is a dull and unnecessary task. If the app isn’t ready at the beginning of things, it won’t make it ten minutes on your Mac.
Whatever the case is, the documentation of this app really isn’t that good at the start and there are no tips later on. The user experience can definitely be improved a bit, CMD + W to close a journal entry window would be nice, not having to click exactly on the + button to create a new entry makes sense, and everything else is just obvious. There are many improvements to be made here, and at least the developers got one thing that counts: an iOS companion with iCloud sync.
With journaling, this app is a start in all basic areas, but there's not more substance than that. One of its strong points is the fact that it's something different throughout. The other is its iCloud sync and iOS companion apps, though they hold the same basic design as this.7