If you’re looking for the best journaling app, or a great app for logging and recording various events and milestones of your life, then by far and away the best journaling app is Day One.
Day One has outstanding apps for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad that all sync. It has a clever and rich feature set that lets you integrate photos, current location, weather data, and more into your journal entries. And it’s built by a small team of people that are continually updating this suite of journaling apps with well-implemented details.
Advantages and the importance of journaling
As a writer, I believe journaling on a regular basis is critical. The writing I do in my journal is writing that will never be edited, judged, or nit-picked. It’s the only place where I am completely free to write for my truly ideal reader: future me. I have my own inside jokes, my own running story arc, my own shorthand. I love the freedom to write whatever I want, however I want, with no need to make it tidy, clear, or concise. I also have no doubt that it makes me a better professional writer.
Over the years, most of the major, monumental milestones of my life were documented in a Moleskine, but not all. That’s why I’m glad to have an app that lets me easily and joyfully add a snapshot or a quick note about an important or memorable event. These are the things my family and I will look back on 20 and 30 years from now with great fondness.
Journaling helps me clear my mind, make sense of difficult and stressful life situations, and it gives me a place to review and/or discover any unhealthy thought patterns I have (such as if I’m always nervous and afraid before a product launch and yet have a history of good launches, then I can learn from my past as a way to help me find freedom from unhealthy thought patterns).
But don’t take my word for it. There is quite a bit of scientific and psychological research pointing to the mental and even physical health benefits of journaling.
Based on dozens of various studies and reports conducted over the past 20 years, the online journaling and expressive writing website, My Therapy Journal, states that journaling “provides significant benefits to not only one’s psychological well-being, but also one’s physical health and physiological functioning. Several researchers, for example, have shown that people who journal report having significantly less distress, feel less depressed, and have an overall better mood. Additionally, individuals also report that journaling changes the way they behave towards and around other people. Other studies have found that people who journal for extended periods of time (months) also report an increase in emotional well-being, a better day-to-day mood, and fewer symptoms of depression.”
The My Therapy Journal website also states that “no particular personality type or individual difference appears to predict who benefits from journaling and who does not. This entails that it may benefit people, regardless of whether or not they are someone with the above-mentioned difficulties or if they aren’t the journaling type of person.’”
Criteria for the Best Journaling App
Journaling tends to be a pretty personal topic, full of personal anecdotes and preferences that make the ideal journal different for everyone. Some folks want to track as many statistical data sets as possible to critique their habits from an analytical standpoint. Others want a blank canvas that can contain half-written, shorter form thoughts that only become more fully formulated later on.
To that end, a perfect criteria is difficult to nail down. However, as a team, these are a few of the main areas we would expect a digital journal to thrive:
- Flexibility: The ideal journal app would be capable of handling written journal entries as well as photos, videos, audio snippets, web pages, PDFs, and a whole range of other media. After all, memories don’t always take the form of fully articulated text passages.
- Design: Like any good app these days, we would expect a good digital journal to be well-designed, comfortable to return to on a daily basis, and capable of providing a relaxing and serene environment for recording your personal thoughts.
- Syncing: The ideal digital journal has to be ready when your inspiration strikes. This could happen at your desktop computer or while you’re out-and-about with your phone. No matter where or when you need to create a journal entry, a good digital journal should be ready and waiting.
- Secure: With your most personal thoughts comes the most important responsibility of all: security. If you’re set to pour your deepest personal thoughts into a journal, that digital journal has to ensure it keeps your thoughts personal and doesn’t make them public. This involves app-security measures like Face ID/Touch ID support, but also involves proper end-to-end encryption when your data is stored on someone else’s servers.
- Tracking and Automation: The biggest difference between an analog and digital journal is the latter’s ability to automate and make journaling simpler and less time-consuming. Good digital journal apps should have the ability to track a range of data sets, like physical activities, music you’re listening to, places you’ve been, and even statuses you’re posting on social media. Of course, this has to be done within the context of safety and security as well.
Your criteria list could be much more extensive than the list above, but these are the main factors we’ve considered when choosing the best journaling app for Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
The Best Journaling App: Day One
Considering the above criteria, we wholeheartedly recommend Day One as the best journaling app for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Day One excels in nearly all areas of our criteria list, making journaling on any of your devices a relative breeze. Day One takes things above and beyond its competitors with a considered design and strong revenue structure. The app hasn’t been without its share of recent concern — namely, in the security of Day One Premium’s subscription service — but we believe these problems have been sorted out and still recommend Day One to any potential buyers.
One of the greatest things about a journaling app is that it need not be only text. Photos, audio snippets, locations, weather, and tags and sorting are all part of the human experience. We have these computers in our pockets at all times, so our journaling app needn’t be constrained only to when we have time to sit and muse.
Day One combines the simple daily log, event log, activity log, or whatever else log, along with a photo or sound album, and long-form expressive writing. It serves many purposes.
Most of my old journals are logged with pen and paper. I very much enjoy the time when I leave my standard-issue Apple nerd gadgets in the other room and sit down with the analog to write about what’s currently on my mind.
Through Twitter, Instagram, email, and other such apps, my days are meticulously logged with over-filtered pictures of the sandwich I ordered for lunch and tweets about the friends I’m out to coffee with. But how many of my tweets or Instagram photos will be worth revisiting 40 years from now? Some of them, maybe, but surely not all of them.
And this is where I see the difference between the deeply personal issues that I write about in my physical notebook and the memories that I log on my iPhone and iPad. The former have great value to me now as it’s a way to help me process the current season in life, and the latter have great value to me in the future as they are a way to look back on memories and significant events.
Day One is the journaling app I use, and it becomes more enjoyable the longer I use it.
I bought the iPhone and Mac apps when Day One first shipped in March 2011. In part because I’m a sucker for a good looking app, and Day One is extremely well-designed — the color scheme, typography, and the overall design are all clean (I especially love Day One V3’s new dark mode); no detail is left wanting, no pixel out of place. With version 3.0, shipped in August 2018, the family of apps is more powerful and more flexible than ever.
Day One is a work horse. It supports Markdown, it works with TextExpander on iOS, it syncs between iPhone, iPad, and Mac, it has a passcode lock with TouchID and FaceID support on the iPhone X, it supports adding image and/or text entries, it geotags your entries with your current location and makes a note of the current weather, you can tag your current activity status (such as walking, running, flying, etc.), and you can export all your entries as plain text or PDF.
Moreover, you can tag your entries for better organization, and you can favorite certain entries to mark them as being extra special or important. On the iPhone, Day One logs your current activity status, and the Mac version has a gorgeous map view.
These features, combined with Day One’s exquisite design, and its specialized apps for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone, make Day One an order of magnitude better than every other journaling app out there. For a classy journaling app that works on all your devices, you can’t do better than Day One.
Over the past three and a half years I have been using Day One regularly. Many of my entries are nothing more than a photo and perhaps a quick descriptive sentence. That, combined with the automatic location and weather logging, means I’m creating worthwhile journal entries with very little effort on my part.
Day One exploits all the technological advantages you would expect in a digital journal: I can use my Mac, iPhone, or iPad to log pictures, notes, audio snippets, and locations. I can even dictate a journal entry from my Apple Watch.
I can know what the weather was like that day, I can know where I was when I wrote that entry, I can know how many miles I walked at the time of the entry, I can export my entire journal as a Plain Text file or PDF that will be readable 20 years from now, and I can even order a printed book of all my journal entries.
It’s these exploits that make the app easy to use, fun to use, and something that requires very little input for a great amount of return.
Wait! There’s more….
How to Use Day One in Your Life
For a the best journaling app, you won’t do better than Day One. And if you want to discover how to use this app more regularly, and take full advantage of all its features, then we have some video screencasts that can help you.
In our course, Day One in Depth, you get 8 video screencasts that will take you line by line through every feature, setting, preference, and option found in Day One.
We’ll show you…
- Complete walkthrough of the Mac and iOS apps.
- How to create and customize your journal entries (from text, to photo, to audio)
- How to find, filter, export, and more.
Plus! You will get bonus tips, workflows, and tutorials for how best to use Day One to suit your own needs: from a morning writing time to a photographic travel log, to weekly reviews and productivity journaling — Day One can do it all and we will show you how.
Photos, location, activity status, miles walked, current weather, and music listening
When you open Day One on your iPhone, its main menu screen (or the sidebar on the iPad) has a prominent + icon, a microphone icon, and a camera icon.
This encourages you to consider that creating a new journal entry using a photo or an audio snippet is just as legitimate as a text entry. And, as I mentioned above, the photo entry feature is the feature that turned Day One around for me, and I’ve been using it ever since.
But, it’s not just that you can slap a photo into a journal entry. Day One is very smart when it comes to adding photos. Say you snapped a picture yesterday when you were out to lunch with some friends. If you use that picture to create a new journal entry, Day One will ask if you want to use the date and geolocation data from the photo (even the past weather for that time and place is added to the entry). Thanks to this cleverness, it’s as if you created the journal entry when you were out to lunch rather than the next day.
Plus, the latest photo features include the creation of photo grids: If you create a journal entry with multiple photos, Day One will automatically organize them into a collection grid to better show off your photographic chops in your journal.
Pictures can be added from the iOS photos app with the Day One extension. Simply select a photo and tap the Day One icon. If the photo has location data, it will be pulled automatically. If not, it can be added manually before being sent to the app.
If these built-in integrations don’t cut it for you, you’ll be happy to know Day One has a range of IFTTT integrations to make journaling and logging your daily doings that much easier. You can add what you’re listening to in Spotify, what you just read in Pocket or Instapaper, or track your weight using the Withings Weight app.
Additional information about weather, location, and more is added with little or no effort, and it makes the entry far more valuable. This is one of the most significant reasons I find Day One to be the best.
New in Day One V3 is the introduction of audio entries. Day One can now capture the coolest new sounds you’ve experienced on a trip, your child’s first words, or a new guitar riff you heard at a concert. In many ways, audio entries branch Day One into a whole new world of capturing your life.
Day One V3 provides two types of audio recording: transcription and audio-only.
Transcription: When turned on in the Advanced section of Day One’s settings, transcription mode allows you to dictate a journal entry. Transcription audio snippets are limited to one minute segments and are transcribed as soon as you hit the stop button. Once the transcription has completed, you can start another one minute recording to continue your entry. This can be done up to ten times per entry.
Audio-Only: In audio-only mode, audio entries can skip over the one minute limitation and extend your audio snippets up to 30 minutes. Just like transcription, you’re limited to ten recordings per entry. As expected, transcription doesn’t take place in audio-only mode, but you can set Day One to record lengthier sessions (I’ve found my daughter doesn’t babble as much when she sees that glowing screen hovering around, so it takes a little while to get her warmed up).
By nature of being a date-based journaling app, Day One is extremely typographic-centric. Its design is well-done, showing dates, titles, locations, entry titles, entry text, and more in a clear, legible, and beautiful manner.
As far as typefaces go, Day One offers a semi-granular choice for fonts and sizing on iOS and on Mac, though I wish it would open up to my Mac’s whole font library. With the latest version 3.0 update, Day One features fonts from the likes of Hoefler, such as Whitney, Sentinel, and Ideal Sans.
Markdown & TextExpander Support
Speaking of typography, Day One supports Markdown and advanced Markdown, including tables and dynamic code blocks. Day One V3 introduced a new editor menu where all your entry’s formatting options are housed. Hit the little Aa button to find buttons for managing headers, checklists, code blocks, dividers, and any other Markdown formatting you may need.
If you keep snippets saved in TextExpander, Day One for iOS can use those snippets natively, without the need to switch over to the TextExpander keyboard.
If you want to be regimented about your Day One entries (as opposed to writing whenever the mood strikes you), Day One can remind you to punch in.
These reminders can be as often as every 15 minutes or as infrequently as once per week. If, like my pal Chris Bowler, you use Day One as your daily work log or the place for your end-of-day brain dump, then setting a daily reminder just a few minutes before the end of the work day could prove helpful.
When the Mac reminder goes off, Day One’s Menubar utility pops open and you can quickly jot down whatever notes you’d like to make. If you’re not ready (or if you’re still not in the mood to type something), then you can snooze the entry or just skip it altogether.
You can also set reminders on the iPhone and iPad apps. If you do, you’ll get a push notification when it’s time to jot something down. Slide the notification and Day One opens to a new, blank journal entry.
Day One has a plethora of awesome organizational features, from the aforementioned tags (an increasingly popular organizational feature we love here at The Sweet Setup) through to the ability to create multiple journals.
We have a range of tips and tricks for tagging in our Day One in Depth course, but, in short, tags allow you to categorize journal entries however you see fit and allow for powerful searching at a future date.
Tags can be combined with multiple journals — Day One supports the creation of entirely separate journals for each area of your life. If you want to automate some work or time tracking entries, you can create a “Work” journal. I’ve created an “Instagram” journal to keep track of my social photography, as well as a (now defunct) “Fitness” journal I used to track some of my training regiments. Whatever facet of life you want to segment, multiple journals and tags offer a range of organizational structures that are flexible enough to meet most people’s needs.
Adding tags to an entry in the latest version of Day One can be done in the content menu located beside the editor menu. Tap the paperclip icon to bring up options for adding tags, photos, audio snippets, and more, or move the entry from the current journal to a different journal.
Along the lines of Day One’s neat automations and integrations is the built-in Activity Feed. When you long-press the + button to create a new journal entry, you can choose to create an entry from your Activity Feed. The Activity Feed can be connected to a range of social networks (like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook), can track your location history, and can follow the photos you shoot in your camera roll, all with the intention of enabling you to create entries faster and in a simpler fashion than ever before.
The Activity Feed is effectively a list of all your actions during the day, and a quick tap on the “+” button on any item in your Activity Feed list will generate an automated journal entry. Simply type any extra thoughts and change any necessary metadata for the journal entry and you’re done.
For those who can’t find the inspiration to write out journal entries on a daily basis, the Activity Feed is a wonderful feature for automating the journaling process. Plus, the historical element of the Activity Feed ensures you can create journal entries when you see fit, rather than pausing to create a journal entry when you’re in the middle of living a moment.
The technological world moves at a breakneck pace, so we wouldn’t blame any prospective journaler if they were apprehensive to commit to one specific digital journal for years and years of memories. There is great security in knowing your memories and thoughts are printed on physical paper and capable of being stored in your own home or in your personal safe.
One of Day One’s latest features is the ability to print your journal into a full-format book. Day One’s book printing features are a pleasure to work through and the result is a wonderfully-formatted book fit for your bookshelf.
The main menu houses the “Book Printing” option, whereby Day One takes you through a step-by-step process of selecting which of your multiple journals you want printed, which years you want printed, and whether you want full-page maps to showcase where you created your journal entries. You can customize the front cover, the book’s color, and whether the book showcases your journal stats.
I’m a particular fan of doing this for my “Instagram” journal — in effect, thanks to Day One, I can print out my entire Instagram feed into a special book for safekeeping, ensuring my photography will last for years regardless of which social network is the latest and greatest.
Books start at $14.99 and can be shipped worldwide. You can order your book with a soft cover or a high-quality hardcover option and all books come with a durable binding. The entire transaction is completed within the app, making the experience polished from start to finish.
With your most personal and deepest thoughts comes the massive responsibility to ensure your journal stays secure as it syncs back and forth between your devices. Day One uses its own custom syncing system and has built in end-to-end encryption to keep your entries secure when they sync with Day One’s servers.
This is of the utmost importance, as a recent security glitch resulted in a multi-day outage of Day One Premium’s syncing features. The result was transparently outlined in a blog post from Day One’s creators, but resulted in just over 100 brand users having their journals shared with one specific Day One account. You can read more about the security glitch here. However, at the point of writing this review, all security and syncing features have been restored and any known security issues have been rectified.
Should you want to protect yourself from any potential issues, you can enable end-to-end encryption on a journal-by-journal basis. You can follow the Day One Encryption FAQ for how to correctly implement end-to-end encryption for each journal.
End-to-end encryption is not turned on by default for providing the best type of security for your journal entries, as users must maintain their encryption key at all times to unlock journals if necessary. As Day One’s FAQ puts it:
When using end-to-end encryption, it is essential you save your encryption key in a secure location. If you lose your key, you will not be able to decrypt the journal data stored in the Day One Cloud. You’ll need to restore your data from an unencrypted locally-stored backup.
We reached out to the Day One team to ask why end-to-end encryption is not turned on by default, and the team ensured us the decision is due to new or inexperienced users potentially losing their encryption key, and therefore, all their journals and entries.
We recommend turning on end-to-end encryption whenever you create a new journal to ensure your data is always kept safe and secure. Save your encryption key in an app like 1Password or a locked note inside Notes.app and never lose the key.
Suggested uses for Day One
Just because Day One is a “journaling app” doesn’t mean you have to pour out your heart. It has a broad scope of fully legitimate use cases, such as:
Media log: Use Day One to rate and review your favorite movies, albums, books, etc. I’ve set up some fun Text Expander snippets that lets me rate something between 1-5 stars.
Vacation / Trip Journal: When you combine Day One’s automatic location data with the Mac app’s map view, you can see all the places where you’ve added an entry. Also, with tags you can tag your vacations — “Breckenridge 2014” — and then bring up all those entries at once if you wish.
Memories: Like my aforementioned entry of the Macworld party at WWDC, use Day One to quickly capture fun or special events.
Daily debrief: I work at home and it can be hard to transition between work and home life. I try to end my days by doing a brain dump and jotting down all the ideas still in my head, all the loose ends I didn’t tie up, and all the things I may want to do but didn’t get to.
Sound album: For those who love to experience nature, or for musicians and sound engineers, the audio recording features open a new world of possibilities. I especially imagine musicians hearing something new in a live song or some sort of jingle on the radio and now having the ability to record and collect those sounds in Day One.
It can be hard to call it quits for the day when there are still things that could be done, so the daily debrief is my way of admitting that, yes, the day is done and, yes, there is still work to do, but there is always tomorrow.
These mental debriefs are some of the things I most appreciate when scanning through old journal entries. It is amazing how many things felt so urgent and important to me at the time, and now when I look back I can be glad I never took action on some of those ideas. Or I can see what ideas and projects did materialize into something and compare my then-expectations to the current reality.
Idea Storage: Tanner Christensen wrote: “The best way to help control the weight of ideas in your mind is also the most effective way to ensure that your good ideas don’t get thrown out automatically: write your ideas down.” I agree.
Email log: For significant emails we send or receive that are important in our life. I save all the email updates my wife sends out to our family regarding life and kids.
Scan in pages from your Field Notes, Moleskines, etc.: I still use pen and paper often, so why not take a picture or scan in a page from one of my notebooks if the contents of that page are of some significance?
Capturing creative inspiration: As most Hemingway fans know, Ernest Hemingway was quite the notebook aficionado. He used his notebooks to jot down ideas for stories, but also to capture creative inspiration. “He was a keen observer of life, trying to capture the richness and texture of his experiences. He stored sights, sounds, and smells away for future use when they would reemerge as vivid passages in his short stories and novels.”
That’s not all. On the Day One website there are a slew of uses listed, with information and examples. In addition to some of the examples I’ve listed above, other potential uses include using Day One as a meal log, drink log, word processor, places-visited location log, work journal, fishing/hunting journal, baby book, goals log, photo log, logging routines, life evaluations, medical log, workouts and diets, private project updates, prayer journal, dream journal, listing things we are thankful for, and more.
Thanks to tagging and searching, Day One can serve as all of these things at once. That’s the beauty of a personal journaling app, it can be filled with all sorts of topics and media types, with no need to keep it “focused.” I think that’s the road best traveled –because a huge part of what makes a successful journal is constant use.
Pricing & Day One Premium
Day One used to be a paid application. If you purchased it before June 26, 2017, you’ll have access to that feature set and syncing for all time. However, the app is now free with a subscription the developer has named “Day One Premium.”
Premium comes with support for unlimited journals, unlimited photo storage, 25% off book orders, and a free copy of the Mac app. This subscription costs $34.99 a year, with various discounts available for first-time buyers and customers of the previously for-pay app. Some will see this as pricey for an App Store subscription, but it’s well worth it. The app has been around since the beginning of the Mac App Store and has seen significant development since then. We want our journaling app to be around for the long haul, and the subscription business model promises just that.
Alternative solutions for a “journaling app”
Journey: Journey is a relatively new journaling app available for all Apple devices as well as Windows and Android devices. Journey actually looks a lot like Day One in its design aesthetic and provides many of the same features as Day One. However, we believe Day One is more polished and offers a wider range of features.
Momento: Momento has been around for a very long time, like Day One. It has a great design and many of the same automated features in Day One, but Momento is currently not available for the Mac. We greatly prefer being able to journal from all our devices, so this is a bit of a heartbreaker for Momento.
Grid Diary: Grid Diary is a newer journaling kid on the block and doesn’t have the same level of fit and finish as Day One. There are aspects of Grid Diary that look great, but its design currently pales in comparison to Day One and Day One’s feature list is much longer.
Dyrii: Dyrii is another newer journaling option for Mac, iPhone, and iPad, and one we think has a lot of potential. The app’s design reminds us of Fantastical 2, and the implementation of maps and timelines makes Dyrii look like a worthy contender. You can also record audio and video journal entries (not currently available in Day One), putting Dyrii one step ahead of Day One. We’re keeping our eye on Dyrii to see where the app goes and how it keeps up with Day One.
Bear: If you’re looking for something a bit leaner than Day One, take a look at our favorite notes app, Bear. While its main function is taking notes, it has some great features built-in like word counts, easy sharing, and inline image and drawing support. It’s not as robust as Day One, but it’s also intended for a different purpose. Still, it’s a great writing app that we highly recommend.
Ulysses: We’re really big fans of the Ulysses suite, and you can certainly use this tool as a powerful alternative to Day One. With excellent organization and search, word counts and goals for entries, inline image support and much, much more, Ulysses can be a great Day One replacement on top of being an awesome writing tool. We named it the best pro writing app for macOS and iOS, and we also developed a course for getting the most out of Ulysses.
Plain text files: The advantages of having a journal made up of just plain text files is that it’s forever future-proof — you can take it with you to any other computer or device. But apps that help you write and store your plain text files (such as Byword or Simplenote ) don’t have support for images, nor are they designed to be a journal.
Pen and paper: A good pen and a good notebook never did anybody any harm. If you’re the sort of person who keeps event info, journal-esque notes, tasks, ideas, and the like all in the same notebook, then you should check out the Bullet Journal method.
Evernote: A popular app/service that syncs all sorts of data types (notes, images, bookmarks, and much more) across its iPhone and Mac apps (as well as Windows and Android).
The journaling category in the Mac and iOS App Stores is a little less crowded than other categories, but there are a few great contenders. Day One has been the best journaling app for Mac since it was first introduced in March 2011 and its iOS apps have held the crown ever since they were introduced. Day One’s combination of design, sync, automation, security, and extra features like book printing make it a worthy journaling app.
The latest update to the Day One iPhone and iPad apps have the potential to change how new and existing users use the app. The dark mode continues Day One’s exquisite design prowess, while audio recordings are sure to make creating new types of entries in new contexts. I also love how the small changes to the editor menu and content menu make the app feel more consistent and smooth.
We’re very aware of the latest security issue for Day One Premium users and we promise to keep our eye on the situation. Day One is an aged and weathered app — as aged and weathered as many apps can be these days — and we trust the Day One team will rectify syncing and security issues in short order. Regardless, we want to note this hiccup to ensure full transparency.
As a whole, Day One is a wonderful app for logging all sorts of data, keeping track of all your vacations, tracking your pregnancy, tracking your little one’s physical and behavioral growth, or logging all your work activities. The list of potential uses for Day One is endless, as is our love for the app. Day One is one of the most personal apps on the App Store and is likely one of the few apps capable of making people cry with joy as they reminisce over the times and years that were.
This is one app that deserves to be on every iPhone or iPad.