Writing is a powerful way to put your thoughts together, and keeping a personal journal can often help us make sense of the difficult times in our lives, or better remember the good times we’ve had. We’ve previously looked at 7 ways to keep a personal journal, but all of them were PC or Web-based (except for pen and paper). But if you’re carrying around a smartphone, you already have a powerful and compact device at your disposal, just waiting for your thoughts. While an app like Evernote is a great catch-all for notes, sticking your innermost feelings next to grocery lists might make for a weird juxtaposition. If, like me, you’d rather have a dedicated app for your journal, you should check out Diaro. This polished app/website personal journal combo is not perfect, but has a lot going for it. I will be reviewing the Pro version below, which costs $2 via in-app purchase (and is well worth it).
If you want to use your smartphone or tablet for any sort of serious writing, there’s something you need to do even before installing Diaro: Use a decent, comfortable keyboard. It can either be an on-screen keyboard (I’ve tested three of the best Android keyboards ) or a physical USB keyboard you connect to your device . No matter what you pick, make sure you’re comfortable with your keyboard before you start writing.
Armed with a keyboard you love, it’s time to install Diaro for Android. As you first launch the app, you’ll be greeted with this screen:
The layout is stylish, and simple enough to require no explanation. Tap the note to read a brief introduction to Diaro:
This is just a regular Diaro entry, so it offers a good example of what reading mode looks like. Note the relative “sameness” of all text: There is no way to make text bold or include links.
Writing Your First Entry
Before you commit your innermost thoughts to Diaro, you’re probably wondering about the issue of privacy. This is one of the nice things about Diaro: By default, your notes are not stored in a cloud service, but just in your device’s memory. You can also set a four-digit passcode to thwart casual nosy users who get ahold of your device:
Diaro can synchronize with Dropbox, but that is optional (more on this later on). So now that we’ve established privacy, let’s look at the writing screen:
This is what writing an entry in Diaro looks like. It’s simple — perhaps too simple. Ironically, this is one of the parts I liked least about the Diaro experience:
- There is no full-screen option. Note the tiny area dedicated to your text: Your writing is surrounded with the device’s toolbar (so you always have the time in front of your eyes), a large toolbar, the date and subject line, and more clutter. The only screen element you can toggle off is the bottom undo/redo toolbar.
- There is no Markdown support. Markdown is a simple, convenient way to format text, and other Android apps (such as the LightPaper text editor) support it. Diaro offers no way to make text bold or italic, nor create headlines or links.
- There is no dark theme. If you happen to be typing your thoughts in the middle of the night, the screen’s bright glare can be quite irritating, even if you turn the brightness all the way down.
If you manage to get used to Diaro’s cramped writing screen, there are many other things to like about the app. It’s just too bad this screen is so poorly executed and cluttered, since writing is really the heart of any journal app.
Tagging, Categorizing, and Browsing Posts
Once you’re done committing your thoughts to screen, it’s time to make your entry easy to find in the future. Diaro offers powerful and fun tagging and categorizing features. First, let’s look at tags:
Simply tap the tag icon in the top toolbar (second on the left), and you can pick one or more tags to tack onto your entry. It is also easy to make new tags. Next are categories:
Unlike tags, categories are color-coded, and each note can have just a single category. Combined, tags and categories offer a fine-grained way to classify your thoughts. For example, you could use tags to denote emotions in your entries, and categories for subject matter. It then becomes very easy to track down all notes in which you were “happy” about your “diet” (for example). To do this ort of filtering, you’d use Diaro’s excellent sidebar:
This is one of the best parts of the app. You can easily see categories and tags, and drag categories around to reorder them. Tap a category or tag, and the list on the right instantly changes to filter out relevant entries. There is also a calendar view that lets you easily see when you’ve made entries.
Dropbox Sync And Online Access
To take your notes beyond your device, Diaro’s Pro version offers Dropbox sync. It only requests access to a specific app folder (Apps/Diaro). Once you grant it access, it synchronizes your notes and attached images with Dropbox. Your notes file looks like this:
In other words, it is not human readable. This is a big disadvantage: It means that if Diaro ever goes under, you have no way to get at your notes and information. I understand the binary format may be essential for technical reasons, but it would be easy for Diaro to also export a plain-text dump every time it synchronized to your Dropbox (or switch to a completely plain-text format).
Of course, you’re not expected to use this format. Instead, it is used by Diaro’s web-based companion:
A lot of of work obviously went into the website, and it closely resembles the app itself. You get a tag/category sidebar, a calendar, and an easy way to view and edit your notes. I also like that it stores the files on Dropbox rather than its own servers.
Where Diaro Excels, and Where It Falls Short
- Powerful tagging, categorizing, and sorting.
- A pleasant reading interface.
- A polished online companion.
- A cluttered writing experience.
- No Markdown support.
- Dropbox sync uses a non-human-readable format.
Bottom line: Diaro is polished enough to find a home in our Best Android Apps page. If you can just get past the distracting writing experience, Diaro for Android can be a great home for your innermost thoughts. I only wish it made writing notes as pleasant as finding and reading them.
What do you think? Will you be using Diaro to log your thoughts, or do you have another excellent journal app?