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The 7 best journal apps

By Justin Pot · April 11, 2023
Best journaling apps hero

There's a reason so many successful people keep a journal: it works. Taking the time to gather your thoughts and experiences, then write them down, is a simple way to manage stress, enhance creativity, increase happiness, improve health, and increase work performance.

The trouble is, keeping a journal isn't easy. It takes dedication to this new habit and a willingness to open up when writing on a blank page. What have you done today? Who are you, really? Journaling apps can help you figure this out and help you establish a daily writing routine.

After testing nearly two dozen options, these are the top journaling apps to record your memories this year and in years to come. Click on any app to learn more about why I chose it, or keep reading for more context on journal apps.

The best journaling apps

  • Day One for Mac and iOS users

  • Diarium for Windows users

  • Penzu for secure journaling

  • Grid Diary for templated journaling

  • Five Minute Journal for journaling beginners

  • Dabble Me for journaling over email

  • Daylio for non-writers

If you don't want a completely new app, you can always use your current note-taking app as your journal. Or, do one better and build your own journal app without any code—just a quick automation.

What makes a great online journal app?

How we evaluate and test apps

Our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. Unless explicitly stated, we spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.

A paper notebook and pen are fine for journaling, but apps offer more. They give you more context on what you've accomplished and where you might want to go. They also let you include photos from your phone or posts from your social media feeds to make the journaling experience more rewarding. Add in reminders and the ability to search your journal entries, and digital journaling is almost a no-brainer.

I've been testing and writing about software professionally for over a decade. I've also journaled every day for the past four years. It's an important ritual for me, personally, and it's also where a lot of the best ideas in my writing originate. In my experience, the best apps for keeping a journal have a few things in common:

  • Easy entry: If it takes more than a couple of clicks or taps to add a journal entry, chances are you're not going to do it.

  • Pleasant interface: A minimalist, uncluttered interface helps you focus on your thoughts and makes journaling a pleasant experience.

  • Reminders: Perhaps the biggest challenge to online journaling is remembering to do it. Automatic reminders help you keep up the habit.

  • Exporting: In case the app stops being developed or you want to move to a different journaling platform, you'll want to be able to export your entries in a format other programs can read, such as PDF or RTF.

  • Syncing: Syncing will make sure your journal's up to date no matter what device you're using.

  • Affordability: I eliminated some apps because of the high price. Journaling shouldn't be expensive. If you're looking for a free journal app, some of the options on this list will do the trick, just with fewer features than the premium plans.

Other features for a digital journal that might be important to you include password protection, Markdown support, the ability to add more than one photo, location and weather tags, and journaling prompts.

For each diary app, I started by creating a handful of new entries, complete with images. I then spent some time exploring the settings, testing the daily reminders, and ensuring that syncing and exporting worked as described.

Best journal app for Mac and iOS users

Day One (Mac, iOS, watchOS, Android)

Day One, our pick for the best journal app for Mac and iOS users

Since its release in 2011, Day One has been one of the most highly recommended journaling apps, landing a spot as Apple's Editors Choice in the App Store numerous times.

It's not hard to see why. The app offers a wide array of features—just about everything you might want or need in a digital journal. You can create journal entries in one click on the Mac from the menu bar, use templates to make journaling easier, and automatically add metadata, such as location, weather, motion activity, currently-playing music, and step count. There are optional prompts, if you're not sure what to write about. You can also tag entries with hashtags, insert photos and videos, password-protect your journal, and format entries in Markdown. And all of this is within an elegant, unobtrusive design. There are no gaudy, cluttered toolbars in sight: everything on the screen is useful for journaling.

Perhaps Day One's best feature is the ability to customize multiple reminders. Most other journal apps only send you one reminder during the day. But with Day One, you can get prompted to write, say, when you start the day, at lunchtime, and then at the end of your workday to keep track of your activities and thoughts throughout the day.

The free app offers pretty much all of the core journaling features, but for syncing, unlimited photos, handwritten and audio entries, and multiple journals, you'll need to subscribe to the Day One Premium service.

Day One pricing: Free version available; $2.92/month for premium features when billed annually

Best cross-platform journal app

Diarium (Windows, Android, macOS, iOS)

Diarium, our pick for the best cross-platform journal app

Diarium offers beautiful native apps for every platform. The Windows application, in particular, is nicer than any other I could find. But there's so much more to recommend here. You can add multiple media types to your journal entries. If you'd rather speak than type, you can dictate your thoughts with accurate speech recognition. You can attach an audio file, inked drawing, or any other type of file to your entries, as well as multiple photos. Heck, you can even rate your journal entries (perhaps most useful as a way to track how happy you are each day).

Diarium works without any sign-in, or you can sync using your choice of cloud apps—OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, or WebDAV. You can also export your entries to DOCX, HTML, RTF, or TXT formats—with separate files for media attachments—so you can rest assured that your data will always be accessible. 

To make journaling even easier, Diarium can automatically pull in feeds from Facebook, Untappd, Trakt, or Instagram; or fitness apps, including Google Fit, Fitbit, and Strava, among others. It can also pull in your calendar appointments and even the day's weather. Combine this with daily reminders and beautiful native apps for every platform, and you've got the best cross-platform journal app on the market.

Diarium pricing: Free version available on Android ($4.99 for Pro), iOS ($4.99 for Pro), and macOS ($8.99 for Pro). Windows version for $9.99.

Best journal app for secure journaling

Penzu (Web, iOS, Android)

Penzu, our pick for the best journal app for secure journaling

Writing a journal entry in Penzu is much like writing a blog post in WordPress, with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface, complete with a text formatting toolbar. So why not just use Word, WordPress, or a note-taking app like OneNote? For one thing, Penzu keeps your entries together in one journal online, as opposed to several different files. Custom email reminders help you remember to record your journal entry. And Penzu can send you reminders of what you've written in the past so that you can reminisce about the good old days.

More importantly, Penzu will keep your entries 100% private. You can lock your journal with a special password (which is different from your account password), secure your content with 128-bit encryption, and choose to auto-lock your journal at all times. If you're on the Pro plan, Penzu can safeguard your entries with military-strength 256-bit encryption.

If you want to keep a journal the same way you might a personal blog but keep it private, Penzu is an excellent option. You'll need to spring for the paid Pro plan, though, to get core digital journaling features such as tagging.

Penzu pricing: Free version available; paid version from $19.99/year for advanced encryption, reminders, and PDF export.

Best journal app for templated journaling

Grid Diary (macOS, Android, iOS)

Grid Diary, our pick for the best journal app for templated journaling

Grid Diary bills itself as "the simplest way to get started with keeping a diary." Instead of a blank slate, this diary app gives you a grid of boxes you can give custom headers to. The defaults are things like "Today's wins," "Heath and Fitness," and "Personal growth," though you can customize these to say whatever you want. 

This gives you a detailed and bird's-eye view of what's happening in your life, one day at a time. You can review entries using the built-in calendar, or you can use the Titles view to review all entries for a particular grid. There's also support for attachments, encrypted private journals, and syncing between multiple devices if you're using the paid version. Instead of wondering what you should write about each day, use Grid Diary to write down simple responses that help you reflect on your days. 

Grid Diary pricing: Free version available; paid version from $2.99/month for syncing, encryption, unlimited journals, and exporting to PDF.

Best journal app for beginners

Five Minute Journal (iOS, Android)

Five Minute Journal, our pick for the best journal app for beginners

If you're new to journaling, writing down your thoughts and feelings each day can feel daunting. It might also be challenging to find time to devote to it. Five Minute Journal makes journaling easy and approachable with timed prompts throughout the day. In the morning, the app asks you three questions designed to instill gratitude and set a purpose for your day. In the evening, two questions ask you to reflect on the positive things that happened and how you could improve for tomorrow.

This is supplemented by daily quotes and meditations, presented in a format similar to Instagram or Snapchat stories. It sounds odd, but ultimately, it's a way to prompt your thinking and take some time to reflect before journaling.

Based on positive psychology research, Five Minute Journal helps support a gratitude habit and self-reflection, and if you pay for a subscription, you can also turn it into a free-form journal after the prompts—or you can add your own prompts.

Five Minute Journal pricing: Free version available; paid version for $4.99/month for customizable questions, home screen widgets, and the ability to add photos and videos to entries.

Best journal app for journaling over email 

Dabble Me (Web)

Dabble.me, our pick for the best journal app for journaling over email 

The main problem with journal apps: you have to remember to open them. Dabble Me doesn't have this problem because it works entirely over email. The paid version ($3/month) will email you once a day, reminding you it's time to journal—respond to that email, and you've journaled. The free version doesn't give you the daily prompts, but journaling is still as easy as writing an email—you can find a custom email address to send entries to in the settings.

You also can see the complete archive of your journals on the website, which also offers search, a calendar view, and even a page for reviewing and listening to any Spotify links you've included in your entries. There's also support for exporting your entries to TXT or JSON files, so you can take your entries with you should you decide to shut down your account. 

One way to journal is to pretend that you're writing letters to a friend. Dabble Me is great for this because it lives where you're already writing emails.

Dabble Me pricing: Pro starts at $3/month. 

Best online journal for non-writers

Daylio (iOS, Android)

Daylio, our pick for the best journal app for non-writers

Journaling has traditionally focused on longer-form writing, but not everyone has a way with words. If you prefer to communicate in visuals, Daylio is the best journaling app for you.

A journal entry in Daylio captures your mood and activities for each day. Best of all, there is absolutely no typing (unless you really want to add supplementary notes). Pick your mood by selecting one of five smiley face icons. After that, there are a variety of questions about what you did today, depending on which things you ask the app to track. There are options for sleep quality, eating habits, and even activities you participated in. Both the mood options and activities can be customized. While it only takes a few seconds to complete each entry, the details add up to form a well-rounded picture of what your days, weeks, months, and years were like.

Daylio also includes standard journaling features, like reminders, exporting entries, and setting goals. As a bonus, it offers a detailed dashboard that aggregates a monthly mood chart, your mood and activity counts, and average daily mood. It can also surface patterns in the Often together section, showing you how you usually feel when you do certain activities (for example, when your mood is "good," you usually read and spend time with family).

Daylio doesn't offer a traditional journaling experience, but the free plan is an impressive way to track how you feel in only a few seconds each day.

Daylio pricing: Free version available; Premium starts at $2.99/month and offers additional icons, reminders, and color themes. 

Should you use a journaling app?

You don't necessarily need a dedicated diary app for journaling—lots of people, after all, use a simple notebook for the job. Some other categories of apps can also work perfectly well.

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As always, the best tool for the job is the one that works best for you. If something helps you start a journaling habit and stick to it, use that.

This article was originally published in January 2019 by Melanie Pinola and has previously had contributions from Emily Esposito. It was most recently updated in April 2023.

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