The 10 Best Digital Journal Apps for 2021

Posted by Luke Thomas
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For years I've tried to keep a journal for my life and work. I've purchased several paper journals, ranging from the Five Minute Journal, the Self Journal, and others. 

Despite these attempts, I never established a habit of regular journaling, especially for work.

Some days I'd forget to bring it with me, other days I'd get too busy to spend the time to write. I recognized the importance of regular reflection & planning, but the habit didn't stick.

Then I tried a digital journal. At the time, I started using OhLife (which is now shut down). The app was simple - every day (or week), I'd receive a notification in my email inbox encouraging me to reply. I'd add a response over email. It was super simple to use, and the habit stuck! I could even see past entries directly over email.

Most important features

This made me realize that digital journals have massive benefits, especially if you need help establishing the habit. We wrote more about the benefits of digital journals vs. paper journals if you'd like to learn more. We've also written a guide to journaling prompts as well.

In the rest of this post, I'm going to share a list of digital journaling apps that you can use to kickstart a regular habit of reflection & planning. We will make sure to highlight things like:

  • Cost
  • Features
  • Reviews/Downloads
  • Other bits of important information

Ok, let's kick this off!

1. The Five Minute Journal App

The Five Minute Journal app is based off the bestselling physical journal. In the morning you receive specific prompts on your iPhone/iPad or Android such as: 

  • I am grateful for...
  • What will I do to make today great?

Then in the evening, you can answer questions like:

  • 3 amazing things that happened today
  • How could I have made today even better?

Additionally, you can add a photo to your post and you'll receive a daily quote that you can share on social media. This is an effective structure and covers the key aspects of journaling. It's ideal for beginners who are trying to build a regular habit of journaling, but if you're looking to customize entries, prompts, and the cadence; you may need to look elsewhere.

The app has close to a 5-star review (over 10,000 reviews) on the Google Play store and iTunes

Cost: $4.99

2. Day One

Day One is a personal journaling app that is available across the entire iOS ecosystem (including iPads and a Mac app) and Android. This app is much more free-form than structured apps like Friday or the Five Minute Journal; it's a bit more like an open-ended digital diary.

There's quite a few useful features you may like in Day One:

  • Tagging
  • Advanced Encryption/Security
  • Various integrations (it will pull in your posts from other systems, available on the Premium plan)
  • Location tagging
  • Markdown formatting
  • Export/backup options

You can see more in this video review below:

The only downside to Day One is that it's open-ended, so you will need to come up with your own journaling prompts. For beginners, staring at an empty page can be intimidating.

Cost: $35/year

3. Friday.app (planner & journal)

We are biased, but we think you should look at Friday to kickstart a regular habit of digital journaling AND planning. First of all, it's free (you can get started here).

Unlike the others in this list, we offer a completely customizable way to build any regular habit of reflection, gratitude, reviewing your week, and more. You can use our routine builder to setup a perfect cadence for your exact needs.

Why does customization matter?

Most apps require that you adapt your behavior so it matches how the tool functions. It turns out, behavior change is difficult. With Friday, you can customize the routine to your needs, which means you are much more likely to create the behavior over the long run.

You can see above that you can customize the writing prompts. When giving an update, we'll automatically pull in past responses in a sidebar too.

That's not all. We also offer functionality that resembles a daily planner. You can connect your calendar and task apps and easily roadmap your day in one place. (Find more daily planner apps to review and compare or watch the video below).

If you want, you can go beyond personal journaling and use Friday with your team as well for routines like daily standupsweekly updates, as a digital planner, and more.

4. Penzu

Next up, we have Penzu, one of the earliest digital journaling apps available (founded in 2008!). Penzu is very similar to Day One, as it's more of a freeform diary app vs. being a structured journal. It boasts more than 2 million users.

Penzu offers a free plan, and two paid offerings. The free plan offers unlimited entries, access to mobile apps, and basic font options. Yes, the reminders are included in the free plan.

Unfortunately, the app seems to have lost a bit of its luster over the past couple of years - it looks like only one founder is still working on the project (see LinkedIn company page). The app currently has a 4.3 star rating on the iTunes store and 4.3 stars on the Play store.

The paid offerings have features like:

  • Encryption
  • Various Journal Covers
  • Different Background colors
  • Tagging
  • Search
  • Custom reminders
  • PDF Export

Cost: $19-$49/year

Friday might be an interesting alternative worth considering.

5. Dabble.me

As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, I used to use Ohlife before it shut down. Dabble.me is the closest alternative I've found to the email-based journaling method. As I mentioned before, this app delivers an email on a regular interval. All you need to do is reply via email. You can see in the screenshot below, it will also show a past update:

If you live in your email inbox, this is worth a second look. The free plan offers restricted functionality, like the email notifications are sent every other week. 

The paid offering unlocks the following features, such as:

  • Ability to change the frequency
  • Attach a photo
  • Edit entries
  • Rich text formatting
  • Year in Review

If you are looking for a simple way to start journaling, Dabble.me is worth a look, or you could consider an alternative.

Cost: $36/year

6. Daybook

Daybook is another journaling app similar to Day One or Penzu. The user experience is extremely minimal (see example below), but it bills itself as a free cloud-based journaling app. 

One major benefit is that the app is free. It has over 16,000 reviews on the Google Play store as well, with close to a 5-star rating. There's an iOS app as well. 

Cost: Free

7. Journey.cloud

Journey is the new kid on the block and appears to be the most popular regular journaling app in this list, with over 65,000 reviews on the Google Play store and nearly 2,000 reviews on iTunes. Once again, it's pretty similar to Penzu and Day One, but it looks like Journey is a newer, more up-to-date version work exploring.

Similar to other apps, the free plan offers basic journaling capabilities, but you will need to upgrade to access advanced functionality like:

  • Formatting
  • Unlimited entries
  • Create an entry from email
  • Pull in social media posts from Zapier

This pricing isn't obvious from their website, which is a little disappointing and a bit sketchy. With that being said, they seem to have many happy users. 

P.S. - if you're looking for an alternative to Journey.cloud, we might be able to help.

Cost: $30/year

8. Daylio

Ok, here's an interesting pick. Daylio: a "micro diary and mood tracker." I've been using it for a couple weeks and have found it to be an interesting alternative to the traditional journaling apps.

Unlike traditional journaling apps, you are prompted to journal with "labels" and short snippets of text vs. being a pure "writing" app. You also share your general mood/sentiment on a regular basis.

This breaks down the barriers to journaling because it's so easy to use. This app boasts a crazy number of reviews on the Google play store - over 250k! Additionally, the iOS app has over 20k reviews.

The free plan restricts certain feature and is ad-supported. The premium plan offers the following functionality:

  • Unlimited moods
  • Unlimited reminders
  • Unlimited goals
  • Ability to export entries
  • Automatic backups
  • Various themes

Overall, I really like the approach Daylio is taking, especially for people who are looking for a new digital journal app. With that being said, I think there is immense power to spending some time writing things down in a structured way. Sentiment tracking is only one piece of the puzzle.

Cost: $9

9. 750 Words

This is called 750 Words and it's based on morning pages from the book, The Artist's Way. The general theme is that you should write in a stream of consciousness. The process can be therapeutic. 750 words will keep track of your word count, sentiment, and how frequently you write, which can be helpful to know.

You can see a bit more of the user experience from this video:

If you are a writer or someone who wants to write more often (like me), you should check this out. If you are a beginner, this habit takes quite a bit of effort to stick.

Cost: $60/year

10. GoodNotes

If you're a visual thinker and you need more than a text-only journaling system, take a look at GoodNotes. A stand-out feature to GoodNotes is how flexible it is. You can quickly take notes with shapes, different highlight colors, and even in your handwriting. Customize the flow of the pen.

Create shapes, move them, stretch them.

Even add photos to your day's events.

It works as a Mac app, on your iPhone, or iPad.

Others use it like a digital bullet journal system, and its flexibility makes it easy to do so. Because of its wide-open format and design, it positions itself both as an Evernote alternative and a digital journaling app.

It's simple to do both, especially with their Notebook feature, which is essentially a filing system. There are different canvasses, including a blank page or grid-style. Can more than 4.8 stars with 17,000+ reviews be wrong?

Cost: $7.99

Conclusion: Which Digital Journal App Will You Choose?

In conclusion, there are a ton of various apps to choose from. We recommend focusing on establishing the habit first - the various features won't make a huge difference if you don't make journaling a regular habit.

That's why you should try Friday (get started for free). We are the only fully customizable tool available, which means that you can mold the software to fit your needs instead of trying to create new behaviors that confirm to how the app functions. That won't work in the long run.

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