Experiments in Lifelogging, Part 12: A New Contender
So while Narrative isn't quite dead yet, it's future is still uncertain and I'm currently not using their servers and web app, even though everything is supposedly still running just like before their official shutdown in September.
A few months ago, I spotted another Kickstarter project that was trying to build a lifelogging camera not unlike the Narrative Clip. It's called the 61N and is finally shipping now. Let's take a look and see how it stacks up against my (mostly) trusty Clip.
At first glance, the 61N camera looks very similar: It's square, black, has a clip on the back, and the camera's lens is positioned in one of the corners of the black square. It has a micro USB connector and one LED. It also has an on/off switch.
So that's one major difference between the two. The Narrative Clip is always on. It just goes to sleep if you put it face down or stick it in a dark place. Waking up is automatic, if a bit slow sometimes (the Clip 1 wakes up within 2 minutes, but the Clip 2 can take up to 10 minutes; in both cases, you can force-wake them by double-tapping the device).
With the 61N, you have to press the button for a few seconds, until the LED lights up red. It then switches to orange for a few more second while the device boots. When the LED changes to green, the camera is ready (and the LED will go off shortly afterwards). Like with the Narrative Clip, there's no indication whether the camera is actually taking photos in normal operation. Switching the 61N off again requires you to hold down the button, until the LED comes on green. You then release the button, the LED flashes and both it and the device switch off.
That boot process is the first thing I find annoying about the 61N's operation. It can take up to 15 seconds for the device to boot - which brings us close to 20 seconds from pressing the button to taking the first picture. That's a long time.
The 61N is controlled via an app on your phone. The app lets you configure the camera's resolution (defaults to 1600x1200 but can be changed to 3264x2448), the interval between photos (in minutes only, between 1 and 5 minutes) and how long a video clip should be (3, 10, 20, 30, 60 seconds). The app also displays a timeline of your photos and serves as a hub between the camera and the 61N servers.
I have to say that the app is very confusing and was quite obviously rushed. It sometimes hangs, even crashes, and I haven't really figured out how I am supposed to use it to get my photos off of the camera. Unlike the Narrative Clip, the 61N will also mount as a USB drive and give you access to your photos right from your desktop. It only does this when it's on, though, and I'm not sure if it'll actually take photos while connected. If it's not on, it's only using the USB connection to charge the battery. There's no security here, though. Anyone getting hold of your 61N can easily get to the photos on the device (which is why Narrative chose not to let the Clip mount as a USB drive).
The 61N can also set up its own WLAN, which is then used to transfer the photos from the camera to your phone. Then you have to re-connect to your normal WLAN so that the photos can be uploaded to the 61N servers. That whole process is awkward and not obvious. By tapping around aimlessly, I somehow managed to get the camera to activate its WLAN (it's not always on) and then the app throws me into the iOS settings app, to the section where I can control the permissions of the 61N iOS app. What it really wants from me at this point, however, is to switch to the device's WLAN, so I have to tap around some more to do that, switch back to the 61N app and watch it transfer the photos off of the camera.
I wouldn't exactly call this process "hassle-free", as the byline of the Kickstarter project page calls it ...
The timeline feature is also somewhat confusing. There are sections that allow me to watch my photos in an animated slideshow called a "photostory". And then there are sections where the photos just sit there in preview mode and I have to swipe through them. It's not obvious why some photos get the photostory treatment and others don't.
The photo quality is okay (I've only done a few quick tests) but I can't help noticing that all the photos it took while I was walking to the bakery this morning are heavily blurred. This happens with the Narrative Clip, too, but no to such an extent. I also think that a 1-minute interval between photos is too long. I like the Narrative Clip's 30 seconds as a good everyday average and often switch it to 10 seconds for special occasions, e.g. concerts. With the 61N, you can't have any intervals shorter than 1 minute. I hope that this will be easy to change in a software update.
The clip on the back of the 61N is square (a little smaller than the device's size) and very tight. It's hard to get it to clip to anything - you need two hands and a bit of force to clip it onto a tshirt's collar or somewhere on a coat. I've heard people complaining that they almost lost their Narrative Clip because the clip was too loose, but never had that problem myself. The 61N's clip is quite definitely too strong to attach it to anything easily.
So, quick summary after very light first use: It works in that it takes photos and that you can (somehow) get them off of the device. The software is very confusing (the bad English doesn't help), which the makers have already acknowledged and promised to address. But even the hardware side is far from "hassle-free". There's the long boot process, the very tight clip, and the (at first sight) not-so-great image quality. Not sure what, if anything, can be done here.
I'll continue experimenting with the 61N but for now, it's no replacement for my still-functioning Narrative Clip 2.