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Narrative Clip lifelogging camera: Hands-on with the wearable photo capture device

Being both a fan of innovative hardware and a photography buff, one of the products I eagerly anticipated testing was the Narrative Clip livelogging camera (US$279). The product began life as a 2012 Kickstarter project named Memoto and finally reached market this year, so when I was offered the chance to test the Narrative Clip camera, I jumped at the opportunity. What I found is a product that is well-designed and built, but that also demonstrates some of the pitfalls of wearable devices that are meant to capture images all the time.

The Device

The Narrative Clip looks like no other digital camera you've seen before. In fact, it looks more like one of the many Bluetooth tracking chips that seem to be so popular on Kickstarter these days. Measuring just 1.42 x 1.42 x 0.35 inches (36 x 36 x 9 mm) and weighing just .7 oz (20 grams), Narrative has a clip on the back of it (hence the name), a tiny hole indicating the location of the lens, a set of LEDs to indicate power and status, and a micro-USB port for charging.

It's available in three colors: white, gray, and orange. Inside the smooth plastic exterior lie the brains of the Narrative Clip, which include 8 GB of memory, a GPS receiver, an accelerometer, a magnetometer, and an image sensor.

When clipped to a collar or pocket, the Narrative Clip begins snapping one 5 megapixel image every 30 seconds. Don't want to take photos at a particular point? Just put it into a pocket or place it face down on a surface and it stops snapping images. If you see something that you want to capture but don't want to take the chance on missing the photo, a double-tap on the device tells it to take a picture right away.

The App

The Narrative Clip is simply a digital camera with sensors built into it, and as such there is no way to view images directly on the tiny device. To transfer all of those images to cloud storage (one year free storage is included in your purchase), you'll need to have either a Mac or PC running the free Narrative Uploader software.

So how do you view your images? Once you connect the Narrative Clip to your Mac or PC, the images are uploaded to the cloud and then processed. Sophisticated algorithms look at the quality of the images and the location where they were captured, and then "moments" are created. Each moment is made up of a series of photos. I found that most of the moments were rather short, although there were some that ran as long as an hour.

The cloud processing of images is also one of the reasons that the Narrative Clip can last for about two days on a single charge. Geolocation through GPS is quite power-intensive, so the device captures the location information but doesn't geotag individual images until processing is done in the cloud.

Now the images aren't viewed on your Mac or PC; instead, they're processed online into moments and then viewed with the free Narrative app (iOS and Android). The app displays a timeline of the moments, and each moment can be scrolled through to view all of the images. There's a "trim moment" button that is enabled by default to hide lower quality photos.

With a tap on the moment, it begins to scroll automatically through the images. A one hour moment made up of about 110 photos played back in about 44 seconds. Individual images can be selected with a tap and shared to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or mailed to others. Images can also be favorited ("starred" in the Narrative vernacular), set as the cover photo for the moment, downloaded to your photo library, or deleted.

The Narrative Camera In Real Life

The Narrative Clip is going to last about two days on a charge in real life. By real life, I mean that you're honestly not going to be wearing this thing 24/7. For example, over the Easter weekend I took it off when I was at church services because it felt inappropriate to be snapping images during a service. While at a Major League Baseball game on Saturday night, I definitely took the device off when I went to the restroom!

But there's one other thing that happened during the weekend that I can imagine owners of Google Glass have also encountered -- having other people tell you to turn off your device because they don't want to have their photo taken. Shortly after I started wearing the Narrative Clip, my wife asked what it was and I told her -- and she promptly told me to turn it off when I was around her. A friend dropped by at one point on Saturday, so out of courtesy I told her what that little white box on my shirt collar was. She referred to the constant capture of images as "creepy".

For the most part the images captured are quite good; the camera does a great job of handling varying light conditions, it knows what side is "up", and it can even be told to take a photo with a double tap on the case. On occasion the clothing that the Narrative Clip was attached to would point the camera up towards the sky -- I have a lot of photos of a crowd microphone at the baseball game silhouetted against the sky that are quite useless.

But what I found was that despite the quality of the images, the subject of the images was often quite boring. Perhaps that's just a reflection of my middle-aged life; some of the examples shown on the Narrative website show groups of young people running around on beaches, and I suppose this would be a lot more fun if I spent more time engaged in group activities.

Where I could see the Narrative Clip being extremely useful is on vacations, especially during activities that I normally take the time to capture in photographs. It could be a second eye, snapping images that are more candid and less composed. And in special places or at special times, it would be incredible to have a photographic record that is being captured without having to constantly be pulling out my DSLR.

One feature I wish the Narrative Clip had would be a way to automatically turn the stream of images into a short movie. I've seen several examples where people have taken Narrative Clip images and made them into videos (some time-lapse sunrises are incredible!), but those are done manually.

Conclusion

I have mixed, but mainly positive feelings about the Narrative Clip. It's an amazing piece of hardware that demonstrates just how far digital photography has come in a relatively short amount of time. The idea of automatically capturing one image every 30 seconds during some activities is fascinating, and the Narrative Clip's dependence on uploading through a Mac or PC is actually quite smart as it doesn't overload your smartphone with a pile of unprocessed images.

But is it right for you? That's up to each individual to decide. If the thought of taking a lot of candid photos seems ludicrous to you, then I'd have no problems recommending that you save your money for other things. For those of you who would love to have a way to automatically capture the fleeting images of your lives, the Narrative Clip is a brilliant way to do just that.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars out of 4 stars possible

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