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A couple of weeks ago, I went on Canada's biggest morning shows to talk about wearables. As I chatted with the host about the latest Fitbits, a small black box attached to my lapel was surreptitiously capturing photos of the proceedings. Later, as I drove home, it captured the rain bearing down on my car's windshield.
That black box is called the Narrative Clip 2, and it's an incredible little thing, the second generation of a product that attempts to solve the problem of lifelogging.
Lifelogging, for those not familiar, involves capturing your life through passive means, by accruing all types of data, both visual and alphanumeric. Companies like Sony have attempted to combine fitness tracking — steps taken, calories burned — with passive moment capture using a combination of wearables and smartphone apps. But it's difficult to get a full sense of your life without the visual medium. The Narrative Clip 2 takes an impassioned, if imperfect, stab at solving that problem.
What is the Narrative Clip 2?
The Narrative Clip 2 is a small box — available in black, white, or red — that sports an eight megapixel camera on its front. The camera is covered with Gorilla Glass, and there's a replaceable clip on the back used for attaching to a piece of clothing. On one of the sides is a small flap covering a microUSB port, and on the other side, four white LEDs to indicate battery level.
By default, the Clip takes a photo every 30 seconds, storing it in its 8 GB of internal memory. It can also capture 10-second clips of 1080p video by double-tapping on the front of the casing.
And that's pretty much it.
It's not a complicated proposition. Where it gets interesting is how Narrative deals with all those photos — a photo every 30 seconds over the course of a day adds up, after all — and how it showcases the best ones.
Do it without wires
The Narrative Clip 2 is not unlike its predecessor, which debuted in early 2014. After being listed on Kickstarter under the name Memoto, it was eventually shipped as the first Narrative Clip. Whereas the first Clip was tethered to a computer to perform uploads and would then be sent to the cloud for processing, the Clip 2 features both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. That way, when it is plugged into a power source (via microUSB), it can initiate an upload wirelessly. That alone makes the sequel worth it, but the addition of Bluetooth gives the product some smartphone-based immediacy, allowing you to change settings and initiate manual uploads on the go.
Capturing life in moments
Lifelogging is not a new practice, but the Narrative Clip 2 makes it almost too easy to "break the fourth wall". Not only does the camera capture the minutiae of your day, but its inconspicuous nature brings it places other cameras would never go. Yes, you can decide for yourself what that means.
Once uploaded, Narrative uses its machine learning algorithm to filter the good photos from the bad. If it finds excessive blurriness, the photo goes in the drawer. If it fins in-focus faces, those get showcased. Sitting in a chair for the whole day, as many office workers tend to? Narrative knows.
Along with its excellent iOS and Android apps, the company hosts a social network of sorts at GetNarrative.com, where you can choose to make your Moments public. Given that the Clip 2 was developed in Sweden, it has gained a notable following in its home country and other Scandinavian destinations, so many of the public shares are of beautiful stretches of pastoral green, often from the luxurious seat of a Danish bicycle.
More often than not, Narrative is good about filtering the good photos from the bad, but some manual work is often necessary to get a collection looking its best.
Use it or lose it
I'm writing this review from memory, because, on a particularly cold April day, I lost my Narrative Clip 2 as it came unfastened from the lapel of my bulky winter jacket.
Narrative knew this was an issue with the first product, though, giving its sequel replaceable mount options, including a lanyard that it would have been prudent to use on that cold day.
Nonetheless, it is relatively easy to swap out the mounts, which include two types of clips and a lanyard.
Delight in small moments
Much of the Narrative Clip 2's value comes from the small moments captured by the 8 MP sensor and wide-angle lens combination. It's not a great sensor — much smaller than the average smartphone's — but it's a big improvement from the anemic 5 MP equivalent in the first Narrative Clip. Moreover, the sensor is tuned for capturing movement, ramping up shutter speed when there is ample light available.
Some of my favorite photos from the Narrative Clip 2 were of quiet moments that would never have warranted pulling out my phone to take a shot. Shopping with my wife; walking along a beautiful street; capturing a friend's fleeting smile. These are moments that alone don't amount to much more than a memory, but accumulated and presented beautifully, become evocative.
The Narrative Clip 2 can store about 4,000 photos or 80 minutes of 1080p video at 30fps, which are purged once they are uploaded to Narrative's cloud. Its battery lasts around two days, but can be quickly topped up over microUSB.
Narrative really wants the Clip 2 to be used as a social tool. So, it encourages you to share the unit, or affix it to a dog's collar while it goes for a walk. One of the more interesting use-cases is capturing surreptitious time lapses by keeping it stationary during a party, for example.
But like any body camera, there are opportunities for abuse. The Narrative Clip 2 is small, and easy to hide. While it turns off when a room goes completely dark (to preserve battery) and doesn't capture audio unless explicitly requested, there are inevitably going to be moments where subjects won't be able to consent to being photographed. I accidentally kept the Clip 2 attached to my shirt while I went through a TSA checkpoint at New York's La Guardia airport and nobody, including me, realized I was wearing a camera.
An early stage of confusion
The Narrative Clip 2, at $199 USD, is a compelling if flawed product. But it represents a new era of passive data capture, not just by the government and public buildings, but the average person walking down the street.
See Clip 2 at Narrative