Narrative Clip review: Photographic memory, for better and worse

Those four LED lights indicate battery level -- a full charge, which takes a few hours, lasts about a day and a half based on my week of use (30 hours according to Narrative), and 8GB of storage should hold enough photos, even if taken once every 30 seconds. I didn't run out of space between computer syncs, but I could see that happening if I used it on a long vacation away from a computer.

To put it lightly: the Narrative Clip has limitations, by design.

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Narrative Clip as memory recorder
But let's get to what the Clip was really designed to do: be your memory assistant, recording moments that get uploaded, processed, and tagged for your future browsing and remembering. It's no accident that the Narrative's original name was Memoto -- a name I actually prefer.

Joseph Kaminski, you're in my memory. Scott Stein/CNET

What the heck do you do with all these photos -- some good, some OK, many horrible? Narrative has a cloud service that works in tandem with the Narrative Clip that a Mac/PC application called Narrative Uploader automatically sends your pictures to. It's a private account, and Narrative offers a year of free service with the $279 purchase price. But, after that, it's $9 a month.

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That's somewhat crazy, especially since there are plenty of great cloud-based photo upload destinations you could use instead -- Flickr, Google+, Instagram, and even regular old Facebook. You could locally download the Narrative Clip's photos and store them on your hard drive, then add them wherever you'd like afterwards, but you lose out on Narrative's sorting-and-tagging services within their cloud service.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Narrative app, which runs on both Android and iOS (I tested on an iPhone 5S), has a flat design and a clean layout. It pulls the photos you've already shot, downloaded to your PC/Mac, and uploaded to Narrative's cloud server. Photos are laid out in "moments," sorted based on time of day, and split based on how Narrative perceives there should be a split. Narrative sorts the photos by "GPS, time, lighting, motion, colorfulness, photo composition (symmetry) and face detection," according to my reviewer's guide. It was hard to tell that when browsing the app, basically because I had lots of shots of ceilings, walls, and office clutter.

I thought I was taking a picture of someone in front of me. Scott Stein/CNET

The Narrative Clip, depending on how it's resting on your jacket or hat or wherever else, could be shooting straight ahead, or up at the sky, or tilted to your shoulder. The only thing you know for sure is that the photos will be right-side up, but as to where that little camera is really looking, well, that's anyone's guess. I stood in front of store windows and looking at odd NYC characters thinking I was snapping a weird covert moment, and all I got was a semi-blurry snap of something else.

Browsing these pictures of my week, I didn't exactly capture the essence of what I was living. Maybe this is meant to be more of a mysterious box of memory chocolates, waiting to be unwrapped at the end of your day. Maybe it's a tool to inspire you to see more things. I got some good pictures of a decadent churrascaria dinner with old friends, but I missed some opportunities when playing with my little kids. Narrative Clip, you didn't act as my surrogate memory.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Creep factor
It bears mentioning: if Google Glass breeds Glassholes, what does a wearable clip-on camera make you? The Narrative Clip is more discreet/covert and less iconic than Glass, so it slides under the radar better. But the point is, this is a device that's meant to continually record things around you -- and add GPS stamps, too.

My wife was instantly turned off by the device when I got home, and insisted I turn it off, put it away. I tried to explain I was testing it, but I had to respect my family's wishes. Much like Google does with Glass, Narrative recommends some privacy/respect awareness: "You have extensive rights to photograph whatever you find interesting or beautiful or for other reason worth documenting. Secondly, you have significant responsibilities to respect other people's integrity." Sometimes this feels like the warning labels on cigarettes; after all, the more ever-present our cameras are, the more they'll be able to pry, and sneak shots, and be somewhat invasive. It's inevitable, especially with this type of tech.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's easy to suddenly wear Narrative Clip into a locker room, or bathroom, or a private meeting, or some other compromising position. It's also easy to forget that it's still on -- for the person being photographed, and for the wearer. I kept forgetting I had it on. Kudos to the Narrative Clip's sense of invisible design, but this little bug's likely to be on you. At least it doesn't record audio.

Jeff Bakalar, unaware I was monitoring our elevator ride. Scott Stein/CNET

Some people stared at the camera, others didn't. I found I was able to walk around with it pretty easily. My own sense of integrity often pushed me to take it off. I didn't want to be a Narrative Cliphole, or whatever I'd end up being.

Someday, say the Acolytes of Wearable, we shall all be nodes on the great network of life. Maybe we're measuring our steps, or collecting sensory data, or...wearing cameras on our bodies, continually recording. If so, we're undoubtedly going to get better cameras than the Narrative Clip. This product's not advanced enough, or inexpensive enough, to make sense.

The Narrative Clip isn't a new idea. It's the one of the first attempts to take a classic tech dream and make it real. But really, if your experience wearing one is like mine, you won't make many friends with it on. And you won't be collecting very many good memories, either. If the Clip cost less, had a free cloud service, and synced with my phone, I'd be more positive about it. But those are a lot of ifs. What Narrative is doing is intriguing, but odds are this isn't the product you'd want no matter who you are.

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  • Sensor Resolution 5.0 Megapixel