Posted on Feb 15, 2013 | 13 comments

darkside Read This If You Use Penzu (Or Have Thought About It)

If you have been a part of the Easy Journaling community for a while you have probably seen a post or two about the most popular online journal, Penzu. Not writing about it would be similar to a tech blog not writing about Apple- possible but not realistic.

This journaling service offers many features for free and even more for $19/year including syncing Penzu on Android and iPhone. Almost a year ago I wrote a personal piece on the subject titled Why I’m Switching to Penzu. In short, I was tired of Wonderful Days for the iPhone and wanted the best option available. I was the digital journaling guru so I should be using the best, right?

It was the right decision at the time and I basked in the magnificence of feature overload for months. I could customize to my hearts desire, write from a keyboard or touchscreen and sleep in the comfort of knowing that my journal was backed up, password protected and encrypted. Maybe overkill, but nice nonetheless!

And then something happened, I switched from iPhone to Android. I didn’t think it would be a big deal because Penzu has an Android app just like the iPhone app. I could switch phones and my journal wouldn’t care, I preached.

This is roughly when the problems started.

My iPhone had been unable to sync the entries stored on the device with the web application for a few months. Yes, I should have taken this as a red flag but the developer reassured me that future updates would fix this issue and all of my entries would be synced. I trusted this and waited while continuing to use my iPhone to create entries that couldn’t sync.

By the time I made the switch to Android (Thanksgiving time) all of my mobile entries were still mobile. I tried everything possible to back them up or transfer them including deleting the app, restarting the device and every other trick I could think of. Nothing worked and I ended up losing MONTHS of entries. If you want to frustrate me, just find a way to lose my journal entries.

I understand that much of this problem was my fault for continuing to use the iPhone app when it wasn’t syncing but this shouldn’t even have been a problem. I have discussed this with other developers and they have confirmed that every journal application should (and can) have autosync. At worst, developers should give a plan B such as the ability to email all of the entries on the mobile device as a PDF. I’ve seen it so I know it is possible.

And speaking of mobile applications, that is another issue with Penzu- the mobile applications are terrible (both iPhone and Android). I didn’t really understand how bad they were until I recently switched to Diaro 3 for Android. This simple app has made me enjoy journaling from my phone again!

To top all of this mess off, when I finally went to export all of my Penzu entries as a PDF (read my mini-guide The 3 Things You Should Know for more info on that) the PDF was crumby. All of the formatting, fonts and backgrounds were not to be found. All you get is plain text and your pictures that aren’t justified or formatted within your text. Sure, I have all of my entries and data but if I would have known how bad the PDF export process would have turned out I would have had second thoughts.

The bottom line: Penzu is an amazing service if used right. Just understand the limitations and take control of your data or else you will likely be disappointed in the end.

Anyone else been burned by Penzu?

  • Penzu

    For those of you that have had problems syncing, we apologize. This doesn’t affect everyone. We have tracked down this bug and have submitted a fix to Apple as of today. This should be a thing of the past soon…

    • Karen

      Penzu, what about the issue he refers to with the PDF conversion process?

  • Cathee3137

    Is there any hope that Penzu will fix all these issues? I just read your “37 Reasons…” and was getting ready to sign up for the Pro version. Now I’m not sure! BTW – thanks so much for your great info on all these apps. It’s great to have this kind of review to help with decisions.

    • Sam


      Penzu is a great product and I still recommend it. As long as you know what you are going to use it for you will most likely be happy.

      They released an update a few days ago that is supposed to fix the syncing issues. I’m not currently using it anymore so I can’t vouch for that but hopefully that problem is gone. I’ve heard nothing about fixing the loss of formatting in the PDF export or more of a commitment to the mobile applications. 

      My recommendation is to use the free version for a while. You will have a good idea of how useful the product is to you before you sign up for the pro version.

      • Sabrina Meichtry

        New to this so playing catch up…how DO i sync my iPad app/entries with my Mac desktop entries? Was assuming that it would when i attached to my desktop to sync my calendar and other such items…but…it didn’t…

  • ElaineReads

    I wish I had listened to you when I read this post last month.  I have been unable to access my account for a few days.  I cannot even get to the main page.  I checked Twitter and did see where someone else was having the same problem.

    I am sure they will come back online eventually, but I have lost faith in them.  The least they could have done is posted something to Twitter about the problem.

    Now it is time to find another app.  -sigh-

    • Sam

      Sorry Elaine. Other than the issues I presented here Penzu is usually pretty faithful. I would tell you to email the developer to find answers, but it sounds like you are ready to move on. That is okay because there are other great options. What device(s) do you use?

      • ElaineReads

        I was able to reach them via Twitter and the problem was corrected immediately. I guess I’ll stay with them at least until my pro subscription expires.

        I have a Galaxy Nexus phone and a Motorola Xoom tablet.

  • Polly Anna Watson

    I’ve been using Penzu Pro since the first of the year and the free version for close to a year prior to that….so far so good. I haven’t attempted to download to a PDF or create a book as of yet, but I would just like to say that so far, I’ve really liked everything about Penzu. I would like to see more options as far as backgrounds and fonts are concerned, but overall, I like it a lot. Like you, Sam, I have a tendency to change journals every so often when I find something else I like better… far, I’m content to stay with Penzu Pro for now…..

  • nednorris

    Penzu is awesome. I’ve used it for a few years now and love it in so many ways. Might I suggest your problem is not Penzu, but how you rely on a mobile device that has to sync with an online service. Why, in this day and age, do you need an app on a phone that has to sync with an online cloud service? Why not just shoot stuff straight into Penzu via email. It is quick. It is easy. And you can do it from ANY device without having to install an app. It just makes so much more sense.

    I send entries from my desktop, from my Macbook, from my phone, even from Internet cafes.

    If I take a photo I want in my journal I just share i via email, type a subject, enter some body to the email, and woosh, it is in Penzu. No messing around with apps, no relying on syncing, no worries about losing my phone before I’ve sync’d … nothing. Just the peace of mind of knowing whatever I shoot off via email is instantly in my journal forever.

    I’m puzzled as to why Apple users and Android users feel they NEED to have an app to do even the simplest task. Surely emailing entries makes so much more sense. And if you swap phones you don’t need to worry about whether there is an app. As long as you have email you’re good to go.

    • Sam

      Good point Ned. If I were to use Penzu again or even LDS Journal I would probably rely on the email function when away from a computer, just like you mentioned.

      The best solution, of course, is if a developer just makes an app that auto syncs all of the time. It is actually how most of them are doing it these days. I just don’t think Penzu is focusing on mobile right now.

  • Andrea

    I’ve had a few entries from time to time simply appear blank. While the majority of the time, everything is fine, it is infuriating when it happens. Just now, I typed a little bit from my laptop and observed the periodic “saving”. I left to view all my pervious entries, and when I returned to today’s entry, only the title remained. Kind of makes me wonder why I bother paying for this if it can’t even save everything reliably.

  • LinKuFF

    Or you can use ;) It’s free, secure and very easy to use…