review: curio by zengobi software

This is a guest post by Tom Borowski. Tom is the owner of macsteps, where you can find tutorials, reviews and tips for Mac OS X and Mac software. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/macsteps.

There’s something about note taking and data collection apps on the Mac that makes me want to have every one of them. Circus Ponies Notebook, OmniOutliner, DEVONthink, Together, VoodooPad and many more; I try really hard to resist buying each and every one of them and only sometimes do I succeed.

An app that caught me with my shields down is Curio from Zengobi. The moment I saw it I knew I was going to have to buy it. Just the looks of it on Zengobi’s website prompted me to immediately download it and some dabbling with the trial version confirmed that this app was going to be tons of fun. (Editor’s note: keep reading for a discount coupon toward the purchase of Curio.)

Curio is an application that doesn’t fit into any single category very easily, and it doesn’t really try to fit anywhere either. You could say it’s a notetaking app, but that wouldn’t do it justice. It’s not an outliner either, although it organizes its data that way. It’s more of a notetaking and brainstorming and sketching and outlining and planning and productivity app; sort of.

Maybe it will be easier to grasp what Curio is if we examine its features. Here’s a rundown of what kind of things you can put into a Curio document:

  • Notes
  • Outlines
  • Hand-drawn sketches
  • Images
  • Documents from other apps
  • Mindmaps
  • To Do lists
  • Web views (embedded live web pages)
  • and more…

That’s a lot of stuff, but it still doesn’t quite convey what makes Curio different than any other app. Let’s forget all those categories for a moment and simply take a look at an example session with Curio.

An example session with Curio

Let’s say you want to write a review of a software application, which, incidentally, is exactly what I’m doing at the moment. So you go out on the Web, maybe to MacUpdate, and check out which software you might want to look at in your review.

In Curio, information is organized into “Idea Spaces”. An Idea Space is basically a virtually infinite canvas on which you place your content. So, sticking to our example, you start taking notes of which applications you might want to review. So you click on the List icon in the toolbar and, voila, you have a list – or an outline – on your empty piece of paper.

You then enter some of the applications into the list that look interesting. The list is nice, but it would be even better if you’d add some screenshots of the apps so you have a visual way of remembering what each app does. So you drag some screenshots onto the Idea Space.

Next, you start thinking about the steps you will need to take for writing the review: Decide which application to review; get a basic understanding of the app’s features; create some example data in the app; take screenshots of important steps; write an introduction, the actual review and a conclusion; proof-read the article; and so on. You start collecting all those ideas in a mindmap by hitting the mindmap button in the toolbar and entering all the steps.

Since you like working on a schedule, it would be great to turn the mindmap you just created into a task list that you could check off as you write the review. So you check the option to include to-do checkboxes in Curio’s inspector panel. You also set some start and due dates for good measure.

In the end your Idea Space for this particular project might look something like this:

As you can see, you can include all of these elements in a single Idea Space. Usually you would need to wield several separate applications to accomplish this.

But wait, there’s more!

The example above gives a pretty impression of what Curio is capable of. But Curio can do even more. You can track the completion of tasks automatically, add flags and other adornments to items, use Sleuth to browse the Web for images to include in your document, record audio and video and embed it in Curio, use Curio as a presentation tool, tag items, use a powerful search tool to find items in large documents, create Idea Space templates, manage a scrapbook, draw on an Idea Space with a pen tablet and much, much more.

What you can do with Curio is virtually limited only by your imagination. The ways you can enter data are so diverse, you’ll probably only use half of them, if that. But once you start using it, you might find yourself replacing your previous outliner, web clipping app and notetaking app with Curio.

Conclusion

Curio is a monster of an app, but in a positive way. It’s pretty clear that Zengobi is targeting creative workers with Curio, since free thinkers usually don’t enjoy working in an environment that contricts them in how they can organize their data. The only mandatory structure in Curio is that everything has to go into an Idea Space. But the spaces themselves let your drop anything onto them any way you like.

Probably the only real negative thing one can say about Curio is that it tries to be a jack of all trades. It has so many features and ways to enter and organize data that, while it covers the basics in every area, you can find more full-featured, but dedicated programs for most of the things Curio does.

For example, the mindmaps you can create with MindManager or NovaMind are definitely more powerful than what you can do with Curio. OmniOutliner offers many more outlining features than Curio. And Circus Ponies Notebook is probably the most powerful notetaking app available and out-features Curio easily.

But it’s the combination of all of these features into a single program that makes Curio so powerful and versatile. Even if you’d take the best-of-breed program in any category – mindmapping, note taking, outlining, data collection, … – you’d still just have a bunch of separate programs. Curio integrates all of these very nicely at the cost of providing a bit more of a basic featureset for each.

Curio comes in two versions: Standard ($99) and Professional ($149). To compare the features of the Standard vs. the Pro version, check out http://www.zengobi.com/products/curio/pro/.

Pros

  • Enormous featureset
  • Free form canvas ("Idea Spaces")
  • Numerous ways of entering text and data
  • Embed virtually any type of object

Cons

  • Sometimes overwhelming featureset
  • Not as powerful in each feature area as dedicated programs
  • Slightly pricey

We contacted Zengobi to let them know we were about to post a review. They were kind enough to offer readers of Creativityist and macsteps a 10% discount between now and December 31, 2008. Enter the coupon code CREATEABC during the checkout process to claim your discount.

Thanks for the review Tom! If any other Creativityist readers would like to write a guest post, drop me a line.

10 comments
BillMorey2020
BillMorey2020

I am using MagicalPad kind of similar to Curio, it has the iPad version and now with the mac version that is half the price, it might worth exploring. Curio still does more, but MagicalPad has some unique features that makes it better for me. mind mapping and task management are more robust. Check out MagicalPad on the mac app store.

Alexander
Alexander

@Franking Machines: For ToDo Lists I stick to OmniFocus. The List can be synced on Mac, iPad and iPhone and it has some great features. I'd sas it's one of those examples where the dedicated app might serve best. Regards, Alexander

Alexander
Alexander

Thank you for the article. I feel the same, i.e. I also would like to buy all those apps. However I do not want to learn all of them ... I am currently thinki g to buy curio or omnioutliner ... btw: did you write a review of the recent versions? Best, Alexander

Franking Machines
Franking Machines

I especially like the to do list feature as this was what i was looking for. Could I hope for a promotional code or discount coupon please

John
John

L.W., Thanks for the comment. I wasn't familiar with Conjure, but it looks interesting enough to play with a bit.

L.W. Brown
L.W. Brown

For a lighter version of this functionality, at a much lower price, see the interesting (and visually appealing) Conjure: ...

John
John

Tim, Thanks for your comment. Eye opening to see some of the features in Curio which I haven't fully explored yet.

Tim
Tim

I use Curio to manage projects and tasks. Each project can have its own tasks with start and due dates, and all the different projects you have are 'pooled' in Curio's Status Shelf. So, you have your tasks in the context of their project but can see how all your projects are going in one color-coded task list as well (red for overdue etc). This is much easier to see than explain, and more powerful than I can convey in a paragraph (for example, you can use GTD concepts (or any context system you choose) as tags and display all your tasks across all or a subset of your projects that are tagged 'waiting on' or 'errands'). I then have tasks synched with iCal, and then via Appigo's todo to my iphone. Aaron, as for snippets, I use Evernote. Curio plugs in to Evernote, so you can, for example, upload an audio file or photo from your iphone to Evernote and then drag directly into a Curio project. Both Curio and Evernote have various encryption/password options, which may suit your needs. I keep everyday tasks (of the 'buy milk' kind) separate to this, just in Appigo's todo so I always have them handy on my iphone.

John
John

Aaron, Thanks for the questions. I see two different kinds of information that need to be captured: completable tasks and reference notes, such as ideas, serials, etc. I use OmniFocus for tasks, and Yojimbo for all the rest. I posted more about that here: http://www.creativityist.com/2008/01/24/capture-everything-buckets/ How well Curio will do for this? I think it could replace Yojimbo, but I wouldn't choose to use it as a task manager. I want the power of a specialized program to manage all my projects and contexts.

aaron
aaron

Good article. thanks for the info. question: i've been looking @ GTD and many other tools for a while now (who hasn't!) and i narrowed down my "requirements list" into the following: 1. general note taking - quick, lite, something like yojimbo 2. serial/passwords - also like yojimbo (although i'm using keepassX now since i haven't actually made the switch to yojimbo yet) 3. project/research based note taking 4. a system that stores, track and organizes my tasks by context. this system would be great if it integrates with the three systems above (maybe using iCal and ActionGear??) so.. my question is.. what do you use for the 4 things i mention above? Curio seems excellent and powerful .. but at the same time it seems an overkill for the simple note taking .. but it's pointless to start saving "notes" in two places.. what are your thoughts? thanks