review: curio by zengobi software

December 17, 2008

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

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.


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


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


  • 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.

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