May 9th in Mac Software by .

Zengobi’s Curio receives our Gold Award: In-depth Review

If you’ve not heard of Curio you really should read this review. For Mac owners everywhere, we strongly suggest dipping into Zengobi’s world of Curio, read our full review to find out more…

For some time, we’ve been on the search for some software that would satisfy our requirements for a good place to quickly and easily jot down ideas, thoughts, plans, schedules, etc for multiple projects on our Mac. We needed the software to be simple and straightforward, very visual, and be able to just drag and drop files, pictures, web-snippets, lists, mind-maps etc into an area and arrange them freely on the screen.

Microsoft’s OneNote almost achieved this back in the day when I used to be a Windows user, but, since I became a Mac user, I couldn’t really find anything that suited. OneNote also was lacking in many ways for what I wanted.

However, about 3 months ago Today’s Top Tech discovered Curio. Since then, it certainly has Curio’d (*sorry!) all of our problems… and I for one, simply could not live without it now. Follow the review below to find out why Curio has been credited with our “Gold Award”, plus get details of how to receive a full 60 days free trial, and discover why you’re most likely going to find it in your top ten fav’ Mac software list.

What is it?

Curio is basically a place to store your thoughts, ideas, and manage them in a visual way in an ‘open space’. Curio uses the concept of Ideas Spaces. These are basically like blank pages in a book (or Project). You can have large numbers of pages in each book and have as many books are you like.

Curio allows you to fill your Ideas Spaces with images, web clips, video, audio, text, lists, mind-maps, linked / chained thoughts, notes, and so on… quickly, easily and without constraints. What used to irritate me about most software I tried before Curio was that they constrained you into mapping your thoughts in a certain way. For example having things laid out in neat columns and rows. Or only showing you certain information in certain places or windows etc. Curio is nothing like this. Each Ideas Space can be filled with data however you want it to look to help you remember, find, and plan whatever it is you’re doing.

Rather than go through a step by step feature list of just how Curio works, I thought I’d let you know how we use Curio and what we like the most and to keep things balanced what we don’t like. If you want to know the full list of features and capabilities of Curio, then head on down the page to our ‘Vital Information’ section for links.

What we love

The list is long, and can be summarised by saying, almost everything!

Basically the concept of a ‘blank page’ to be able to use however you wish is perfect for us. Whether we’re making a simple list of what software to review in future, or a full mind-map of ideas about a new project, or a full project plan with resources, timescales, and so on, Curio fits the bill.

Visual Project plans

Project plans used to annoy me a little, because they took ages to set up, were awkward to amend, and just seemed to distract attention and effort away from the actual project itself because of their complexity in setting up. Curio deals with project plans very simply. You start a new list in your ideas space and get typing. For each task in the project you hit enter, which feels a very natural thing to do. If you have some tasks that are a sub-section of an over-riding task, hit ‘tab’ and they will be indented. So obvious and simple it takes seconds to get the tasks jotted down…

Curio for Project Management tool

Click for larger image

Once noted down, you can then allocate resources to these tasks, either from your Mac’s Address Book (including the mini-ID photograph) or just type in some names. You can assign dates, start and ending dates to each task with some automated features included like setting the end date automatically from when the previous task ended for example. Curio allows you to add icons or symbols against any or all of the tasks, so that they stand out visually… I use this feature to put a little phone symbol next to any tasks that require me to call someone. Also a pound / dollar-symbol when the action involves a financial matter for example.

Curio then allows you to manage the project ongoing, by making it such a simple tasks to amend any dates, etc by simply clicking them and typing over them. As the project progresses, you can quickly either just tick the completed box next to each task, or, adjust the slider for the percentage completed. This can even be done on a resource basis, so if you have two people working on one task, person A might be finished, but B only 50% through the work.

These project related features can be added to almost any of Curio’s set of inputting frameworks… simple lists, mind maps, and so on. This is SO USEFUL, because you don’t need to be constrained into running your project like the old ‘gant chart’ style if that’s not your thing. I often prefer to use a mind-map and have my project related info’ built into that. This way I can see what tasks have been done by who, but still in the visual format of a mind-map.

If you have multiple projects on the go, Curio is even smart enough to give you an overall RAG (Red, Amber, Green) status about each project individually, aswell as a total summary RAG status! Very smart to see how you’re doing overall.

So, to sum up, for anything task related, Curio’s project-based tools are really quick and easy to use without the constraints of typical project management tools.

Mind mapping

I used to think that mind mapping was something that over-paid executives did to kill time because they couldn’t do anything else other than draw circles on a whiteboard and join them together with sticks. Why not just write a list of the ideas? But, I’ve now discovered that they’re actually very useful. Again, from a visual perspective, they allow you to separate your ideas into groups, so you can see what is related to what… easily.

Curio with Mind Maps

Click for larger image

Curio allows you to jot down your mind-maps in seconds. Again using the concept of pressing return for new ‘bubbles’ or tab for sub-sections off a previous ‘bubble’. One of the reasons it’s so quick is that you just type without keep moving your hand to grab the mouse, and let Curio take care of the layout and other bits. In other words, you concentrate on getting your ideas down uninterrupted and Curio deals with the layout and technical set-up. This is the way software should be!

The mind-maps can be move around and configured pretty much however you want, with various styles and templates or personal settings. Colours, fonts, shapes, sizes, and so on can all be changed easily without a fuss.

One great feature is that if you need to pop some information or detail on your mind map (or anything else for that matter), you can. Sometimes for example, I might be mapping down some thoughts, and then for one task or idea I want to right a bit more text in thick red pen, or drop a pdf file next the idea, or a YouTube video link, or whatever. You just drag and drop the extra information next to that task in the Ideas Space and you’re done. You can lay it out exactly how you want, and even join the items using linked lines between each object if you wish. REALLY USEFUL!

One slight niggle we have with the mind-map feature is that because Curio takes care of the layout for you (which is a definite plus point), occasionally this can have unexpected results if you decide you want to move some of the bubbles around to change the layout and look of the mind-map. Occasionally we’ve found that Curio’s auto layout struggles to cope with how we’ve manually placed the various items on the map, and it tries to move them around to make them more spaced-out or visually appealing. We think there should be a button in the Inspector which you can enable or disable the auto-layout feature. If disabled Curio makes no attempt to tidy-up your pathetically laid out bubbles and leaves their location however you put them. Mind Maps are the only place that Curio tries to help you with visual presentation on screen, and 95% of the time it’s great. Just occasionally it would be nice to disable this though.

Presentations

Something we’ve made great use of in the past is Curio’s ability to create presentations from your ideas spaces. When I say ‘create’ however, I mean simply click a button and boom, you’re taken into full screen presentation mode, with each of your ideas spaces in the project being displayed on screen including configurable impressive looking transitions between each slide.

This is an amazing time saver, because, rather than have your own project management tools and then have to copy them all out into Powerpoint or Keynote, you can just click the button in Curio and present your project directly form the actual tool that you’re using to work from. I’ve used this before whilst managing a web project for a client. I used the Ideas Spaces in such a way that the customer could see a presentation including my mind maps, project plans, and so on. Not only was it visually appealing and impressive to the client, it saved me heaps of time because I was only really showing them the stuff I was working on in Curio.

One nice feature of presentations is that you can still interact with Curio’s features whilst in presentation mode. So if you’re working down a to-do list, you can tick-off items as you go through them in the presentation, without having to exit the full screen mode and do it in your ideas space directly. Nice! One small problem we had here however was that it seemed to take Curio a lot of time / processing to tick off items in a list whilst in presentation mode… which brought up Mac’s coloured ‘waiting’ circle (equivalent to the egg-timer in Windows). A little distracting whilst you wait a few seconds for the software to response, especially under the pressure of clients watching you!

Store data, without constraints

Curio’s best feature is that it provides a few clever tools, like mind-maps, lists, notepads, tables, and free text, plus some extended features like project management features, and allows you to use them however you want to do whatever you want within your ideas space. Even to the point of grabbing the marker tool and simply circling stuff, directly on the screen like you would do with a pen on paper. Or use the highlighter to manually go on and highlight whatever you want on your ideas space. This again lets you manage your ideas and information in a natural way without constraints of the software getting in the way of how you want to see / do things. (Note to Zengobi here, it would be nice if the highlighted/pen marked stuff then could be moved around afterwards, if you decide to change the layout of your ideas space after using the highlighter/marker!).

Another cool feature, if you can’t be bothered to grab the mouse or type on the keyboard, no problem, just click the video or audio button to simply record from your computers microphone and / or iSight cam. Curio lets you drag and drop audio and video on to the ideas space, or record new ones, directly… deal with it just as you would any other text, files, lists etc. This is a REAL pleasure to use and one we’ve found extremely handy.

Integrated Evernote’s

The clever guys at Zengobi haven’t attempted to re-invent the wheel when it comes to enabling your ideas to be stored whilst out on the move via your mobile phone. A perfectly good service already exists for this, Evernote (you can read more about Evernote in our full review). Using Evernote, you can take a photo, video, jot down a note, record an audio file, or upload a file whenever you find or think of something important whilst away from your Mac. Evernote sync’s this data back to the Evernote Cloud… which in turn can then be sync’d directly to your Curio app’ running on your Mac. When you’re back at your Mac, Evernote files can then simply be dragged onto your Ideas Spaces within Curio. This works almost seamlessly and we LOVE the fact that Curio included Evernote integration into their app. We think there’s more that could be done here, to allow you to also manage your Evernote files (including deleting them) from Curio, so we hope this will come in future versions? Also, during our extensive use of Curio, we found that of 3 photo Evernotes we snapped on our Android Mobile, there was a problem when trying to drag one of them onto the Curio Ideas Space. Two worked just fine, but the third only presented us with the text, and no photo?! Evernote showed the photo was stored properly, but in Curio it didn’t work. Fingers crossed Zengobi beef up the clever Evernote integration in future.

Anything we don’t like about Curio?

Often we’re able to find something we don’t like pretty quickly with software, but with Curio it wasn’t so simple. There are basically only a couple of things here that we could offer you guys to think about… but I wouldn’t let them put you off from giving Curio a try.

The first is the issues with auto-layout of Mind-maps. Whilst Curio makes a great job of laying our your mind-maps to look well spaced out and appealing, unfortunately if you want to move the various ‘bubbles’ around within the mind-map, it can confuse Curio a little and it tries to move them around a little to get them back into an evenly spaced layout. Sometimes you might find you don’t want this, you want to place the bubbles in a specific place, so it would be nice to have a button to disable the auto-layout for each mind mind in the inspector pain.

Secondly, and one which we’re still trying to do more testing on, crashes. We’ve had probably three crashes of Curio in the months we’ve been using it. The software simply quits without warning. If you’ve not saved your work, it’s gone! Coming from the world of the Mac, we’re not used crashes, and so this was quite a shock to us. We’ve not got to the bottom of why the software simply quit and we’ve so far not been able to re-create it at will. But, we’ll be doing more testing in future, and will try to contact the guys at Zengobi if we find this to be a recurring problem. Fingers crossed it’s resolvable, because I wouldn’t want this to be something that you take away from our review, rather than the AMAZING usefulness of the software.

Finally, more of a ‘why’ than a dislike, is the Dossier feature in the Pro version of Curio. We’re not sure why this is included to be honest. It doesn’t seem to integrate into the main app at all, or be of any particular relevance to what Curio is all about as a concept. So we find it a bit odd that it’s there… The Dossier appears to be simply be list of pre-written forms for common tasks like writing a lesson plan, applying for a grant, writing an assignment and so on. Once you fill in the boxes for each form item, nothing else that happens. You don’t seem to be able to integrate them into your ideas space, or transform it in any visual way. We’re just not sure it’s of much use to Curio to be honest, and we’re a little bemused with it.

In conclusion

There are a whole raft of features and beauties that we’ve not been able to cover in this review… So, the best way to find out why we gave Curio the honour of our Gold Award, is by trying it out. Details of how to get hold of a full 60 days extended trial can be found below. Use it, and we’re pretty sure you’ll be sold on it… just as we were. If you’re not yet convinced enough to install the trail software, then, we recommend viewing the overview screencast / demo of Curio in action… More screencasts and tutorials are available on the Curio website.

Todays Top Tech Gold Award

We’ve decided to give Curio the highest possible award; the much coveted GOLD AWARD. Sometimes awarding 5 out of 5 T’s just isn’t enough, which is why we created the ‘Gold Award’, for those extra special products that we feel should be celebrated and receive recognition. Congratulations to the Zengobi team!!

Today’s Top Tech Review Our overall rating:   5/5

What we liked…

  • Great tool for thoughts, ideas, information on your Mac
  • Freedom to display and record your information in a layout that suits you
  • So many features, so EASY to use
  • Stands head and shoulders above other software in this arena
What we weren’t so keen on…
  • Auto-layout of mind-maps needs a disable button
  • Had a couple of crashes during several months heavy use
  • Evernote integration could do with some tweaks perhaps

Vital info

Software: Curio 6.4
Supplier: Zengobi
Website: http://www.zengobi.com/products/curio/
Price: ** NOTE: Zengobi have just announced a special 20% off deal for our lucky readers.. go here to find out more! **
Standard $99, Pro $149, Academic discounts available

Extended Free Trial:Zengobi are sure you’ll love their software once you’ve used it for a couple of months, hence they offer you a full 60 day trial!! Simply go to the website (above), download the trial, and then register for their full 60 days extended trial. A special license key will be emailed to you for free.

Self-confessed tech and gadget geek. Love all kinds of tech, but especially that which helps me work more effectively, and looks / feels good to use.

VIsit Jon Smith's website

2 Comments

Leave a Reply





Todays Top Tech Advertise your software / tech here! read more
View in: Mobile | Standard