Review: Mental Case

Published on Thursday, June 12, 2008 in , , ,

Mental CaseMost of the flashcard programs I've reviewed have been freeware programs. The flashcard program I'm reviewing today, Mental Case, however, is a commercial program with a free trial version available.

As many of you know, my choice has been Ebbinghaus. The improvements that were discussed for version 2.0 sounded good, but this promised upgrade never arrived, and the blog for it has disappeared, so I'm guessing work on it has stopped.

I'll start with the basic details. Like Ebbinghaus, Mental Case is only available for Mac OS X (10.4 or greater required). Normally, the full version goes for $39, but in honor of the program's first anniversary, it's available for only $19.50 until June 30th, 2008 (use coupon code CPN8024333798 when purchasing to get this discount). Other similarities to Ebbinghaus include an iTunes-like interface, drag-and-drop graphic functionality, the ability to set whether the questions and answers are interchangable, progress monitoring (via pie chart instead of progress bar), the ability to study and test yourself on the notes in an ordered or shuffled order, and the abilities to import and export libraries (called cases in Mental Case).

For the extra money, however, the basic capabilities are designed with a smoother and more intuitive feel. Compare Ebbinghaus' basic interface to that of Mental Case. The latter has a more minimalist, welcoming feel to it, yet still shows the cards (with an adjustable view), the progress, and even offers a section for loose, uncategorized notes.

The editing of individual cards is also smoother. Instead of being edited in an external window, Mental Case's notes are edited in the main window, and let you set things like viewing times and lesson schedules, beyond just the card itself.

The biggest difference, though, is in the quizzing mode itself. Compared to the straightforward quiz/study window of Ebbinghaus, Mental Case's quiz/study interface is light years beyond! The first thing you'll notice is that it's done on a semi-transparent layer, similar to that of OS X's own Dashboard technology, with transitions that take advantage of Core Animation technologies. If you're familiar with HTML, CSS, and/or JavaScript, you can even develop your own slide show themes!

The slide show controls themselves are thorough, yet simple, as well:

The 3 leftmost controls are standard navigational controls (previous, pause/play, and forward). The checkmark and X buttons are your way of letting Mental Case know whether you correctly answered a particular flashcard. It defaults to a green checkmark, but a simple click (or the even simpler TAB key) will switch it to a red X. You can also move the current mental note to the trash, restart a card's learning progress, or mark it as complete with the next three buttons. The large rightmost X button stops the quiz/study session.

Above and beyond using it as an organized series of lessons, it's great for remembering odds and ends. Check out the Mental Case screencast for yourself to get a fuller idea of the capabilities. When you first begin the program, you can even download free sample data that gives you an excellent lesson in the program's capabilities.

As a whole, this program really has an AJAX/Web 2.0 feel to it, and is very professional. It's definitely worth it's normal price of $39, and the anniversary price of $19.50 doubles the value you get for your money.

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