iPhone App Review – The Case For Mental Case

On December 6, 2008

There has never been a doubt in my mind that the iPhone than the iPod Touch had the potential to be superb educational tools. They just needed the right tool. Well, the right tool exists and it is amazing.

I’ve been meaning to write about Mental Case for some time now and the release of version 2 of the iPhone app definitely calls for a full review.  This update changes the entire application and its power and makes it nothing short of a "must have" for any student at any age!

There are two parts to Mental Case. There is a Mac application and an iPhone/iPod Touch application. They can work independently of one another but when used together are even more powerful.

We’ll look at both…

 The Mac Side

The Mac application is great for creating flashcards that have a query on one side and an answer on the other. You can enter text, drop an image, take a screen shot, or even snap a photo with your Mac’s iSight camera. The possibilities are limitless. They can then be synced to your iPhone and used anywhere.

The website notes that the Mac application can function as a dropbox for useful information that you might come across throughout the day. While I can certainly see how that would be useful, my preference has been, and continues to be, Evernote. The thing is- Mental Case doesn’t need this functionality to be worthwhile- it stands on its own regardless! 

The iPhone Side

The Mac app can be quite useful in its own right but the power of Mental Case is truly unleashed when used in conjunction with the iPhone an iPod touch application. It comes in two versions — a free lite version and premium version that brings a whole host of additional functionality (more on that in a moment).

At its simplest level, the iPhone application takes the various cards that you create and plays them in random order showing first the query and then the answer. You can advance cards manually with the tap of the screen or you can set it to move through the cards automatically one after the other. In all, it’s a powerful and effective way to learn. In addition, because you’re using the iPhone or the iPod touch it’s also a little more fun than it might otherwise be.

The lite version lets you take your study cards with you and use them whenever and wherever you want. It does not, however, allow you to create cards on the go or edit cards that already exists. That feature comes in the paid version. That alone, however, would likely not be enough for me to recommend paying for it.

There is, however, an additional advantage to the paid version and it’s a killer function — integration with Flashcard Exchange and its over 16 million flashcards.


The Flashcard Exchange functionality allows you to search the entire database at Flashcard Exchange.com and load new flash cards directly to your iPhone over the air. So while you CAN create your own flashcards, it is highly likely that, thanks to the paid app, you will never HAVE to take the time to create them.

Say, for example, you have an exam on  the American Revolution.

You go to the exchange, scroll down to the history category, type "American Revolution" into the search field and within seconds you have the option to download 472 flash cards for the AP US History Test. (It’s pretty impressive when you actually see it in action.) Or, for example,  perhaps you have an exam on US states and capitals. You can go to the geography category and within seconds have downloaded flash cards for each of the 50 US states and their capitals. The list goes on and on and on.



The developer points out —

Mental Case is more than just a flash card application — it also incorporates advanced learning features. It takes your mental notes and sends them to you in the form of an automated lesson. You don’t have to manage the lesson yourself, mental case does it for you. The algorithm that mental case uses to schedule notes is based on a technique called spaced repetition. This has been shown scientifically to be an efficient way to study, giving the most memory recall for the amount of time spent studying. Notes are scheduled at longer and longer intervals until the schedule is completed: for example, notes may first appear in the lesson after 24 hours, than three days after that, and seven days after that, and so forth.

Clearly, a tremendous amount of thought has gone into both the application itself and the ways in which it can enhance the learning process. I certainly wish that I’d had such a tool available to me a few years ago when I went back to pursue an additional masters degree. Here I was at least 15 years older than all of my fellow classmates and not having been in a classroom in a number of years having to memorize all sorts of details for a course on research methodology. I ended up hand scribbling hundreds upon hundreds of flash cards and then sorting and reshuffling them before each and every test.

In addition, there are excellent features such as the ability to sync flash cards from your Mac to your iPhone and from your iPhone back to your Mac. You can reverse the flash cards so that the answers are given first thing you need to provide the query and you can shuffle the slides randomly, as well. On the iPhone and the iPod Touch you can look at notes in both landscape and portrait. And when set to automatically move through the flash cards, you can sit back while the iPhone shows you question and answer after question and answer.

In all, Mental Case is an incredibly well conceived product that turns the iPhone into a truly powerful study it. The application is polished, easy-to-use, and as stable as any application I’ve seen. The sync functionality is flawless and I’ve yet to run into any problem on either the Mac side or the iPhone side.

In all, this is a killer educaitonal application for the iPhone.

Mental Case Lite is available HERE in the App Store.

Mental Case 2.0 for iPhone/iPod Touch is available for $7.99 HERE in the App Store.

The desktop application can be purchased directly from MacCoreMac HERE. It costs $25 but is just $15 for students.