I’ve talked an awful lot about using Anki on this site, but to date I haven’t said why (or even if) it’s better than the competition. In my opinion, it’s the things each program doesn’t do which makes each of them inferior to Anki, and so that’s going to be the focus of this review.
Supermemo has an interesting feature it calls incremental reading, wherein you can easily pick out information and sentences from websites (without lots of tedious copying and pasting) and I prefer its image handling and default screen layout to Anki’s. The dealer-breaker for Supermemo is the OSs it doesn’t run on. There’s no native support for Linux or Macs, and even getting it running on Vista (or presumably Windows 7) is difficult. The retention algorithm has also come under fire for being over-complicated to the point where it no longer works, although I haven’t used the program for long enough to test this. The program also costs money; the most recent incarnation is a steep $45.
Mnemosyne beats Supermemo in both the OS and price stakes – it runs on Windows, Linux and Macs quite happily, and is free to download and use. It also has a useful how-to-use it shows you the very first time you run the program, which explains all its features – this is something Anki lacks and could do with. Personally I dislike the tiny window it appears in when you start it up each time, the lack of graphs and the weak card browser – check out some screenshots here to see what it looks like. It’s otherwise a reasonably good alternative to Anki since it includes sound, image and LaTeX support, although purposefully hiding away configuration options in a text file loses it points.
Free. Cross-platform. Powerful options for configuring and manipulating cards. I’d point to the single best feature of Anki as its fact model – this lets you create as many card-types as you like from a single set of information (for example, to train listening, reading and writing with minimum time spent inputting information). To the best of my knowledge, this is not provided by the other programs. Anki has an extensive selections of pre-made decks and plugins to suit most tastes. Other plus-points go to the great community and super-responsive author (who incidentally does feature requests, if there’s a feature you want and you’d like to support him).
So there you have it – that’s broadly why I’d recommend Anki over the other two programs. I actually tried Mnemosyne first but felt it was too basic; I trialled a version of Supermemo and disliked its over-the-top clunkiness. Anki sits in the Goldilocks region of simultaneously having functionality and easy-of-use.
Things I’d like to see for the future (for all three)? Prettiness. No, really. Canonical (who release Ubuntu, a superior alternative to MS Windows) have twigged recently that something open-sourcerers need to get right is appearance. A subtly textured background for reviews, for example, would make any of the above applications it look super-swish. Rounded edges and more colourful icons would be a treat too. Little things, y’know?