Simple List fields display totals Against Some integration unconvincing Structure not suited to all tasks Databases can quickly get technical. You end up juggling lists, queries, forms and tables, and before you know it you've turned into a part-time software developer, when all you wanted was to store information. Bento turns all this on its head. It comes from FileMaker, which also makes the fearsomely powerful FileMaker Pro database tool, but whereas FileMaker Pro can do anything at all, provided you can figure out how to do it, Bento is stripped-down simplicity, a database tool aimed at the app generation.
All the regular database fixtures are there, but working subtly in the background. You can create lots of different databases for different jobs, such as to-do lists, personal inventories or exercise plans. And if you can't find a ready-made template from those supplied, you can go on FileMaker's Template Exchange and download hundreds more. Libraries And instead of storing your databases as separate files within the Finder, Bento calls them 'Libraries' and displays them all in its source bar.
Each Library is built like a conventional database, out of records and fields. You can view your records as a table, using a form view or as a grid, which displays thumbnail images of each record. You can create different form views, depending on how you want to display or print your data, and this is one of the big improvements in Bento 4 — there's more flexibility in the printing options, so you can print neat-looking label runs for mail-outs, say, or much more professional-looking invoice forms without messy-looking field labels.
List view is where you sort, search and analyse your data. You can save your searches as Smart Collections in the source bar, or create regular Collections and add records manually. You get all the field types you'd expect from a regular database too, including dates, numbers, text and calculations, and one you might not, called 'Simple List'.
This displays a spreadsheet-style grid within the field, and is ideal for lists of items that don't deserve whole fields to themselves. In Bento 4, this has been enhanced so that you can add a total row to the bottom, too. Poor relation Bento also does relational links, after a fashion, but this is where the heavyweight hands-on approach of bigger brother FileMaker Pro could prove a better long-term solution. Although many of Bento's templates are designed for business use, they're very much at the lightweight end of the market — ideal for individuals and small workgroups, but a long way from the bespoke applications that bigger companies are likely to need.
And although Bento has Address Book, iCal Tasks and Events Libraries and can even display your iPhoto library contents, there's an uneasy crossover in that it's a slightly messier way of managing data that the standard Mac OS X apps manage perfectly well — though it does enable you to combine this data with your own fields and Libraries.
In the end, Bento is still a database tool. It's fine for data that conforms to a specific format each time, and which you need to search, categorise, summarise and analyse, but for more freeform data storage of random text, web pages or images, the tag-based structure of a data manager like Yojimbo is going to work better. Bento can feel like an old concept trying too hard to be new, but what it does, it does brilliantly.
It's the database tool for people who don't like databases, making them as simple to use as they are ever likely to get. Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter: No spam, we promise. You can unsubscribe at any time and we'll never share your details without your permission.
Are any applications as versatile as Bento available to take over its role? And is there an easy way to transfer your data from Bento to one of those other apps?
Though some critics of Bento felt that the app was too inflexible and that it put a straitjacket on database creation, it was a slick database app that enabled users to create nice-looking relational databases without requiring much more than an interest in organizing your personal data.
Turns out, finding a capable replacement is a pretty tall order. Tap Forms lacks the customization tools that some power users may want, but it offers a lot of prefab databases, plus iCloud support and data encryption.
Importing existing Bento data Which of these apps gives you the best options for importing your existing Bento data? The short and unsurprising answer is FileMaker Pro. Bento has no problem exporting data in a CSV format, but, since CSV files are text files, they can contain only text data. If you have any images stored in your Bento database, they will not show up in your new database. With more than 25 choices, Tap Forms offers twice as many templates as any of the other apps.
These templates are by no means beautiful, but they do supply forms containing a number of useful fields that may give you a starting point for creating new forms of your own. If your needs are basic, iDatabase offers a good way of creating personalized databases and collecting the information you want. For its part, iDatabase offers a collection of very basic but colorful templates that offer a good foundation for creating something a bit more sophisticated. Labels It took Bento a while to climb aboard the label-printing train, but when this feature finally appeared, Bento made simple work of creating all kinds of labels.
With the exception of FileMaker Pro, none of the would-be successor apps to Bento offer anything in the way of label printing.
The app ships with dozens of prefab templates, but you can also create and save custom label templates for any kind of label you might find. Relational database capabilities For all its basicness, Bento offered some very good tools for creating relational databases.
You can create a database in Symphytum, but the app doesn't do enough to let you make practical use of the entered data. Tap Forms offers something quite similar to what Bento did.
But using FileMaker Pro to create your own relationships between files is much harder than doing the same thing with Tap Forms or Bento. FileMaker Pro allows you to customize in almost any way you can imagine.
The form creation tool can be a challenge to master; but once you become proficient, it gives you an incredible amount of form creation freedom. FileMaker Inc. Bottom line Regrettably, no personal database app completely replaces Bento. Though the basic apps—and Tap Forms, in particular—offer some of the tools you may have grown to love in Bento, none of them rise to the same level of simplicity and capability that Bento did. But FileMaker Pro is not designed with simplicity in mind.
So while it offers more than any of the other apps do, it may also be considerably more than you want or need. When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
At a Glance.