FileMaker Bento for iPad
Bento is a powerful tool that you can use to create lists on your Mac, iPad or iPhone. We tested the iPad version over a month in the PC World offices.
Harley Ogier | Thursday, August 04 2011
Product type: Personal database software
RRP incl GST: $6.50
- Ties in with iPad Contacts
- Useful pre-made templates
- Easy to create new ‘libraries’ of information
- Let down by the inability to summarise information
An excellent personal organisation tool, lacking some elements I’d expect.
Bento is a powerful tool that you can use to create lists on your Mac, iPad or iPhone. I tested the iPad version because if there’s one thing that makes lists more useful, it’s portability. If you write your shopping list on a whiteboard in the kitchen and have to transcribe it into a little notepad every week, you’ll know this as well as I do.
On the tech side, Bento was whittled down from small-business database product FileMaker. However, it bears about as much resemblance to most database products as it does to its delicious Japanese namesake. If you want to design and use full relational databases, there are PC, Mac and iPad versions of FileMaker. If you just want to organise your life quick smart, Bento offers you a convenient and delicious pre-packaged alternative with none of the fuss.
The app revolves around ‘libraries’ (those familiar with databases will know these as ‘tables’). Each library is a list of... well, anything you want. When you first install the app you’ll get pre-made libraries for ‘To Do Items’, ‘Projects’, ‘Inventory’, ‘Notes’, ‘Expenses’ and ‘Recipes’. You can either use these as-is, delete any you don’t want, or customise them to suit your needs. There’s also a special ‘Address Book’ library, which gives you access to all your iPad or iPhone contacts.
The pre-made libraries look very slick and fit their assigned roles well – each could really be an app of its own. Even if a few of those pre-built functions are all you want, they make Bento worth it.
Need something else? Templates are included for a total of 25 libraries, ranging from time tracking and project management to home inventories and exercise logging. There are eight visual themes available for your libraries, most that mimic clipboards, notebooks and other things you’d write lists on.
The real power of Bento, however, is not what you get out of the box. Instead, it’s what you can put together yourself.
With very little work, you can create forms to input whatever information you want – whether Bento has a template for it or not. Plain text, drop-down lists of options, checkboxes, voice memos, photos you can add from the iPad’s gallery or camera, addresses, web links, whatever you want to capture, Bento can probably handle it.
In testing, I created a list of games the PC World team has played – currently sitting at 160 titles, but we know we’ve forgotten dozens, maybe hundreds more. To get the most out of the list, I used Bento’s ability to link related information between libraries: in my case, the Address Book. Bento now shows, for each person I know, which games they’ve played. It also shows, for each game, who’s played it. Nifty? Totally.
Getting people to add the games they’ve played to the list was easy, requiring minimal help. Those already familiar with the iPad or iPhone were particularly quick learners: most requiring no instruction at all.
I was disappointed by Bento’s lack of one expected feature: the ability to summarise information in lists. I’m not talking about anything too complicated: I’d just like the total number of games our Staff Writer Siobhan has played (far more than me), or the total value of all the items in my home inventory. As it stands, you can’t do sums, counts, or averages: three of the reasons people use Excel so often for basic list-making.
Bento takes a great leap toward letting you collect information on your mobile device, your way. Sadly, it stops short of those summary features that many users would find useful, but it’s an excellent organisational tool nonetheless.
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