Bento 4 for iPad matures into a standalone data management tool
Bento 4 for iPad (I know, I know, if this is Bento 4, what happened to Bento 2 and 3?) is a significant update to what was already a useful and powerful personal database app for the iPad. A completely redesigned user interface makes it easier to create and add data to your databases, the app offers 40 Retina-ready themes and, best of all, you are no longer required to have a Mac version of Bento in order to create sophisticated databases. Bento 4 is a standalone iOS app that is just as capable of creating and managing collections of information as is its desktop counterpart.
With Bento, FileMaker has always dispensed with the language of databases and Bento 4 for iPad is no exception. In Bento, databases are called libraries, queries are called collections, and now Filemaker refers to any database you create using Bento 4 for iPad as an app. While this may prove frustrating to anyone with real database experience, it’s unlikely that anyone in Bento’s target audience will notice or care.
Bento ships with about 25 templates, including everything from exercise logs and recipe books to time billing and donation databases. Each of these templates can be used just as they are, or you can customize them to accomodate your specific needs. New to Bento 4 is a built-in link to Filemaker’s Bento Template Exchange, an online resource from which you can download user-designed templates and templates created by Filemaker. When you find a template you like, you can import that template directly into the app.
Whether you’re creating libraries from scratch or using one of Bento’s template’s, Bento 4 for iPad offers excellent new tools for creating new fields and adding them to your forms. Tap the form editor (a small pencil) while viewing any form and you will see a new column appear on the left-hand side of the screen with three headings: View Fields, New Fields, Add Objects. Tap View Fields and you’ll see a list of the fields available in the current library that don’t yet appear on the form. Tap New Fields and you’ll see a selection of all the field types you can add to your library. Tap Add Objects and you’ll see items that you can add to a form so that they will be the same for every record in your library. To add any one of these to your form all you have to do is drag it from the list on the left to the place on your form where you want it to appear.
The brilliance of this new design is immediately evident once you start adding fields to your library. Drag a new field onto a form and Bento will ask you to give it a name and, depending on the type of field you’ve added, change the options for that field type. No longer want a field on a form? All you have to do is drag it off the form and it will return to the list of fields available within the library. While I would still prefer layouts to be a little more freeform than they are at present, I found these new form and library creation tools to be better than both the previous version of the iOS app and the present version of the Mac app.
Once you’ve create your library Bento offers three options for viewing your data: Form, Table, or Split view, all of which can be presented in full screen mode, allowing you to use the entire iPad screen for viewing and editing your data.
While there is much to love about Bento 4 for iPad, there are still some changes and additions that the app needs to be something truly great. At the top of that list is printing. Sadly, there is still no way to print directly from your iPad. So, if you need to print the data in your libraries, you’re still going to need a Mac to get that job done.
Next, Bento’s syncing feature still deletes anything you’ve created on your iPad the first time you sync Bento 4 for iPad with your Mac. To make matters worse, you can only email yourself the data in your libraries, not the libraries themselves, so there’s no way to save the forms you’ve created before you wipe them out on that first sync. So, if you have any intention of syncing data between your Mac and your iOS device you need to make sure you sync before you start creating anything on the iPad.
Finally, while I really love the fact that you can now create calculation fields on the iPad app, I’m not in love with the app’s calculation editor. It uses non-standard editing tools so that it’s difficult to see where your cursor is while editing a calculation. There is no loupe and no other visual feedback until you take your finger off the iPad, which, until I learned how it worked, I found frustrating.
Macworld’s buying advice
Bento 4 for iPad is a significant improvement to what was already the best personal database app for the iPad. While I do have some quibbles, none are significant or insurmountable. Bento 4 for iPad is a great app for collecting and managing all your personal data.
[Jeffery Battersby is an Apple Certified Trainer, (very) smalltime actor, and regular contributor to Macworld. He writes about Macs and more at his blog, jeffbattersby.com.]