Review: Bento 4 for Mac

Organize your personal or small business life with Bento 4. (July 25th, 2011)

An easy to use database solution that any Mac user can adopt to organize whatever information they need.

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Filemaker, Inc.

Price: $49 US $29.00 upgrade

The Good

  • Simple and intuitive to use.
  • Auto populates with iCal Address Book and Mail.
  • Easy to use templates.
  • Template Exchange is a great resource.
  • Changes made in Bento sync to the original apps.
  • iPhoto library integration.
  • Maps integration.

The Bad

  • Still no iLife media browser.
  • Label printing is not intuitive.
  • Cannot resize screen to small size.

The fundamental question most people might ask about a database application is why do I need one at home? The next question most people ask is what would I possibly do with one if I had one? Logically, you might then ask why would I want to pay for something like that?

The answers depend on how you organize your life. If you want to get a handle on your personal finances, have an inventory of all your personal possessions, or combine your work and home projects into one overview, then Bento 4 for Mac could be just what you need. It will start you on the path to putting your home life in order.

If you are like me, I apply myself much more to my work life than I do my home life. Consequently, at the office, my work files are super organized, my project list and to-do lists are constantly monitored and updated. I can hardly say the same about the way I organize my home life. The simple fact of the matter is that it isn't organized. Tax receipts are stuffed into a box, which gets emptied at tax time. Worse, if the family house burnt down tomorrow, I would have no idea about what had been lost and what exactly we would able to claim on insurance.

For home and personal life organization, Bento 4 for Mac is the perfect solution to these self-created dilemmas. In fact, Bento 4 for Mac could not have fallen into my hands at a more opportune time. My family is taking a fundamental stock take of our lives, and Bento 4 is the tool that can help me the best.

Database Made Easy

One of the beauties of Bento 4 for Mac is that you don't need to understand the nitty gritty on how to set up forms and fields in a database. In fact, there are already thousands of templates that can be retained and modified as needed. Templates exist for shopping lists, bill trackers, meal planners, chore charts, iTunes digital media collections, TV and movie collections through to lesson planning, inventories and other more complex functions such as store audits.

Bento Template Exchange

The Bento Template Exchange has templates from a wide range of categories including, Arts and Photography, Business, Contacts and People, Cooking, Food and Wine, Education, and Finance. If you are not sure whether to purchase Bento 4 for Mac, I recommend that you visit the Bento Template Exchange to see how you can put it to good use.

Bento Template Exchange

Bento Template Exchange

To start my life reorganization plan, I chose the popular "Family Organizer" template, which looks perfect, so I downloaded it and was off and running. While browsing through the Template Exchange, it quickly became apparent to me just how versatile and useful is Bento 4 for Mac.

 Bento 4 Create New Library

Bento 4 Create New Library

The two tasks that I am most interested in are sorting the monthly bills and an inventory of all our worldly possessions. I am well into task one at the moment, and think Bento 4 is very handy to create an overview of my family's financial health. Not only does Bento 4 make it easy to add up bills, and see an overview of all our major monthly expenses, it makes it easy to customize forms as well. If there are fields in templates for which you have no use, or if you want to insert alternatives, you can delete unwanted fields. You also can add new fields, which is intuitive in Bento 4, because it adopts a WSYWIG approach. You simply highlight unwanted fields and press delete. To add a field, you drag and drop it on your template and arrange the fields the way you want them to appear. When you drop a photo on a form, it automatically creates the associated media field.

 Bento Bills Form

Bento Bills Form

The next on my to-do-list is to create an inventory of all the family's possessions. With Bento 4, I can put together a personal inventory, with prices and purchase dates (if I still have that information). I can also take a photo shot of each item and drag and drop it into the corresponding field within Bento 4.

 Bento Inventory Form

Bento Inventory Form

If you already have Excel files with your household inventory or other lists, you can also save them as text or .csv files and import the data into Bento. This allows you to organize that boring text data in a more pleasing graphic-based interface. Below is a screen shot of the easy to use Import dialog with an Excel press contact list file. Notice that you can create field types from a pop-up list prior to importing the data, plus you can choose to create a new Library or import into an existing one.

 Import Dialog Example

Import Dialog Example

The features outlined above just scratch the surface of what this powerful organizational tool can do for you. You will also find plenty of potential uses for it in your professional life.

Bento 4 brings several enhancements that I can use in my quest to organize my personal or business life. Among them is label printing, new form printing options, the ability to export templates to other users including the pre-populated data contained within, and smart collections (like smart playlists in iTunes). Label printing includes 250 Avery and Dymo label formats, which means you can print nametags for meetings, mailing labels, or labels for all those receipt boxes you have lying around.

Available Export Formats in Preferences

Available Export Formats in Preferences

The new integration of Google Maps is also very cool and I am sure you will find great and interesting ways to use the maps. People who need records kept while moving around in the field, like biology students and researchers, will find maps integration invaluable.

Composite Shot

iPhoto Photo in Bento with Location Pop-up and Google Maps-Composite

If I were able to use my Mac at work, Bento 4 would be the ideal way to keep both my personal and professional lives organized. As it stands, it has already helped me get on top of my personal finances and will help me better organize and file future purchases as they happen so that I always have an up-to-date inventory. As an added bonus, Bento 4 synchronizes data across the iPhone and iPad versions of the app that are available for download in the iTunes App Store. Changes made within Bento 4 to contacts, address and the calendar are now automatically synched back to the original apps.

I have no hesitation in recommending Bento 4 for Mac. The latest version is more intuitive than ever and works in the way Mac users expect their apps to work - smartly.

Bento 4 requires Mac OS X v10.5.7 Leopard or Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard and does not work with earlier versions of the Mac OS. Although I tested Bento in Snow Leopard, Bento 4.04 has been tested with OS X Lion and works fine. You can download a 30-day trial from the site.

Related Reviews

Bento 3 (2009)

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Sanjiv Sathiah


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