Review: Bento for iPad

A customizable general-purpose database program. (April 27th, 2010)

Bento for iPad ships with 25 predefined database templates and three themes. It supports 15 different data types and templates are easy to customize. It also supports syncing your iPad databases with a Mac running Bento 3.

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Product Manufacturer: Filemaker, Inc.

Price: $4.99 US

The Good

  • Easy to use.
    Powerful.
    Flexible.
    Inexpensive.
    Synchronizes with Bento 3 on the Mac.

The Bad

  • Limited layout options.
    Data syncing only works over Wi-Fi; no remote syncing.
    Some data types cannot be created on the iPad.

There are many special purpose database products in the iPad app market, each addressing a particular niche, such as to-do lists, asset tracking, and inventory management. The newest member of the Bento family of personal database products from FileMaker, Bento for iPad, gives you a general-purpose database program. You decide how to organize and structure the data, instead of being restricted by the developer's program design. Bento can handle each of the above tasks and more.

Sample Database

Bento for iPad Sample Database


Bento for iPad ships with 25 predefined database templates, such as Home Inventory, Expenses, To Do Items, Recipes, Exercise Log, and Time Billing. You can use the templates as designed or customize them for your particular needs. For example, I modified the Exercise Log template to keep track of when I exercised, not often enough, sadly. You can add and delete fields, and choose a theme for the background of your layout. Bento ships with three themes: Clipboard, Notebook, and Black glass. It would be nice to define your own themes, but I didn't find any way to do that.

Change Theme

Change Theme Menu - Upper Left


It is easy to create your own database. You just drag out a field on a page, and tell Bento what kind of data you want it to hold. Bento supports 15 different types of data. Some simple fields (text, number, checkbox, date, and time), some with a small amount of checking and/or processing (currency, rating, choice, duration, choice, phone, email, URL, instant messaging handle), and three complicated field types (address and media). By default, Bento for iPad adds "date created" and "date last modified" fields to your layout, but you can remove them from the layout. You can also create fields that exist in the database, but hide them in the layout. The hidden fields appear in the black bar at the top.

Simple Fields

Example of Simple Fields


Text, number, date and time fields store what you expect, and a Choice field stores an on or off value for a pre-defined value list. Bento uses the standard input methods to enter these data types; you tap on a date field to bring up a date picker, which includes the three wheels for month, day and year. When you tap on a number field, a numeric keyboard appears. A tap on the checkbox field toggles the checkbox on and off.

Sample Fields

Exercise Log


The Currency field lets you select the currency that you use as well as the amount. You set the type of currency when you create the database, and it is the same for all records in the database. A Rating field uses the familiar 1 to 5 stars for display and data entry. A Choice field lets you pick from a series of pre-defined values, that you set up when you create the database. Duration is the time between two events, and you enter it in a shorthand manner; 2h for two hours or 3d for three days. Bento for iPad silently rejects formatting errors in duration fields, which can be frustrating. Phone numbers, email addresses, URLs, and instant message handles include code to ensure that they are formatted correctly. Bento adds controls to help you use them easily; the small envelope lets you send mail and the box with an arrow shows you a web page. In both cases, the actions are handled inside of Bento, rather than launching a separate application. If you have more than one email account set up, Bento chooses the first one by default, but you can select any of them to send mail.

Sample Fields

Field Types

Address fields contain a full address, with street address, city, state, zip code, and country, plus a control you tap to launch the Maps application that shows you the location. Media fields can hold a picture, a movie, or a sound file, and have controls so you can import them from your iPhoto library and show them full-screen. Movies and sounds, however, must be loaded onto your Mac, and synchronized to the iPad; there are no provisions for adding them on the iPad.

Media Field

Media Field

Bento 3 for the Mac supports more field types than Bento for iPad. The most important one are calculated fields, which you cannot create or edit on the iPad. You must create calculated fields on the Mac and sync them to your iPad.

Layout Restrictions

While Bento for iPad gives you many options for the type of data that can put into your database, it doesn't give you much flexibility in laying out your forms. Each data type has a fixed size. For example, you cannot set up two text fields, one that shows 5 lines of text and another that shows just one. Also, every field takes up the full width of the form, so you cannot put two fields horizontally side by side. Text fields can show either a single line of text or the complete contents of the field; but you cannot set that up at database creation. You must choose how much to show when you enter data.

Address Book Integration

One of the features that shine in Bento for the iPad is integration with the Contacts application. When you enter an address, Bento automatically populates the database from the iPad's address book. This makes it easy to create a database that is an extension of the Contacts data and allows you to keep extra information associated with any of the people in your address book.

Sample Address Database

Sample Address Database

Synch Restrictions

Bento for iPad supports syncing your databases with a desktop machine running Bento 3 for Mac. However, this facility has significant limitations. You can only sync over Wi-Fi, and the iPad and the Mac have to be on the same network subnet. This means that if you are out and about and want to push the data that you put into Bento for iPad back to the office, you cannot just pop into your local Wi-Fi hotspot and sync. Nor can you do this with the 3G equipped iPads that will ship at the end of April. This is unfortunate, because I think that iPad with Bento would make a nifty data entry device for small groups, but this makes it much less useful.

Template Exchange

Bento for iPad is part of an existing family of products, so you can download templates from the Bento Template Exchange, a free service provided by Filemaker. You can also upload your own templates to share with other Bento users. When I checked, there were almost 600 Bento templates available for download.

You can purchase Bento for iPad from the iTunes store for $4.99. If you have a specific task in mind, you may be able to find a tailored program for that task, but if you need a general-purpose database that you can customize, then Bento is a good choice.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Marshall Clow


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