It seems like just yesterday that I was demoing Bento 2 at our MacGroup meeting. As a long time FileMaker Pro user I can appreciate what goes into creating a great database. As a matter of fact early on in my career I was a consultant setting up databases for clients. Although those days have past, my need for a good database hasn't. I still use FileMaker Pro to manage the MacGroup member database and it's been working great for years. However, when it comes to my personal database needs FileMaker Pro is probably overkill. This is where Bento comes in. Bento is designed to be a great easy to use database for individuals and small organizations.
It's very visual! The templates are very easy on they eyes and designed well. This makes it inviting to jump right in and start using it.
It's template driven – In most cases you can find an existing template to get you started and still have the flexibility of modifying it to your needs
It's integrated – Bento can tap right into your Mac Address Book, iCal and now iPhoto to grab the content that's already there and make use of it in better ways. For example, some complain that the Address Book is not powerful enough. Maybe so, but with Bento's access to it you can grab all the data from your contacts and use it any way you want. So Bento then becomes your database and Address Book is still there for basic contact management.
What's New in 3.0?
A Lot! I was floored by the number of new features. This is definitely a major upgrade. Bento 3 now has:
- iPhoto integration – this allows you to access all of the photos in your library and albums to include in your Bento libraries
- Grid View – no longer are you limited to either a list or form view. The Grid view allows you to see a grid of images and/or thumbnails which would be handy for an image intensive Library
- Related data field now with image thumbnails – The fact that this product has any relational database capabilities at all floors me. However it does and now they are enhanced with image thumbnails. So when you tie two libraries together, you can do it graphically.
- Image Thumbnails Everywhere – You can also see your image thumbnails in List view and in the Table view
- A New Table Field – Now your layout can include a Table list of data. This is really handy for consolidating the view of the record. For example, you can have your son's baseball team with each player being the main record, and their stats in the new list field.
- Image Box – to have the same image, such as a logo on all of your records – duh! Glad this is here now 🙂
- Security – Hooray – Now you can you can password protect your Libraries. Great when one of them happens to be a holiday shopping list 🙂
- Multi-user sharing – This is a biggie! No longer are the Libraries just tied to your Mac. You can share them with other Bento users on your local network. You can pick and choose which ones to share and of course with a password.
- Group Emailing – This now makes it easy to select multiple email addresses in your database (library) and with one click compose a new email message addressed to all of the selected contact.
- Copy Forms and Print Blank forms – If you've designed the perfect form in one library you can now copy and paste it into another library to keep consistency. Also if you want to print out blank forms to be filled out "gasp" by hand, you can.
- 10 New Templates – you can never have to many templates to choose from. Bento 3 gives you 10 new ones including: vacation planner, health record, job search (how relevant in these times!), house search, wine collection, home maintenance, party planner, TV & Movie catalog, user names and passwords (this is great now that the library itself can be password protected) and meeting notes (a great one to sync up with the Bento iPhone app)
All this new stuff and the price is still only $50!
Using Bento 3
As far as using bento is concerned it's as easy as always. The new features blend right in beautifully. The power of Bento 3 is that you're using a database without the complexity of using a database.
Have an iPhone or iPod touch?
If you're a Bento user and you have an iPhone or iPod touch and you want to take your Bento files with you, there's an app for that! There's a Bento App on the App Store that will either work as a stand alone app mimicing a lot of what's in the desktop app or syncing your databases to take them with you. You can read my Bento iPhone App review here and you can get Bento from the App Store here:
The Bottom Line
Bento is a great solution for your individual database needs without the complexity or learning curve of FileMaker Pro. Now with Bento 3's features it becomes an even stronger product and I would be hard pressed not to recommend it to my Mac friends who didn't need the power of FileMaker Pro. What makes it even sweeter is the price! Bento 3 retails for only $50. You can get it here on sale. There is also a Family Pack available here.
UPDATE! Bento 1 and Bento 2 users can upgrade to Bento 3 for only $29 until Jan. 28. (Also $20 off for upgrading Bento Family Pack.) Upgrade purchases can be done here.
Find out more about Bento here on their site.