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April 6, 2013 • Reviews

Bento 4 for iPad iOS Review

As someone who is self-employed, I have a lot of things in my business life that I need to keep track of, and a database app like Bento 4 can help keep me sane. Is it something that could help you? Read on to decide.

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Bento 4 is effectively a database application for the everyman, and several on the Gear Diary team have also found it useful. Whether it’s keeping track of your DVD collection, exercise regime, or members of your kid’s baseball team, Bento will provide.

When you first start the Bento 4 app, you’ll be offered a selection of 24 preset database styles, as well as the option to create your own from scratch. Each one you create is called a “Library”, listed in a retractable panel on the left.

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All of the included preset forms in Bento 4 have clean and attractive designs, without being nearly as skeuomorphic ¬†as Apple’s current suite of apps.

The most impressive feature of Bento 4 is its ability to design your own libraries from scratch, while Bento 4 does all the database structuring in the background.

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One of the 24 standard forms

For my business, there are three particular ways I’ve found Bento 4 to be quite useful: Receipts, equipment details, and shot lists.

Creating a Library for receipts was easy, as there is already a template for such a database.

The standard template didn’t have everything I wanted, mainly the ability to snap a photo of the receipt.

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Pressing the pencil in the top right corner puts you into edit mode, where you can tweak the form to be exactly as you want it. Tapping and holding on elements on your form lets you move and resize them as well. Bento 4 offers 40 themes to choose from to further customise your forms, but unfortunately you can’t create your own.

Keeping track of shots on a shoot required a completely custom form. Often my car shoots are under time pressure, making it easy to forget a shot that may be needed in the edit. I need to be able to tick off each shot as I go, and do it quickly too.

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Wood dash for my car form, how appropriate.

Creating the form from scratch is similar to editing one, only you have a blank slate to begin with.

Dragging and dropping the required elements from the sidebar is quick and easy, as they snap into place and line themselves up neatly with other elements on your form. You can resize media drop points, text boxes, and create gaps between different items to smooth things out.

The only drag on usability is naming your elements. Each time you add an element to the form, it has a default name that has to be erased before you can type your own. This makes adding a lot of items (such as my list of check boxes) more tedious than it needs to be.

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Clicking the X deletes the name, but it’s an unnecessary step

Behind the scenes Bento 4 is taking care of the database side of things. For each element on the form you create, it will tie it into a database sheet.

The database behind the scenes holds everything together

The database behind the scenes holds everything together

There is a side-by-side view as well, most useful when jumping between records.

Side-by-side

Side-by-side

You can also create relationships between data. For example, I can connect receipts and expenses from the expenses library to the car shoot library.

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Click to enlarge

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Click to enlarge

Bento 4 for iOS is simple to use, and considering the power on offer, it really can help keep you organised.

Bento 4 for iOS can be purchased in the Apple App Store.

Price: $9.99

What I Like: Easy to use, quick to create powerful custom forms, relationships between databases.

What Needs Improvement: More style customisation, deleting default label names is annoying.

Source: Provided by Filemaker for this review

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