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We all constantly face organizational challenges: Do I have enough ingredients at home for this cake recipe? Which mechanic worked on my car last year? What’s the status of Project X? Bento is here to help with all those tiny details. You enter basic information, and the Bento database software manages the details. Bento excels at digitizing and corralling real-world concepts, but the best part is how it manages to make the somewhat-scary concept of a database downright user-friendly. It’s been Bento’s trademark since version one was released in 2008, and this fourth iteration continues FileMaker’s tradition of a database for the rest of us.
Like before, Bento interfaces with Address Book, iCal, and iPhoto, giving you a jump start to building databases. Thanks to Bento’s dozens of thoughtful templates—along with a robust community creating and sharing their own—you can focus on entering and using your data, instead of getting bogged down by database design. You can add more data in Bento on top of the information from those applications, such as contacts’ birthdays or checkboxes to track photos to print for family members, and later search and organize everything all at once.
This basic expense template can get you started, and you can deeply customize it with tools at the bottom.
Printing improvements headline Bento 4’s update. You can show and hide certain fields from libraries, creating cleaner layouts instead of just printing what’s onscreen. And label support now lets you pick from the most popular brands of precut labels—or manually input printable dimensions—to create great-looking address labels, badges, and other short-form results. Since it’s all driven by the database, you could create special mailings based on search criteria, such as sending a coupon only to customers who haven’t been to your business recently.
Other updates are only useful occasionally. A location-input field can keep track of your position; it works okay on a Wi-Fi laptop, but it’s best on a GPS-enabled iPhone or iPad running a Bento app ($4.99 each; the apps aren’t universal), which syncs with the desktop version Bento. And improved searching and sorting add new tricks, such as grouping all the things you have to do today.
While it’s still an exceptional organizational tool, Bento lacks a few features when compared to the Goliath of databases, FileMaker Pro. You can’t automatically, contextually replace the recipients’ names or other information for generating personalized letters or statements. And the iOS apps can’t connect to your live databases via the internet, but you can collaborate on live databases with up to five machines on a local network.
The bottom line. Bento 4 manages life’s basic data without feeling like a heavy, frustrating database. It’s got the bones of FileMaker Pro with a healthy dose of iLife’s style.
Mac OS 10.5.7 or later
Integrates with Address Book, iPhoto, and other apps, playing off data you already have. Syncs with iOS version of Bento. Now generates labels and improved print layouts. New sorting tools clarify complex situations.
Can’t create customized, automated letters and emails. Can’t (easily) share live database from an outside network, and iOS Bento can’t connect to live data.