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Bento 3 aims to organize your personal life into tidy, neat compartments. Essentially a database application geared toward real-world situations, you can use the software to track expenses, compare vacation destinations, keep tabs on your company’s customers, curate car maintenance records, and otherwise organize nearly anything that concerns your personal life or small business. Bento deeply interfaces with Address Book and iCal and also connects to iPhoto, Mail, and other Mac mainstays. You can even share databases on a local network, like you might share iTunes or iPhoto libraries.
All of these features make Bento 3 brilliant for personal and small-group scenarios. A glossy, Mac-like interface cuts through some of the usual database-software pitfalls, and powerful features creep closer to sibling Filemaker Pro’s turf. Although a few tools and omissions disappoint, Bento maintains its reputation as “the database application for those who don’t do databases.”
Bento has always effectively connected with Address Book and iCal. For example, you can create or update contacts and appointments within Bento, and changes will be immediately reflected in Apple’s applications (although any extras you add to Address Book entries are only shown in Bento). And in this version 3 release, Bento adds iPhoto support, bringing your picture library into databases.
Bento 3 effectively organizes nearly anything without overwhelming its audience. Although it occasionally won't do quite what you want, the easy-to-use interface makes building databases (dare we say it?) enjoyable.
Chronicle your vacation by utilizing Bento's extended photo tagging.
Shutterbugs might choose to use Bento to create an image database. You can organize photos inside of Bento, creating new organizational hooks. Add additional text information, create pull-down menus with multiple choices, and otherwise customize your photo notes. You can’t update your iPhoto keywords, however. And because new details are only stored in Bento, you’ll still have to regularly return to iPhoto for day-to-day photo tasks.
You can also take advantage of Bento’s new iPhoto integration in other ways. Bento 3 allows browsing records in a thumbnail view. If you kept a database of eBay sales, for example, incorporating images of each item makes for quick browsing. If records have multiple photos--such as fabric swatches for a quilt--Bento previews each picture as you slide the mouse across the image. Bento can also snap pictures from a webcam, which helps structure simple catalogs. But captured images are mirrored, rather than horizontally flipped, making any text they contain appear backwards.
While we like Bento’s new media abilities, including options to preview movies, PDFs, and other documents, its power still comes from relating different bits of data. For example, suppose you’re building two databases to track the RSVP status of potluck party guests and their food choices. You could view the guest list area to see who’s bringing food, or you could view the food area to see which people are bringing dishes. You could update either list in either location. Plus, iTunes-style smart searches extend your organization--identifying people who are bringing entrées or desserts, for example.
Additions in this version of Bento bring it closer to Filemaker Pro. A Bento contact selection or search can initiate a group message in Mail. Up to five people can collaborate on, or just view, projects over a network (each person needs a copy of Bento). You can also encrypt parts of databases, such as a field for securely storing passwords.
But Bento falters in a few omissions. You can’t easily craft customized form emails, automatically changing simple parts of the text, such as a name, and blind-copying recipients. You can’t print out address labels from the contact database. And despite dozens of great templates and a library of user-generated options online, you can still face situations where Bento just can’t do what you want. For example, we wanted a household-purchase database to keep running totals based on each individual’s contributions, but couldn’t easily add records that only relate to one person. And we’re still a bit frustrated by the lack of a custom tab order to speed up data entry.