Bento 1.1.3

Jeffery Battersby
20 April, 2011
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App Guide

Bento 1.1.3 for iOS, the pocket-sized database app for your pocket-sized iOS device, or the book-sized database app for your iPad, offers a number of new features that make it a worthwhile addition to your iOS utility belt, but it still doesn’t offer up enough of what it should to make it your one-and-only personal database application.

Like earlier versions of the iOS app, you’ll still need Bento for Mac to make this app great.

As with earlier versions of this app, Bento ships in two distinct iOS version, one for your iPad, and another for you iPhone or iPod touch. While both of these apps offer roughly the same feature set, not surprisingly, the way you interact with each of these apps differs significantly depending on what device you’re using.

Both Bento apps work in much the same way as their earlier version. Each ships with 25 templates (the same set of templates for both versions) for anything from vehicle maintenance and diet logs to time billing and expense databases. It’s easy to create and edit new “collections” (the Bento term used to describe a database) and data entry is easy as well, but you’ll find that once you start using the iPad version of the app its hard to go back to the smaller more austere looking iPhone and iPod touch versions.

A new and intriguing feature is the addition of audio recording to media fields. Using this field you can capture about 40 minutes of audio, which can then be played back from the Bento database as well.

One of the most useful new fields types, which was introduced in Bento 4 for the Mac, is a location data field that uses the GPS or Wi-Fi in your iOS device to record where you are. Double-tap a location data field and the app displays a map, where you can drop a pin on your current location. This is a great feature that will be especially useful for anyone who does fieldwork (such as surveyors or real estate agents) and wants to capture specific location information on where they are and what they’re looking at.

Also new to Bento 1.1.3 is the option to create related data fields right on the device. There is also support for Bento’s new Simple Lists fields.

While there is much to like about both these new Bento apps, the more I used them, the more I felt that they were too limited. For example, the app only provides minimal support for AirPrint—you can only print PDF files stored in media fields. Another example: It’s easy to capture photos and audio in the media fields, there’s no way to capture video using your iOS device’s built-in video camera. I also found that, while it was possible to enter data into the app using my Bluetooth keyboard, I had to use my fingers to move from field to field because Bento treated my Tab key as an actual text tab. I was also surprised to find that, while Bento supports the desktop version’s calculated fields, I was unable to create those fields using the app itself. So, what this means for most users is that in order to get the most benefit from the iOS versions of Bento, you’ll also need to have a copy of Bento on your Mac.

Finally, I came across what I consider to be one rather egregious issue with the app as it relates to Bento on the Mac. After what I’ll admit was a rather stupid error on my part, I had to delete and re-install the Bento application on my Mac. I synced the data with my iPad to make sure that I could get that data back after the reinstall, but what I discovered was that, in order to relink and sync my iOS devices with my fresh install of Bento, I had to delete the data on my iOS device. While the data on my devices was of no significant value, for many users this could really be a deal breaker.

Overall I really like both Bento apps, but I’m disappointed that they don’t quite go far enough. Bento could and should be the best standalone database for your iOS device, unfortunately you still need a Mac to make it truly great.

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