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Review: Bento for iPad

June 26, 2010

The Overview

In our crazy, hectic world, it seems that everyone is looking for that all in one application that can help them manage their day to day lives.  A simple search in iTunes will turn up dozens of such offerings from Calendars to Contacts to applications to create To Do Lists or manage Projects and Events.  Many titles claim to be that do it all Swiss pocket knife application in an ever growing field of choices.  Bento for iPad is one of those taking a shot of actually delivering.

The software company FileMaker, creators of the program Bento 3 for Mac (along with an iPhone version) have now ported over their product into an iPad native application made exclusively to take advantage of the larger and more luxurious screen.  What's my take on this newest version?  Well, you're about to find out.

The Features

Bento for iPad's description reads, "organize all the details of your busy life in one iPad app!"  It comes ready to use with 25 database templates for To Do Lists, Projects, Libraries, Recipes, Inventories, Notes, Contacts and so on.  In addition, it allows you to edit the date fields and change them according to the information you want to include or exclude.  With a recent upgrade it comes preloaded with 8 themes (up from 5) and 3 different backgrounds to be used with your databases.  Rotating the iPad screen can allow for different orientations and split screens as you'd expect from most applications today.  Bento for iPad will also allow you to incorporate your photos and videos.  Swiping and flicking gestures take advantage of the touch screen and can show more details in your individual records depending on what you do.  In addition, according to FileMaker, if you currently use Bento on your Mac you can sync your data between the two systems.

The Breakdown

The Good

Bento is very clean and simple and looks good on the increased screen size of the iPad.  It can be used as a stand alone program and you don't need the iPhone version or Mac version to make it work.  However, if you do use Bento 3 for Mac it will allow you to transfer many of your records back and forth between them.

After downloading, I opened the applications for the first time and it had automatically ported over my existing contacts already on my iPad and put it into their version of a virtual address book.  The layout is easy to read and manipulate and you can flip the page like a book with a finger swipe.

In addition, you can create any number of databases using the 25 pre designed  templates they include and then with themes and backgrounds customize to your taste.  There are several examples already loaded into the program when you open it for the first time giving you a feeling of what's available.  There is also a simple help section provided to give you some directions if you aren't familiar with these types of programs or don't feel like figuring it out on your own.

All of the templates can be manipulated to add or delete data fields, photos, or any number of other things you may or may not want.  Unlike many other applications, the field choices you don't want and delete will disappear from the database and thus from the screen.  This makes it a much cleaner setup based on your own tastes and needs.  In other words, you won't have a bunch of empty, unused, or unwanted fields cluttering up the screen if you don't need them like so many other programs.  Only what you select shows up and that is very nice indeed.

The Bad

The number of themes and backgrounds is a little thin and doesn't allow you to incorporate your own photo's as a background or them for example.  Not a big deal, but a limitation in a world that seems to love customization.  Other than my contacts, nothing else I had on my iPad ported over, nor do I know that anything was suppose to but it was just an observation.

After using Bento for iPad for several hours, opening and closing, creating and manipulating, I felt like something was missing.  I went to the help section and searched and it finally dawned on me that there was no calendar function!  The Bento for iPad icon gives you the impression there is some sort of calendar feature but there is no support of any kind that I can locate for using the iPad's built in calendar along with this version of the program.  A calendar/alert feature (even built into the application) would certainly be critical to tracking important projects, dates, and task databases you might create.  Otherwise, you are left to your own means to manage all of your time sensitive data.  Having no way to set an alert or reminder seems a little misplaced on application of this type and is a major omission in this reviewers opinion.

As a side note, although this review is for the iPad version, I thought I should point something out to those already using Bento 3 on a Mac.  Although Bento 3 does support iCal, it is not supported on the iPad.  Nothing you have in iCal will transfer to the program on your iPad.  I would think this could cause a lot of frustration for some users and you might want to know this before deciding if the iPad version will work for them.

Currently, Bento for iPad comes with English only templates.  Another strange thing considering their Mac version supports multiple languages.  Again, something to consider before buying if you are a non-English version user of the iPad or are already using Bento 3 on a Mac in one of the other currently supported languages.

I haven't used Bento 3 for Mac, but felt it important to touch on the subject briefly.  According to FileMaker, Bento 3 and Bento for iPad will allow you to sync data between them preventing your from having to recreate some of you databases.  There are some limitations.  FileMaker does caution that depending on the amount of data in Bento on your Mac, it may not all fit on your iPad.  In other words, if you have 20GB worth of databases in Bento on your Mac, it obviously won't all fit onto a 16GB iPad.   There are also certain features on the Mac that aren't included in the iPad version.   If you use Bento 3 for Mac and want to use it on your iPad I highly suggest you read their website for a better understanding of all of the features and what will, and will not work.

Lastly, if you use Bento on a Mac and wish to sync your data with an iPad, you must have a Wi-Fi setup to do so.  No cable connection is supported.  No Wi-Fi = no sync ability.

The Verdict

It is important to remember that this review is based on using Bento solely as an iPad offering and I can't honestly speak for the viability of it across all three Apple platforms.  That being said, after using the iPad version of Bento for a few days, I am simply left scratching my head.  For $4.99 I am not sure what it is really trying to be.  After seeing the icon and reading the app description, I was thinking more along the lines of an iPad daily planner where I could put all of my contacts, calendars, to do lists, notes, projects and events in one place and easily track them.  However, FileMaker appears to believe that simply creating databases of your DVD collection, favorite recipes, books, or contacts without a way to track it on a calendar will help you stay organized.  Sadly, somehow I've managed to miss their boat.

In the end, there is nothing really bad about Bento for iPad, but there isn't really anything overly good.  If putting every aspect of your life into a prettied up database is your cup of tea, then Bento will be good tea.  However, if you already use other programs like iCal, MobileMe, Outlook or any number of other apps that actually help you organize all the details of your busy life, then you'll find nothing new here.

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