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Reviews

Bento for iPhone & iPod touch

One of the best things about the iPhone is that it lets me have useful "data" -- such as contacts, appointments, to-do lists, and so on -- with me at all times. Better still, the data is updated automatically and synchronized both ways, so whenever I add or change a contact, appointment, or to-do item -- on my Mac or on my iPhone -- the addition or change will be synchronized and appear in both places.

One of my biggest disappointments with the iPhone is that until now there's been no way to conveniently store and synchronize data other than contacts, appointments, and to-do items between my Mac and iPhone. For example, I have a very long list of books I've read. I update the list regularly on my Mac, massage it in Excel, and then send a copy to my iPhone using a file sharing program called Air Sharing, which I reviewed here

There are a couple of problems with this approach. The first is that I have to remember to copy the Excel file from my Mac to my iPhone every time I make a change to it. The second is that the Excel file on my iPhone is read-only, which means I can't add to it, sort it, or search it. It also means that if I want the file available in more than one form -- say, one version sorted by book title and another sorted by author name -- I have to do the sorting in Excel and save separate versions of the file.

It's an awkward kludge, but better than nothing and the best I was able to do, before Bento for iPhone (and iPod touch) from FileMaker, Inc. came along. Bento for iPhone is a new personal database application based on the terrific Bento 2 personal database ($49 for Mac OS X.) Read my review of Bento 2 in the Houston Chronicle here.

While you can use Bento for iPhone as a standalone database on your iPhone or iPod touch, I find it an order of magnitude more useful when I sync wirelessly with Bento 2 on my Mac.

When used together, Bento 2 on a Mac and Bento for iPhone and iPod touch let you carry searchable, sortable database libraries containing almost any type of data including e-mail messages, images, audio files, video files, and all sorts of other document types with you wherever you go. Furthermore, while you're on the go you can add new items to existing databases and create new databases from scratch quickly and easily.

Furthermore, Bento for iPhone comes with 25 nicely designed templates including recipes, diet log, inventory, event planning, time billing, and many more, so you won't have to start from scratch if you choose to create a new database on your iPhone or iPod touch.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let me show you a some of Bento's features starting with its Home screen:

Bento Home screen

Figure 1: The Bento Home screen.

The Home screen is where you chose the database you wish to work with using a Cover Flow-like interface. For what it's worth, Bento refers to its databases as "Libraries," which is why the Home screen uses the "book" metaphor.

Moving right along, let's take a look at the data in my Books by Title Library.

Bento Library

Figure 2: A Bento Library.

If I tap on any of the items in the list above I'd see a detail screen with all of the details for that item -- author, date added, title, and subtitle. Or, if I tap the little plus icon at top right to add a new record, I'd see a New Record screen that looks like this:

Bento New Record

Figure 3: Bento's New Record screen.

Finally, I can change the sort order any time I like by tapping the Sort icon (on the left of the plus icon in Figure 2), which brings up a screen that looks like this:

Bento Sort

Figure 4: Bento's Sort Order screen.

I have big plans for Bento. My next projects include a recipe Library and a vehicle maintenance Library, both of which I'll create by modifying templates included with Bento.

Alas, it's not all joy in Bento-land. There are things available in the desktop version that aren't synchronized and cannot be viewed, created or edited in Bento for iPhone. The most bothersome for me is iCal events and tasks, which I've used extensively in Bento 2 Libraries I've created on the desktop. Other items that don't sync include list fields, automatic counter fields, message list fields, and smart collections. I expect some (if not all) of these shortcomings will be addressed in future updates but for now, they are notable and annoying in their absence.

There's also a sorting bug that I know is being addressed by FileMaker and should be fixed in an update soon.

Finally, while it's not a problem for me, some users may be dismayed that you can only sync Bento via Wi-Fi.

The Bottom Line

If you're already a Bento 2 for Mac user, Bento for iPhone/iPod touch should be a no-brainer at $4.99. If you have data other than contacts, appointments, or to-do items that you'd like to organize, manage, and sync between your Mac and iPhone/iPod touch, Bento 2 for Mac ($49) and Bento for iPhone/iPod touch ($4.99) may be the easiest and least expensive solution available. Even with the aforementioned shortcomings Bento for iPhone/iPod touch has quickly one of my "must-have" iPhone apps.

Just The Facts

Pros:

Reasonable price, use with or without desktop version, sweet interface, 25 useful templates.

Cons:

Some desktop features not supported, can only sync over W-iFi.

1 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

BD said:

You missed the biggest negative of Bento, no upgrade pricing for existing users. Bento 2 certainly isn’t worth the $99 that existing owners would have to pay. They defend this by making comparisons to iLife and iWork, but those are multiple applications, apps that actually release bug fixes, and apps whose family pack doesn’t cost twice as much as a single user license. That $49 doesn’t look nearly as good as an annual fee.

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