I've always found database programs to be a necessary evil. However, when FileMaker Inc. (http://www.filemaker.com) debuted Bento they offered a database app "for the rest of us" that almost makes creating a database fun.
Like I said, almost. But if you have a need to create databases -- and almost everyone does these days -- Bento offers an affordable, and elegant way to do this (and why should you expect less from a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple?). With the jump to version 4, Bento for Mac OS X (10.5.7 and higher) takes another step toward making it easy for anyone to build and use a database while retaining the same US$49 price tag.
Many of the new features in Bento are geared toward the small business user and the home user (big businesses will probably go for Bento's big brother, FileMaker Pro). First of all, it's easy to get started by using one of the built-in templates that come with the app. If you can't find a suitable one among the included templates, you'll almost certainly find one to suit your needs at the Bento Template Exchange (http://solutions.filemaker.com/database-templates/), which seemingly has a template for every type of database known to mankind.
Once you're up and going, you'll appreciate the new features in Bento 4. You can now print mailing labels, inventory tags, name badges and more directly from the app (well, the Mac version anyway, though printing for iOS devices is coming in the future). Bento 4 also offers more (Mac) printing options.
A new Location Field Type lets you track the location where information was entered or modified with the new location field type. Some folks may not need this, but the feature could be very useful for field researchers, survey takers, real estate agents, and mobile salespeople.
And the things we loved about previous versions of Bento are still here. It links to the Mac OS X Address Book and iCal data you already have on your Mac. You can view data in a variety of forms, do quick sorting, advanced searching and add passwords.
You can view your iPhoto albums from within Bento, and track lots of info about your multimedia files and photos. You can even create a digital scrapbook combining photos, videos, and travel notes all on one screen.
There are also several nice little touches. Among them: the ability to quickly "lock" and "unlock" a file by clicking on an icon so you don't accidentally alter data.
You can use Bento for Mac with Bento for iPhone or Bento for iPad ($4.99) to get instant access to details when you’re away from your Mac. In other words, you can view libraries and collections, create new records, edit details, sort data, and more on your iOS device. Plus, you can wirelessly keep your desktop and mobile device in sync whether you edit information on your Mac or on the go.
Bento for iPad -- which comes with 25 pre-designed templates -- has also gotten some nice tweaks. The details stored in Bento are now larger and easier to read. In landscape, a split screen view shows both a complete records list and a single record’s details simultaneously.
You can rotate the iPad to portrait to focus on one record at a time. Numbers are easy to enter thanks to the large, custom onscreen keyboard. You can even view photos, movies, and Adobe PDF files stored in Bento media fields. Finally, Bento for iPad includes background themes with coordinated fonts designed specifically for the Apple tablet to make your data look better than ever on the larger screen.
Similar to Bento for iPhone, Bento for iPad is a solid standalone app. Of course, as mentioned, it also synchronizes directly with Bento running on a Mac, so you can automatically keep your desktop and iPad up-to-date whether editing your information on your Mac or iPad.
Note that if you're moving from Bento 3 to Bento 4, when you launch Bento 4 for the first time, it renames your previous Bento database. Then, Bento 4 creates a new database based upon your existing database.
You probably won't whip out Bento to play around with in your spare time. But when it comes time to work with databases, the FileMaker app makes it as painless as possible.
Rating: 10 out of 10
-- Dennis Sellers