March 2011

From the Publisher:

“Bento is a personal database from FileMaker that’s as easy to use as a Mac. Bento organizes all your important information in one place, so you can manage your contacts, coordinate events, track projects, prioritize tasks, and more faster and easier than ever before.”

If you are purchasing Bento for the first time, V 4, in my opinion, may finally be worth the $49 ($99 Family Pack) price.  I would recommend downloading the trial version and see if it fits your needs. Keep in mind if you have an earlier version and are considering upgrading that any changes you make with the trial version will be lost if you decide to stay with the earlier version. Earlier versions can not read a later version’s database format.

You can see Bento 4’s features here. There are some significant issues that are still outstanding in Version 4, as noted below. If you can live with them, I’d say go for it. Some of them will probably be fixed in future upgrades, but Bento’s upgrade history has been checkered. Only about half the bugs seem to be fixed and only a few of the many heavily-requested features have been added with each major update, and each update costs money. For example, if you started with version 1 as I did and upgraded to version 4, you would have $156 invested for the individual version and $356 for the Family Pack (up to 5 users in one household). Bento is now a pretty expensive inexpensive database, and it still has all the shortcomings listed below.


● This database application looks pretty on the screen, but readability has been sacrificed by forcing you to use built-in color schemes, most of which have low contrast between text and background, especially the field labels.

● You can’t set the tab order and field order in the field list, so you have to point and click to move from one field to another, and you can’t reorder the list of fields so the ones most frequently used in searches are together at the top of the list.

● You can’t have separate libraries (databases) in different locations. Everything is in one big database.

● You can’t select and update the field contents in a group of multiple records. You have to do it record-by-record.

● No Edit/Find/Replace function.

● You can share your database over the local network, but Bento has to be running continually on the host machine for others on the LAN to access the shared Libraries, and everyone must be running the same version of Bento (more $). Databases created by newer versions are unreadable by previous versions.

●  Bento has an unusual and cumbersome method of handling relations between records in either the same or different libraries, although it works pretty well once you get used to it.

●  Limited flexibility in the layout of fields and labels on the screen.

● Can’t choose font and size. You can use only 5 fixed sizes, and you get one of two fonts, depending on what size you select.

● No text styles (bold, italic, underline, etc.) or text colors whatever.

● There is no Mail Merge function.

● Still can’t import Appleworks databases directly.

● There is an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch App ($5) which can sync with Bento on your computer, but it has flaws too. The worst is that you lose all formatting in the field contents, e.g. a list of recipe ingredients comes out as one long, ugly, nearly unreadable, run-together line. You can choose which libraries to sync, but if you have more than 1 device, say an iPhone and iPad, you can’t sync different libraries to them. You have to sync exactly the same items to both.