Filemaker's Bento 4 for iPad is da bomb

The latest update to Bento for iPad gives users a powerful, customizable data collection platform at a killer price. With its new features, the app now works as a stand-alone information manager away from a host Macintosh.

Filemaker has previously pitched Bento — whether for Macintosh, iPhone or iPad — as personal information manager aimed at students and home users. It was a database utility for dealing with lists and simple, flat spreadsheet data. However, the capability, usability and functionality in Bento 4 for iPad is now so greatly expanded, that the company is pitching it to small business owners, knowledge workers, freelancers, contractors and consultants.

Users of the Mac version of Bento will be familiar with Bento 4 for iPad. Previously, Bento for iPad offered a frustratingly limited list-style view of Library data. It was a very stripped-down version of the Mac program. Its usefulness was still great, but with the increasing power of the iPad and especially its larger screen, the iPad software was more than a bit of a letdown. No longer.

Now there are four views of data: a Form View similar in functionality to the Mac version, the Table View that is really a spreadsheet view, the Split View that combines the spreadsheet and the form, and the Full Screen View that shows a sidebar of Libraries, similar to the Mac version. In addition to the usual data types, the app supports many different data elements including multimedia files, predetermined choices, GPS locations, ratings (stars) and many more.

Bento 4 for iPad supports the creation of new databases as well as the customization of forms and projects. It's easy to add fields, reorder and sort lists, and add calculation formulas. Many commands take advantage of the iPad's tap interface and users can click on a field or a header and then be presented with the iPad-standard GUI element for popup commands — Filemaker calls these Heads Up Displays. So, if you click on a column header, it will show a bar of commands such as sort, rename, delete or hide.

The new business audience will definitely appreciate that Version 4 can create encrypted fields. Windows users can easily share libraries by emailing them in .CSV format from within Bento (Mac users can use this function too, but I suggest getting Bento for Mac instead).

However, I don't know that I'm sold on the Record Slider interface. But it is the iPad way.

The app comes with 40 Retina display-ready themes to customize the many built-in project templates. And Filemaker offers easy access to the Bento Template Exchange that sports a wide range of professionally-designed and user-submitted templates.

Of course, Bento 4 for iPad can be synchronized with Bento for Mac (Version 4.1, a free update). The syncing is still over Wifi.

Bento 4 for iPad is priced at $4.99 until July 31, the company said and $9.99 afterwards. There's a $29.99 deal on for Bento 4.1 for Mac also until July 31, a $20 discount.

(Note: I purchased in retail Bento for Mac, Bento for iPhone and Bento for iPad, including the latest Version 4.)