To all unhappy Bento users, take a good look at another database software, called Tap Forms, developed by Canadian Brendan Duddridge. Like Bento, it is available for the Mac, the iPad, and the iPhone.
$24.99 for the Mac version (one half of the price of Bento 4; requires OSX 10.7), and $8.99 for each of the mobile apps; all available at the app stores.
On their website, TapForms.com, you will find a blog (with some recent screenshots of the Mac version) and a forum, moderated by Brendan himself! Also see recent iPad and iPhone screenshots in these Dropbox folders.
I am mostly reviewing the iPad version, because it is the most polished one at the moment. All three versions are tailored to their respective platforms but interact seamlessly. A big plus: full iCloud sync is supported – read all about it under the ‘support’ tab on TapForms.com.
Tap Forms provides many features Bento users already rely on, but adds more useful field types and a bunch of needed and fun customization options. Brendan is also working on a free-form editor like Bento has, but the apps work fine without it. There is one big problem: besides a Quick Guide for the iPhone version, at this point there is no in-app help available and no user guides. For that reason I will go into more detail in my following review/description.
When starting to work with Tap Forms, you will find over 20 themed and fully editable Forms to get you started, and you can also create a Form from scratch. These themed Forms initially are like Bento Libraries without any records. They are not re-usable Templates like in Bento. And there are no Themes like in Bento, which actually creates a cleaner and more consistent look, something many Bento users will appreciate. The Forms have some global settings: the fonts (right now only on the iPad), categories, and pick lists (an improved solution of Bento’s Choice field). Besides that, there are tons of customization features for each individual Form, and many special options for each field type.
The iPad screen is divided into a List View sidebar and the Form View. In the List View you will see several records at a time, and you also have access to the list of all your Forms. The Bento-style Table View is only available in Tap Forms for the Mac at this time.
Delving into Tap Forms:
The provided Sample Form gives you the chance to explore the look and feel. To create your own, click on ‘forms’ in the List View sidebar and then on the ‘+’ button, which opens a dialog box: just click on any title that appeals to you – the form opens and you are ready for data entry. To customize your form, click on the arrow next to the ‘+’ in List View and choose ‘customize form.’ Now you can change settings, add and delete fields, change the order of fields, change a field type, and edit each field’s options. There is plenty to do and explore, and the navigation is pretty intuitive, as it should be. Just take your time to study the interface elements. You can also create a Form from scratch by clicking on ‘new.’ After you’re done, the new Form is added to the master list where you can select it from.
Tap Forms provides 20 different field types.
Unique fields not available in Bento are:
Contact: pulls in any contact from the Contacts app (in Bento you need to use a Related Data list field to accomplish that)
Drawing: very nice addition – besides simple drawing tools, you can load a picture and mark it up!
Note field: a special text field that opens in a pop-up window, meant for long-winded descriptions. You can choose how many lines should be displayed in Form View.
Section Heading: this is not a field per se, but you can insert it in several places to name, divide and collapse different sections of your Form. Very nifty!
Enhancements/options added to familiar fields:
Text: you can include a custom pick list which adds the functionality of Bento’s Choice field, without needing an extra field! After you set up the pick list for a field, it’s accessible through a little icon next to the data entry.
Number: also a pick list, auto-increment, increment value.
Location: displays an editable map within the app – very nice. Example: A list of tennis court locations.
Audio Recording: you can pre-set the quality.
Useful options, available for most of the field types: mask value, encrypt value, default value, label color.
One field I am sorely missing is Bento’s flexible Media field which accepts audio, video, pictures, has playback controls built into the actual field, and can use aliases. Tap Forms has a Photo field, but for anything else you need to attach a file and you can’t view it right on the form.
Each Form can also have separate settings for List View: you can choose to display up to 5 fields and a summary row for a numeric field (using all records). Fancy sorting options are provided too, including grouping of fields in List View!
Tip from Brendan, the creator: if you drag a Photo field to the top (or right under the top Section Heading), List View will show thumbnails (3 sizes to choose from).
Enjoy extensive printing options in the Mac version and set alerts anywhere!
Pros: Tap Forms offers many features Bento users have been asking for, including a clean layout and extensive, all-you-need customization options.
Direct support provided by Brendan Duddridge, the creator. This is a work in progress, and Brendan works tirelessly on improving the apps.
No Bento media field functionality. But then again, once Bento adds iCloud sync, it’s unclear how it will deal with media.
Some display quirks in List View (no consistent auto-refresh), which will probably be solved soon.
My personal recommendations: give Tap Forms a try! I already have a lot of fun with it. A good way is to start with the iPad version if you want to save some money and to test the app. If you like it you should also get the Mac version, depending on your computing habits. Like Bento, all versions work fine as a standalone.
As a Bento power-user (relying on most of its unique features), Tap Forms can’t replace Bento for me at this time, but I am using both apps side-by-side because I don’t want to miss out on Tap Forms‘ great enhancements!
Please feel free to leave comments and questions. Brendan and I will answer all of them.