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Airtable Review: Is it Good Enough?

Airtable is an incredibly useful tool for organizing just about anything. I’ve heard it called “Excel on steroids.” Think of it as a spreadsheet/database hybrid you can use for project management, CRM, DMS, ERP, sales pipelines, and more.

At the same time, Airtable has more flexibility and some capabilities that put it in a completely different category from Excel, Sheets, and traditional spreadsheets.

Customize the cell field type and have it scour other tables for data without writing a single line of formula. Attach an image or QR code directly in a cell for a product inventory. “Wait, I can do that?”

With Airtable, yes you can.

Airtable overview

Pricing and plans

Airtable offers a freemium version, but also a free trial of Airtable Pro for 14 days. This is great for getting a feel for the premium features that don’t come at the free tier.

As you compare the pricing, you should know that bases are the basic building blocks of Airtable. Bases are databases made up of one or more tables, which are grouped into workspaces:

Bases Workspaces2

Depending on the level of subscription you purchase, the bases you create can have more records and attachments. At the premium tiers (Plus and Pro), you get additional tools and a longer revision history that lets you see changes, or restore your base to a previous state.

Here’s how Airtable pricing breaks down for each tier:

Jun1 AirtableImage 1 @2x

Looking at the monthly per-user price, keep in mind that Airtable bills a little differently than the typical SaaS model. As they explain, “workspaces are upgraded, not accounts. There are no premium users in Airtable, only premium workspaces.”

When you upgrade a workplace, all the bases within the workspace get the corresponding benefits.

The total cost of the upgrade depends on the number of users who you give permission to edit and comment on at least one base in the workspace. Users with read-only permissions are free, as are those who submit forms.

You can view and control permissions directly from the dashboard:

Bases Permissions2

Most people put all the bases they need to upgrade into a single workspace, though you have the flexibility to build out Airtable and assign permissions however you want. Billing is monthly, automatically prorated to reflect changes you made.

Key features

On your dashboard, you can see all the workspaces and bases shared with or created by you. Click on a base to open, and view, edit, and export the data, depending on your permissions.

To get a sense of the key features, take a look at this template Sales CRM from Airtable:

Sales CRM3

You can see a snapshot of a clean table, with tabs to three other tables that make up this sample Sales CRM: Opportunities, Interactions, Accounts, and Contacts. The table is “Sorted by 1 field,” which you can see highlighted in the ribbon below the table tabs, but you can expand that to sort by as many fields (columns) as you like:

Sales CRM4

In addition to sorting features, you can group, filter, and hide fields as needed. You can also toggle between several views of the same data. Along with Grid view, you can select Gallery, Form, Kanban, or Calendar.

The same Opportunities grid broken out into a calendar:

Calendar 

Or using the Kanban setting to view Opportunities as a sales pipeline:

Sales Pipeline

Linking records between databases like this has never been as easy as it is in Airtable. There are hundreds of templates to choose from to get started, but generating your own from scratch is fairly simple as well.

What makes Airtable different?

Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are great for crunching numbers, but when it comes to organizing, grouping, sorting, and referencing your data, Airtable leaves them behind with its balance of power and ease-of-use.

In Airtable, all the tools you need to set up a fully functional relational database are just a few clicks away. Customize the field type to your needs—set it up to capture specific data (dates, currency, barcodes) or link it to another record:

Field Setting

In this sample, the Accounts field is linked to the Accounts table, bringing over all the information you need automatically.

You could set something like this up in Excel or Sheets, but not without hours of practice, frustration, and trial and error. In the end, it wouldn’t look as good as it does in Airtable, and anyone else besides another spreadsheet PhD would have trouble using it themselves.

Pros

Collaboration

You can invite people to collaborate on entire workspaces or individual bases. There are several levels of permissions, which keeps costs down and streamlines work with contractors, clients, and other users who simply need to submit forms and read-only access.

Once they have been invited, collaborators can view and edit tables knowing changes will sync in real time.

Clicking on a record allows them to see the activity feed, which is a living history of the changes made to an individual record. There, collaborators can leave comments with @mentions that notify others:

Activity feed and comments

Airtable also has excellent integration with Slack, among many other collaborative platforms, which give your teams more channels to stay connected.

Templates

There are hundreds of templates to get started on Airtable. It’s tremendous out-of-the-box functionality. Airtable really helps you see how everything fits together and how to effectively bring your data into the platform.

Simply click on the template you need and all of the associated tables and relations will be set up for you to fill in:

Screen Shot 2020 05 30 at 10.37.56 AM

Importing data via CSV or spreadsheet is very straightforward, and the templates help you make sure everything lands in its proper home.

If you’re willing to hunt, there are probably a few user-created bases designed for your niche.

Blocks

This is one of the most exciting features, but it’s only included with Pro plans. Blocks are modular apps that live on top of your tables. You can create workflows, capture information in visualizations, and build in video or SMS collaboration.

The Gantt block, for example, lets you see how projects, events, budgets, and the like break down over time:

Gantt

Because there is so much you can track in Airtable, your Gantt block can be used to generate charts for any of the information you need.

You can also use Map block to visualize your data based on geography. As long as your fields contain an address, you can see your records spread over a map, satellite, or even streetview directly in Airtable:

Geocoding and Map

Note: you will need a working Google Maps API key to use this block. Other blocks have similar requirements.

Integrations

I already mentioned the Slack integration for Airtable, which is fantastic, but there are many more, including Asana, Dropbox, Facebook, GitHub, and all the popular social media platforms.

By syncing these apps, you can take even better control of your data.

With Zapier, for example, you can set up your WordPress so that every comment becomes a record in Airtable. Or integrate MailChimp to create a new record in Airtable for each new email subscriber.

Cons

Limited mobile app

One of the great things about Airtable is the flexibility to use the tool in multiple ways. Unfortunately, the range of tasks you can accomplish on iOS and Android is quite limited compared to the desktop app.

The lack of mobile functionality isn’t going to impact all users, but you should still be aware of the differences between the desktop and mobile versions of Airtable.

Some learning curve

As with any tool as powerful as Airtable, new users are going to need to take time to figure out how to get the most out of the program. Getting started off a template is wonderful, but people in charge of an inventory, for example, should be confident in their knowledge of how the database works.

At the Enterprise level, Airtable provides individualized training and support to help you start building workflows. For other subscribers, there are helpful Learning Resources, including walkthroughs, webinars, and a guide series.

Compared to similar database/spreadsheet tools, I’d say the Airtable learning curve is fairly manageable. And once you gain familiarity with the platform, you’ll find yourself thinking of new ways to take advantage of the advanced features.

Price

While Airtable’s pricing structure might work out in your favor, some have found that the costs balloon after upgrading workspaces and inviting collaborators. Think about what it’s going to cost to use this tool as you assess your needs both now and in the future.

Airtable is not overly expensive by any means, but there are definitely more affordable options on the market. You could start with the budget-friendly plans from G Suite and Microsoft 365.

You might also consider Notion, especially if you’re looking for a project management tool. All-around, Notion is less powerful than Airtable, but it is less expensive and may be all that you need.

Our recommendation

Airtable is a great product and a pleasing alternative to Sheets and Excel for a growing number of use cases. You’ll hear that it can’t handle projects past a certain size, but I think that’s getting less and less true. Netflix is an Airtable client, and Tesla uses it to track inventory.

The best way to figure out if Airtable is going to help you push past your old limits is through the free trial. We highly recommend a test-drive. You’ll get access to the premium features for two weeks.

Do they deliver value? Do people like working in bases and workspaces? If it doesn’t seem worth it to pay for premium, you can still use Airtable’s freemium plan forever.

What are you waiting for? Get started right now, FYI is ready to make your life more organized.
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