Monday, June 29, 2015

App Review: Bento Homescreen (Beta)-Philippe Monnier

You probably haven’t heard of Bento, the new homescreen aiming to take on Google Now itself, among other “smart” contextual aware launchers, such as Aviate. When opening Bento for the first time, you are prompted to select the folders, or “Smart Spaces” as Bento calls them. These are created by merging folders and apps. In the dock you’ll see them as folders, but you can swipe into the next “Smart Space”. Once you select the spaces of your liking, adding your work and home address is recommended, along with granting notification access. This is to access all the features in the launcher. The Launcher itself is very simple, it resembles the Google Now Launcher. The icons are big, and it supports widgets in a four by four row. In the scrollable dock, you find a set of folders, which are your smart spaces. The real magic comes with a swipe to the left. In the Google Now Launcher, you have Google Now’s cards. However, in Bento you have Bento’s cards. These cards support many services: weather, local news, Yelp, Uber, Youtube, Reddit, Notifications, ESPN’S Cricket News, Song lyrics, Soundcloud, the Calendar and contextual apps. In this page you have a different dock, in which you can have either your recently used apps, or the apps of your choosing, and an app drawer. There is no disabling this dock (as of now).

Bento’s Cards
Homescreen, with smart spaces below

I’m impressed. This is still an early, private Beta, and the launcher works great. I have been using it as my daily driver with amazing stability, and only a few crashes. One would expect a “smart” app of this calibre (checking the context and downloading information from yelp, etc.) to hog battery life and performance, but it doesn’t. Performance is great, and there is no impact on battery life, even while it seeks the lyrics on the internet to every song that you listen to.

The cards are an extremely promising concept. You can easily find spots to find coffee near you, or near work, or dinner (depending on the time of day). If you are out, the Uber card will pop up. If you are listening to music, it will fetch the lyrics and display the YouTube Instant Mix of the artist you are listening to. My only problem with the cards is Soundhound, which fails to play audio. This is surely a bug to be ironed in a future update.

Among the cards lie the contextual app suggestions, such as “Sunday at Home”. At first, this made me laugh. It showed apps which I never used. But in just a couple of days, it calibrated which apps I used. For example, it found out that I’d browse Reddit or play Hitman at home, but while I was out, it would recommend WhatsApp.

Aesthetically speaking, it is not the prettiest boy out there. I am no fan of how the smart spaces look, it is hard to resize widgets, and the cards could look better (*cough* Material Design *cough*). However, as we said before, it is an early beta, we hope that in the future it includes more customization options.

There is one thing that impressed me. The search. On top of the cards lies a search bar, with which I fell in love desperately. It is miles better than the rest of the market. You can find apps, contacts. It also displays entries on your browser’s history, and text messages, books and news! Unbelievable!

I was happily married to Action Launcher 3, until I met the enchanting Bento. Of course, she isn’t as pretty, but she is smart and she gets me. I admit it, we are having an affair behind Action Launcher 3’s back.

The search on Bento is too powerful, I love it. The cards make my Reddit addiction more severe because of the Reddit card, I love it too. I found coffee shops I didn’t even know existed by my house. It is extremely smooth, and rarely crashes. It needs more work on the customization side, and aesthetics. Plus, we’d love to see some new cards.Remember, this is an early beta. I can’t wait to see what Bento has for us in the near future!


- Amazing Search


- Bento's cards


- Not much eye-candy

- Lack of customization

Join the Bento beta here:

Tried Bento out for yourself? Let us know what you think of it on twitter @masala_tech, and remember to always keep things spicy!

By: Philippe Monnier