Collections is a powerful, customizable database manager that allows users to create personalized collections of information. The app has a lot of great features, but there is still room for improvement with some of its functionality. The UI is very clean and the operation is intuitive. It would be great to see some sort of tutorial or guide created to help beginners get started.
- EASE OF USE
Collections is a powerful database manager that can be customized to an individual user’s needs.
Back in the late 90s, my brother and I coined the phrase, “Build a database. Solve a problem.” It was a little joke between the two of us because we were developing software solutions for our parents’ company using FileMaker Pro. We enjoyed working with the software, but over the years, the business’s needs changed and so did their need for that platform.
Since then, I have had many problems come up that I could have solved with a database, but there just wasn’t a cost-effective, user-friendly, consumer-grade software solution that was helpful for me. Just a few weeks ago, however, I was turned on to Collections Database and was blown away but what it can do for users.
Collections is a personal database manager that helps users to organize virtually anything. It’s compatible with macOS (11.2 or later), iOS (14.4 or later), iPadOS (14.4 or later), and iPod Touch(14.4 or later). The app is free to download with a pro version available as an in-app purchase ($4.99; universal purchase). The app currently does not have a dedicated website or support page. When you click on “App Support” in the App Store, the link takes you to the app’s Twitter page.
The app is currently on version 3.6 on macOS and iOS. It was last updated two weeks ago (as of publishing this article). According to the Mac App Store, the app does not collect any data from the app. The developer’s privacy practices can be found here.
Collections gives users more than 20 fields to work with as they build their database including:
- Text, Number
- Email, URL, Phone
- Date, Time
There are templates included to get a user started (books, contacts, expenses, subscriptions, credentials, inventory, and school). If you have used database creators before, you can get started with a custom layout or if you have data in a CSV file, you can import it and let the app build the database from that document.
In addition to that the different ways a person can build their database, the app also uses iCloud to sync between Apple devices. This makes it easy to update the database wherever you are. Users have the option of protecting a collection using a password or Face ID. And, with the free version, users can enter up to 100 documents.
Users can divide items into sub-collections, which are like folders within a collection, or use the Lists feature, which contains items used in documents (i.e. a genre for a book or a status like ‘Available’ or ‘Out of stock’ for an object in the inventory.
When you pay for the upgraded pro version you also receive these features:
- Advanced fields
- formulas editor (create a formula for calculated values – full support to math functions like SUM, AVG)
- document reference (link documents together)
- groups (add multiple values for a field)
- Add unlimited documents free version is limited to 100 documents)
- Add files to documents
- Use Summary to perform calculations across documents
Since these apps were provided through their respective App Stores, they were a breeze to install. I started working with the macOS version first because even though you have full functionality on the iPad and iPhone, I prefer to think of them as ‘on demand’ companion apps that you can add to on the go. When you start up the app, there is nothing in the database. You have the option to start from a template or create a customized collection. I chose to start with a template because I knew I wanted to start an equipment inventory. So, I pulled up the Inventory template.
I do recommend beginners start with a template and then work up to creating their own database. That way you get a sense of how the app functions before you start a database from scratch. When you select a template, the app asks if you want to add sample data. This will provide one sample record for you to review the database with.
I found it quite helpful because the first thing I did was try out the Inventory template. Since my first task was to create an equipment inventory, I thought it might be a good option. Unfortunately, the premade inventory is really meant more for a retail inventory. There are fields included like Availability, Barcode, and Optimal Stock that are obviously intended for retail purposes.
Once I determined that it was not the right option for me, I set to work creating a new inventory collection. I decided to start simply with my personal Apple devices. This ended up being the perfect option for testing the app out because I had several fields of data to enter. The first thing I did was make a list of the information I wanted to include. I chose the following fields:
- Device Name (the device’s name when it shows up for sharing)
- Device Description (what the device is)
- Device Model (official model number)
- Serial Number
- Model Year (the year the device was released)
- Purchase Price (the original retail value)
- Apple Care (expiration status/date)
- Notes (any other details)
This is another little tip I have for anyone setting up a database (or anything really). Begin with the end in mind. This little bit of advice can make a difference. If you plan out what you want the database to accomplish, then you will be able to sort out what fields you need to include. This makes the entire process go much smoother when you are selecting the fields, naming them, and then collecting the data for the records.
In the case of my Apple devices, I was thinking about the essential information I needed for identifying the device as well as its monetary value for insurance and tax purposes. I think a notes field is always important to add in because you could suddenly need to add a piece of information to the record and not have a good place to store it. For example, say I had a battery replaced on my laptop and I wanted to make sure that was noted in the record. The Notes field is a good place to store that random, but important piece of information.
Once I had my fields mapped out, I clicked on the plus sign under the Collections list. This pulled up the Template selections, which have ‘Custom’ as one of the options. The next screen allows you to enter the name you want to use for that collection and change the settings. The other options for the Collection are Location (it should be Root unless the Collection is intended to be a Sub-Collection), Keep last view (retains the last view of your collection for the next time you open it), and Protect with Password (you set a master password for the Collections and then apply it as needed).
The next screen provides you with the option to add fields to your Collection. This is where you actually build your database from the list you created during your planning phase. You have many different options for types of fields. For my Collection, I used Text and Integer Number fields only, but I think I could also see using the File field for storing important documents such as a user manual and the Picture field so that you can store an image of a receipt with a purchased product.
I’m going to back up a second to note that when I first looked at the Settings of Collections, I noticed there was an import option. So, I built a CSV file containing the information I wanted included in the Collection (partly because it was easier to enter bulk information into a spreadsheet than record by record and partly because I wanted to see what the process was like) and then went to import it. I noticed then that the import function actually creates a Collection from the CSV file. It does not import it into an existing one. This is good for historical data because you can import your list and then build on it from that point forward.
After I imported the file, which, by the way, went very smoothly, I started modifying the Collection. I decided to add the Picture field and I also added a Password option to my Collection. The Picture field is actually quite cool. It allows you to add one image to your record. This is perfect for my intended use (the proof of purchase/receipt for the product). Once I added that field, I picked up my iPhone and selected edit, and tapped on the Image field. It gave me the option of selecting library, file, or camera for the image. I chose the camera and snapped a quick picture. It was stored in the field and within about 30 seconds, it appeared on my Mac as well.
I do have to point out that at one point the app locked up when I was trying to select an option for the image. It was a momentary issue and after I force quit the app, everything was fine. As far as the password lock goes, I set the master password, which I had to use to unlock the Collection when I opened the app. If the app was already open and the Collection had been unlocked, it stayed unlocked. This is something that would be nice to change. I would love to see an option to manually lock the Collection once you’ve viewed it.
There are a lot of little touches in the UI that are remarkable to me. One of those touches was on the iOS app. At one point, I was going to quit the app. So, I swiped up on the screen and I noticed that the screen and all the data was blurred out. The same thing happened when the app locked up with the image testing. I thought this was a great security feature for the data in the app.
Another great feature is the sharing connectivity. Users have the ability to share records with others. The great thing about this is that you can pick and choose what parts of the record you share. You don’t have to share the entire record if you don’t want to.
Collections is a fairly new app (it looks like it was first released between 9-12 months ago) and I think it’s got a lot of room for growth. Don’t get me wrong – I love what this app can do already and I think it can only get better. There were a few things I saw that I hope can be improved.
- It would be great to see a dedicated website for the app.
- Some tutorials on the best way to use the app would really enhance the user experience – even just a walkthrough when a user first installs the app would be great. There is no help in the app itself. You can submit a support request from the app, but when you go to the Help menu, a pop-up states that no help is available.
- I noticed that there were some odd UI glitches that occured when I was entering information. One of them was a strange block that appeared directly beneath a field area while I was typing. I’m not sure why that was there and it would disappear when I was done with entering in that particular field.
All-in-all, Collections provides a very easy way to build a custom database for a very minimal fee. I’m excited to see what improvements are made on upcoming releases.
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