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The 6 best database-powered app builders in 2023

These database software solutions do more than store your data—they let you create and build apps to do something with that data.

By Miguel Rebelo · February 14, 2023
Hero image with logos of the best database-powered app builders

I've met people who survive on spreadsheets. With a flash and a swish and a zing (and an arsenal of carefully constructed formulas), life and business move forward with ease.

But there's a cap to how much you can achieve with spreadsheets alone. If you want to do something with your data—more than just store it—you want a database tool. While philosophies on databases may differ, my goal is to present the best database software to help you keep all your business information in one place, create relationships between the data, and then build something with those relationships.

Have you ever needed a particular tool for your work, but even after trying dozens of apps, couldn't find anything that fit your needs precisely? That's what these databases are for. After weeks of intensive testing to update this year's list, here are the six best database app builders.

The 6 best database-powered app builders

  • Airtable for people who use spreadsheets for everything

  • Spreadsheet.com for leveling up from Google Sheets

  • Stacker for keeping the spreadsheet in the background

  • Podio for collaboration and project management

  • Google AppSheet for building apps for all devices

  • Zenkit Base for unique views

What makes the best database software?

How we evaluate and test apps

All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.

Once you understand the difference between a spreadsheet and a database, you'll better understand when it's time to make the switch. In a database, you can make queries to display only specific, related pieces of data. Database-powered app builders take it one step further, allowing you to create views and dashboards to better understand your data—and even allowing you to build apps for internal use (everything from forms to automated business processes).

I've spent a lot of time testing, writing about, and building apps using no-code tools. For this roundup, I spent dozens of hours researching and testing database tools, importing data, reviewing templates, and building my own mini-apps. I paid attention to everything from the speed and the complexity of the features to the user interface and learning curve of the app.

Each of the picks you'll read about has something unique to offer, but all of them were judged based on the same criteria:

  • Ease of use. This means everything from a seamless user interface to helpful documentation for when you get stuck (because you almost definitely will).

  • Data visualization options. What kinds of visualizations are already available? Can you speed up this process by starting from a template?

  • Flexibility. I was looking for tools that could work across an organization and even hold all your business's processes in one place.

  • Integrations. Your work is complex, which means you'll certainly have other tools in your tech stack. I looked at how each database tool integrated with other apps, either with native integration support or via Zapier. I also explored what kinds of import and export features were available.

  • Value for money. I made sure to consider the pricing model, the availability of free plans, and the value for money at the paid plans.

Need more freedom and power? Internal tools are great, but when you want to create a custom system, build a digital product, or launch the next industry-changing SaaS, the apps on this list aren't the best fit. Instead, consider picking up one of the best no-code app builders: they'll require a bit more investment in terms of time, but you'll have a lot more freedom to build the exact features you want.

Best database software for people who use spreadsheets for everything

Airtable (Web, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android)

A screenshot of Airtable, our pick for the best database app builder for people who love spreadsheets

If you're used to having spreadsheets run your business, Airtable is your best bet. It's still a spreadsheet at heart, but with a collection of powerful features, including app-building. It feels like the gold standard for the category; and the friendly user interface, along with a very intuitive experience and thorough help content, will support you as you make the switch.

The onboarding process is really thorough: it assists you through every step of importing data or starting from a template. Plus, there's a lot of help spread out in different spots in the app (and outside of it), which gave me more confidence to explore and tinker—more so than with the other apps on this list.

Configuring new views is a breeze. Once you have data, you just click the view type you want to set up on the left-side menu. I was able to create a calendar, a data entry form, and a Kanban view of my original content strategy table in minutes, with very little tweaking. There are also light collaboration features: you can mention your workspace buddies, leave comments on database entries, and receive notifications for changes. They're enough if you want to keep a small team on the same page, but you'll still have to depend heavily on your business communication apps.

The apps section offers even more power, but some tinkering is definitely required. Most apps are easy to build right onto your sheets, while some require you to configure a third-party service. You can do things like time-tracking or currency conversion directly within Airtable, but if you want to build something more powerful and comprehensive from scratch, the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly to developer-level.

Airtable launched its revamped Interface Designer recently, letting you create beautiful dashboards filled with all your data. Choose which base you want to draw data from, set the layout that gives the best visibility, and click to create. You can then fine-tune each of the cards, showing or hiding values as needed. These interfaces can be used internally, or you can share them with clients to give them an idea of how a project is progressing.

Overall, Airtable is a polished tool that'll make your transition from classic spreadsheets a painless experience—and let you do so much more. You can make Airtable even more powerful by connecting it to Zapier, allowing you to do things like create calendar events from new Airtable records or create new Airtable records from form responses.

Create detailed events in Google Calendar from new Airtable records in views

Create detailed events in Google Calendar from new Airtable records in views
  • Airtable logo
  • Google Calendar logo
Airtable + Google Calendar

Airtable pricing: Free plan available, with access to unlimited databases and 1,200 records (rows) per database. Paid plans start at $12/month/user, increasing the record limit to 5,000 per database and the attachment storage to 5GB.

Best database software for leveling up from Google Sheets

Spreadsheet.com (Web)

Spreadsheet.com, our pick for the best database-powered app builder for leveling up from Google Sheets

Spreadsheet.com hangs on tight to the core spreadsheet experience. All your formulas are still there, but unlike traditional spreadsheet software, it adds a lot of productivity features and data views. Let's unpack this step by step.

The user interface looks a lot like Google Sheets, so if you're transitioning from there, you'll feel right at home. The onboarding tutorial fills in the gaps pretty well, so when I was left on the dashboard to explore, I was ready to start experimenting. I loaded a project management template, and I liked how the advanced features—like custom data types and different views—work with the more classic spreadsheet experience.

When you create a Kanban or calendar view, the app moves away from the columns-and-rows logic into simple and responsive layouts. There are a lot of settings to explore, so be sure to take some time to click on the menus and read all that's possible. In addition to rich text formatting, you can configure view settings and set up automation.

Spreadsheet.com has just rolled out its OpenAI integration, and offers a function to leverage all the model's features. To generate better responses from AI, you need to input a detailed prompt, stating what you want but also how you want the model to work through the problem. With Spreadsheet.com, you can divide your prompt into multiple cells—say, one for "You're a software engineer," another for "write a list of 10 items," and another for "prioritize uncommon ideas"—and use a single function to send the appropriate prompts out to OpenAI. This will help keep track of your attempts at getting the perfect output, helping you flex your AI muscles.

OpenAI isn't the only useful integration here. You can also plug in Slack, Google apps, QuickBooks, or Jira, to name a few of the native integrations available. If you need more apps added to that list, you can also connect Spreadsheet.com to Zapier. You'll be able to do things like create new leads, issues, or calendar events straight from Spreadsheet.com.

Spreadsheet.com pricing: Free plan available, offering 1,500 rows per database. The first paid plan (Standard) starts at $7/month, unlocking more features and bringing the row limit to 10,000.

Best database software for keeping the spreadsheet on the background

Stacker (Web)

Stacker, our pick for the best database software for keeping the spreadsheet on the background

When you close your eyes as you're warming up in bed, do you find a spreadsheet image persisting inside your eyes? If you spend every single hour of your workday stacking work row upon row, then Stacker will give your eyes and brain a much-needed break.

Stacker focuses more on the app-building part of this category. Start by adding your data. You can add it manually to Stacker, import a CSV file, or bring in your data from a wide range of other apps (including CRMs, accounting software, payment platforms, or project management apps, to name a few). There are a lot of big names on the list, like Salesforce, Intercom, QuickBooks, and Asana.

Does the integration list end there? Nope. Connect Stacker to Zapier and bring thousands of other apps into the cool data pool.

Once all your data is in, you can close the Manage data screen. There's already a user interface showing the data you just added. From there, on the menu on the right side of the screen, click Layout, and make changes to the way the data is represented. You can filter, sort, or change views and add buttons with common actions to automate the repetitive tasks. It's surprising how easy it is to use—and how polished the result looks right out of the box.

There's more to Stacker beyond beautiful and functional interfaces. It has fine access controls you can set up to help your team access what they need to see, steer them away from what they don't, and distribute the editing privileges as necessary. This is especially powerful considering you can bring multiple data sources into Stacker and configure these access settings for each of them. You can set who can do what across dozens of spreadsheets, databases, and apps, keeping everything centralized.

These features, and the fact that the pricing has a 30-day free trial followed by a $79/month subscription, make Stacker a better fit for teams swimming in spreadsheets and data sources.

Stacker pricing: 30-day trial; the lowest plan (Starter) goes for $79/month, offering 1 app, 10,000 records, and unlimited external users.

Best database software for collaboration and project management

Podio (Web, iOS, Android)

Podio, our pick for the best database-powered app builder for collaboration and project management

Podio is kind of like a corporate Airtable alternative—but that's not the only difference between the two apps. In addition to everything you'd expect from a database platform with app features, Podio invests heavily in team collaboration and project management. There's a feed and an activity log page for each workspace, where you can see what's changed recently and view comments, updates, and requests all on one page.

Once you've caught up with the latest news from your team, you can click on the tabs to the right of the activity log and see each of your databases. You can add and save filters on the list to the left of the screen, useful to quickly check up on things when dealing with endless pits of data.

If you're a manager, there's a calendar for you to track how projects are going, a tab to see how employees are doing in terms of workload, and an overview of the tasks on the immediate horizon. It's a really strong tool to keep everyone on track. It's a little more complex than Airtable, and I didn't love that some important actions are hidden in a menu with a wrench icon that's a little inconspicuous unless you stop to scan the whole page.

Podio calls each database an app: you can use templates or even complete "App Packs" for things like human resources or marketing, to name a few. It's a great way to get started on the right foot, which is great since the app is a bit complex. And even if you don't land on the right app pack at the start, there are hundreds of templates to try out. Unfortunately, you'll need to upgrade to higher-priced tiers to get access to things like automation or advanced dashboards.

If you're running a team and complex projects, Podio offers features that not only keep track of your business's data but also keep track of what's going on during execution. Take it up a notch by using Zapier's Podio integrations to do things like saving form submissions in Podio or adding Podio data to your email marketing tool.

Podio pricing: Free plan available but limited to 500 rows; paid plans start at $14/user/month, offering unlimited records and unlimited external users.

Looking for a Podio alternative with comparable features but a higher focus on automation and data centralization? Jestor has an entire screen dedicated to internal company chat, a My tasks screen to round up all you have to do, and lots of tools to bring in data from other apps and automate processes.

Best database app builder for unique views

Zenkit Base (Web)

Zenkit Base, our pick for the best database app builder for unique views

The dark theme and the colorful background that Zenkit Base sports when you log in are bold. I liked the vibe, along with the minimalism in the icons and the menus—even though some advanced features are hidden in back-alley menus. Not a critical issue: after a few days, you'll be able to navigate it blindfolded.

But there are more important things than the visual effect. Zenkit Base brings new views and features into this category, letting you study your data from new angles. In addition to the traditional lists and Kanban boards offered by the competition, Zenkit built in:

  • Hierarchy, letting you add items and sub-items, for connecting tasks that have dependencies with one another, for example.

  • Mind map, giving a visual representation of how items in your spreadsheet are connected—great for ideation and to understand the sequence in which things need to be done.

  • Wiki, which introduces the wiki experience into the database scene.

  • Files, a view that just shows everything that you've uploaded.

Base is just one of Zenkit's larger app suite. The developer offers more apps to tackle more productivity problems, no matter their shape, form, or depth. Here's the quick rundown of the entire offering:

  • Hypernotes, for note-taking and wikis

  • Projects, for project management

  • To Do, for tasks

  • Zenchat, a chat app with task management

  • Zenforms, form software

If these don't fulfill your needs, you can connect Zenkit Base with Zapier and browse the thousands of integrations available. Here are a couple examples:

Sometimes, a solution to a problem doesn't lie in confronting it head on; sometimes, it's about finding a new angle. Zenkit Base's unique views will help you disengage, change your view, and work towards a more adequate solution.

Zenkit Base pricing: Free plan available, limited to 100 databases and 500 rows. Lowest paid plan (Plus) is $9/month, and it removes database limitations and bumps row limits to 50,000. Software suite bundles available on request.

Best database software for building apps for all devices

Google AppSheet (Web)

Google AppSheet, our pick for the best database-powered app builder for building apps on all devices

All the solutions above have a core spreadsheet user experience, and then take that to the next level with a combination of form-building, interactive dashboards, or app configuration. Some tools even throw in project management features and team collaboration.

Google AppSheet has a different philosophy. Upload one of your spreadsheets, and AppSheet will use its AI engine to sketch an app you can use to interact with the data and data types on it. After that, you can customize each page of the app with a set of menus that have the cleanliness that Google has made us expect, but with features that already have a logic closer to a no-code tool. The whole user experience is very Google, both while building the app and in terms of how your final app feels. The terminology is a bit advanced in some of the interactions, but there's a lot of help (including a free Udemy 57-minute video course) to support you through the process.

I uploaded a spreadsheet with data for fictional employees, and AppSheet built a simple profile view and button to let me edit each entry. In five minutes, I was able to create a form to add new employees with a quick Google search and a couple of clicks.

The best part: AppSheet builds apps that are responsive, looking great on any device. You can even include features that smartphones can take advantage of, like barcode scanning (albeit those features come at a higher price point). Other interesting features include machine learning and text recognition to add some artificial intelligence to your builds.

You can build and edit all you want, for as long as you want. AppSheet will only start charging when you're ready to deploy your app to a live setting. While the setup time for Google AppSheet is longer and the learning curve a bit steeper, the range of solutions you can create is potentially much wider.

You can do even more with AppSheet by connecting it to Zapier to do things like creating a new record based on a sale or form submission.

Google AppSheet pricing: Free to build; deploying an app starts at $5/user/month with basic application and automation features.

Finding the best database-powered app builders

Database-powered app builders range from upgrading your spreadsheets to allowing you to create fully-functional apps to solve business problems. All the platforms I mentioned in this roundup have either free tiers, a free trial, or a free way to test the basic features. Take them out for a spin, take your time to experiment, and choose the best to add to your business toolbox.

And once you've built a database-powered internal tool, you might be tempted to stop there. But don't: your internal tool might be useful on its own, but it'll be far more useful if you integrate it with other apps to automatically import data, send notifications, and more. Your database builder may include features to send basic notifications and import data, but for everything else, you can connect your database tool to Zapier.

This article was originally published in June 2015 by Matthew Guay. The most recent update was in February 2023.

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