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The 8 best database-powered app builders in 2024

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 15, 2023
Hero image with logos of the best database-powered app builders

Spreadsheets are fantastic. You can put together an accounting system, a task manager, or an inventory tracker with columns, rows, and formulas—all without slamming into a wall of code at any point.

But there's a cap to how much you can achieve with spreadsheets alone. If you want to view, manipulate, and understand your data better, you want a database tool. Not all databases are flexible and easy to use, though, which is why I rounded up the ones that are right on the money: a perfect blend of database-oriented features and an accessible information management system. 

After years of following these apps and a few weeks of intensive testing, here's the latest update on the best database app builders.

The best database-powered app builders

  • Airtable for people who use spreadsheets for everything

  • Spreadsheet.com for leveraging AI

  • Stacker for keeping the spreadsheet in the background

  • Podio for collaboration

  • Google AppSheet for building apps for all devices

  • Zapier for automation

  • Zenkit Base for unique views

  • Smartsheet for enterprise-grade project management

What makes the best database software?

How we evaluate and test apps

Our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. Unless explicitly stated, 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 spreadsheet, you let go of a smooth user experience to gain powerful functionality. In a database, you can make queries to display only specific, related pieces of data—but you need to be comfortable with writing SQL and packing the insights into a report.

These database-powered app builders are the middle path. They offer dependable user experience and functionality without ever requiring you to write code or queries if you don't want to. You can enter your data and create filtered views or dashboards to see the big picture. And if you want to take it a step further, you can build apps for internal use, with a combination of forms, action buttons, and automated flows.

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, not all the apps on this list will be 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.

The best database-powered app builders at a glance

Category

Standout feature

Pricing

Airtable

People who love spreadsheets

Extremely flexible

Free plan available; paid plans start at $20/user/month

Spreadsheet.com

AI integration

Generate workbooks from a single prompt

Free plan available; paid plans start at $7/user/month

Stacker

Keeping the spreadsheet in the background

Connects to over 60 data sources

Plans start at $59/user/month

Podio

Collaboration

Well-developed templates with team visibility

Free plan available; paid plans start at $11.20/user/month

Google AppSheet

Building apps for all devices

Quick development process

Free to build; deploying an app starts at $5/user/month

Zapier

Automation

Deep connection to over 6,000 apps

Free plan available; paid plans start at $19.99/month

Zenkit Base

Unique views

Hierarchy and mind map views

Free plan available; paid plans start at $8/month

Smartsheet

Enterprise-grade project management

Lots of reporting tools with resource and portfolio management

Free plan available; paid plans start at $7/user/month


Best database software for people who use spreadsheets for everything

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

Airtable, our pick for the best database software for people who use spreadsheets for everything

Airtable pros:

  • Extremely flexible

  • Great user interface

Airtable cons:

  • Expensive

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 comprehensive: 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.

On the right side of your base, you'll find an area for extensions. These add features like time-tracking, currency conversion, or sending an SMS to a phone number—you can browse the marketplace for more possibilities. Currently in beta, Airtable AI will eventually let you generate content in AI fields and create AI-powered workflows.

Airtable's Interface Designer—where most of the app-building features live—is a joy to use, especially considering it used to be a nightmare a few years ago. It's so easy to select your bases, pick the best view for each of them, and then fine-tune the presentation and actions. It's a great fit for streamlining complex internal workflows or creating a customer-facing portal.

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. Learn more about how to automate Airtable, or get started with one of these pre-made workflows.

Send Gmail messages for new Airtable records in views

Send Gmail messages for new Airtable records in views
  • Airtable logo
  • Gmail logo
Airtable + Gmail

Post new Airtable records to Slack

Post new Airtable records to Slack
  • Airtable logo
  • Slack logo
Airtable + Slack

Airtable pricing: Free plan available, with access to unlimited databases and 1,000 records (rows) per database. Paid plans start at $20/month/user (billed annually), increasing the record limit to 50,000 per database and the attachment storage to 20GB.

Looking for Airtable alternatives for app building? If pricing is an issue, Grist is a lower-cost alternative with an equivalent feature set. But if you're looking for something with a generous free plan, consider self-hosting Baserow to keep all your data organized on top of your existing infrastructure.

Best database software for leveraging AI

Spreadsheet.com (Web)

Spreadsheet.com, our pick for the best database software for leveraging AI

Spreadsheet.com pros:

  • Very intuitive

  • Great for building quick and useful internal tools

Spreadsheet.com cons:

  • Not as great for vendor- or customer-facing tools

Spreadsheet.com hangs on tight to the core spreadsheet experience, adding plenty of AI features to save time when creating new workbooks or filling in cells.

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.

But the main course is AI. You can generate a new workbook from a single prompt and watch it come into existence in front of your eyes. It's highly accurate, delivering a result that's ready to use. Need to generate content in a cell instead? Press / and start writing your prompt, including dynamic references to other cells if you need to. And if you have trouble with formulas like I do, Spreadsheet.com can either generate them for you or analyze the ones you wrote, helping you troubleshoot and reach a solution.

This is already a lot, but there's one last AI-powered feature: the OpenAI function. With it, 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.

Create detailed events in Google Calendar from new Spreadsheet.com rows

Create detailed events in Google Calendar from new Spreadsheet.com rows
  • Spreadsheet.com logo
  • Google Calendar logo
Spreadsheet.com + Google Calendar

Create Salesforce leads for new Spreadsheet.com rows created from forms

Create Salesforce leads for new Spreadsheet.com rows created from forms
  • Spreadsheet.com logo
  • Salesforce logo
Spreadsheet.com + Salesforce

Spreadsheet.com pricing: Free plan available, offering 1,500 rows per database. The first paid plan (Standard) starts at $7/user/month (billed annually), 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 for keeping the spreadsheet on the background

Stacker pros:

  • Connects to more than 60 data sources

  • Focuses on the app-building side of databases

Stacker cons:

  • Limited logic-building features

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.

Create Stacker records from new database items in Notion

Create Stacker records from new database items in Notion
  • Notion logo
  • Stacker logo
Notion + Stacker

Create records in Stacker from new Mailchimp subscribers

Create records in Stacker from new Mailchimp subscribers
  • Mailchimp logo
  • Stacker logo
Mailchimp + Stacker

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 $59/month (billed annually), offering 1 app, 10,000 records, and unlimited external users.

Best database software for collaboration

Podio (Web, iOS, Android)

Podio, our pick for the best database software for for collaboration

Podio pros:

  • Well-developed templates

  • Good team visibility for managers

Podio cons:

  • Takes some getting used to

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 keep track of not only your business's data but also 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.

Learn more about how to automate Podio, or get started with one of these pre-made workflows.

Save new Podio items as Google Sheets rows

Save new Podio items as Google Sheets rows
  • Podio logo
  • Google Sheets logo
Podio + Google Sheets

Save JotForm submissions as Podio items

Save JotForm submissions as Podio items
  • Jotform logo
  • Podio logo
Jotform + Podio

Podio pricing: Free plan available but limited to 500 rows; paid plans start at $11.20/user/month (billed annually), offering unlimited records and unlimited external users.

Best database software for building apps for all devices

Google AppSheet (Web)

Google AppSheet, our pick for the best database software for building apps for all devices

AppSheet pros:

  • Quicker development process

  • Access to machine learning features

AppSheet cons:

  • Not a lot of design freedom

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. With Zapier, you can connect AppSheet to thousands of other apps—here are just a few example workflows.

Create records in AppSheet for new Google Forms responses

Create records in AppSheet for new Google Forms responses
  • Google Forms logo
  • AppSheet logo
Google Forms + AppSheet

Add new Square payments as records in AppSheet

Add new Square payments as records in AppSheet
  • Square logo
  • AppSheet logo
Square + AppSheet

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

Best database app builder for automation

Zapier (Web)

Zapier, our pick for the best database-powered app builder for automation

Zapier pros:

  • Very easy and intuitive to use

  • Deep connection to over 6,000 apps you already use

Zapier cons:

  • Separate entry points to each feature set

Zapier is more than a no-code automation tool for the apps you use. In addition to Zaps—workflows that connect and automate your apps—it launched two products that are bringing it closer and closer to a fully-fledged app builder: Tables and Interfaces.

Tables, as the name implies, is all about storing data. You'll see it stacked in a grid, with controls to search, filter, or hide fields. You can save the views, but you can't see the data in board, cards, or Gantt views. Is this a limitation, though? Not really: this is just for data storage—you won't be interacting a lot with your data here.

The place where that happens is in Interfaces. Despite looking like a separate product, Tables and Interfaces are deeply connected. As you create new pages, you can display the data from your tables in table, Kanban, card, and inbox views. This means you can create a CRM by wiring together tables for your clients, deals, or messages, and create all the screens you need in Interfaces. And there are plenty of templates to get started.

The real magic happens if these screens are interactive, and that's what Zaps are for. In addition to the basic operations—creating, reading, updating, and deleting data—these Zaps can also move this data into any other apps you use or trigger other actions within them. You can quickly move new leads to a Notion database, create tasks in Asana, or add a new contact to Mailchimp. All of this with a click of a button inside the app you created.

The fact that it's so modular and highly connected makes it a great choice if you're a SaaS lover but hate to spend time keeping data synced properly. Of course, this is the Zapier blog, so I encourage you to check it out for yourself to see if you agree.

Zapier price: Zaps, the base product, is free for up to 100 tasks/month; the paid plans start at $19.99/month (billed annually). Tables is free for 2,500 records and 100 fields, while Interfaces is free for up to 2 interfaces. Each of these add-ons start at $20/month for their premium features.

Best database app builder for unique views

Zenkit Base (Web)

Zenkit Base, our pick for the best database software for unique views

Zenkit Base pros:

  • Easy to add and customize data

  • Global views to see all files in one single view

Zenkit Base cons:

  • Limited automation and time-saving features

The dark theme and 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.

Add new Trello cards to a Zenkit collection

Add new Trello cards to a Zenkit collection
  • Trello logo
  • Zenkit logo
Trello + Zenkit

Create new new rows in Google Sheets from Zenkit items

Create new new rows in Google Sheets from Zenkit items
  • Zenkit logo
  • Google Sheets logo
Zenkit + Google Sheets

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 toward a more adequate solution.

Zenkit Base pricing: Free plan available, limited to 100 databases and 500 rows. Lowest paid plan (Plus) is $8/month (billed annually), and it removes database limitations and bumps row limits to 50,000. Software suite bundles available on request.

Best database app builder for enterprise-grade project management

Smartsheet (Web, iOS, Android)

Smartsheet, our pick for the best database software for for enterprise-grade project management

Smartsheet pros:

  • Lots of reporting tools

  • Strong optimization for medium and large businesses

Smartsheet cons:

  • Most powerful features only available on the Enterprise plan

Looks can be deceiving. Smartsheet looks like a spreadsheet app, sure. But when you start to use the advanced features, you'll see that it's much, much more. It's a great match for enterprise-grade projects due to its resource and portfolio management tools.

Big businesses have lots of projects going on at the same time, all powered by their teams. Portfolio management helps you group all your internal projects into one dashboard, see their status, and understand how your teams are getting them done. The flip side of this is understanding how these projects are affecting your teams. Resource management helps exactly with that: you can dig into workloads, plan projects, and see if you need to budget for a new hire.

These advanced features live on top of a user experience you're used to: spreadsheets. Each one comes with its stock rows and columns, cell formatting, and formulas, a lot like a simpler Excel. Unlike Excel, you can indent rows to create parent/child relationships, which is great for creating tasks and subtasks. You can add as many sheets as you need to track work, or other things such as assets or locations. And if you want to see your data from a different perspective, you can quickly switch to card, Gantt, or calendar views.

Visibility is important, and that's why you can take it a little further by creating custom reports and dashboards. Line up, filter, and group any categories to create the perfect view. All of these sheets, reports, and dashboards are organized in a files and folders navigation style, so everyone can find their way to the data they need. When you outgrow these tools, Smartsheet's WorkApps let you create apps to streamline workflows, manage data permissions, and interface with external contractors.

Amazing how something that looks so simple can go such a long way, isn't it? If this year is the one you'll be focusing on efficiency, Smartsheet is the tool you're looking for. And if you want to double down by doing less repetitive work and keeping all your other apps in the fold, connect Smartsheet to Zapier and start automating. Learn more about how to automate Smartsheet, or get started with a pre-built template.

Log new JotForm submissions in Smartsheet rows

Log new JotForm submissions in Smartsheet rows
  • Jotform logo
  • Smartsheet logo
Jotform + Smartsheet

Create Trello cards for new Smartsheet rows

Create Trello cards for new Smartsheet rows
  • Smartsheet logo
  • Trello logo
Smartsheet + Trello

Smartsheet price: Free plan available for up to 2 editors and 2 sheets. Pro plan at $7/user/month (billed annually), unlocking all views for up to 10 editors with unlimited sheets.

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.

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.

Read more:

  • The best Airtable alternatives

  • The best AI app builders

  • How to automate your database apps with Zapier

  • Structured vs. unstructured data: What's the difference?

This article was originally published in June 2015 by Matthew Guay. The most recent update was in February 2024.

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