Airtable is an awesome database tool. And I bet you also find it easy-to-use and convenient. Who doesn’t love Airtable? But a few features are missing for some use cases. Let’s review the use cases it works well for and explore Airtable alternatives for when it doesn’t fulfill your needs.
What is Airtable?
- Short and simple answer: Airtable is a database-spreadsheet hybrid.
- Detailed answer: Airtable is a lightweight cloud-based relational database with a spreadsheet interface.
How To Use Airtable?
People adopt Airtable for different use cases. Depending on whether you intend to store, to view or to analyze your data, it might or might not be the best tool for you. In that case, you could use one of the alternatives I’ll share with you.
Let’s review four main use cases you might have when considering Airtable. You could think of it to:
- store your data,
- do some project management,
- manage your project roadmap,
- analyze your data.
You can use Airtable to store your data 😃
It’s way more powerful than Google Sheets or Excel because it uses a relational data model. And you keep the best of both worlds. You get the power of a flexible relational database, with the familiarity of a spreadsheet.
Some people say there’s a steep learning curve using Airtable. I don’t agree. It depends on one thing: whether you understand what a relational data model is. And maybe what field types are. Everyone knows how to use a spreadsheet, right? So if you get how a relational database works, you’ll get onboard in no time. No learning curve. Much easier than having to use SQL scripts with a classic database. And if you don’t, then it will depend on your ability to grasp new concepts quickly.
If you need to analyze your data and make calculations on top of your data, Airtable will probably be too weak though. You can still export your data to Google Sheets or Excel. The only problem is about linked record fields and multiples results for one unique identifier. They aren’t well handled in those spreadsheets. The beauty of the relational database is lost. If you want to understand why, you can read our explanation in the article Move Airtable Data to Google Sheets.
Bottom line: I believe Airtable is one of the most convenient ways to store your data as an early startup or when starting any project.
You can use Airtable for project management 😃
Airtable is both powerful and flexible when it comes to managing all the information you generate from your most diverse projects. For instance, our team has used it to track bugs reported by our users, to manage our hiring funnel, to store our leads and to create a lightweight CRM. It’s convenient to manage it all in the same place. In each of your use cases, you can represent the reality of your project with custom tables. Because we can define fields in a way that makes sense for your specific needs. And as in any project management tool, you can attribute assignees, priorities, dates, comments, notifications and deadlines to your tasks. When collaborating on a project, I also find it useful to be able to create different ways of looking at the information. They call it a “view”. You can even enable locked views to prevent collaborators from altering your view's configuration.
If you want to understand your data in depth, you’ll need to export your Airtable data into another tool to analyze it. Airtable combines the features of a database with the convenience of a spreadsheet interface. But it’s weak to explore your data and build dashboards. You can’t dig in the data to help you get your head into the numbers and build dashboards. If you need to try and test different things or run small scale analyses, you might want to have a look at the solutions presented in this article to Move Airtable Data to Google Sheets.
Bottom line: I think that Airtable might be the most flexible solution for project management. Keep in mind that you’ll need another tool if you need to analyze your data.
You can use Airtable to manage your project roadmap 😐
You can choose between several views to see the same content from different perspectives: grid, calendar, kanban, gallery or form. So that you can work on the same data with your teammates, each one with his/her own work style. You can also get inspiration from templates as a starting point for building your own custom table.
Airtable isn’t convenient to collaborate on documents. You might end up using additional tools to complete this missing part, ending up creating some friction in the process. You’ll prefer to use Airtable to share views rather than work with other people on the data. Choose a project management tool with a great UI, you’ll save yourself some useless pain.
Bottom line: I recommend Airtable if you want to let others view your data but not if you want to collaborate on it as with a project management tool.
You can use Airtable to analyze your data and make calculations 🥴
Airtable is a database masquerading as a spreadsheet. So part of its magic lies in the linked record fields and multiples results for one unique identifier. Beware if you try to export Airtable to Google Sheets since these specificities get lost in translation. Airtable also knows how to characterize data properly and I specifically appreciate the rich field types. They include texts, attachments, checkboxes, photos, barcodes and long notes to name a few.
Airtable is disappointing if you intend to use it as a spreadsheet, with advanced formulas. I find it weak to explore my data and build dashboards. They have that concept of “blocks” with the premium plan that are kinda like internal mini-apps. But they’re nowhere as powerful as a proper spreadsheet like Excel or Google Sheets, they definitely can’t compete there.
Bottom line: I’d suggest you avoid Airtable if you want to dig deep into your data. It only works for the most basic analysis needs.
It makes sense to consider alternatives depending on your own use case. I’ll share interesting alternatives you might want to consider, depending on your use case for Airtable.
If you use Airtable to store your data
If you need a lightweight option to keep a small amount of data neatly
- Google Sheets if you want to collaborate on the data and avoid keeping track of document versions through email back and forth.
- Excel if you’re serious about getting to know your data. If you’re a spreadsheet pro and like to dig in the data to help you get your head into the numbers or build dashboards.
If you’re looking for a proper relational database
SQL is your friend:
- SQL Server
Then, they’re two options to access your SQL data:
- Either you know how to write SQL queries or you’re not afraid to learn.
- Or you can use BaseDash to edit your database through a spreadsheet interface.
If you use Airtable for project management
If you have basic tables you want to combine with your knowledge base
Notion also has database tables similar to Airtable so you might like it for that. Not as complex as Airtable though. But if your needs are basic, it’s great to be able to combine notes, wikis, and tables into the same app.
If you want to replace all your apps with just one
ClickUp features help solve some of the collaboration issues lacking in Airtable’s functionality. And the UI customization is quite extreme. But I find that some basic functions of project management need some improvement in terms of flow.
If you’re looking for a combination of tables and documents
Coda combines database tables with text, charts, buttons, automations, and integrations in a document surface. What I personally like about Coda is that your doc can start small (e.g. a bulleted list). No need to think ahead a final architecture. You can build it organically.
If you use Airtable to manage your project roadmap
If you’re into a slick design and UX to manage your project roadmap
Asana’s design is great. Which is also a strong asset of Airtable so you might appreciate it. Great UX and beautiful at the same time. Since it’s a tool built for project management, it has all the features you’ll expect. No need for work arounds and hacks.
If you want bare project management
Trello is made for project management specifically so you’ll find what you need there. I’m not a big fan of the design but that’s totally personal. You should have a look for yourself.
If you use Airtable to analyze your data seriously
If you need to collaborate
Google Sheets is the go-to spreadsheet when collaborating with other people on data with complex calculations. Lots of add-ons allow you to connect your spreadsheet with external apps. Depending on who built it, they can be more or less well executed though.
If you need flexibility and the power of complex formulas
Excel is an awesome spreadsheet if you need to know your data inside out, try and test different things, and run some small scale analysis. But you should consider it only if you work by yourself or don’t need frequent versioning of your table.
If you’re looking for the power of a BI tool with the flexibility of a spreadsheet
Actiondesk is your best option if you need to access, explore and transform your data. You get all your live data in one place. As easy and flexible as a spreadsheet. As powerful as a BI tool. It’s a full fledged spreadsheet software. And it's natively connected to external apps like Airtable, Stripe, Hubspot, SQL, etc. So you get live access to your data inside the spreadsheet. There's no need for an add-on. You can explore your data, combine it from different sources, and build dashboards. The best part is that the data is automatically refreshed. So your dashboards always show live data. No need to update them. See examples of how you can access any data from your Airtable bases and analyze it using a spreadsheet interface.
If you like to be different from the crowd
We all use Google Sheets or Excel by default. It turns out there are many other spreadsheet softwares that can be great depending on our needs and use cases. I reviewed the 26 most popular spreadsheets in this article if you wanna check Apple Numbers, Quip, Smartsheet, dashdash and plenty other solutions: Best Spreadsheet Software: #1 Pick for 2020.
Summary of Best Alternatives to Airtable
So, all in all, I think Airtable is great to store data and for project management. But not as much if you need to collaborate on your project roadmap. And I recommend avoiding it if you need to analyze your data with complex calculations. As a light database alternative, you can use Google Sheets or Excel. And go for SQL for a proper relational database. As for project management, you can go for Notion, ClickUp or Coda. And for your project roadmap, rather look at Asana or Trello. And to analyze your data seriously, choose either Google Sheets, Excel or Actiondesk.