Thoughts on Airtable from a Longtime Smartsheet User

After kicking the tires for ~72 hours or so on the recent funded Airtable here are some thoughts on it vs. my go-to for similar functions around project management and collaboration, Smartsheet. By no means is this comprehensive, but just some notes on some time with the tools.

The Good about Airtable over Smartsheet:

  1. Airtable is more fun: Playing with data is much more of a pleasure in Airtable than in Smartsheet
  2. GUI feels fresher: Airtable is more of a fluid feel for sure.
  3. Dynamic data refresh: Grouping and updating data happens in real-time. This is pretty great to see live as you change grouped data, etc. Smartsheet requires more reloads of things.
  4. Multiple tabs vs. single sheets: The Airtable model of complex bases allows for more layering here than the design of Smartsheet. So, the
  5. Lots of templates: Airtable, although they are quite new in town, have done a wonderful job building out templates and making them available and easy to drive into.
  6. Licensing per workspace vs. users: Kind of big deal. The licensing for Airtable is at the workspace vs. the per user stuff of Smartsheet. You can publish Smartsheets and give non named users edit ability, but still tough for user adoption. Making a workspace a “pro” workspace with a bunch of “bases” makes sense since you want users to be involved without a hassle or limit.
  7. Handling collaborators: because of the licensing difference, you don’t have to play games with users here and you can just put people in as needed.
  8. Slack integration: Going to play with this more, but the fact that it’s baked-in is quite nice.
  9. Images attachments: The way Airtable does this is much nicer than Smartsheet. It does previews as well on the row.
  10. Grouping records vs. indenting: Airtable has a nicer feel than Smartsheet on sub rows and groupings. Smartsheet you have to indent or outdent and it is more correct technically, but Airtable can get there in what feels nicer and more dynamically.
  11. Options on format, Editing fields, and hiding fields: Airtable has more depth here. Really nice to play with and dymanically add.

The Bad on Airtable vs. Smartsheet:

  1. No Gannt View: Yeah, this is a big hit for tech project managers. Maybe I’m old school, but no Gannt view is tough to handle. Probably coming, but yeah tough one to hit. Calendar view is there, but I guess the cool kids aren’t using Gannts anymore.
  2. Highlight changes: Airtable can’t really do this. I’m sure it’s coming but actually quite a great feature in Smartsheet if you have a lot of data and you have casual or semi-casual users that only care about what has changed.
  3. Dependencies: Not seeing how Airtable has this yet. Gotta be coming here soon no?
  4. Branding options: Smartsheet does a nice job here. It’s just more mature on this.
  5. No font options or formatting: Another tough one to navigate right now if you want to bold or adjust font size in view. Minimal setting on printing in Airtable, but not cutting it right now.
  6. Row colors: I tend to use that a lot. Airtable made a design choice to only paint a small slot on the primary cell for this but you can paint entire rows with background colors in Smartsheet.
  7. Conditional Formatting: Smartsheet is just more mature here as well. I’m sure Airtable will build on what they have, but tough to not have the options I have in Smartsheet around this so I can format and add colors here.
  8. Printing scaling: Maybe it’s just me, but output to page width is a no go. Bugs are bugs and Airtable will improve, but this is no bueno when you want to get a base out to a 11×17 or something for folks.
  9. Nickel-and-dimey stuff: I could be more sensitive to this than others, but if you get a paying account for Airtable, let us have colors. I get they are trying to figure out their freemium model differentiation, but it felt more ticky-tack than it should have.
  10. Built-in symbology: Smartsheet has some, Airtable doesn’t. I guess you just use emoji copy/paste which works, but that also works on Smartsheet. Building out some symbology icons, etc. would be nice.
  11. Cell text wrapping: Just something that they missed so far. Kind of annoying as it is when getting cut-off on cell length. Text and stuff is there, but not in view. They have to add that when they start to give us font and format options.
  12. “Blocks” do what?: Yeah, I’m sure they are awesome for people extending the platform, but every time I tried to pull one in, it didn’t make any sense for me yet. Perhaps, my use cases just didn’t warrant it but they seem like nice avenues for extending the Airtable platform. I’m just not using them for my needs.

That is all I can think of right now. I get that Airtable is a newbie and it will improve. I have to say, it’s impressive and I’m in on it, but I’m finding it tough to go all in on it without some major adds to give it the polish and functions needed that are currently present in Smartsheet around PM work.

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