Airtable, Knack, Zoho Creator Comparison

In this article, I am going to compare the features of Airtable, Knack and Zoho Creator – the three platforms I’ve chosen to work with for clients following an extensive evaluation of the no/low code database market.

I have been using these three database/app building platforms for some time now and thought it would be useful to do a comparison of their features, strengths and weaknesses…


Feature Area
Airtable
Knack
Zoho Creator
User Interface (general)
Beautiful – BUT you are working in a Spreadsheet like UI which is both the design and end user environment. This means that there is risk of users changing things they shouldn’t.
In my experience, the Spreadsheet UI design leads inexperienced users to approach their databases like they would a spreadsheet and this can lead to some poor database designs.
Recent additions of Personal and Locked views help a little here.
Builder: The Builder is where you create your Objects (tables) and then the pages, reports (cross tabs, charts, maps etc) which the user sees.
End User: The end user gets a relatively modern, responsive UI which is well ‘locked down’. Particular strengths are the ability to produce pages with multiple tables and other ‘views’ which enable a rich user experience.
Like Knack, the UI is separate for developers and users with the paradigm based around Forms (creating a form also creates the Table behind). Like Knack, the developer can build rich UIs including the ability to trigger emails and other events and workflows.
My only issue is the cumbersome way Sub-forms are handled.
Security
Very limited at the moment. Users can be given Creator, Editor, Commenter or Read only access but once they have access to a ‘base’ then they can see ANY of the data within it. In the light of GDPR and similar data protection laws this could lead to significant compliance issues. Also, no EU servers.
Very comprehensive features allow builders to quickly provide multiple levels of access to data through a UI which responds to the settings for the logged in user. This includes both feature level access and row (data) level control.
Very comprehensive features allow builders to quickly provide multiple levels of access to data through a UI which responds to the settings for the logged in user. This includes both feature level access and row (data) level control.
Media Handling Etc
Airtable has great features for handling documents, images etc. Multiple files can be uploaded to the same Attachment field. This makes it ideal for teams dealing with media content such as design agencies, marketing departments etc.
A more traditional approach here allows you to add file upload and image fields to the database. Usefully, you can specify sizes for thumbnails for each image which can then be used for displaying images at sensible sizes in tables etc.
Again, the features here are similar to Knack in that you can choose the size to display images etc.
Programmability/Scripting
Airtable includes formulae, lookup fields etc – but no language or macro features. It is possible to implement automation externally using Zapier or Integromat – or coders can use the API.
Knack doesn’t have its own language but can be programmed semi internally using JavaScript. It’s also possible to use either Integromat or Zapier for this purpose.
I find the JavaScript option quite unfriendly and cumbersome and not suited to manipulating data – but for the seasoned JS developer this may be ideal.
However, I am constantly surprised by what can be achieved without code.
This is where Creator really scores. The Deluge language is very efficient (in terms of the amount of code needed) when manipulating data and enables creator to provide a relatively steady learning curve from beginner to expert. This is reminiscent of Access in its heyday – which was the basis of its success in my view.
‘Database’ features
Essentially a relational database at heart, Airtable is pretty visual in how data works. However, linking rules between tables can be broken (it’s possible even to break a one-to-many rule). This is especially likely as the UI imposes no real control over how data is entered.
The result is incorrectly linked records and orphan child records (no cascade deletes are possible).
No relational (SQL like) queries are available – related data is gathered through Lookup and Rollup fields.
With Knack you have a relational database which is presented to the user in a structured UI. So as long as the UI is built sensibly all should be well. However, it’s still not possible to define cascade deletes in relationships and so databases can become scattered with orphaned records.
Again, no relational (SQL like) queries are available.
With the exception of my comment about Sub-forms, Creator offers similar features to Knack with the very important addition of the ability to handle deletion of child records through the Deluge language. I hate having meaningless records in my databases!
Again, no relational (SQL like) queries are available.
In Use (for end users)
Airtable is great for simple solutions and those where all the users are familiar with the ‘design’ of the base (their name for database). However, the lack of control over what people can see and do leads to a host of problems.
Again, recent additions of Personal and Locked views help a little here.
The end user’s UI is pretty modern looking, and you can control it further with CSS and embed it in other web pages to really make the UI attractive.
Similar to Knack, the end result is a good clean looking app.
‘Pages’ feature allows the creation of attractive dashboards etc.
Mobile
There are mobile apps for Airtable but not all features are available – but it does provide access to data on the move. Unfortunately, even using a browser on a tablet limits the UI to it’s mobile feature set.
The latest Knack ‘Standard Theme’ is relatively responsive and provides most features in a mobile browser.
Zoho Creator has extensive features for making mobile / desktop apps and is by far the strongest here in this area.
Offline access available from Premium plan up.
Reports / Charts etc
In a Pro account you get Airtable’s Blocks feature which provides a whole host of features for charts, cross tabs, maps etc. Without this, though, you are limited to creating views (Grid, Calendar, Gallery and Kanban) which can be filtered and grouped (with subtotalling).
Quite comprehensive charts, cross tabs, maps etc are available. End users can be given the option to add / change filtering etc.
Very similar to the features available in Knack.
External Users
External (not logged in) users are limited to viewing a shared base or view read only or entering data through Airtable forms. (i.e. no editing of data).
You can build pages within Knack which are either password protected or not – unprotected pages can be used by anyone. This means that you can easily have public facing, editable pages.
Of more interest, perhaps, is that it’s easy to create self-registration feature which give people access to certain areas of your solution.
External Users catered for via “Customer Portal” which is quite an expensive option.
Social Elements
Special data fields for “Collaborators” (users) which provide alert etc. Commenting feature for all records which allow @mentions etc.
None provided – up to builder to implement within solutions.
Chat features available – but not integrated with data in the application.
Pricing / Licence model
Priced per user:

Plus - $12 per user per month
Pro - $24 per user per month

Free tier limited to 1200 records in a base.

Can quickly get expensive with multiple users. Pro plan recommended.
Price based on Features / Capacity:

Starter: $39 a month
Pro: $79 a month

Unlimited users

Other plans are available offering more storage and records etc. Pro plan recommended.
Priced per user:

Basic: $15 per user per month
Premium: $30 per user per month
Summary
Airtable is a great choice for more ad-hoc solutions for small teams. It provides a very visual user experience making good use of colours etc. When the complexity, number of users or security requirements climb then the lack of control over what a user can see and do becomes an issue.
Knack enables you to build solid, secure solutions with no coding. They look decent out of the box and can be improved by embedding into a nice webpage. The only shame is that Knack’s programmability relies on JavaScript which is not very user friendly.
Building solutions with Creator gives you a continuous learning curve from their simple workflows and email alerts through to the full power of a data-oriented language (Deluge). This makes Creator ideal if you need complex logic in your app – or you are already invested in the Zoho suite.



I would be interested to hear what your experience is with these 3 platforms (or others) - join the conversation below!




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