Airtable vs Google Sheets: The Ultimate Guide
An in-depth comparison of Airtable and Google Sheets.
An in-depth comparison of Airtable and Google Sheets.
Airtable and Google Sheets are two of the world’s most important business tools. With flexible, spreadsheet interfaces, these apps power companies of all shapes and sizes. At first glance, these spreadsheet giants seem very similar. Some have gone as far as describing Airtable as “Google Sheets 2.0”. But if go beyond the surface, you’ll notice Airtable and Google Sheets are drastically different.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the details of these tools, explain exactly what makes them different, and determine who they’re best for.
Google Sheets was initially released in 2006. At the time, TechCrunch called it “another shot across the bow of Microsoft Office”. At its core, Sheets was about bringing Excel-like spreadsheet capabilities online. To this day, that is still the essence of the product. As Google describes the tool in their learning center:
“With Google Sheets, you can create and edit spreadsheets directly in your web browser—no special software is required. Multiple people can work simultaneously, you can see people’s changes as they make them, and every change is saved automatically.”
Sixteen years after launch, Google Sheets has remained a simple, yet powerful online spreadsheet. You can fill up millions of rows of data, create thousands of columns, and do basically all the things you used to do in Excel. If you’re new to Sheets, Hubspot has a terrific overview.
Common Use Cases
TLDR: Google Sheets = simple spreadsheets online
Airtable was founded in 2012 and launched publicly in 2015. The default view for Airtable looks like a colorful version of Google Sheets. When you open the product, you’ll notice the familiar rows and columns that define an online spreadsheet.
That’s where the similarities begin to end. Unlike traditional spreadsheets, Airtable lets you explicitly set the type of each column. In addition to plain text, you can input dates, attachments, single selects, and more. Airtable also allows you to link records across their equivalent of spreadsheets (which they call “tables”). These linked records allow you to create connections across your data. In this regard, Airtable behaves much more like a database than a spreadsheet.
Common Use Cases
TLDR: Airtable = spreadsheet-database hybrid
Google Sheets is plain simple. If you’re above a certain age, you grew up using Microsoft Excel. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Google Sheets simply took what was working for Excel and brought it online. Over the years they’ve refrained from overhauling the product too much, so they’ve remained very familiar. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
There’s nothing inherently complicated about Airtable, but it’s hard to compete with the simplicity of a spreadsheet.
The tradeoff to Google Sheets’ intense familiarity is that they have not evolved nearly as rapidly as competitors. In terms of breadth of functionality, Airtable blows Google Sheets out of the water. Airtable’s core offering includes field types and linked records. These features transform the product from a spreadsheet to a flexible database. Additionally, Airtable comes with a handful of views which quickly modify how your data is displayed. These views include calendars, kanban boards, forms, gantt charts, and more.
Google practically paved the road for online collaboration with Google Docs and Google Sheets. Their shared presence, real-time commenting, and share link features are still some of the best on the internet today. Additionally, it helps when you can have up to 100 collaborators on the free tier.
All that said, Airtable takes collaboration to the next level. They have comments as well as revision history built into each individual record. More importantly, the core product lends itself well to collaboration. Features like kanban views and calendar views are perfectly suited for collaboration.
Both tools are great for collaborating, so preference depends on your use case.
Advantage: Airtable (slightly)
What makes a spreadsheet powerful is that you can not only store data, but you also work with it. Specifically, you can use formulas to manipulate data in ways that produce insights. Google Sheets again copies Excel with formulas built into each cell. By typing “=”, you unlock hundreds of functions that can be combined to calculate almost anything. It’s highly flexible and powerful enough for advanced data models.
Airtable instead offers formulas as a field type that you can set at the column-level. They have a smaller number of expressions, but you can still take a significant number of actions on your data. If you’re using Airtable as a database, their formulas feature is terrific. It just doesn't have the intense flexibility of Google Sheets’ cell-level functionality.
Integrations make spreadsheets significantly more powerful. They allow you to import data from other systems, sync data out, or manipulate your data. Both Google Sheets and Airtable have Zapier integrations, but Sheets’ is much more robust. For comparison, Airtable’s Zapier integration has 6 triggers to Sheets’ 18 triggers.
Airtable makes up for this deficit by building integrations directly into their product. They have an entire data sync featurethat lets you consistently pull in data from other tools like Salesforce. Airtable also has robust API documentation that makes it easy for developers to build their own integrations.
Strength comes in numbers for Google Sheets’ community. They don’t release the exact figures publicly, but Sheets’ monthly active user count is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions. With this many users worldwide, it’s not surprising you can find any number of Google Sheets tutorials on YouTube.
Airtable’s active customer count pales in comparison, but is still large at over 300,000. What Airtable lacks in sheer volume of their community, they make up for in enthusiasm. The Airtable community has been much more carefully designed and has been a big driver of their success. Airtable users are enthusiastic and loyal. Entire sub-communities, like BuiltOnAir, have popped up to share and discuss Airtable usage. Airtable users are also privy to an active forum as well as a seemingly endless supply of templates.
While you could make an argument for Google Sheets’ sheer volume, I’ll take the connectedness of Airtable’s community.
As part of the Google Workspace suite, Google Sheets is 100% free for most people. It’s pretty incredible. The free version comes with a massive 10M record limit and up to 100 collaborators, so it’s effectively uncapped. Enterprises pay for Google Sheets at $12/user/month but odds are, if you’re reading this article, you’re getting Sheets for free.
Airtable, on the other hand, has a more traditional freemium model. They offer a powerful free tier with unlimited bases and up to 1,200 records per base. Where it starts getting expensive is with the collaborators. The free tier limits you to 5 collaborators, after which it’s either $12 or $24/user/mo depending on the plan you choose.
Ultimately, you can’t beat free!
Advantage: Google Sheets
When faced with the option, most people tend to choose Google Sheets for analysis over Airtable. While Airtable has charts and pivot table apps available, it’s not quite as familiar as Google Sheets’ Excel-like functionality.
Advantage: Google Sheets
If you’re building a no-code app, you often need a no-code database. Google Sheets and Airtable are two of the most commonly considered options for this task. In either app, you can store loads of data and use Zapier to connect that data to other no-code tools. While Sheets is respectable as a no-code database, it doesn’t quite match Airtable’s power in this arena.
The main difference is that Airtable actually behaves like a database as opposed to a spreadsheet. In Airtable you can link records across tables which enables more complex data models. Additionally, flexible field types allow you to store more interesting information like video. The kicker is that Airtable makes it easier to do stuff once you’ve stored your data. You can use Interface to build a frontend or Automations to streamline processes, all with no code.
Spreadsheets hold important business data, so it’s only natural to build apps that work on top of that data. Both tools offer apps in the form of Airtable's “Marketplace” and Google Sheets' “Add-Ons”. Airtable and Sheets have taken different philosophical approaches to their app stores.
Airtable has been much more hands-on with the development of their Marketplace. First they seeded the Marketplace with a handful of their own apps for things like pivot tables and charts. Then they worked directly with a group of partners brands like Typeform and Miro to fill out the store. Finally, they built an Apps sidebar directly into the main product, making it a key feature for all new users.
Google Sheets, on the other hand, has let their add-ons suite evolve organically. It’s not as obvious how you find add-ons when using Google Sheets. That said, their massive volume of users has attracted lots of interest from developers, so there’s no shortage of add-ons available.
This one is another toss up depending on whether you prefer the breadth of Google Sheets or the curation of Airtable.
It’s natural to compare Google Sheets and Airtable, but in reality they often serve different use cases. Google Sheets tends to own the use cases on the poles. If you have a small, simple set of data, nothing is easier than a plain ‘ol Google Sheet. On the other end, if you’re trying to build a fancy financial model, it’s going to be hard to do that in Airtable. Therefore it’s also best to turn to Sheets.
For everything in between, Airtable is your best bet. As a spreadsheet-database hybrid it’s flexibility is unrivaled. Use it to build a no-code database, content marketing pipeline, or project management board. Take advantage of Interfaces and Automations to convert your data into a full-fledged app. Ultimately Airtable offers a set of lego blocks that can be combined and rearranged to build just about anything.
Reason you might choose Sheets
I want Excel but online. Nothing more. Nothing less. Don’t bother me with other fancy shenanigans.
Reason you might choose Airtable
I have big dreams for my data. I want to organize it, turn it into a mini-app, or link it all together like a database.
Airtable and Google Sheets both bring a lot to the table. Often it’s frustrating to have to choose just one. With Whalesync, you can combine data across Airtable and Google Sheets to get the best of both worlds. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
Now your data is kept in sync, in real-time, across Airtable and Google Sheets. This is great if you would like to use Airtable, but your clients prefer Google Sheets. With Whalesync, you can edit the same data across different tools.
Stay up to date with the latest no-code data news, strategies, and insights sent straight to your inbox!
We keep your data in sync, so you can focus on your product.