Email is an old technology that is very similar to how it started out. And yet recently we’ve seen some big changes that have really shaken up the way many people use email and deal with email. Recently, this matter has been agitated further by a popular email client (Mailbox) that was a acquired by a big company declaring that it shut down. So we thought it would be good to update this email post for the New Year and see how the state of email has changed.
Personally, I too have undergone a “conversation” over my use of email and email client leading to me using a different combination of applications across the board.
Like the last time, this review will not tell you the best email app for everyone, but instead, will have a selection of email apps that should work well for how different people deal with email. Of course, If you use a different email client than is listed below, you are welcome to leave a comment and tell us why you use it.
Overview of Apps
Many mail applications run on multiple platforms and with that in mind I’ve tried to create a layout that is as logical as possible without repeating myself.
If I miss an application then please leave a comment and I’d love to know why you have chosen your app. We all have different reasons and that can be useful for others to read.
Gmail (Web, Mobile)
Gmail has become a very popular email service and for a few good reasons, the use of the tag system, the good mobile apps, and the widespread free accounts make it a very popular choice for many people. Gmail also supports extensions to add extra functions that users have added on to the service over the years.
Inbox takes standard Gmail and adds some extra features that you either love or hate. These include snoozing email, smart mailboxes grouping of themes like purchases, newsletters, promos etc and adding tasks from within mail. There are mobile apps as well as a web client that you can use.
Boxy is a way to run multiple email accounts within an inbox with the native Mac interface. If you like Inbox, but want a native Mac desktop client with keyboard shortcuts and multiple accounts, Boxy could be for you.
Outlook (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android)
Microsoft recently went on a spree of mobile application acquiring. Two of these apps were Accompli (a great third party email client) and Sunrise (a fantastic third party calendar application). Shortly afterwards Accompli became Outlook, bringing the great features of Accompli (swipe gestures, email snoozing, built in calendar), but now under official Microsoft branding.
Now the Sunrise team are also part of Outlook, meaning one of the best calendars (with task integration and a special keyboard to organize events) is going to become better integrated. There are also the classic desktop clients from Microsoft on both Windows and Mac.
However, it is worth noting that features like email snoozing do not yet sync from your mobile to desktop (unlike a tool like the now gone Mailbox). The desktop client will support exchange fantastically, has integrated tasks and calendar as well and comes along with Office 365 (so you have your other Microsoft products to).
Inky (ALL THE THINGS)
Inky supports Exchange, Google apps and IMAP severs (covering most basses). Inky also works on the major desktop and mobile clients with Windows, Mac, Android and iOS support. Inky uses it’s own severs to interface with your mail and allow you to do some pretty clever stuff across your devices. These include smart filtering (like Google inbox, but you can customize them more), high powered search and organizing by importance. However, to run these features, there is a $5 a month subscription. It makes sense, they are running their own servers to provide these features and they need some method to cover those running cost.
Airmail 2.5 (Mac, iOS)
Airmail is a Mac app with a new iPhone app [review coming soon]. It has a great look and design with some powerful features underneath. These include markdown editing, adding to your favorite task management tool, keyboard shortcuts and more. However, the aspect about airmail that really makes it stand out is the “task” approach the app takes to email. Each email lets you mark it as:
- to do
With folders relevant to each one. This lets you either save an email to complete later (to do), save the information in an email for reference (memo), or say that you have taken action to an email (done). Very nice.
Mail.app (iOS and Mac)
Mail.app is the default email client built into Mac and iOS devices. On iOS it is the default and unlike android devices which let you switch defaults, iOS doesn’t currently do this (and may well never offer this).
As such, if you click on an email address, it will open in Mail.app (in my mind that’s a good enough reason to consider mail.app as you’ll have to use it sometime!) Mail.app is probably “good enough” for many people, it offers gestures for quick archiving, deleting and moving emails. It also ties in with other iOS features such as VIP contacts for notifications and with the new “Siri” functions can do some smart actions like saving flight details or adding calendar events and making emails searchable via spotlight search.
However, Mail.app can be very temperamental with Gmail (especially on the Mac). I’ve seen Mail.app work fine with my Gmail account while others vented their anger and, more recently, I’ve seen Mail.app start to act very strangely with not syncing deletions, not downloading emails for long periods of time, and so on. Use with caution on the Mac.
MyMail (iOS, Android)
MyMail is a mobile email client that features some nice touches to improve your experience on your device. These include.
- specifying when to push email (limit it to certain times)
- filtering into different topics (with different notification settings)
- privacy settings on notifications (remove the sender name or subject)
- adding avatars of each email sender
- swipe based gestures
MyMail also supports a range of email protocols so yours will almost certainly be supported.
Spark (iPhone, iPad app in development)
Spark came out soon after we published last years roundup of email clients and it quickly caught my eye. Although it is currently only for the iPhone, it has so very nice features that make it really pleasant to use. Furthermore, unlike many previously mentioned apps, this app doesn’t require any special servers and so doesn’t peak at your private data. Spark mail’s features include:
- priority inbox (organised by topic and priority) or classic view (I love switching between the two)
- smart notification (only get distracted by important and urgent matters)
- support for a variety of storage providers (save or add an attachment to Dropbox, Google drive etc)
- quickly take action on emails (add a task, calendar appointment, save to read later, save to Evernote and more)
- smart, natural language search
- gestures which you can customize
- snoozing emails (with customizable snooze times!)
Personally, Spark is the best email client I have used, it has all the integration I want, handles the tasks on my device and can be customized as I like. It also doesn’t bother me when any old newsletter comes in, but always lets me know about emails I really need to read. It’s only downfall is it is only on the iPhone at the moment. There are plans for an iPad and Mac version, but that’s still in the future, furthermore, Windows and Android will never be supported as the developers only make Mac and iOS apps.
Cloud Magic (iOS, Android, Mac)
Cloud Magic is another server based email client that has a variety of app integrations that let you do some useful things with your email. These include todo applications, read it later services, Evernote and one note. The use of a serve helps you to sync data across devices and receive push notifications on your different devices. CloudMagic has most recently added a Mac app to their selection which lets you sync your actions across desktop and mobile…as long as you use a Mac.
Dispatch has been one of my favourite iOS apps for a while now. It was originally iPhone only, but with iOS 9, the developer made the app universal and added slide over support on the iPad. Thief makes it a great option to use while in another app, perhaps using that app for reference material when writing a message or if you get an idea and suddenly want to send a message off about it, just slide across, write and send.
Dispatch also features tools to help you get your email out of your inbox and elsewhere easily. These include the option to add to a variety of task management tools, add to a calendar, save to a read it later service or storage service and more. Dispatch is also very clever in letting you choose different defaults for data in emails. So normally clicking a link would open it in Safari, but with dispatch you could choose Chrome. Dispatch doesn’t get push notifications, so you need to have the app always running in the background and regularly check in. I love that, but other people hate it.
Android OEM apps (Android)
Every Android phone comes with a built in email client. Usually these are the email client from the Android open source project or they have been edited slightly (perhaps with a new color of paint). These apps have basic functionality that you need and support a selection of email formats; however, they often lack power features and don’t have the greatest design. They also vary a lot from each other, so it is hard to draw general conclusions. Their key advantage is that they are built in.
Boxer (iOS and Android, Built into Cyanogen 12 onwards)
Boxer has been around for a while but its biggest claim to fame recently has been a deal with Cyanogen Inc to make it the default email client on Cyanogen devices. That’s interesting when you consider the iOS version cost $4.99. Boxer like many other applications has quick actions built in including archiving, adding a todo item and sending to Evernote. It also features gestures for quick archiving, deleting or highlighting an item and these can be customized. The design is good and it features Android wear support for notifications and quick actions.
If you like Gmail’s web interface, but want a native app on your desktop, then check out Mailplane. Mailplane looks just like the web interface as it is a form of web wrapper for the Mac. However, Mailplane brings in standard Mac keyboard shortcuts, ties in to notification centr, as well as boasting integrations with some third party solutions like Evernote and Omnifocus.
Unibox takes a different approach to email. Instead of the traditional send, subject line, and extract of each email appearing chronologically, Unibox shows you just the sender much in the same way you have with most modern sms and messaging clients. Some of you are probably disgusted by that idea while others probably instantly love it. I doubt one group will change to the other.
Unibox supports the key email service providers (Gmail, Outlook Exchange, iCloud, Yahoo and iMap) as well as having a beautiful unified writing and reading Environment with a separate panel to view attachments on.
Honestly, I feel this would suit the regular individual better than the power productivity business person, but I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t try it if you like the idea. There is a 15-day trial on their site, so you can give it a go and see if you like it.
Mailmate is an ugly power mail app for iMap application. It has markdown support, keyboard shortcuts, advance search queries and smart mailboxes. It doesn’t look shiny and polished like other mail clients and it has a more retro aesthetic, but it gets the job done. If you want a power tool and don’t care about how it looks, then Mailmate could be for you.
Inbox Zero is a term coined by Merlin Mann and a philosophy and approach to email (and really the Internet as a whole) to help people deal better with their email. Many people take the name to simply mean keeping your inbox empty and either archive or take action on each email. While this is part of the approach, it misses the heart of Inbox Zero. If I had to summarize it in a few words
Inbox Zero is about your output prioritizing the inflow of information. It is about not being controlled by the demands of others and avoiding Fear of Missing Out
To do this, there are a few core principles:
- Check your email in batches, don’t always be on call.
- If it is a small quick task (2 mins or less), take action now.
- If it is a resource, file it away for later (archive, send to Evernote, etc…)
- If it is something you can’t take action on now (due to lack of information, needing more resources, etc…) then add it to your todo list and move it to a folder for “later.”
- Schedule when you will go through your “later” pile. Don’t let it pile up!
- Reduce the rubbish that comes in.
With that in mind, here are a few tools that can help you get to Inbox Zero (and stay there). One last tip I’d add is to use third party services to get those emails out of your inbox.
- Use a “read it later” service for articles you don’t have time to read now.
- Use Evernote, Dropbox or download reference materials.
- Use a task management tool to save tasks you need to do.
By doing this, you keep your inbox clean, and even if you get behind on your reading, at least you can easily see the tasks you need and it is easier to find reference material.
Triage is an iPhone app which helps you work through your email and cut out the rubbish. It isn’t a traditional email app in that you don’t have an inbox, nor will you get push notifications. Instead, you are present with a simple interface where you are shown a single email and given a few simple options.
You are shown an email as though it was a card and you have a couple of options. Flick and email up to archive it (or you can change this to delete/mark as read), flick it down to keep it unread for later, or tap to send a quick reply.
This helps you to take quick action and work through a whole stack of email clearing out your inbox, but keeping the ones you need for later.
The key difference between this and a traditional email app is you have to make a decision, you can’t postpone as a default, as that is actually something you are consciously deciding to do. This makes Triage great for when you are in a queue or have a few quick minutes.
Spark / Dispatch / Cloud Magic
One of the things I love about Spark, Dispatch, and Cloud Magic is their ability to let you take actions from your inbox which aren’t simply emailing a reply.
If you need to save an email for later, then you can send it to Evernote. If there is an article you’d like to read at a better moment, then send it to Pocket or Instapaper, if there is something that requires you to take action you can add it to your todo list and not use your email inbox as a task management tool.
These features are becoming more common, but still aren’t ever present.
As with task management apps, it is difficult to recommend a single app for people because people’s preferences and workflows for handling email vary wildly (not to mention that not every option will support your email client of choice). As such, consider this list some broad ideas and not definitive. I will explain my reasons why I recommend each choice but if that won’t work for you, then choose a different option (and preferable tell us why in the comments to help others who are in your situation).
Mail.app get’s a lot right and if you don’t care about all the fancy features and just need a regular client, go for the built in option. It allows you to make the most of hand-off, have a unified application on the Mac and iDevice as well, and you get a familiar app appearing when you click on an email address anywhere on your device. However, it can be a pain in the neck with Gmail (especially if you use two-factor authentication), so you might want to choose a different option there.
Advance (Mailbox, Cloud Magic, Outlook)
If you like the delaying email feature and have a Gmail or iCloud account then check out Spark, Cloud Magic or Outlook. Cloud Magic will sync between your desktop and mobile device today, while Spark say they are developing a desktop and iPad client and Outlook has a desktop service, but it doesn’t sync with the delayed emails.
All three services offer nice extra functionality as well as the delayed email features and so might be worth considering as a more advance email client.
Android (Cloud Magic, Outlook)
Many of the biggest email apps are now on Android (even if apps like Mailbox took a while to get there). Most of them go for a fairly similar approach offering some form of gesture swiping for quick actions as well as the increasing presence of delaying emails for later.
If you drink the Google kool-aid, then you’ll probably love either Gmail or Inbox, but seeing as inbox from Gmail doesn’t support a wide range of email service,s I have to recommend either Cloud Magic or Outlook. The services are very similar with the main difference being the inbuilt calendar in Outlook and the extra actions in Cloud Magic.
Windows (Outlook, Inky)
If you are happy using a web interface tool and don’t feel the need for a native client, then by all means, carry on using the web interface for Gmail, Yahoo! or other client. However, if you are looking for a few extra features or a better interface for your domains iMap account, then there are really only a couple of good options to check out.
Outlook is a classic email client and well respect for good reason. It supports a good selection of email services, includes a calendar (to help you organize tasks and events as soon as you receive an email).
Inky is an open source email client on the desktop which supports a range of email clients, offers some advance sorting with smart views and good search function built in.
[More Windows reviews coming soon!]
Mac (Mail.app, Airmail)
The Mac is a tricky beast and people use it in very different ways. For some people, they may as well have a chromebook and use a web app to access their Gmail or Yahoo! mail. If you don’t like fiddling or spending too much money then check out Mail.app (but be ready for some potential issues with gmail, especially if you have two factor authentication). If you don’t mind splashing some cash and want a few extra functions (with a more modern interface) then check out Airmail.
Delay Later (Inbox or Sanebox)
If you really want delayed later across desktop and mobile and can set up a new email account, then head over to Gmail and use Inbox. It has some great extras with smart grouping of emails, saving all your travel details together (which you can share with someone else) and it can delay emails too.
If you have a Windows PC or want the smart filters that come with Inbox by Gmail. If you want delayed email for iMap or another email service which isn’t Gmail, then you will have to check out services like Sanebox which you redirect your emails via its own servers and operates in between your email client and desktop client. Of course you have to pay for this service, but you also get extra features like the “sane later” folder (which hides less important emails) and the ability to CC yourself to get a follow up reminder (but only if there is no response from the other side).
My Personal Choice
I run a Mac, iPad and iPhone most of the time (though I do have an Android device too) and most of the time I’m lazy and use the standard offering of Mail.app.
Having used Dispatch on iOS for a long time, I recently switched to using Mail.app on my iPad and Spark on my iPhone. I hope Spark will come to the iPad and Mac soon, but until then, I’m happy with my choices.
We’re sending more and more emails and need better systems to help tackle the deluge. Some of these new features and approaches to email may really help you out or they may just not stick. That makes managing your email incredibly personal. It’s hard to pick a universal solution for everyone and I’m sure I’ve missed some really great options.