The Gmail app for Android (free) is a much more colorful experience since its most recent update. What was formerly a more serious-looking app, mostly black, white, and blue, is now perky with primary colors. Red features prominently in the top banner and compose button, and other primary colors are used to indicate your contacts when they haven’t updated loaded a photo to a compatible account. The result feels more personal (or at least more BYOD) than business-oriented. I can’t say the design is necessarily better or worse than the previous one, but it’s certainly noticeable. As for functionality, the app works just as well as it always has, with a fast search, support for multiple accounts, and simple interface.
Gmail With or Without Other Google Apps
The decision to keep email in an entirely separate app and not integrate it more tightly with Google Calendar seems to me more of a fad than the right choice, functionally speaking. It’s rare to find an email app that includes a built-in calendar, and I wish there were more of them. Gmail on the Web actually offers a calendar integration on the same screen as your inbox, but it’s an experimental Labs feature. At least the Gmail app on Android has, since earlier this year, tightened its integration with Google Drive to make it easier to add attachments from that service. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for full calendar integration.
The new version of the app makes more prominent Gmail’s labels for auto-filtered messages, which are helpful additions if you use them (I don’t). Swiping gestures to manage mail also aren’t as advanced as they could be, or as they are in apps such as Mailbox, or even Apple’s own Mail app, as of iOS 8.
Something To Be Said For Simplicity
The Gmail Android app remains simple and straightforward, and there’s a lot to say for simplicity. But there’s certainly room to grow. It could add more features for power users who want greater control over their inboxes from a mobile device. Or it could provide new features and functionality for email novices who need help getting in control of their inboxes. Right now, it doesn’t do a heck of a lot for either camp.
A lot of what’s in the interface isn’t new—it just has new layer of design. You’ll still find your inbox as the default view with a list of messages and the sender name and subject line in bold when they’re unread. Appropriate labels appear on the preview list as does the timestamp for mail delivered today and a date for older messages.
You also won’t find any changes to the basic concept of threads and how they’re displayed in the mobile app. When other Gmail or Google apps users have uploaded profile pictures to their account, they show up alongside their name. If not, a circle with their first initial appears in any one of a variety of colors.
Limited Swipe Gestures
When you swipe a message either left or right, there’s only one action: archive. Thankfully, an undo button appears in place of the message for quite some time in case you archived something accidentally. Other email client apps that have developed swipe functionality for messages usually offer at least two or three more options, such as delete or move. My favorite option from the Mailbox app, which also shows up in Inbox for Gmail (for both Android and iPhone) is snooze, which hides the message from your inbox until an appropriate time that you choose, when it reappears as an unread piece of mail.
A collapsible menu on the left lets you switch accounts, as the Gmail Android app supports multiple email accounts—and not only emailing Google apps, but also other IMAP/POP mail accounts, including other webmail accounts such as Yahoo Mail, Outlook.com, and so forth.
At the bottom of the menu, below all of the labels you set up in your account, you will find settings, as well as a link to help and feedback. The settings provide the right level of control for a mobile app, including options to turn on notifications, signature customization, and a vacation responder.
The vacation responder, also sometimes called out-of-office message, makes it much simpler to set up a default bounce mail for certain dates then Outlook ever has. It’s a very well implemented feature, and one that I think is important to have on a mobile email client.
Room for Growth
As you’d expect from Google, the search in Gmail works fast, but not noticeably faster than in the previous version of this app. All in all, it’s a great app that still has room to grow for both power users and email lightweights.