There’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to email, which is why Google offers two mobile versions of Gmail—one that’s simplified for people who want help, and another that gives power users tight control over email management. The former is called Inbox by Gmail, and it pushes the envelope of email ease of use. Inbox by Gmail makes email simpler with its smart interface and special features that slim down your inbox and help users quickly process messages. This is an excellent email app for casual users who just want email to be simpler, but power users who like a lot of control should stick with the standard Gmail app instead. I tested the iPhone app, but, as you might expect, it’s available for Android, too, and you can also access it via the Web.
Price and Supported Services
Inbox by Gmail is completely free to use, but Google makes money from its users in a variety of ways, such as through targeted advertising. Bear in mind that just because this mobile email client app is free doesn’t mean you’re not giving anything of value to Google in return for the productivity gains it offers.
Note this app’s biggest drawback is that you can only use it with Gmail. It doesn’t pull in messages from other email services, such as Yahoo! Mail or Outlook.com. If you need an app that consolidates all your inboxes into one, you might look to SaneBox or Boxer instead.
Design and Features
I like that Inbox by Gmail is built and designed with casual users in mind. The screen real estate has a little more white space than the regular Gmail app, giving the Inbox app a less severe feel. Colors further brighten up its look. Simple tools, such as the ability to sweep all messages in a certain group (typically grouped by date) into your archives, make the app efficient for processing messages.
Before you even get to that, however, the app automatically tidies up your inbox by labeling messages by type, such as purchase confirmations or flight details, and by making them visually different, too. Google calls these Bundles. Important content from the email body gets summarized into a card-style display that gives you the important stuff up front. For example, in the image above you can see the key details of a purchase from an emailed receipt.
You’re supposed to be able to create your own email Bundles, too, although this didn’t work as I has hoped in my testing. I created a new Bundle that should have gathered emails from people who often send me contracts. Once I locked in all the details, I set the Bundle loose on my email to gather the messages from my inbox. But it did nothing. Although there were no directions specifying it, perhaps, I reasoned, the Bundle would only gather new incoming messages and not existing ones.
So I set up a new test Bundle that would contain emails sent from an Outlook address I own, which would let me see how it handles new incoming messages. I sent a test message, and it arrived in the inbox, but didn’t show up in the Bundle. The next day, however, an email thread completely uneonnected from that Outlook address showed up in the Bundle. So did a Google Hangout thread. Either the feature doesn’t work or the directions for using it are wrong. The premade Bundles work just fine, however, so I am hopeful that Google can get the self-created ones straightened out soon.
That’s only a small part of the app, however, and the other features do work as expected. Snoozing a message, for example, means it disappears from your inbox temporarily, and then reappears as new and unread at a time you select. Snooze is an excellent email feature made popular by the Mailbox app, which will be retired from service in late February 2016. Snooze is finally starting to appear in other email apps, too, including Boxer and the Outlook mobile app (where it’s called Schedule). I can’t believe it’s not more widely used. Inboxcube doesn’t have it, nor does the mobile Yahoo! Mail app.
Pinned Inbox and Reminders
Another feature in the Inbox for Gmail app is Pinning, which is similar to marking an email with a star in Gmail. Now, however, there’s a Pinned messages view that you can see with a single toggle at the top of the app.
I like the concept of pinning, as it acknowledges that the inbox is no longer a place where only important messages are stored. With the vast amount of storage allotted to Gmail accounts, many people never delete anything. Google and the Gmail team seem to understand that people need another way to find their most important information.
Reminders are a nice addition, too. Reminders are tasks or to-dos that you can create for yourself in Gmail. When you switch to the Pinned view, your reminders also appear at the top. Again, it feels like an acknowledgement on Google’s part that people struggle to keep their most important information from drowning in the email deluge.
When Inbox by Gmail is Not for You
Inbox by Gmail has plentiful features and a simple design for people who want help with their email, but for those of us who like more hands-on control, it’s not the right app. If you’ve highly customized your Gmail experience by setting up filters and incorporating other email assistant services, such as SaneBox or Unroll.me, the new Inbox by Gmail app isn’t for you. You’ve basically already fine-tuned your Gmail to create your own personalized version.
I wish there were a calendar integrated into Inbox by Gmail (there isn’t one in the standalone Gmail app either); that’s something that’s missing from a lot of email clients. When I respond to emails, I often need to know what meetings, appointments, holidays, and so forth are on my plate. Inbox by Gmail at least shows your Reminders in the context of your email, which may be useful for some, although I purposely don’t conflate my to-do list and my inbox. My calendar is entirely separate. Two apps that do include calendar views are Outlook and Boxer.