Hands-on: Gmail for Android’s Google Material Theme isn’t radical, save for one new feature

Apps & Updates

Gmail for Android


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Last April, Google completely revamped Gmail on the desktop web with a focus on machine learning-powered features and other smart functionality. Now available on Gmail for Android, this redesign includes a handful of other changes beyond the Google Material Theme that are welcome carry-overs from the web counterpart.

After updating to version 9.1 (from 8.x), the new Gmail welcomes users to the “fresh new look.” Tapping “Next” will immediately surface the new “Choose a view” option where users can select between Default, Comfortable, and Compact. This option is available after setup in Settings > General settings > Conversation list density.

“Default” will list included email attachments right in the primary inbox view. Users can click to open a document or photo immediately, with the pill-shaped indicator featuring a file type icon and name. This is remarkably convenient for quick access to tickets and other passes.

“Comfortable” is nearly identical, but with attachments only denoted by the standard paperclip icon next to the time/day/date in the upper-right corner. Meanwhile, “Compact” replaces profile images at the left with check boxes for bulk selection and removes even more padding. This view is quite dense and handy for those that have always wanted to replicate the web’s density in the mobile apps. Default Comfortable Compact

Gmail’s Material Theme does away with the red app bar for a white search field that features a hamburger button to the left and profile icon to the right. Tapping this latter element opens a menu to switch accounts with the number of unread messages noted next to each. Users can also quickly add a new account or manage Google settings.

With the new account switcher, the navigation drawer simply says “Gmail” at the top with “All inboxes” and “Inbox” next. There is a “Recent labels” section that shows your last three opened folders, with “All labels” below that. Shortcuts for Calendar and Contacts remain at the bottom, with Settings and Help & feedback rounding out the menu.

The core navigation of Gmail for Android is unchanged. All icons have been updated with the Material Theme style of bold outlines and hollow interiors, while Smart Reply chips feature faint gray outlines at the bottom of emails. Another updated element is the floating snack bar to undo various actions.

Gmail Android Google Material Theme
Gmail Android Google Material Theme
Gmail Android Google Material Theme
Gmail Android Google Material Theme

There are some nice animations — watch how the top menu loads when selecting messages in bulk — and the multi-colored FAB is available in the bottom-right corner for composing. Gmail on mobile now does a better job of warning about dangerous messages with a larger red banner, while features like reply and follow up Nudges already rolled out to mobile last year.

In all, the redesigned Gmail for Android is not too radical a design departure. Google could have opted for a bottom bar, but the navigation drawer would have been sorely missed for providing quick access to labels. Of course, the stark white background is today’s immediate complaint, but it does help brightly colored labels standout when quickly sifting through unread messages.

While the fundamental experience of using Gmail on mobile is unchanged, the new density options should not be ignored. As a productivity app, it is important to be able to sift through tons of messages on a constrained screen. The Compact view helps achieve this and a great carry-over from the web.

Version 9.1 of Gmail for Android is rolling out now via the Play Store.

Gmail Android Google Material Theme
Gmail Android Google Material Theme
Gmail Android Google Material Theme
Gmail Android Google Material Theme

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