Mail app

I posted my review of the Mailbox app back in March 2013 and highly recommended it. With the recent announcement of Dropbox shutting it down, I have been getting quite a number of people asking me what app they should switch to.

A day after I posted the review, Dropbox acquired Mailbox. I was wary of such acquisitions because history has shown us that big companies often end up killing apps and services they buy. We only need to look as far as the Sparrow app, the highly popular email client that was acquired by Google, and subsequently ceased development.

So, I was not surprised when Dropbox announced that Mailbox would be closed next February. I was glad I had switched from Mailbox a while back, so I would not have to scramble to find a replacement. Several people asked me what mail app to use, since I so highly recommended Mailbox and they enjoyed it as much as I did.

It was only then that I realised I have not updated about my change to Apple’s Mail app.

Alternative apps

Sparrow had been my primary mail app, and when Google killed the app, I had to hunt for alternatives on my phone and Mac. I ended up with Mailbox for iOS and Airmail for OS X. The use of gestures in Mailbox greatly boosted my productivity and helped me achieve Inbox Zero daily. I was checking my inbox on the go and Airmail was a mere auxiliary for when I needed to work with emails on my Mac.

Although I enjoyed Airmail and was a beta-tester for a long time, I still found the app lacking. I just couldn’t get into a workflow that fit my style. When OS X Yosemite was released, I decided to give the OS X Mail app a try. Surprisingly, the app ticked all the boxes and made itself my default email client.

Pleased with my experience on OS X, I started using the iOS 7 Mail app to see if it was as good. The app exceeded my expectations. It helped that Apple added support for gestures, something that I really loved when I used Mailbox.

I was in a period of purging unnecessary apps from my phone. The switch to a minimalist approach stemmed from the desire to purge distractions and reduce the need for me to over think. If I had more than one apps that had the same function, I chose one and deleted the rest.

You might wonder who would want multiple apps that did the same thing? Well, I had over 200 photography apps that took a photo, edited a photo or did both. If you’re curious, I now use the iOS Camera app to shoot and VSCO to process.

That’s minimalism. And a topic for another day.

Anyway, the point is that I chose to use only the Mail app and decided to stop using Mailbox. Why use a third-party app when the default one works just as well? It followed the same simple theory as how I decided to shoot with the iOS Camera app instead of a third party app.

Mail app

The Mail app has improved tremendously on both iOS and OS X. Since the queries I get are from iOS users, I’ll not address the features of OS X Mail app.

Gestures and 3D Touch

The main noticeable change is the use of gestures. Swipe to flag, archive or trash, and to mark as read or unread. These are all customisable under the Mail settings. On the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, you can do even more with 3D Touch. You can Peek to get a preview of the email, and drag up for a list of actions such as reply, forward, flag or mark as junk. You can even turn on notifications for individual email threads.

I really like being able to Peek, which is to press lightly, to get a preview. If I want to view the full email, I press further in Pop and I go into the full email view. It is not an exaggeration to say that 3D Touch will revolutionise how we interact with the touchscreen. You have to use it to appreciate it.

And, yes, I have switched to the 6S.

Spotlight and Siri

When you swipe right from the iOS Home Screen, you go into the Spotlight Search page. It has been enhanced in iOS 9, allowing you to search your email, files and contacts. It even shows Siri Suggestions with your most recently used contacts and apps.

Being able to search through my email with a swipe from the Home Screen is simply awesome. To top it off, you can even search with voice dictation. You don’t even need to use Spotlight if you prefer to dictate. Just tell Siri to “Search my emails for…”

If you have “Hey Siri” turned on, you don’t even need to hold the home button. Just say, “Hey Siri, search my emails for…” and the results get pulled up. As a security measure, this doesn’t work if your phone is locked.

You can even stop halfway through drafting your email and tell Siri to remind you to finish it at a later time. Siri will create a reminder, and an alert if you specified a date and time.

Markup

Markup was introduced in Mail app on OS X Yosemite. It allows you to annotate and edit email attachments. The feature made its way to the iOS Mail app in iOS 9. Tap and hold the attachment, then select Markup to enter the editor.

You can sketch, zoom, add text or sign the document. When you draw in sketch mode, if you draw a standard shape, you can choose to replace it with a shape instead of using your sketch.

Multitasking

While you are writing an email, you might need to check another email message for some information. Most people save the draft and then poke through their inbox. But you can skip that an just minimise your draft.

When in the draft mode creating or replying an email, you are actually in a layer above the inbox view. Drag to pull down the draft layer and it becomes minimised. You can browse your inbox as normal. When you’re done, tap on the minimised draft and it will pop back up.

Those of you who need to sign digital documents often would appreciate the usefulness of being able to add your signature to a document without having to leave the Mail app.

Calendar integration

If you use the iOS Calendar app, you can pump events into it from the Mail app. Mail automatically detects time and date information in your emails and underlines them. Tap on the underlined text and to add the event to your Calendar.

Handoff

I work with my phone and Mac interchangeably. Handoff allows me to draft an email on either my phone or Mac, and continue on my other device. Of course, you can save your current draft, wait for it to sync to the other device, and then continue. But why go through that hassle when you can just Handoff?

That’s right. I often switch between my phone and Mac while working on a task, so Handoff has a big impact on my productivity and workflow.

Other options

I couldn’t recommend the Mail app more, for both iOS and OS X. It probably stems from the simplicity of using default apps instead of having to search for third party ones. It is delightful to work with tight ecosystem that allows me to transit seamlessly between my mobile and desktop.

That said, there are a couple of other options if you prefer not to use the Mail app, or if you want to try out several choices before deciding which to stick with.

Gmail: Great for those of you who are still using Gmail. Google has brought some of Sparrow’s features over to their own email client. I have read positive reviews and heard good things about the Gmail app, though I’m not sure how well it handles third party mail services.

Outlook: I have heard rave reviews for Microsoft’s attempt to embrace rival platforms and push its services to them. My partner Matt loves the Outlook app. It handles Gmail, iCloud and Fastmail well. And surprisingly, Gmail on Outlook works fine in China. That’s a big plus if you need to work from behind the Great Firewall.

I hope this brief review helps those who are looking for a new email app. Get in touch or tweet me @jenxi to share your experience with email clients.