Today, Google spent an hour giving away invites to its new email manager, Inbox by Gmail. If you haven’t heard anything about it, here’s a handy Google guide to explain:
When I first saw that video, I realized how far email has come. When I first got email in 1999, it was an amazing tool for keeping in touch with far flung friends and relatives. Fast forward 15 years and it’s become an annoyance. It often feels like an admin job I don’t get paid for doing.
And this year seems to be my worst year ever for mailbox management. My Gmail mailbox is bursting, I have an ACTION label on so much stuff it’s become almost pointless and the waves of email just keep crashing down on me.
I saw the light though. Inbox is the answer, I thought, and the Google angels sang with joy. Today I got my invite and now I’m stood here, quaking in disbelief at the bleeding edge of technology.
So what’s the verdict?
Mobile for the win
Straight of the box, Inbox looked crisp and clean on my weapon of choice, the Android Nexus 5, below left. Inbox does operate on desktop too, but let’s face it, the minimal layout looks rubbish, below right.
So clearly, Inbox is aimed at mobile movers and shakers, not desktop dinosaurs. Which is fine by me, as I really only use a desktop platform for my emails at work. I deal with 99% of my personal email on my cellphone – and by deal with, I mean leave to rot because it’s too much hassle sorting through them all, then writing long, epic replies on such a small screen.
Maybe this is how Inbox will help me – enable me to sort through things more easily? Maybe when they’re in “bundles” I’ll feel better about sweeping them away, undealt with?
Having said all that, if I use Gmail on desktop and Inbox on mobile, it will be interesting to see whether using the two mesh smoothly together.
Oh and in case you were wondering, that big red button in the bottom right corner of the interface is what you press to write a new email.
Bundles and pinning
So that’s form. What about function?
I downloaded the Android app onto my cell easily enough, using a link in the invite I was sent. Once you open the app, Google checks which account you want to use and voila – there it is.
But as I tried to make sense of the interface in those first few moments, I didn’t find it that intuitive.
There is an explainer video, which was helpfully emailed to me once I downloaded the app, and I dutifully watched it. Here it is for your viewing pleasure:
But as usual, I learned by just diving right in and experimenting. It took me about half an hour before I felt like I’d got used to some of the layout and operations. I’m still not finished.
Through some trial and error, I figured out how to assign emails to “bundles” automatically. These bundles are then presented in your inbox only when there’s a new message to check AND only when you want to see it e.g. once a day, once a week or as soon as the new message arrives.
There are some quirks to doing this. For example, to set up auto adding of an email type to a bundle you need to choose that function from within the message view. If you try to do it from the inbox bundle view, it simply moves that one message, without setting up an auto add function.
Other options I have yet to use include pinning important emails to your inbox – there’s also an option you can toggle to see only pinned messages – or write a reminder to yourself, which will appear at the top of your inbox. Maybe mine could say “Deal with my damn email.”
Inbox vs Boomerang
And then we come to snoozing. Or boomeranging, depending on your allegiances.
Inbox lets you snooze an email and have it come back to you at a later time or once you’ve reached a more convenient location. This is pretty much exactly the same as Boomerang, a service I have been using for years to “boomerang” emails back to me at a more convenient time.
Recently, Boomerang has also incorporated the facility to boomerang according to location, probably to ward off competition from Inbox.
That said, Boomerang still has one major advantage over Inbox and Gmail – it allows me to schedule the sending of emails, something Google hasn’t ever developed, so I’m not leaving it any time soon.
Another shortcoming of the traditional Gmail app is the lack of a select all option. When I am looking at a whole bunch of social notifications that quite quickly I decide can all be deleted, it would be really helpful to be able to select all and delete rather than having to select each one individually.
In Inbox, this shortcoming has been circumvented somewhat. If I look in my Social bundle and see a bunch of emails that can all just be marked done, I can return to the inbox view and swipe away the bundle. It will disappear from my inbox until a new message is autopulled in. I’m not sure yet whether it brings all those other emails with it or not.
I only just got started by already I know there’s a lot I have to learn about Inbox. Like most Gmail tools, Inbox really requires you to think about how it could serve you and you need to envision that endpoint, before you can truly set it up effectively and tailor it to your needs.
I love that stuff, so I’m excited to get used to using Inbox. But ultimately, I just hope it lives up to its claims and finally becomes a mailbox that works for me.