Following a month of testing and real-world use, I decided earlier this week to rope Airmail into my workflow as my main (and only) e-mail programme across all my devices. Airmail is a sharp and powerful app from Italian design and development studio, Bloop. For anyone who maintains a certain manner of working with tools that they use regularly, it is understandable that adding new tools — or replacing old ones around which your habits have long since formed — can be too huge a step. This new tool, whatever it is, has to offer something compelling to justify its use because, while it may offer a fun new feature, what is important is to recognise that it demands from the user, more than anything, is a certain level of dedication and investment — particularly of our time and our patience as we develop new habits around new tools.
In this light, Airmail (for iOS and Mac) is a tool that has won me over and so well that I have initiated it into my daily workflow. In other words, I will start out by recommending that the app is worth trying out, and my conclusion is that it is wonderful. The rest of this review, therefore, is meant to tell you why.
The troubles of multiple inboxes
As I have stated several times in the past, Apple’s stock Mail.app is good enough for most people — including me until a couple of years. Having moved to a completely different e-mail management now involving four addresses, I found the stock app limiting. For example, there is no quick way to tell which address an e-mail arrived at while looking through the unified inbox. Also, folder management is obsolete at best. My workflow invovlves three folders: references, to-do, and archival. While unwanted e-mails go to the bin, a majority of read e-mails almost always end up in the archival — or what Google calls the “All mail” lable. This is possible because my IMAP addresses with paltry 500MB storages are set up to forward to corresponding, dedicated Gmail accounts for ease of use and the 15GB space that comes free with every Google account. Some e-mails I may need for reference in the future are filed under “References” and those on which I need to take action are filed under “To-do”.
This is great for a single account, but when you have multiple accounts involved the only way to maintain this workflow is with three such folders in each account, which means, in my case, I end up referencing eight folders every time, especially if I do not recall which address an e-mail came to. Unlike a lot of people, I dislike smart folders and smart e-mail sorting; I prefer to manually handle things myself. And this is where Airmail comes in, tying in fully and vigorously with the idea of manually controlling your inbox. That means you have zero smart features but near-infinite, close control over every nook and cranny instead.
Airmail helps get things done
Airmail has inbuilt “To-do” and “Memo” lists. (I found that the Mac app inconsistently calls the latter as a “Note” list.) But the most important part of this is that the app allows folder mapping. This is one of a horde of customisation options Airmail offers, which I will address presently. By mapping Airmail’s “To-do” list to my existing “To-do” folders in each account, I end up with a single list where actionable e-mails from across all my accounts are filed for me to attend to. The same goes for memos. And the app offers to accent e-mails from each account with a different user-selectable colour in a manner remarkably similar to Cloudmagic — another excellent e-mail app — which means I can tell which address a particular e-mail arrived at just by looking at the swatch of colour.
Unless you are in search of smart inbox features, Airmail is hands down the best e-mail app you can find.
There are also Mailbox-inspired swipe gestures on Airmail, except where Mailbox and other current alternatives offer two, Airmail offers three swipe options on each side, or six quick actions in all. The app also integrates with a handful of services including Clear, Evernote, Wunderlist, Google Tasks, Github, Omnifocus, Fantastical, Asana, Trello, Dropbox and more. Bloop also promises that they encrypt “all communication to and from” the app. Airmail also offers to save smart folders, which can be a bunch of e-mails it filters out based on preset rules (with each set of rules being a folder). Consider this to be akin to saving your searches.
Besides all this functionality, Airmail goes further to offer granular control over almost all aspects of the app — account-wise notifications, display styles, tracking, sidebar ordering (complete with spacers), conversation re-ordering, ways of handling attachments and remote images, several signatures per account and so on. And it syncs all these settings and account details (except passwords) via iCloud across all your devices, so you only ever have to install the app and sign into your accounts and Airmail makes sure they work alike on all devices you access them from. The only apps faster than Airmail at pushing mails was Email by EasilyDo, and that too not every single time. But, frankly, it often does not matter to me too much if I read an e-mail a couple of minutes — or half a day — late.The only downside to Airmail is its 10 on Mac. In my opinion, they are both worth it for a product I use daily, and, while payment does not alone ensure an app will last, you can be sure that Airmail will last long enough because, unlike most free apps, they have a business model that is not entirely reliant on investors or long winded plans of getting acquired (which sometimes means getting shut down à la Mailbox).
Some things could be better
On the iOS apps that came relatively recently when compared to their years-old Mac counterpart, the app used to feel a little less polished than one would hope. But things got sorted out with a month of active development. Polymail, another slick e-mail programme whose story is taking similar roads as Airmail, is a lot rougher, being only in its alpha stages, but their development seems faster and sometimes I wish Airmail got updates that frequently. However, development is active and right now that is what matters.
Right off the bat the first thing that bothered me was that swiping was not as smooth as I had expected. Spark does it better, and Polymail, even in its alpha, seems to have nailed it. To be precise, swiping gestures on Airmail start late and end soon, so your swiping has to be incredibly precise or considerably slow, both of which go against the reason why swiping gestures exist — convenience and speed. I find myself deleting e-mails I intended to archive and flagging e-mails instead of marking them as tasks, all on a daily basis. Thankfully, Airmail has a contextual undo button that works perfectly.
I found some account profile pictures getting messed up while setting up Airmail on my Mac, but that was easily solved with a restart of the programme and has not occurred since. Also, Airmail (magically) fetches profile pictures/icons to display for everyone who sends you an e-mail, and it has worked for me every single time, happily doing away with the boring, coloured initial letter logos that Gmail and other services stamp next to an e-mail. Lastly, and more important than profile pictures, is that notifications simply do not sync. This means my iPad, iPhone and two notebooks often all blast out the same notification for the same e-mail all at once but the notification itself remains on all other devices even after I respond to it on one, so I often have to manually dismiss it from the other two. Rectifying this should probably be Bloop’s first order of business.
All said and done, Airmail works great, and, unless you are in search of smart inbox features, it is hands down the best e-mail app you can find and is available across all Apple devices, including the Watch. Grab the iOS version supporting both iPhone and iPad, as well as the Mac version today. If you like control over your e-mail experience and consistency across your devices, you cannot go wrong with Airmail. The app is constantly being updated and improved as well, especially since the playground for e-mail programmes is getting competitive, so your $15 will be worth it without a doubt.