Inbox just might be the email makeover we didn’t know we were waiting for.
Gmail is clearly the champion of free email providers, but not content with simply maintaining the status quo, Google has introduced a new email service: Inbox.
Let’s take a look at Inbox and see what makes it worth upgrading from Gmail.
How Do I Get It?
Currently, Google Inbox is invite-only. If you want to try it, you’ll simply need to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (using your primary Gmail address), and they’ll send you an invite when it’s ready.
Once you get it, you’ll have to install the Inbox app on either Android or iOS (links are provided in the invite; they’re of no use to you without it). Then you’re all good to go! You should also go all-in and try Inbox on the Web, currently only available using Chrome, for a fully integrated experience.
Currently, this is the only way to get on board. Apparently, users will soon be allowed to invite a few friends, but this wasn’t available at the time of writing.
What’s This All About?
First, it’s important to note that Gmail isn’t going anywhere. Inbox is a new service that’s optional; you can use both at once and your mail will be synced between them.
Google wants to fix a problem is sees with emailing, explaining that “Your email inbox should help you live and work better, but instead it often buries the important stuff and creates more stress than it relieves.” The result is a sort of combination between traditional email and Google Now, the powerful and feature-filled app that keeps your life in sync.
Enough talk. Let’s dive into the app!
Using Inbox On Android
The Android app has a clean look, in line with Google’s material design philosophy for the upcoming Android Lollipop. Email groups are presented in a card-based format in the center, and you can slide out the left panel to access your labels.
All of your existing mail, labels, and organizational filters are in place, so you won’t be starting from scratch. Tapping on an email brings it up full screen, just like in Gmail’s regular app.
Below, you can see Inbox on the left and Gmail on the right.
What makes Inbox so useful isn’t its looks, however, but its functions. Much like the update to Gmail that added tabs for any Social and Promotional emails, Inbox bundles similar emails together so you can manage them at a glance. Updates, for example, will include mails from IFTTT updates, links from those you support on Patreon, or other emails that contain words like “new” or “recently.” Like Gmail’s other functions, you can manually move emails in or out of a label to help improve automatic sorting.
Other default labels include Purchases, which conveniently bundles all digital receipts; Social, which rounds up all of those annoying social media emails you don’t care about; and Forums, alerting you to new replies on something you’ve posted. While these are the stock labels, they’re quite useful and will likely encompass a good chunk of your current mail.
If you’d like to make a group for yourself, you can slide to the bottom of the side panel and name yourself a new one. There is a wizard that allows you to choose what emails get included in it, and you can choose by people, subject, or words included. Once you set it up, the group can be forced to skip the inbox to keep them out of your hair, or if you wish, Inbox will only show you the bundle once a day or week.
A label that doesn’t contain immediately important messages is a great candidate for this latter option, as it will cut down on noise. Should a label be deleted at a later time, it doesn’t delete any of the messages inside, so you can reorganize to your heart’s content.
Features For Days
Perhaps the most innovative feature of Inbox is the ability to mark an email as “Done” instead of just “Read.” All messages have a checkmark symbol, and tapping that will send it to the “Done” label, removing it from your to-do list.
It’s similar to archiving mail, but this is more intuitive. If there’s a bundle of emails you don’t really need to read, like Social, you can click the check-slide icon to mark them all as done. Be sure there’s nothing important in there before you do this, however. Also note that marking something as done in Inbox will archive it in your actual Gmail.
Another productivity tool is the ability to snooze messages for a later time. Sometimes you receive an email, but you’re just about to leave the house or you don’t know how to reply. When that happens, tapping the clock icon at the top of an open email will let you choose a time, place, or combination of both when Inbox will remind you of the mail. Until then, it goes away to keep your inbox uncluttered.
You can push it back by a day, a week, or pick specific time. “Someday” is even included, which alerts you to it at a random future time. Location-based alerts are awesome for reminding you of tasks to complete when you get to work, or when you’re home with a clear mind. We’ve discussed how to snooze with Boomerang for Gmail, but having it built-in with a location option is sweet.
A lot of awesome shortcuts are baked in, too. Sliding any email right will mark it as done, and if a bundle contains many items that have previews (such as shipped Amazon items or YouTube video thumbnails), you can slide between them without even opening the group. If you want to quickly use the snooze function, slide a message or group to the left and you’ll be able to pick a timeframe.
With all this sliding away and marking as “Done,” you might be scared about accidentally banishing an important message to the great unknown. While Gmail’s advanced search operators can help you find almost anything, there’s a simpler way to avoid losing your important stuff with Inbox.
Simply push the Pin icon to save an email to that group, and when you mark a bundle as done, pinned items remain. You can also use the switch at the top of your inbox to quickly show only pinned items, so using it for your most pressing tasks is a great idea.
You can also add Reminders right into your Inbox. This is another functionality we’ve shown you how to introduce with an add-on, but Inbox adds them into your email to be your one-stop checklist for work.
When you pin an email, a space to add a reminder pops up — a great place to jot a note so you don’t forget what you meant to do later. Reminders are also powered-up with suggestions, so instead of just “Call Business X,” their number and hours will be dynamically placed into the reminder.
Consistent with Material Design is the floating bubble in the bottom-right corner, used for composing new mail or to reply if in a thread. It also adds your most recently contacted friends and a reminder-scheduling option right from the Compose window.
Got iOS Or Prefer The Web?
Although this overview is focused on the Android version of Google Inbox, we’ll briefly examine the iOS and Web versions of the service.
The iOS version is identical in virtually every way to the Android version, so if you’re rocking an Apple device, the above all applies to you.
On the Web, there’s obviously more screen space to take advantage of, but everything is still set up in a similar fashion. You’re still able to snooze, mark emails as done, and view labels, albeit without the convenient touch shortcuts.
If you’ve mastered the mobile app, you already know 99% of what’s going on in the Web version. The continuity is a great feature, and Google recommends totally diving in to get used to Inbox.
For comparison, check out a screenshot of the regular Gmail inbox (left) and Inbox on Android (right).
Is Inbox Worth Checking Out?
After using Inbox for a short time, I’d wager it’s much more than just a nice facelift. Google has really thought about how we use email and adjusted the process based on the user. Email is a common factor in nearly everyone’s lives, and the fact that it’s worked in relatively the same way for decades means it was probably time for an upgrade.
Unless you’re totally against trying new things, you should definitely give Inbox a try. There’s no commitment; if you don’t like it, you can just remove the app from your phone and keep using regular Gmail online. It will take a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve optimized your groups to prioritize the important stuff and cut out the fluff, you’ll feel much more in control of your email and might even be able to reach the fabled Inbox Zero.
Not ready for Google Inbox yet? We’ve covered some other mail clients for Android.
What Do You Think Of Google Inbox?
What feature of Google Inbox is the best? How could it be improved? Are you going to request an invite to Google Inbox, or is this not up your alley?
Let us know in the comments, and best of luck getting an invite!