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Gmail is good as ever, but could Inbox by Gmail be the better choice for you?
Inbox by Gmail is Google’s most recent approach to email organization and management. It takes some getting used to, but if it’s capable of giving you a simpler email workflow, it’s worth adopting. And now you don’t even need an invite to use Inbox!
TIL you can mute in @inboxbygmail by pressing M.
— Josh Todd (@JoshTodd) April 6, 2016
To help you decide whether you should switch over to Inbox completely, we’ll show you some of the ways in which it’ll make email better for you. But first, let’s show you where everything is in Inbox’s interface.
Where Inbox Options Are
You’ll find all of Inbox’s options and settings in one of five locations:
- The toolbar that appears when you hover over a message – This is where you’ll find the options to pin an email, snooze it, mark it as done (or move it to the inbox)
- The pop-up menu that appears when you click on the Move to… icon (three dots arranged vertically) in the toolbar shown above
- The icon-driven menu hidden behind the Compose button – You’ll be able to see the menu when you hover over the big red plus (+) icon at the bottom right in Inbox
- Inbox’s Settings dialog – To bring this up, click on the hamburger icon at the top left in the Inbox interface, and in the fly-out sidebar that appears, click on Settings
- Individual bundle settings – To bring up the Settings dialog for any bundle, hover on its link in the sidebar and click on the gear icon that appears next to it.
Now let’s see how Inbox saves you, the user, both time and effort.
1. Turns Your Emails into To-dos
With Gmail, you can send emails as tasks to your to-do list app, but with Inbox, your email is your to-do list. Inbox treats it as such because it understands that most emails need you to take some kind of action.
Inbox allows you to mark emails as “done” instead of “read” or “archived”. That may be a simple change of wording, but it does put a different spin on email management.
I'm loving Inbox by Gmail. Making emails "actionable" made the experience amazing for a To-Do List junkie like me – Mark "Done"#InboxbyGmail
— Ashley Romandine (@ashleyromandine) October 29, 2014
Emails that you mark as done get shunted out of your way. It’s like checking tasks off your to-do list and is the equivalent of archiving in Gmail. You can also pin important emails to the top of your inbox for quick access to them.
2. Sorts Email Right for You
Inbox takes the onus of sorting your email and does a pretty good job of it. It places similar emails in groups called Bundles.
When you’re setting up Inbox for the first time, you’ll get a prompt to choose which type of emails you’d like to see grouped into a separate bundle. Trips, Promos, Updates, Forums, and Finance are some of the bundle types that you can choose from.
Use the Create new… sidebar link if you’d like to create a custom bundle. You can go back and tweak your bundle preferences anytime via Inbox settings.
3. Highlights Just the Data You Need
From flight times to car rental info to order confirmations, Inbox is familiar with the kind of data that you’re usually looking for in your inbox. That’s why it keeps that important data highlighted at all times in scannable cards for easy identification.
Inbox also makes it easy to tell if an email has attachments, photos, inline images, links to videos, etc., by making their thumbnails visible in your inbox.
If you mention a link, a phone number, or an email address while creating a reminder in Inbox, its Assist feature brings up extra information that it thinks you might need. We’re sharing this tweet as an example:
— Danger Manley (@DangerManley) March 30, 2016
You’ll appreciate that Inbox is smart enough to not display sensitive data like license keys in cards.
4. Speeds up Email Replies
For any email that’s currently open, Inbox lists three text snippets beneath the message. These are replies crafted by Inbox to save you some time. Click on any of the snippets and a new draft appears with that snippet pasted in the body of the reply email. You can review and edit the email before you hit Send.
Inbox notes the changes you make and learns from them, crafting better response options with each iteration. It also works its way up to more complex sentences as you keep using the Smart Reply feature. Smart replies are available on the web and on mobile.
The @inboxbygmail auto-replies are creepily accurate. AI is making impressive strides. And saving me time. :-)
— Bart Verkoeijen (@bgever) April 8, 2016
5. Speeds up Searches
The problem with email searches is that you still have to look through the results to find key information. Inbox knows that this can be time consuming and does its best to push the right information to the top. Then it shows you other relevant results in two groups: Top results and All results.
When I searched for flight time in Inbox, right at the top it showed me the most relevant card that matched my query — a card highlighting the flight number as well as the departure date and time for the earliest upcoming flight. Handy!
6. Acts as Your Travel Assistant
Tracking travel plans has never been this smooth. Inbox has a dedicated bundle called a trip bundle that gathers all emails related to each of your trips in one place. Click on Trips in the sidebar to view trip bundles for upcoming trips as well as completed ones. Click on any of them and there’s all the right data you need!
You can even share trip summaries with family and friends quite easily. All you have to do is open a trip bundle, click on the Share trip icon (right-facing curved arrow), fill in the recipient’s email address, and hit Send. Inbox takes care of adding the trip summary to the email when you click on Share trip.
7. Prompts You to Create Reminders
When you receive an email that Inbox identifies as a to-do, it suggests adding a reminder for it. You can accept its suggestion by clicking on ADD REMINDER. This way you don’t need to follow up on emails that require action. All you have to do is accept Inbox’s reminder suggestions and get on with your work till Inbox prompts you again to take action.
Reminders that you create in Inbox and tie to a specific time and location show up as cards in Google Now. Also, when you add a reminder in Google Now or in Google Keep, it turns up in Inbox. You’ll find it under Reminders in the sidebar.
8. Keeps Emails out of Sight Till You Need Them
Emails that you don’t need right now are often a distraction because you have to bypass them to get to the ones you do need. To help tackle this problem, Inbox also allows you to snooze emails for later.
Snoozing an email hides it temporarily and moves it back to your inbox when you’re ready for it. If you still aren’t, feel free to hit Snooze again.
You can pick from snooze times like Next week, Someday, and This weekend or add a custom snooze date, time, and place.
9. Lets You Control the Frequency of Promo and Update Emails
It’s annoying to have promotional emails or update emails trickle into your inbox throughout the day. But with Inbox, you can opt to display the Promo and Update bundles in your inbox just once a day or even once a week. The catch is that you can’t change the time at which the bundles appear in your inbox. The default is 7 AM and you’ll have to live with that, for now anyway.
To set the frequency for promo emails, open the Settings dialog for the Promos bundle. There, under Show bundle, select the radio button next to Once a day or Once a week and close the dialog. Repeat this process for the Updates bundle.
In the bundle settings dialog, if you have set the Bundle messages in the inbox option to Off, you won’t get the email frequency option, but you will get one to automatically mark messages as done when they arrive.
Note: Promo emails include deals, offers, etc. and update emails include notification emails like confirmations and alerts.
10. Learns What You Need
Inbox uses intelligent scanning to sort your emails, highlight key information, and to provide suggestions for reminders, replies, and searches. What’s great is that the more you work with Inbox, the better it gets at giving you relevant suggestions. This is sure to save you a lot of typing and correction as you continue to use Inbox.
Also, you don’t need to learn or remember any special syntax to interact with Inbox, because it recognizes natural language just fine.
— Ali Güçlü ? (@aliguclu) June 21, 2015
Inbox Is Great, But…
The quick and easy data access that Inbox provides is made possible by the data-scanning mechanism built into it. This means that Inbox trawls your messages to bring up the information that’s most relevant to you. Creepy? It sure is, unless the lack of privacy doesn’t bother you much. This intrusion into every part of your life is the biggest problem with Inbox, granted that it’s an intrusion that has your blessings if you sign up for Inbox.
Started looking at Inbox by Google. Became concerned about privacy. Remembered I already use Gmail so I don't have privacy anymore.
— Chris of ComicBookDB (@comicbookdb) November 7, 2014
Except for the privacy bit, none of Inbox’s cons seem to be deal breakers. A unified inbox feature would have been a useful addition for managing multiple Google accounts in Inbox though. For now, you’ll have to stick to account switching just like you do in Gmail. A one-click delete option for emails would also have been nice.
You won’t know if Inbox is worth making your primary email client unless you spend some time with it. Get started on that today. If it’s been more than a year since you tried Inbox and went back to Gmail, give it another shot, because Inbox has evolved quite a bit between then and now.
The takeaway here is that if it’s efficiency that you’re looking for, Inbox gives you an awesome deal. Not so much if privacy is your top concern at all costs.
Have you switched to Inbox by Gmail? Has it changed your email workflow for the better? Did you hate it and go back to regular Gmail? We’d love to hear about your experience with Inbox.
Image Credit: Hourglass clock by Dima Sobko via Shutterstock