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For those of us who were fortunate enough to have a childhood penpal, the word ‘airmail’ evokes fond memories of receiving packages from afar, usually laden with candy packed with enough corn syrup to put you in a perpetual diabetic coma. Airmail has since taken on another meaning. It now refers to an email client developed by Italian software outfit Bloop, and a pretty incredible one at that.
When I first heard of Airmail ($1.99), I must admit I questioned if I really needed a new way to check my email. Like many people, Mail.app satisfied all of my email requirements, and I struggled to conceptualise ways in which an email client could be significantly bettered.
Airmail has conclusively proved me wrong. It has effectively dragged an old communication medium into the 21st century by combining beautiful and elegant UI design along with features that have traditionally not been found in email clients.
The end result is a brilliant email experience.
Getting Started and First Impressions
After I purchased and installed Airmail from the Mac App Store, it prompted me for my name, my email address and my password, along with a request to register for the Airmail newsletter. I declined, and clicked Add.
My Gmail account was then fully synchronised and I did not have to do any manual configuration. Airmail also claims to work nicely with other major email providers including Zoho, Yahoo! Mail, iCloud or any IMAP account. Airmail will not work with your Exchange or Outlook.com email address.
One thing that startled me was how little Airmail felt like an email client. Emails are shown with the sender’s Gravatar next to them, and threads and hierarchies feel natural and intuitive. Closing an email in a thread is simply a matter of clicking the top of it. Pictures and videos are shown in-line in most messages and don’t look out of place.
At times, Airmail feels a lot more like using a web browser than checking your email.
The process of composing new email is something that feels familiar and intuitive. Click the familiar compose icon in the main window or use the keyboard shortcut Cmd+N and you are greeted with the usual formatting and layout options. The composing experience itself doesn’t feel radically different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as you don’t have to learn a new process.
Looks and Features
Aesthetically, Airmail is something to behold. The combination of rounded edges, stark contrasts between dark and light colors and beautiful typography makes for an email client that is incredibly easy on the eyes. Icons are obvious and unambiguous, but I never feel lost while using this application. It feels utterly usable.
It’s not just a pretty face, however. If you click one of the top menu buttons, you’ll see a dizzying array of actions which you can perform on your inbox. These range from the great number of flags and filters which you can apply to exporting an inbox in Outlook’s EML file format. You can also delay sending emails and apply signatures to each email you send.
In addition, Airmail comes with support for Dropbox, Google Drive, droplr and iCloud online storage services, meaning that any attachments you add to your outgoing emails are stored on your preferred online storage provider. It also integrates nicely with OS X, and has support for the Notifications Center that comes with the latest iteration of Apple’s operating system.
Another compelling argument for Airmail is its cost. At just $1.99, it’s affordable and feature rich. It also contrasts favorably to the likes of Outlook, which can only be obtained by forking over great wads of cash for Microsoft’s pricey Office suite.
Those of us who happen to use Exchange (hosted or otherwise) will find that Airmail doesn’t work with it. The antiquated POP3 email protocol isn’t supported either. As a result, I’m forced to draw the conclusion that Airmail isn’t all that ready for the enterprise. Despite using the latest model of the MacBook Pro, there was some jitteriness when scrolling through my inbox. I should add that my inbox isn’t particularly large, so I dread to think what it would be like on a slower machine, or with a larger inbox.
Despite this, using Airmail is a joyous experience, and at this price point it’s hard to complain. The app feels astonishingly usable, and you can easily tell the developers exerted a great amount of energy in making email feel fun again.
Download: Airmail for Mac OS X ($1.99) [No longer available]
Have you tried Airmail? Would you recommend any other Mac OS X email clients instead? Add your thoughts to the comments, below.