Someone once rightly quoted, the fruits of patience always taste that little bit sweeter. This saying is kind of perfect in the case of Mailbox. Mailbox is a unified E-Mail client for iPhone, but with a twist. Twist here is that, the application is not available to download from the iTunes Store straight away. Or rather, you can download the application but will have to be extremely patient to be able use it. The reason? Cause the application is reservation based. So before we begin with our review, we highly recommend you to head to the Apple App Store and quickly download the application by entering ‘Mailbox‘ in the search bar and reserve your ticket. It is definitely worth it, you can take our word.
A Little Background
Before getting my hands on Mailbox, I used Sparrow as my mail E-mail client on my iPhone. Although Sparrow is minimalistic and does get the job done, it had two major drawbacks.
side by side comparison of sparrow on the left and mailbox on the right
The first that it is a paid application, (we all like a free service) and the second that push notifications on the application can be extremely eccentric. They would work great one day and totally fail on the next. However, the swipe gestures and the ease of use along with clean UI meant unless something ravishingly good came by, I would stick with Sparrow. I have never been a huge fan of the default iPhone mailing client and Gmail application was never the solution because I have an Exchange account and an ID on other mail clients apart from Gmail which I actively use. However, switching to Sparrow meant I had to unify my inbox on desktop because at the moment it supports only Gmail ID.
Setting Up mailbox
I downloaded the Mailbox application on my iPhone much after the initial releases started to roll out to people. Reason being simple, I liked how Sparrow worked and since I had paid for it, no way was I letting it go until I had made sure the alternative was worth it. So after an excruciating wait for fifteen days and slowly walking behind over six lakh reservations, my turn to use Mailbox did come and it definitely felt like finishing a full marathon.
Setting up Mailbox was extremely simple. All you need to do is to enter your credentials and the application seamlessly integrates all your inboxes and mails. If you have 2-way authentication on your Gmail account, then you would be happy cause the application handled that bit pretty well too. It simply redirects to a window where you can enter your code sent by Google to your phone. The sync was surprisingly fast. Mailbox offers a tutorial once you have set up the inbox so that you become familiar with the various gestures the application uses and it’s various features. The tutorial was actually pretty well done and I do recommend you to sit through it cause otherwise you may miss out on some terrific features of the application.
You can also add more than one e-mail ID by going into setting by tapping on the left pane of the application and tapping on ‘Add Account’
It is an E-Mail Inbox With a Difference!
Once you are done setting up the Inbox which should not take you more than five minutes, you are set to explore the application. the application use four simple gestures to help you move mails.
A short swipe to the right archives your mail which is then available in your archives folder. A long swipe to the right would delete the mail permanently. A red color bar on the mail when you swipe across indicates you are about to delete the mail, while a green one shows the mail is being archived. However, if you have not completed your swipping gesture, you can simply move your thumb back to undo.
If you short swipe the mail to the left, it is saved to the Read It Later folder. This was by far one of the very best features of the application. Once you have save it to the ‘Read It Later’ folder a pop up screen lets you choose the time you wish to read the mail. You can select from Later Today, Evening, tomorrow, Weekend or even pick a date that is convenient to you. The application would remind you without fail that you have a pending mail to read. A very handy feature indeed if you are a serial procrastinator.
A long swipe to the left adds your mail to an existing or user created list. Some of the in built lists are ‘To read’ or ‘To Buy’ etc. This is basically if you want to archive your mails to a particular list, you can do it with the long swipe to the left. You can also create your own lists in case you like to stay organised.
Composing a mail is pretty simple. On the main screen of the application you have a write button on the top right hand corner of the application which if you press it would take you to the compose windows. Allow the application to access your contacts. You can also attach images to the application by selecting the Camera icon at the bottom of the compose window. The image can either be taken from the camera or straight from the gallery itself.
Where Did My Emails Go?
Once you have organized your inbox, it is time to view your mails in the places have sent them. Right on top of the application you will see a three tab setting. The left most tab is for the mails that you have saved t o read for later. the middle one which is selected by default is for the Inbox and the right most tab is for your archived mails. Pretty simple, isn’t it?
You can simply tap on either of the three icons and you will find your mails that you have archived or saved for later. However, to view your mails you have saved in list or to move to a different account, you need to click on the list icon on the top left of the application and from the pane that opens up you can select either a different mail account or select the particular list you have saved your mail into.
It feels good if you can personalize your things according to your taste. However, in Mailbox, there ain’t too many things you can fiddle around. Although that is a good thing but we did miss out on things like having a dedicated night theme or the ability to turn off push notifications in case we did not want the app to be eating away data. However, what you can do is change signature which appears when the mail is sent from Mailbox. It is set to ‘Sent from Mailbox For iPhone’ by default. You can change this to whatever you wish to in the settings tab.
You can also switch which would be your Default account in case you have configured several accounts in to the application so that mails would be sent from that account when you click on Compose. You can also create lists or even modify by deleting the existing lists which we have already talked about above. Another thing you can customize is the snooze so that the app knows when your days and weekends start for it to set your mailing reminders.
The only preference you can select in sync options so far is the ability to either mark the archived mail as read or unstar the moved mails. This is fairly basic, and we would have liked a little more here. You can also set the notifications fro new mails or snoozed mails and turn off or on the app badge count based on your preference.
The Not So Good Bit
Just like every other application out there, Mailbox is not perfect. It has it’s share of drawbacks too. The biggest one is that the application does not sync your Gmail labels that you may have created online. This can be a big problem if you have been using Gmail on desktop and segregated mails in your labels. All the mails are under one mailbox unless you add them to lists created from within the application. However, when you do fire up your desktop Gmail client, the labels or lists you create within Mailbox show up without a problem.
labels on Mailbox vs sparrow
Although we loved the gestures on the application, sometimes the application ended up deleting mails which we wanted to archive. Although these mails can be recovered from Trash but that was just another step added. Hopefully Mailbox will fix this in future updates. Also, if you have booked your Mailbox client and decided to change your iPhone, although you may back it up in iCloud, you are forced to start all over again in case you have not been allocated the reservation. This really was frustrating as I ended up switching two iPhones after I had reserved my ticket and ended up having to start from the scratch on both occasions. We also hope that Mailbox will support other Mail Clients apart from Gmail in future.
Plenty of people would not like the reservation system, but we somehow felt it made for a good suspense while we waited for the ticker to tick down to zero.
Mailbox is pretty much the best free alternative to the native E-Mail client for iPhone. But, there are issues to be ironed out, which surely will be taken care of in future updates. I still fall back to Sparrow simply because I need the labels I have created over a period of time to stay organized. However, if you are a light user, then you will have absolutely no problems with Mailbox. The learning curve is a little steep but over a period of time you will get used to it. The tutorial built into the application does well and I did not miss out on any mail. The sync was near perfectly instant. We do recommend the application highly, and it definitely was worth our wait for fifteen days.