They say that the rewards of patience are sweet. And well, patience was a quality that most people wanting to use Mailbox, a new mail app for the iPhone, were going to need in stackfuls. The app promised a whole new, gesture-based interface for accessing one’s mail (provided one used Gmail) on the iPhone. And it was available for free download as well. The patience part, however, came from the fact that just downloading the app did not give you the right to use it. Instead, it placed you in what seemed like a mammoth queue (we stepped in placed a quarter of a million places from the front). Mind you, it was a queue that kept moving – every time you launched the app or even if you kept it running, you would find out how much closer you were to getting the app, and (if it gives you perverse pleasure) how many people were now standing behind you. By the time we did manage to get the right to use our app, there were close to a million people behind us. Yes, there is THAT much interest in Mailbox.

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So you can imagine the thrill we felt when we finally got to use the app more than a week after having downloaded it. Well, call it the Pip complex (remember him in Great Expectations) but after a couple of days of using it, we are pretty much at the “is THAT all” stage. Before you accuse of being too harsh, we must admit that Mailbox comes with some very good features. The most notable of these is the gesture-based interface. Taps are replaced by swipes here – you are presented with your inbox to start off with, but a light swipe to the right will archive a message, a longer swipe will delete it, while a small swipe to the left will let you save it for later reading (you can even specify when you want to read it next – tomorrow, in the evening, next week and so on), and a longer swipe to the left will let you slot it in a list of your choice. Just to make sure you get your swipes right, whenever you are swiping in either direction, a colored trail appears, letting you know what exactly your swipe will do – a green trail means you are set for archiving, a red one indicates deleting, a yellow one for reading later and a brown one for inclusion in lists.

And there’s more. Unlike Sparrow, Mailbox comes with push notifications, which means you can get alerts on your lock screen when new mail comes in. It works at a decent clip (sometimes faster than the iPhone’s own client) and renders mails very well too, be they simple plain-text affairs one or those with more formatting, HTML and images thrown in. Mail composing is at par with the iPhone’s default mail client, with support for images as attachments. And the interface is absolutely clean with lots of white space. Yes, this is one app that is easy on the eye. Finally, there is a “help me get to zero” button at the bottom of the mailbox that gives you the option of archiving everything at one go, archiving everything bar the unread messages, or archiving all messages bar the starred ones. Handy for those who keep postponing cleaning up a stacked inbox.

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So far so good. You might already be wondering why were we going on about not being over the moon with Mailbox? Well, because frankly while we like all the swiping and everything, we are not too sure having a long swipe and a shorter swipe in the same direction doing two different things is a good idea. Many was the time we ended up deleting something we wished to archive and vice versa. And if you are the super organized type who likes slotting their mails into different folders, well, bad news – Mailbox will not show you the folders you have created on your Gmail account. You just get to see one massive inbox (called Mailbox), and the mails you have slotted from the app into Later, Lists, Archive and Trash, as well as a list of sent mails. That is going to be a deal breaker for some. There is the limitation of supporting only Gmail, which pretty much rules it out for those using multiple mail services – and many of us are. And finally, there is no support for landscape mode, which means that those used to typing with both thumbs holding the iPhone in landscape orientation will have to change their ways.

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Yes, it does have some nice touches. And it looks good and works briskly, but as of now, we don’t see it doing enough to get us away from the default mail app on the iPhone. Sure, blame it on the expectations built up by all that waiting. A must download? Well, only if you use a lot of Gmail and are looking for something new. Even then, wait for a while until the queues die down. As of now, the Gmail app does more in some regards.

Available from: iTunes App Store
Price: Free

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Tech Scribbler

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.

 
 
  • http://www.geckoandfly.com/ Ngan Tengyuen

    Goodness, Nimish, if you’re going bald, please shave… combing your hair from one side to another or leave a few of them on the bald patch is not going to fool anyone. That profile pic of yours is annoying to look at.

    For the love of god, shave it. You will look better, trust me.

  • Michelle H

    Has anyone noticed a severe drain on battery life with this app? I’ve started using it a week ago – haven’t added any new apps or otherwise changes my routine – and I’ve noticed that if I use mailbox heavily my fully charged iPhone5 battery can drain in just a few hours.

    I’ve also had problems archiving things I want to delete with the right swipe features. (Wouldn’t it be great if you could customize the swipes? Or delete/archive more than 1 email at a time – which they say you can do when you have a “small number of emails” but I haven’t gotten to that point yet. :)

    • Limhi Montoya

      I just started using it today, and noticed it. My battery had 100% at 6 PM, and by 9:30 PM it was down to 70%. Not a good sign.
      Though it might be the new iOS update. I know the last iOS update had battery drain issues, so it is possible that this new one has it too.

  • Michelle H

    And one more HUGE pet peeve – the app is not synching correctly with my web-based gmail inbox. I went through 2000+ emails last weekend and archived/deleted using mailbox. It was tedious but the thought of inbox zero was so tantalizing it kept me going. Anyway, those emails are STILL THERE when I access gmail through other means – other email apps or a web browser. I’ve contacted their support but haven’t had a resolution yet. I hope all of that work wasn’t for naught…