Hype can be cruel. It not only draws attention towards a particular product, but also draws it away from others. Take the instance of e-mail apps. Mailbox with its long, elaborate, waiting list had been hogging most of the attention in that regard (just for the record, we were not too impressed with it – check our review if you believe us not). And one of the mail apps that was pushed out of the spotlight courtesy of this was the very handy Birdseye Mail app for the iPad.
It has no waiting line, costs nothing and is just a 9.5 MB download. Best of all, the app actually puts a spin on your Gmail experience, making it a far more visual one. After it has taken your Gmail username and password – and this is the best time to point out that the app right now, only works with Gmail – it spends some time (depending on just how much mail you have) arranging things. And then presents your account, not as a collection of mails but folders of different colors, each folder representing an actual one in your Gmail account, in landscape layout. Click on a folder, and you will see the mails that lie within it, but not as a list but again as a row of card-like previews, or templates as the app calls them. Basically it gives a brief snapshot of what’s in the mail. To see the entire mail in fullscreen glory, just tap on it. The developers call this a Visual Stream.
And assuming you are one that does not exactly stack up their Gmail with mails of a huge variety, it actually works. We loved the idea of being able to see a bit of what was in the mail – it actually forced us to take a look at some mails and newsletters that we have tended to delete on sight and we are the wiser for it – and swiping through different mails. You can send replies, delete and forward mail from the preview screen itself (of course, you can do so from full screen mode too, if you insist), which we think is rather handy. Swiping up on a particular mail in preview mode also gives you the option to delete it. If you have a series of mails on a particular subject (a conversation, to use Gmail’s terminology), they show up as a stack with the newest mail on the subject on the top. Tap on it and you get previews of all the mails in the conversation.
You can also compose mails from within the app, although you can also add pictures as attachments. Speaking of attachments, you can view them within the app itself, although we found the heavier ones tended to make it crash. Clicking on a URL from within a mail launches the Safari browser to take you to the relevant site. The app also tries to identify and come up with “actions” for some mails in preview mode – for instance, if you have received a newsletter, one of the options you often get in the preview window itself when you hit the action button below it (apart from the usual reply-reply-all-forward-delete stuff) is to unsubscribe from there itself. You also have the option to suggest an e-mail action for a particular kind of mail and send it to the developer.
It all works pretty well and is very easy on the eye. Yes, some might get annoyed at the fact that you can only see about three mails in one screenful at a time, but then there are those who would love the uncluttered look. And while the “template” approach for previews can stumble a few times and throw text formatting out of the window, for the most part it works quite well in delivering a simple snapshot of what lies within an e-mail. Yes, there are shortcomings – you cannot create new folders, you cannot move files to folders, and well, you are restricted to a single Gmail account with no push notifications. The app also works best on a good Internet connection – generating all those previews is a bandwidth hog. Finally, there’s the feature we missed most – the option to search mail. How one cannot have it in a Gmail app frankly surprises us.
What, however, surprises us just as much is that even with all those shortcomings, have developed a certain fondness for Birdseye Mail. Perhaps it is the fact that it displays mail differently or gives us more substantial previews than most mail clients do, but the fact is that while we do not often use the app for composing mail, we do turn to it time and again to check if there’s something new in our Gmail. No, we are not going to hail it as a must-download, especially for power Gmail users, but for those seeking something new, Birdseye Mail is definitely worth a go!
Available from: iTunes App Store