Champion of E-mail Clients: Mailbox (beta) for Mac

Mailbox is a nifty e-mail client for Mac and iOS. Jason’s review, which he wrote for The Sweet Setup, calls attention to the state of a variety of e-mail clients. He mentions Apple’s Mail, Mailbox, Airmail, Mailplane, Mail Pilot, Sparrow (R.I.P.), Inky, Unibox (which actually has some things going for it…), Postbox, and MailMate.

First, I noticed from reading the review that it is a terrible thing that Jason is probably right about Mailbox because of what it says about the other apps. Mailbox is in beta. All those other apps mentioned? They have been around for years. It is the new kid on the block that is beating them. Let that sink in. Mailbox is the only one among them in beta and it takes the "best in class" title. This looks bad for the competition.

Secondly, I want to note that "the best" of something is usually a moving target. Mailbox is answering geeky needs in 2014. Even though it has been around a relatively short time, it is a powerful tool. Its interface is simple — when compared to MailMate and the like — but it also has good features that are fairly exclusive to Mailbox. I think that the moving target will force e-mail clients to work more and more like their counterparts on mobile devices. For this reason, Mailbox is ahead of the curve.

In spirit, Mailbox is unlike other e-mail clients. Look at the big picture and the little details of this app and you should note three things that make it stand out. For one, it seems robust. It has all the functions that make it a completely usable client. Meant for powers users? Maybe not, but some of us are more than happy with its feature set. Second, Mailbox is beautifully designed. Like the Rdio Mac app, it almost feels more at home on Yosemite than Apple’s own apps. Thirdly, Mailbox isn’t only well-designed, but even a little artistic at times. It has style that you would expect from a music player.

In terms of the philosophy of e-mail management, Mailbox rewards you in little ways. In most clients, you simply "delete" or "archive" e-mail. These procedures feel laborious and boring to us all. Who wants to take out the trash? No one, but someone has got to do it, right? E-mail management feels about as rewarding as emptying the can.

Mailbox is different in this regard. It calls attention to checking the read messages off lists. When you archive a message, you do so with a green checkmark. It reminds you that you’re getting things done, which you should be proud of. When you delete a message, you X it off. This feels more permanent, like you are banishing the e-mail message to the abyss; never to be seen again. So, the checkmark and Xmark are always gratifying to click.

The next thing I noticed about Mailbox are the lists. The app is opinionated in this regard. You can archive, delete, or list away e-mail. The manner which you list them doesn’t use the label or folder metaphors that most other e-mail clients use. E-mail you list away isn’t "filed away" or put in some custom mailbox. It is listed, which suggests you have intentions to do something with it.

Why would you list an e-mail message? That’s up to you, but Mailbox has three lists by default that give you some ideas: To Read, To Watch, and To Buy are the examples they would like you to pattern your own lists after. You could use lists for anything you like, but I like to utilize them the way Mailbox suggests. I have kept their three lists, and I added a To Do list of my own making.

Focus is another strength of the app. I have found that writing e-mails can be disorienting using some clients. Much has been said about the outdated format we write e-mails.… Mailbox doesn’t revolutionize the process, but it has a unique approach.

While you write e-mail with Mailbox, it gives you a small window to write the message in that is front-and-center. Meanwhile, everything else on your Mac’s display darkens, as though lights in the room have dimmed, and a spotlight is on the e-mail you’re writing. This use of foreground and background manipulation of the interface is superb. I wish more apps would take a queue from this effect.

And where would my review be if I didn’t mention that Mailbox for Mac and iOS implements swipe gestures? You don’t have to swipe e-mail if you don't want to manipulate them this way, but if you like gesture controls, then Mailbox caters to your whims. Swipe gestures feel very natural for iOS, so I was pleasantly surprised that I like them on my Mac as well. Using the trackpad, swiping adds a little charm. It’s not necessary and it isn’t always the fastest process, but it adds enjoyment.

So, if you are interested in Mailbox (beta), it is free for the Mac (download here) and you should give it a test drive.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.