Mailbox for iPhone: The easiest way to manage your Gmail

February 7, 2013: 1:10 PM ET
iphone mailbox
The new Mailbox app for the iPhone cleverly lets Gmail users manage their inbox with simple gestures.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

For all the technological advances we've made over the past few decades, dealing with email remains a horrible, heinous, please-stop-making-me-do-this experience. But email is far too ingrained in our lives to be disregarded entirely. So we cope.

The latest tool to help us navigate through email hell is Mailbox, an iPhone app that brings a shiny new interface to Gmail accounts that speeds up the email organizing / prioritizing / management process.

It turns out this free little app is actually quite good.

To cut through swaths of unwanted noise, Mailbox takes its inspiration from any to-do app you'd find on a smartphone or computer. Your inbox behaves like a list and every email is treated like a task.

By swiping to the left or the right on any email sitting in your inbox, you can schedule an email to resurface at the top of your list at a later time, check it off and archive it, file it away to a secondary list, or delete it entirely.

When you open an email, those same four actions can be carried out by tapping one of the four icons running across the top of the screen. And like any other good email app, you have the option to reply, forward and star emails.

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The scheduling action is especially useful as it allows you to put off something you either can't or don't want to deal with now -- but it doesn't let you forget about it. And if you establish the habit of filing away emails to sub-lists and routinely check them, Mailbox becomes a handy tool for planning things you want to do in the future.

In my case, it helped me stay on top of email announcements for concerts and movies, and I could easily revisit the random assortment of links I receive from friends.

It's a well-executed design. Once you get the hang of it, the vast majority of your email management (replies notwithstanding) can be accomplished with a swipe and a single tap. No other app on the iPhone lets you organize your inbox as quickly and efficiently.

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If you use Gmail on other devices, don't worry: Mailbox doesn't actually mess with much in your actual Gmail account. When a scheduled message pops up at the top of your feed in Mailbox, it's really just sitting in a folder when you look it up in Gmail. When you archive a message in Mailbox, it is simply marked as read. The benefits of Mailbox are almost exclusively felt while using the app: It doesn't derail your email if you use another Gmail app.

Mailbox certainly has its limitations. Mailbox only stores a limited amount of mail locally -- which is the norm for most apps -- but it doesn't yet have a function to search Gmail's servers. That means anything you haven't filed away or read disappears after a few days (give or take, depending on how busy your inbox is). Advanced Gmail features like labeling and priority inboxes are absent in Mailbox.

Mailbox plans to add premium paid features in the future, but the company hasn't yet said what those will be.

The biggest drawback, of course, is you can only use it with Gmail. Hopefully, Mailbox will add more email services as it gains more users. For now, those hoping to use this with their Exchange accounts are out of luck.

The app will start rolling out to a small subset of existing users starting Thursday, but you can get it by signing up on Mailbox's website.

There's no silver e-mail bullet, but if you're someone who's constantly overwhelmed by their Gmail inbox or prone losing track of important messages, you'll likely find Mailbox to be a welcome, refreshing change.


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