I have something of a condition when it comes to software in that I’m a real snob about what I’ll use. A great example of this is the Adobe suite of apps. I use them begrudgingly because they are the absolute best at their given tasks. The moment I think an alternative like Pixelmator Pro or Affinity Photo is ready to fully take over for Photoshop, I’m bouncing out.
So, out of the gate the email application simply has to be great at email, and beyond that I have a few other things that I personally put a lot of weight behind:
- Nice design. Totally subjective, but I spend way too much time drafting and responding to emails to not love and delight in an interface.
- Native Mac and iOS apps. The "native" part here is the rub. I don't want a bullshit web wrapper app like Slack or any of the other numerous Electron-based apps that totally shit the bed when there isn't an internet connection.
- Have a Snooze/Read Later feature. This is a must, some emails are simply more important than others. Get these others out of my face until I need to address them.
- An “Other” Inbox. Separate my "actual email" from "newsletters" and other stuff I subscribe to. Never again shall an important email go overlooked.
What did I try?
For a long time I was a Polymail user and while their service is wonderful, it seems like it would really shine if you had a team of people using it rather than just little ol’ me. Plus there’s the fact that it cost $120/year. I don’t mind paying for good software, especially when my requirements are so specific, but I felt like I was paying for a lot of features I wasn’t using, which is why I began the hunt again.
Once I dipped a toe into the consumer-facing side of things, email clients get pretty complicated. I decided I would give each app a minimum of two weeks as my sole email-app, but sometimes longer if it was working well. For the ones that were macOS-only, I supplemented it by using the default Apple Mail app on my iPhone/iPad.
All Email Is Unique
One thing this search has taught me is that all email needs are unique and that what works for me probably wouldn’t work for someone else. Apps like Canary and Spike have really amazing encrypted email technology built-in if that’s something you might require. Mail Pilot is almost a full-scale reimagining of the concept of email and required a little training for me to think the way the app wants me to. Unibox focuses on conversations with people and tailors the interface to be more like a chat window than an email application. Ultimately, though, I think I’ve found my winning combination of features…
Newton is the Sweet Spot
Paying about $4/month to ensure development continues for a product like this is a no-brainer. It checks all of the boxes and just seven days into my 14-day free trial I’m pretty much ready to pull the trigger. Some fringe benefits of paying for this service are things called Superchargers, or extra features, that would be disabled if you chose to just use the free version of this app. Some of my favorites are:
I generally don't care about this sort of thing for my personal work, but for certain clients it's nice to know that they have indeed opened and checked out my email and *cough cough* invoices.
I can see this saving my professional life. It automatically combs through emails that I haven't responded to or that include due dates or reminders and distills it down to a few actionable items. This is done in a separate part of the app, too, so you can turn email into something task-oriented. Speaking of which...
I can take a Recap email with dates involved and send that directly to my connected Trello or Asana boards to give it more visibility. Newton currently supports a lot more, too:
I didn't even know I needed this feature. I'm a nite owl by nature, but I don't necessarily want clients knowing that so I can wrap and export an edit at 3am, draft the email, and schedule it to send to them at 8:52am so I give the appearance of a functioning adult.
The app that I actually ended up using the longest was Spike, despite the fact that it’s a web-wrapper app for macOS. It’s got a great combination of features and even though I added my @andrewgormley.com domain as one of the accounts, it didn’t prompt me to begin paying a monthly fee. I have to assume that it’s because it’s through Google Apps rather than a standalone IMAP account, so there’s a fringe benefit for other GApps users.
Mail Pilot is definitely one to keep an eye on. If you’re the type of person who religiously uses the GTD method or is in OmniFocus planning out your day, you will probably fall in love with Mail Pilot. When their iOS app finally launches, I’m going to saunter back around and see what they’ve come up with. If it’s compelling enough, I’ll definitely give it another try.
My Digital Life Feels Cleaner
Email is a necessary evil in my life. I wish that it could be as easy as inviting all of my clients and friends to a big ass Slack channel or Discord and just have real-time conversations there, but that’s not the reality of business. Having an email client that almost acts as a personal assistant is a huge time saver and frankly something I’m willing to put my hard-earned dollars into supporting!