If you’re like me, you logged into your Gmail app this week and were shocked to see your reliable, friendly Gmail app got the Google Plus treatment. Unfortunately, it’s not one of Google’s Famous April Fool’s jokes playing out in mid November. It’s the real deal – a user interface update. I would consider it to be a serious downgrade from the clean, easy to use Gmail app we’ve all been used to. And I’m not the only one who is frustrated, just take a look at rage and confusion on Google’s Product Forum.
Problems with the new Gmail app.
Let’s quickly summarize some complaints about Gmail’s new app.
The design shift from a simple, mail app to more of a Google Plus inspired layout is jarring. The colors can be distracting and don’t add much to the experience. Things aren’t where you’d logically expect them to be, or where you’re used to them being from years of using the same interface layout. This is the biggest area of dissatisfaction, the classic “don’t fix what isn’t broken” scenario.
Some people have noticed the lack of “Print” and other features that were available on the mobile app. I never used the print command myself, but some people may have Bluetooth or Wireless printers in their office that they send documents to while in a meeting. I could see this being an important feature to keep and I think removal of it is likely an oversight.
Will Google roll back to a previous app?
Knowing Google, there’s no rolling back to the old version. But I think I found something better than the previous Gmail app that you’ll love using. Nobody is paying me to write about these apps. I genuinely find them to be good mobile email apps and I tested them personally. I’m using one of them as my default mail app now, here’s the recommendation for replacing your Gmail app.
Best everyday, free Gmail app replacement
I’m going to tell you right now, Alto is going to be the app you want to download to replace Gmail on your iPhone. Hands down, the best replacement we’ve seen. Granted there are a lot of mobile apps out there. But from the dozen I tested, this was my favorite. Let’s get into the details of why.
Who makes Alto?
Alto is an email app created by AOL. I know what you’re thinking – AOL is still around? Yes, they’re still kicking. And in fact, I think they kicked a hundred yard field goal with this app. It offers similar functionality to the original Gmail app with loads of extra features that aren’t intrusive. The design is going to be more modern, there’s no getting around that. But it’s a much better blend of classic mail app design we’re all used to and better sorting features.
How Alto handles multiple email accounts
You can enter multiple email accounts and switch between them with a swipe of the finger. It’s extremely simple and you are walked through and encouraged to add multiple accounts during the setup process. Select the account platform you want to add, enter your login details, approve a few command prompts and you’re all good.
Here’s their official email support:
- Exchange Server 2010 SP2 and above
- Any email account that can use IMAP
How Alto handles swipe functionality
You can swipe right on an email message to read the email and swipe left for a variety of functions like Snooze, Delete, Archive, etc. You can hard left swipe to delete and email. These features are by no means ground breaking, having been added to most modern mail apps on the iTunes store. However, the new Gmail app only lets your swipe left and right to archive. You have to go into your email message to do anything further.
How Alto displays a “Smart Inbox” and Gmail labels, folders
You can easily view your emails segmented out automatically into Personal, Starred, Shopping, Travel, Finance, Social. Classic “smart inbox” stuff Gmail has. But here are two new features: you can search photo and file attachments independently of email. The Photos and Files tabs are amazing and can be searched independently. It takes some time for the data to populate after installing the app, but I’m finding these features to be excellent improvements on the original Gmail app.
You also have access to a classic “file folder” tree showing your Gmail label structure as you would normally see it, and your “Starred” emails carry over from Gmail well.
Alto is available for iOS and Android
In order to be a true Gmail app replacement for the mobile phone market, the app has got to work on iOS and Android. Alto is available for both platforms and you can learn more about the app, or download it for your phone with these links below.
Best business class (paid) Gmail app replacement
I had to add this one in. If you look this app up, you’re going to see a lot of negative reviews. Here’s why – it used to be free, but the developers (CloudMagic) rolled out a ton of useful features and started charging $49.99 a year for it. This upset a lot of their existing base of users. When you read the reviews, it’s clear the negatives are from people who are upset at paying, and the five star reviews are from business class customers who love the app. Let me be clear. If you’re reading this article, you have a computer or phone and access to the Internet. Maybe you’re in a coffee shop sipping a latte. You can afford $4.16 a month for these features!
Newton’s additional features you’re going to want to pay for
Here’s what you get.
Secret Read Receipts
You can send an email with Read Receipts active. The email will have two grey check marks next to it until your recipient reads it. Then, the check marks will be a bold blue, indicating the message has been read. There is no Outlook style message warning the recipient that you’re spying on them.
Send Email Later
The send later function lets you pick a time in the future to send the email. How many times have you been working late at night or over a weekend and you end up saving a draft email that you forget to send Monday morning? Now you won’t have those problems. There’s an extra feature that will cancel the sending if the recipient replies or emails you before the send date. Extra nifty.
When you receive an email, you can tap the user’s name / avatar to pull up their social profiles and a description about them. This data looks to be pulled from the sender’s signature field and possibly domain.
Like other modern email apps, the snooze feature lets you pick a time in the future to have the email “come back” as a priority for you to respond to.
No Smart Inbox
This could be a pro or con depending on your preference. But there is no Smart Inbox feature in Newton. It looks similar to the default iOS Mail app (though nicer of course). You just get a classic stream of emails that you can power through swiping left and right to delete, archive, assign to a folder or snooze. I do like the Smart Inbox features of Alto and Spark, but at times they can be distracting and I have the gut wrenching feeling that I’m missing something by not seeing everything.
Here are the download links and a link to their website listing all the features. Please read the reviews on iTunes, the bad ones are people upset at having to pay for the app.
Runner up as a best Gmail app replacement on iOS
Spark is a clean, modern looking email app that you can download for free on your iPhone. It won the Best of the App Store 2015 award from Apple, so you know it’s got to be decent. It’s brought to you by the wonderful folks at Readdle who are known for creating some excellent business class apps. Particularly, their Scanner Pro app is an excellent fax machine alternative. I personally downloaded this and it seems like a pretty solid alternative.
You can swipe emails for different functionality. For example, swiping to the left will let your “Pin” an email (eg, “star” it) or you can swipe hard left to delete. Swiping to the right will let you read an email, or a hard right will archive the email. Everything is presented in a single column, so it’s easy to plow through your emails.
As someone who relies on search more than keeping my inbox tidy, I likely won’t use the swipe features much. But I tested the search functionality and it works great.
Spark separates your email into several panes: New, Notifications, Newsletters, Pins and Inbox. Now, this isn’t as good as Google’s smart inbox in my opinion, but it does an alright job. Setup is a breeze and I recommend giving Spark a shot.