The hype around Inbox is understandable – Google made Inbox an invite-only app for now, so the whole tech community and particularly Google-addicts want that invitation above all. At the same time, when I see reviewers say ‘There is hope for you inbox yet,’ I wonder if anybody has actually lost any hope for Gmail inbox, or Mailbox, or whatever email clients they’ve been using. People are literally salivating over Inbox, but hey, it’s an email app, not Manna.
No, I don’t have invites, yet, but yes, I sent an invite request about a week ago, at the time we published this overview of Inbox’s new features, and got my invite a few days ago. So, Google is pretty fast in sending out invites. Also, bear in mind that you need to install the mobile app to activate your Inbox account – you can’t just login at inbox.google.com and start browsing your Inbox web client.
On the second thought, don’t rush that much because the company is still testing it, listening to what users have to say, and chances are the app might get an update or two before it’s ready for prime time.
You can see the breakdown of Inbox’s new features in our overview. Now that I got my hands on it, I can share my impressions with you.
First off, it does look neat with the Material Design sleek looks and flat icons. That said, I haven’t found a Setting to change the color scheme, and I like to toy with it in my Gmail from time to time.
Second, it takes time to get used to Inbox’s Bundles, and something inside me keeps resisting the new feature. You see, I don’t feel unhappy with my Gmail. On the contrary, I like how Gmail’s single screen entails A LOT of incoming mail.
Bundles in Inbox, on the other hand, give you only a superficial look in the Inbox’s first window. To see the contents of the Bundles, you need to open them.
At the same time, inside Bundles you will see email previews for every email, so that if there are photos, you will see them without opening the email, or if there are flight details, you see them first off.
Third, Inbox seems to be pretty smart bundling email by priority and social, forums and updates, but I don’t like the Today on top of everything concept. It may be a matter of habit, by the Labels in my Gmail are sorted in a way that puts the things that matter in the Primary tab while the social, forums and updates are there, too, tabbed. In this aspect, I still find Gmail more convenient. Again, email is secondary to my work, but those who work with email might find the new Inbox more functional that Gmail.
Fourth, Reminders are placed alongside emails in Inbox, and it is very neat, but unfortunately it does not translate to anything in Gmail. You just have Inbox as a different view for your Gmail, but with more features that aren’t ported to Gmail.
Fifth, if you choose to unbundle bundled group of emails, what’s left is pretty much you Gmail inbox, and truth be told I find it somewhat confusing to hop between Gmail’s labels to Inbox’s bundles, fearing I might miss something important.
Snooze, Mark Done or Highlight
Next, my so far favorite feature is Snoozing an email with advanced options to set the date and time the email will remind you about itself. Swipe left to Snooze.
Swipe right to mark Done, and the marked email goes to your Done folder. At the same time, that Done email gets archived in your Gmail. Inbox does not seem to have a Delete option, so you will have to delete stuff through Gmail so far.
Pinning an email in Inbox equals starring an email in Gmail, but if you pin one in Inbox, it doesn’t get synchronously starred in Gmail. I suppose it’s something we shall see ironed out in the future updates.
Email previews are very neat in Inbox, and when you browse Bundles you will see images’ previews without opening emails.
Tabs or Bundles?
In terms of usability, some say Inbox is a revolutionary leap from Gmail, but I miss tabbed labels and 50 emails per page while the Material design is just a new coat of paint, with Bundles not really getting to the point of ‘working for me.’
Inbox reads your emails to categorize them into Travel, Finance and so on. It puts the information it deems important in preview, so you have it on the front page in each Bundle. It also puts things like newsletters and forum updates in Low-Priority – the mess that often clutters Gmail inbox.
The Future of Gmail
My fear is Google views Inbox as the future of Gmail, with Gmail being potentially discontinued one day. The catch here is how Inbox can provide significantly more reconnaissance about a user than Gmail, with smart search and suggestions, maps and all that cool stuff Inbox features. The underlying meaning is Inbox reads your email even more that Gmail does. Inbox knows about you even more that Gmail did. Is it a good thing? You should ask yourself, but something tells me only a few will.
All things considered, Inbox looks and feels natural, intuitive and fast. It also feels very smart, and Google says the app will learn based on your behavior to bundle and prioritize your stuff. It integrates to-do’s and reminders with email – something many of you are missing in Gmail, and it offers a lot of information it thinks is missing from your emails. It is very smart, maybe too smart even. If Gmail feels like a T-800 series of Terminator Infiltrator, Inbox feels like the sleek and metamorphous T-1000.
The paradox with Inbox is that it is best suited for business users using Google Apps and Google for Work, whose work flow directly ties into emails, and they constantly check email on their mobile devices. And yet, Inbox doesn’t work with those accounts, yet. That said, if you are a regular Gmail user with nothing but personal emails and Facebook notifications you check once in a while, stick to Gmail just yet, or try out Snowball for fun.