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An e-mail client is supposed to enable the quick organization of your inbox, saving you time and energy. Considerations for a great e-mail client include having a clean and intuitive layout, accommodation for third-party apps and services, provision of a unified space to manage multiple e-mail accounts, iCloud syncing, and of course, being bug-free. After months of using Airmail for Mac, I find that it delivers on all these expectations and more


Airmail recently released a version of their e-mail client for iOS devices, and it’s the best e-mail client for iPhone and iPad by far. I have been using the default iPhone Mail and Gmail apps for years, and when I made the switch, I never looked back. The experience made me wonder how I managed to put up with the occasional bugs and crashes of the Mail app and with not having all my e-mail accounts all in one place. Airmail for iOS brings all the best advanced features of Airmail for Mac to handheld devices: customisable features, in-built shortcuts for organising your e-mails, a central space to manage all your e-mail accounts without the clutter, and, of course, iCloud syncing which guarantees a seamless workflow from your MacBook to your iPhone or iPad and vice versa. Airmail for iOS also integrates with popular third-party apps such as Omnifocus, Wunderlist, Dropbox and Fantastical so that you can have a seamless workflow if you are already using those apps. If you have not yet checked out Barely Efficient’s overview of Airmail for Mac, click here.

 

Pleasing and Intuitive Design

Airmail for iOS interface
Image 1: Airmail for iOS has a simple and intuitive user interface.

Airmail’s iOS version, like its OS X sibling, has simply been a pleasure to use. Airmail for iOS replicates the clean white and space-grey look of the Mac version, and despite the compact screen, there’s no clutter. When you open the app for the first time, you will be prompted to add your e-mail accounts, and as in the Mac version, it is done step-by-step and it automatically detects ports so setting up your e-mail accounts is quite painless. You can choose from the extensive list of popular e-mail providers or you can go straight to setting up via the “IMAP” or “POP3” generic options for the more obscure e-mail providers. For the generic options, you will have to know the IMAP/POP and the SMTP addresses for the authentication process, which you can find out from the  support page of your e-mail provider’s website.

Once you are done setting up your e-mail accounts, you will see the default main screen of the app. The e-mail client on the iPhone has a single screen for your current inbox, and you can swipe up and down to scroll through your inbox. I was impressed by the details in the design – when you swipe up, a bar with various filters appears at the bottom of the screen: “Unread,” “Attach,” “Threads,” “Today,” and “Smart.” By tapping on these buttons, you can view your e-mails and sort your inbox according to those filters that are set.

There is a difference between tapping quickly and holding on the buttons. For example, by just tapping on the “Unread” button, the inbox view will change to messages that are marked “Unread.” But holding on to the “Unread” button will change the button to orange, which shows messages that are not marked “unread” (meaning messages that have been “read”). The other buttons work the same way, and you can use a combination of those filters to view your inbox the way you want it. “Attach” displays e-mails that have attachments, “Threads” shows e-mails that have conversation loops or chains, “Today” displays messages that are received today, and “Smart” is a new feature that sorts your e-mail according to a pre-set search criterion (more on that below).

You can swipe right on the left fold or tap on the menu button (the three blue lines) at the top left of the menu button to reveal the navigation menu. You can swap between e-mail accounts here if you have a few of them, navigate to a specific folder, or play around with the app’s settings.

 

Personalisation makes Perfect

Airmail for iOS composer view
Image 2: With Airmail for iOS, you can easily choose to track or delay the sending of your message right from the message composition screen.

In the settings, you can change the appearance of Airmail on your iPhone or iPad, set signatures and aliases, modify default fonts and font sizes, and customise shortcuts to suit your working style. If this is your first time using Airmail, you may wish to change the default boring and badly-kerned Helvetica font (I recommend Verdana, Calibri, or Georgia) or at least increase the font size. Find the font that suits you and rock it.

Other default settings that you might want to change include the default browser that Airmail uses whenever you try to open a link within the e-mail client and the “Search in Spam and Bin” option. By default, Airmail opens links in Safari, but you can change this to Chrome, Firefox or some other third-party browser. You can even set it to use Airmail’s “In-app Browser” if you like. Also by default, the “Search in Spam and Bin” option is turned off, but I sometimes trash e-mails by mistake and important e-mails occasionally land in my spam folder instead of my inbox. Thus, I want the results from Spam and Bin to show especially whenever I search for messages from a particular sender.

The other thing you can customise is this newly-introduced feature called “Smart Folder.” “Smart Folders” are basically saved searches. Beside the search bar, there is a button for the “Smart Folder” where you can set your search criterion. This function is very useful if you find yourself doing the same searches over and over again, and it supports Gmail Advanced Search Operators as well.

 

Incredibly Smooth Workflow

An important art that you should master on Airmail for iPhone and iPad is the art of swiping e-mails. If you notice carefully, you can swipe an e-mail to the left or to the right. The extent of the swipe also determines what action will be used on the e-mail, so you can have a total of 4 pre-set actions depending on how you swipe your e-mail.

By default, swiping your e-mail a little to the left and letting go will bin it. If you swipe more to the left it will pull up the “Action List” screen. Swiping to the right just a little or a lot would archive or snooze the e-mail (removing it temporarily from your inbox) respectively. If you find that you do not frequently use these options, you may swap them out for something else. This also works well if you use third-party apps such as Fantastical, Trello and Omnifocus and want to send e-mails directly to them.

Airmail for iOS swiping to organize for workflow
Image 3: Swiping a message to the left and letting go will bin it. Swiping a message a little to the right will archive or snooze it.

While writing e-mails, you can attach files directly from Dropbox and iCloud Drive. From your composer, select “Attach,” look for and click on the storage drive that you want, and then select the file that you want to attach. Incredibly fast and simple.

If you already use Airmail for Mac, it automatically syncs your e-mails, drafts, rules, signatures and settings from the cloud. You can begin work on your mobile device while on the go and then continue from where you left off on your Mac and vice versa. This automatic syncing function via the cloud is the main reason I downloaded Airmail for my iPhone in the first place, and I have not been disappointed.

 

Conclusion

Airmail for iOS is definitely one of my best buys this year. The amount of thought that the developers have put into understanding and improving the user experience is obvious from the moment you open the app. Regular updates reveal new and exciting productivity- and workflow-enhancing features. These updates are like dividends on the initial investment – they are always coming, always rewarding you for your initial purchase. And not to mention, the support system is top-notch. If you run into a problem, you can submit a ticket via their website or through the in-app live support system, and I almost always manage to get a reply within minutes. At US$4.99, Airmail for iOS is a definite bargain.


About Author

Wee Yang is the founder of Barely Efficient, a digital content specialist and a scholar of anthropology. He is curious and passionate about new technologies and how it can drive self-improvement. Many people cannot tell if he is Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, and he absolutely cannot live without bubble tea. In his spare time, he writes flash stories and lip-syncs to American and Korean pop hits, and fantasizes about better ways to get things done. View Full Profile

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