Apps for your new Mac: Best email clients

Posted:
in Mac Software edited July 2014
For new Mac owners who feel OS X's built-in mail client is too complicated for their needs or who find it doesn't play nicely with their email provider, AppleInsider went hands-on to find the top alternatives.

Mail Client Shootout


Email clients have a long history as utilitarian bits of software; the category is not a particularly alluring one, and as a result it has traditionally seen relatively little innovation. That has begun to change as email proves more difficult to replace than some believed, and the focus has shifted toward adapting the decades-old technology for the future.

For this roundup, AppleInsider spent five days with each client, using them as our exclusive gateway to email on our desktop during that time. Each one was asked to handle three accounts --?one personal Google Apps account, one AppleInsider Gmail account, and one cPanel-based IMAP account with 20,000 test messages in its inbox.

Unibox

Best overall

Unibox


Unibox, from German developers eightloops, is a speedy IMAP-only client with a slick and well-thought-out user interface that is perhaps the most Apple-like we've seen.

After feeding Unibox the name, email address, and password associated with each account, our mail server settings were automatically detected and the accounts configured without any further intervention on our part, though it does offer the option to set server parameters manually. Importing messages went smoothly, with Unibox showing no sign of stress even with more than 35,000 emails in our combined inboxes.

By default, Unibox shows users a split-pane view with contacts on the left and their associated messages on the right. There is no master list of conversations here --?messages are organized by contact, a departure from the traditional email paradigm but one that we grew to enjoy after an admittedly rocky acclimation period.
Unibox's slick interface and contact-centric design make it the best client we tried.
The contact list is reshuffled based on the date of your last communication with that person, beginning with the most recent. Clicking on a contact displays your entire conversation history in chronological order, and individual messages can be moved, replied to, or deleted from the thread with controls that are hidden until you begin to move your mouse pointer in their direction, a feature that helps keep the user interface uncluttered.

Attachments are shown alongside the message that they came with, but Unibox also provides a separate view that collects and displays all attachments exchanged with that contact. We found this, combined with OS X's QuickLook, to be an extremely useful feature that we would like to see other clients adopt.

There are some features we missed during our review --?for instance, we occasionally wished for something akin to Apple's Smart Folders, and we would like a more robust method for dealing with conversations with more than one recipient. Overall, however, we found Unibox to be a breath of fresh air and a mail client that we can heartily recommend.

Unibox is available now for $9.99 on the Mac App Store.

Mailplane

Best for Gmail power users

Mailplane


For those who live and die with Gmail's web interface but want a more deeply integrated OS X experience than a web browser can provide, Mailplane is far and away the best option.

Configuring accounts is painless, and Mailplane handles Google's two-factor authentication easily without requiring users to create an application-specific password. Mailplane's ability to simultaneously access any number of Gmail accounts at once is a godsend for those --?like most AppleInsider editors --?who use Google's email service for both personal and professional reasons.

Mailplane's easy-to-understand user interface consists of a row of "action buttons" for functions like refreshing the inbox, creating and replying to messages, and accessing the Safari-like downloads manager, which keeps track of downloaded attachments. Below that are tabbed browser windows for each account --?switching between accounts is trivial, unlike Google's wonky web implementation.
Mailplane will win over Gmail diehards with its multi-account support alone.
Because Mailplane acts as a wrapper around Gmail's standard interface, users can avail themselves of Gmail's already impressive array of keyboard shortcuts or define new, customized shortcuts in the client's preferences. Drag-and-drop and QuickLook are both available for dealing with attachments, and like Mail.app, Mailplane will handily offer to resize attached images when composing a new message.

Mailplane provides the option to hide Gmail's advertisements as well as the widgets for Google Chat and Google+. In addition, Mailplane offers Notification Center integration for new mail and a menubar widget that shows the most recent mail for each account and allows users to temporarily silence notifications with a "Do not Disturb" mode, which we found useful when looking for periods of uninterrupted concentration.

The $24.95 price tag may seem steep compared to some of this roundup's other options, especially in light of Mailplane's online-only nature, but Gmail power users will find it money well spent.

Mailplane is not available on the Mac App Store but can be purchased directly from its developers at www.mailplaneapp.com. A 15-day free trial is available.

Postbox

Best drop-in Apple Mail replacement

Postbox


Postbox is not unlike a souped-up sleeper variant of Apple Mail: the facade is familiar, but a closer inspection reveals a powerful, feature-packed email client.

Longtime Apple Mail users will feel right at home in Postbox, as nearly every standard interaction --?from adding accounts to searching to its threaded conversation view --?recalls Apple's workflow. Where Postbox shines, however, is in extending those functions with small additions that make them faster or easier.

Postbox features heavy social integration, similar to Xobni's addon for Microsoft's Outlook. After signing in to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Dropbox, Postbox will pull photos for contacts, provide one-click access to their social profiles, and display metadata like employment information from LinkedIn in the app's "Inspector pane." We found Postbox's Dropbox integration particularly useful when sharing large attachments, as we could simply embed links to the files in Dropbox.
Postbox is like a souped-up version of Apple Mail for power users.
One of our favorite Postbox additions, the Inspector pane is also home to a function similar to Apple Mail's Data Detectors. Where Apple Mail recognizes strings like dates and tracking numbers within messages, Postbox identifies and collates them in the sidebar along with links, images, attachments, and the aforementioned social data. Enabling the Inspector does consume valuable horizontal screen space, but a keyboard shortcut is provided to quickly show and hide it.

We also became attached to Postbox's quick reply feature, which appends a small reply form at the end of each message. Quick reply is a lifesaver when working through large batches of emails at, for instance, the end of a long international flight.

On our testing machine, a Core i7- and SSD-equipped 15-inch MacBook Pro, searching through large mailboxes was fast, but Postbox was not particularly efficient: we often found it taxing our CPU and were forced to restart the app more than once. We also found Postbox's tabbed interface for mailboxes and messages difficult to use, and sometimes opened new tabs unintentionally.

In our opinion, Postbox's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and it makes for a fine upgrade from Apple Mail for power users who want to work with their email locally.

Postbox is not available on the Mac App Store, but is a $9.95 purchase from its developers at www.postbox-inc.com. A 30-day free trial is available.

Others

Mozilla Thunderbird - Thunderbird is one of the oldest still-maintained mail clients around, and it has begun to show its age. In our testing, it was much slower than its competition and the user interface is in desperate need of an overhaul. Other than its extensive add-on ecosystem, there is little reason for most users to choose Thunderbird over Apple Mail. Thunderbird is a free download from Mozilla.

Outlook for Mac - For users in corporate Microsoft Exchange environments, Outlook for Mac has traditionally been the option that provides the fewest headaches. Though we haven't had a chance to test Outlook 2011 ourselves, corporate IT administrators who support Macs on their networks confirmed that Outlook remained the preferred choice when asked. Outlook is included as part of Microsoft Office for Mac.

MailMate - MailMate is a robust, no frills mail client that is unabashedly designed for power users. MailMate features expansive keyboard shortcut support and a bevy of customization options, though its spartan user interface is often difficult to navigate. It handled our large mailboxes with aplomb, and its granular search functionality is second to none. MailMate can be purchased for $49.99 directly from its developer at www.freron.com, and a 30-day trial is available.
«13

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 49
    If you have been using Mozilla Thunderbird on Windows, moving your profile to Mac is so easy.
  • Reply 2 of 49
    Quote:


     For new Mac owners who feel OS X's built-in mail client is too complicated for their needs


     

    Too complicated? I would call Mail a lot of things, too complicated would never be one of them. 

  • Reply 3 of 49
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Outlook for Mac - For users in corporate Microsoft Exchange environments, Outlook for Mac has traditionally been the option that provides the fewest headaches. Though we haven't had a chance to test Outlook 2011 ourselves, corporate IT administrators who support Macs on their networks confirmed that Outlook remained the preferred choice when asked. Outlook is included as part of Microsoft Office for Mac.

     

    Err, you *DO* realize that Outlook for Mac showed up for the first time in Office for Mac 2010 right?  How is that "traditionally"??

     

    Also, while OutLook on Windows saves to PST files, Outlook on Mac *DOES NOT SAVE TO PST FILES* so good luck trying to work with a Mac's Outlook saved file on Windows.  On opening a PST, Outlook on Mac has to convert it first, and it's painful if it's a large PST.

  • Reply 4 of 49
    What about AirMail ? A friend of mine LOVES it. Did you guys try it or what did you think?
    I'm in the same boat regarding needing something better than Apple's Mail app.
  • Reply 5 of 49

    GREAT IDEA FOR ARTICLE! :)

     

    Mavericks Mail.app give me hard time!

    e.g. I receive email on gmail account via iPhone instantly but on MBP I need to manually refresh, resync... to get my email :(

    (to be honest, I did not clean reinstall OS X since 10.6... :/ and this is ONLY glitch since than - but on another way, I NEVER reinstall Atari MiNT to "fix" things ;) )

  • Reply 6 of 49
    I've just been trying PostBox ... but there seems to be a serious bug namely: If I reply to a message, my reply does not appear in my SENT box (it just disappears into the ether), but if I send the same message as a new email (not as a reply), it works fine. Trying to resolve this with the company is proving difficult as they do not have a support email address.
  • Reply 7 of 49
    How about some specific problems that these options improve on? Will anything work better for managing 9GB of messages? Better search, preview, calendar integration, or does it just fix the fact that Apple Mail in Mavericks is a turd? Can they deal with old apple mail mailboxes?

    Pretty hardly seems like a relevant metric.
  • Reply 8 of 49

    I only use Gmail (I channel my other mail accounts through it) and since the last Mavericks update, Mail keeps crashing and nothing I did (after searching forums for days) helped mend it. Ironically, the first iteration of Mavericks Mail worked OK, it's the latest "fix" that broke everything. I am moderately geeky, but this time it was way beyond my expertise.

     

    So I gave Sparrow a try. It has been largely forgotten since Google acquired it, but it still works great, it's free if you can live with ads and I am hoping Google will soon release their own updated official client. If not, once it stops working for me, I will give another program a try. But I doubt I will be going back to Mail anytime soon. It's not just Gmail integration, it's also the lack of aliases and the way it handles attachments that I dislike. I am also lately trying to be as platform independent as possible...

  • Reply 9 of 49
    I'll second Airmail. Definitely should have been on the list. Supports IMAP, POP, and Exchange, has a ton of features and an amazing UI, and top-notch Gmail support (labels, archiving, Gmail's single-key shortcuts.) it's also constantly being updated with new features.
  • Reply 10 of 49
    clemynxclemynx Posts: 1,430member
    Unibox fits the new design in OSX perfectly, in closing the gap between iOS and OSX. I see it running on an multi-window tablet.
  • Reply 11 of 49
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by 65C816 View Post

     

     

    Err, you *DO* realize that Outlook for Mac showed up for the first time in Office for Mac 2010 right?  How is that "traditionally"??

     

    Also, while OutLook on Windows saves to PST files, Outlook on Mac *DOES NOT SAVE TO PST FILES* so good luck trying to work with a Mac's Outlook saved file on Windows.  On opening a PST, Outlook on Mac has to convert it first, and it's painful if it's a large PST.


    Exactly, and Outlook on the Mac also has some serious annoyances. I've witnessed several people who bought Macs and are now running them in Windows Bootcamp because they couldn't get Outlook to work properly even after numerous visits to the Genius Bar.

  • Reply 12 of 49
    appexappex Posts: 485member
    What about a true replacement for the best e-mail client ever: Eudora?
  • Reply 13 of 49
    Mail.app > *

    It really is the best. I don't see why so many people waste their time trying all this other stuff.
  • Reply 14 of 49
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 4,602member

    To each their own but I find Apple’s Mail app to be just fine for my needs. Same goes for Safari, iTunes, iPhoto. Not a power user for sure but certainly above average and Apple’s supplied apps do what I want them to do easily and without issues.

  • Reply 15 of 49
    bighype wrote: »
    Mail.app > *

    It really is the best. I don't see why so many people waste their time trying all this other stuff.

    If you use Mavericks and gmail (or mail hosted by Google) you lose IMAP read synchronization, serious lag in getting messages, and crashing. Quick view and calendar integration were made MUCH worse, and it doesn't really handle large mailboxes well.

    Before Mavericks, using gmail was a little tricky, especially things like archiving mail off.

    I personally need to keep mail and attachments for 7 years, which runs about 10GB per year. 18 months or so is in my inbox, while older stuff is moved to local storage.

    Needing to re-build a 5+GB mailbox is really a pain when you need to download off a bandwidth-restricted server like Gmail.
  • Reply 16 of 49
    i have been using some not mention on here that i feel are great apps to that also deserve a mention.

    1) http://airmailapp.com
    2) http://inky.com
    3) http://www.mailpilot.co
    4)http://www.foxmail.com/mac

    please check them out
  • Reply 17 of 49
    dcgoodcgoo Posts: 150member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by bighype View Post



    Mail.app > *

    It really is the best. I don't see why so many people waste their time trying all this other stuff.

     

    I tend to agree with that. But I have always run my own mail server, so I have missed out on the entire gmail saga.  I run the Lion mail service on a Mac mini located in a commercial data center.  I used to host it at my home, but found I could rent a shelf in a data center for less than I was paying Comcast Business for the IP addresses alone. 

  • Reply 18 of 49
    Too complicated? I would call Mail a lot of things, too complicated would never be one of them. 

    I know right? Strange take from the author. Not sure how you could view it as a complicated program.

    ::shrug:: Personally, Outlook for Mac is perfect me. Other than needing a 200MB update about every other week for some reason, it runs pretty seamlessly.
  • Reply 19 of 49

    "Other than its extensive add-on ecosystem, there is little reason for most users to choose Thunderbird over Apple Mail."

     

    I was a little put off by this comment.  It makes Thunderbird sound like an old horse ready for the glue factory.

     

    If you are just a casual email user, none of this article is probably relevant to you.  OTOH, if you spend more time in email than you care to admit, Thunderbird is an awesome choice.

     

    the comment concerning "its extensive add-on ecosystem" is an understatement.  If you are an email power-user, there is an add on for just about any need you could imagine.  Stuff that just isn't there for these other clients.

     

    When I need something simple and quick, the old "elm" email client from the command line works fine.   From the GUI, I have 89 accounts configured in Thunderbird, one with 378 folders using IMAPS (IMAP over SSL).

     

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    One of the other big pluses for Thunderbird, at least in my case is that it is everywhere I need to be.  If you never leave OS X, my hat is off to you.   I need to do stuff in Solaris, and a couple of different Solaris based distro's, SGI Irix, a couple of the BSD* distro's also.   And if I needed it, God forbid, I could use Thunderbird in windows or lunux.  I don't think that there is another email client in the list (or unlisted), that could match Thunderbird.

  • Reply 20 of 49
    asciiascii Posts: 5,363member
    Thanks for this article. There are quite a few apps on the Mac App Store and Apple doesn't include professional reviews along with them. Articles like this can help the quality items float to the top.
Sign In or Register to comment.