Inbox is a new email experience from the Gmail team. While it hasn't completely launched yet, we were able to snag an invite and give it a go.
To use Inbox, you have to be invited by Google. Google opened Inbox to everyone for one-hour only on 5 November, but people had to email firstname.lastname@example.org and request an invite. Pocket-lint was lucky to get one of those coveted invites.
Although Inbox is available as both a web and mobile app, we mostly spent a day using the iOS app. Here's our initial impressions.
Getting started with Inbox
Upon launching the app, you are asked to sign. You are also greeted with some Getting Started cards that you can swipe through and read for tips.
Inbox only supports personal Gmail accounts at the moment, meaning you can’t use your Google Apps email or email from rival providers in order to sign into the service. (Gmail for Android now allows users to add email accounts from rival providers such as Yahoo Mail.)
It's flat. It's clean. It's fast.
You can only sign into one email account when the app first loads. You can also only view one account at a time, though you can switch between multiple accounts with little friction. To add more accounts, go to the main menu and then tap the drop-down arrow below your picture.
From there, you can add and manage all your email accounts. To switch between email accounts, access the same drop-down menu below your account picture and then select the account you want to view. Simples.
The main screen is your inbox, and it should be filled with all your emails and bundled emails. The top of your inbox also shows three distinct icons or buttons. The one on the left (three stacked lines) opens the main menu screen.
The main menu gives access to your inbox, snoozed and completed items, drafts, sent mail, reminders, trash, spam, default and custom bundles, unbundled labels, settings, and help and feedback.
The second icon in the middle (pin) lets you toggle between Pin menu and inbox. Pin menu shows all your pinned emails, but we'll discuss more on that later. As for the icon on the right (magnifying glass), it lets you search your email accounts for items.
But that’s not all: There’s a fourth icon along the bottom of the main screen that looks like a red dot with a + sign in the center. It’s the Create icon. Tap the Create icon from the main screen whenever you want to compose an email.
The Create icon will also let you send an invite to Inbox, make a reminder, or access your frequent or recent contacts. The icon itself actually reminds us of stacks in Mac OS X in that it expands or springs upward to reveal all your available options.
Now let’s talk about your actual inbox. Messages appear in your inbox as a stream of collapsed emails and bundles, with the stuff from today grouped at the top, followed by stuff from yesterday and then from this month, etc.
Your inbox has unique feature called bundles, and it work a lot like the old labels feature in Gmail. Bundles literally bundles your labelled messages together so they take up less space in your inbox. Just tap a bundle in your inbox to expand it and view your collapsed messages.
Inbox creates automatic bundle labels for things like Promos, Social, and Travel. But you can also create bundle labels. Just tap Create new from the menu screen. You should then type in the name of the bundle as well as emails and addresses that will automatically be labelled for that bundle.
To add an existing email into a bundle, tap the email, then tap the Move to icon (three stacked dots) in the top right-hand corner, and select a bundle label from the list of available bundles. If there's an email you need to delete, open the email, then select Move to, and select Trash.
And finally, all emails and bundles that have pictures and videos attached will display thumbnails of those attachments in your stream. The ability view them in your Inbox stream makes your entire inbox glanceable.
To move an email to a bundle from Inbox to some other place, select the email, and then tap the Move to icon in the top right-hand corner (three stacked dots). You will notice more options for moving messages to trash, spam, and unbundled labels.
If you ever want to save an email in order to follow up or read later, you can pin it. Simply open the email and then select the pin icon from the top of the email. You'll see your email directly in your inbox or bundle, or you can toggle to the Pin menu to see a list of your pinned items.
A feature referred to as "sweeping" lets you keep your inbox clean by marking unpinned emails as done, and you can mark them as done without even opening the email.
Just find the email and swipe toward the right. You will still be able to search for items after they’re marked as done.
Reminders are little time-sensitive notes you can leave yourself to, well, remind yourself to do something on time.
To make a reminder, tap the Create icon from the main screen, then select Reminder, and type in your reminder. You can also tap the Time icon (clock) at the top to pick a date, time, or place. An example Reminder could be “Call Mom and Dad at 7 pm on 6 December 2014”.
The reminder will appear in your inbox when relevant. You can also access a list of your reminders from the Pin menu.
Snooze is a lot like reminders. But instead of including little notes, Snooze is more about swiping emails away for reading at a later time. Simply tap any email and then swipe from the right. A Snooze menu will appear with options for setting a date, time, or place.
Once you snooze an email, it disappears from your inbox until it is ready to resurface. The idea here is to get to inbox zero.
Inbox on the web
Although we didn't spend much time using the web version of Inbox, it appears to look and function much like Inbox for iOS (but without all the touch optimisations, naturally).
The web version also has two additional icons on the main screen for accessing other Google products and your Google account. While we liked the web version overall, it became immediately clear that Inbox is best experienced on touch devices.
The Inbox experience largely involves swiping and sweeping and tapping, none of which is possible from a traditional computer. Still, for those of you who want to utilise Inbox on all of your devices, the web option is available to you.
It's clear that the Gmail team wants email to function as more of a to-do list. It's also clear that the team is a fan of inbox zero. It wants you to have a clutter-free email experience, with plenty of of easy ways to organise emails and save things for later.
Inbox is also all about glancing.
While we discussed how exactly the product works and functions, we haven't yet gone over how Inbox highlights emails and updates and images and all the things that matter most. First of all: Both media and important data are highlighted in your inbox, and you don’t have to open the message to see them.
So, the next time you get a confirmation email, say from a flight, Inbox will show you the flight status and let you check in without having to open the email. These glanceable features are not only handy but seem super modern. It makes email feel new and user-friendly.
In fact the Create icon alone is unique because it adds a speed dial of sorts to your inbox by letting you message your top contacts in just two steps.
Another feature we liked is Google Apps, located under Settings in the main menu. It lets you select Google Apps you want to use in app form rather than browser. In other words, if you want to watch a YouTube video linked in an email, Inbox will open the YouTube app.
Such a feature makes Inbox work seamlessly with other Google products. But if we had to nitpick, we'd recommend that the Gmail team integrate Google Apps into Inbox search as well, allowing users to not only search for emails but also other items stored in Google's apps.
Overall - we really enjoyed Inbox. It's flat. It's clean. It's fast. Although you can't completely abandon other email clients for Inbox, only because it restricts provider support to Gmail, it's still definitely worth trying. (If you can get an invite, that is.)