Should You Upgrade from Gmail to Inbox (Hint: You Probably Should)


Get Shift Done: Management

Inbox is less annoying than Gmail, and you can always go back.

Photo credit: Martin Heller

Online email systems perform the valuable service of filtering out spam at the server before it can clog up our local Internet connection. But even Gmail has its issues, mostly in the design of its web and mobile clients, which tend towards cluttered displays and unnecessary notifications. Who needs an alert that you just got 10 new emails, when none of them are of actual interest?

Google Inbox is an attempt to fix those mail design deficiencies on the web client as well as iOS, and Android. With Inbox, Google introduced a new way to bundle categories, both in and out of the traditional email inbox. Messages are displayed differently — I’d like to say with true innovation — by allowing you to see more of their content before actually opening them.

Gmail doesn’t show you much of a message preview

Inbox shows you a lot more context before you open your messages

Even more importantly, in Inbox you can decide which categories merit notifications and which don’t. Plus, you can pin messages you want to keep; sweep all unpinned messages in a bundle to a “Done” folder; set reminders; and snooze messages until you reach a specific time or place.

I adopted Inbox when it was first released as a beta test. Initially it lacked several of Gmail’s important features, but it was never an either/or choice. For any feature that Inbox lacks, you can always go back to Gmail. Since Inbox’s introduction, Google has gradually refined its operation and display formats, to the point that now I only go back to Gmail to administer new or changed email accounts, or to edit old-style rules.

On the other hand, you do have to train Inbox’s classifiers, over and above the way you trained Gmail. You also need to check your Promo and Spam folders on a regular basis to rescue misclassified messages by pinning them or moving them to another folder.

Sadly, the beloved Gmail “mute” button — so useful when someone starts a “reply all” chain to tell someone else not to broadcast trivia to the entire company — is still MIA from Inbox. Fortunately, you can handle a problem like that by moving the offending thread to “Low Priority.” If you’re lucky, the next “Who took my umbrella from the kitchen?” thread will wind up there, where it won’t bother you.

As the old Alka-Seltzer ad said, “Try it, you’ll like it.” But there’s no punch line: Google Inbox won’t give you heartburn. And if you don’t like it, you can always go back to Gmail, whether for one task or for the long-term.

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