Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tech Time::: Mailbox App

Until recently, I was a stickler about using the stock Mail app on my iPhone because for me it worked fine, until Google shut off the best way to true push email in an attempt to make you use their horrific Gmail app. I have tried it, more than once even, and it's about the worst app I've ever used. And that's saying a lot, since I've tried some pretty crappy apps. Besides the fact that I shouldn't need to download a separate app for my mail to just work the way it should work.

When it launched a few months back, Mailbox was an app that you initially signed up for, and then you waited for your turn in line to gain access. Clever rollout, I thought, and really smart to handle the demand that way.   But when it was acquired by Dropbox, that opened it up for all.  That acquisition was, to me anyway, a huge positive for this product, since Dropbox is a big deal in the tech world and opens them up to significant resources.  I put it on my phone around that time, and kind of didn't mess with it again until recently, when I was getting frustrated with the "fetch every 15 minutes" and my IMAP settings still not really being reliable (hey, thanks Google!), I decided that needed to change.

I had read about Mailbox around the web and it sounded like a pretty fascinating concept, one that is at present Gmail-only which will hopefully soon change, but I am not really an archiving-all-my-mail or needs-an-empty-inbox kind of girl. I just leave it all in the inbox to reach staggering numbers that make people like my friend Shana stroke out when they see or hear such a number. Hey, I can find what I need if I need to find something by searching.  And the messages are not unread, either. In fact, I rarely leave a message unread or in limbo, unless it's one I sent myself as a "note to self" kind of thing. I just don't file them in folders.  I tag them into a category, and that's it.   (Cue Shana's head exploding!)

Video: Mailbox App's YouTube Channel

This app is supposed to change all that and "force" the number of messages in your inbox down to zero to make you archive them or deal with them somehow.  And I am sure it does for other people with email management problems or control tendencies.   But I don't think I am particularly unproductive in the email department, so I am really using it for something else: Push Notification.

Upon initially launching the app, I added my accounts. Since I use several Gmail accounts and a Google Apps service for my business, I input the information for my personal Gmail and my Google Apps addresses, and the "aliases" that I have forwarded to my Gmail account, since I do occasionally send mail from them.  The app asks you to authorize access to these, and once you do, you're in.  

Photos: by me, of my phone

The app talks you through how it does things: quick swipe to the right to "archive", long/slow swipe to the right to "delete", quick swipe to the left lets you "snooze" to deal with something later (a feature I have not yet utilized but might for my "to do list notes to self"), and a long/slow swipe to the left lets you "list" it onto one of the pre-made lists they set up, though you can delete those, and create your own, but not use the ones already in your Gmail account. They have a reasoning for this, claiming it's more productive to create action items, but I would find it more productive to let me use the folders I already have set up for sorting.  And based on the questions listed in the FAQ section on their website, I am not alone in that judgment.

Once I got my information installed, the badge showing on my app icon: 7500. Yes, I did have that many, actually more than double that, but I only had 2 new messages.  Having that number visible would drive me insane, which I think is the point, since they want it to be zero, so I went looking for how to either turn that badge off or make it show only new, and thankfully I found that option in settings quickly. Whew.

Photos: by me, of my phone

In terms of "push", which is what I wanted it for, it's pretty quick. I would say it's faster than the desktop most of the time.  Back when you could still use Exchange through Gmail and free Google Apps accounts (the good old days before February 1, 2013 before Google stupidly decided to kill Exchange for anyone not using paid Google Apps), that was faster than the desktop 99% of the time, and was pretty much the best solution in existence.  This is working out for that pretty well.  I am half inclined to use Mailbox as my notification, and the standard Mail for my sorting and replying needs until some of the quirks, listed further below, are sorted out.

Photos: by me, of my phone

In the above shot you can see how the top button bars are laid out. The far left list button shows that dark screen on the left, with your mailboxes, your procrastination file, lists, archive, trash, sent, settings and help.  Then the "inbox" is the button in the dead center, and the button just right of that, the checkmark, is the "archive" which is essentially your "all mail" folder. The clock button is the "later button" which "snoozes" a message for you to procrastinate.  The one on the far right is your send a new message button. If you need to change the outgoing mail account, you click the little arrow in the "to" section, and it will show a window similar to the middle image in the set of photos farther up. 

Now for the quirks:::
The first of two quirks I've noticed, which might not bother anyone else, is that for some reason the app does not keep up with the web once you've read something. So I will have read, replied, and moved on long ago from a message, and when I check my phone maybe an hour later, it's still showing as new, and still showing in my list of notifications in the notification center.  I have to actively go into the inbox screen of the app to get the app to sync with my accounts to clear all of that.  I can't figure out if that's a bug or a deliberate setup in the app. But it's annoying.  I have contacted them about it, but haven't gotten a firm answer on what the issue is at the time of this writing, so I am leaning towards bug right now.

The other quirk is sorting.  This might not annoy other people, but it's making me stabby!  So in light of that, here is a word of advice about archiving. If you never had your messages archived in Gmail before now and left them all in the inbox like me---here's something I learned that is insanely annoying to me about both archiving and how this app treats it:  If you archive all, your inbox clears out into your ALL MAIL folder. Fine, you can still see that in the "checkbox" tab at the top of the app and when you go into ALL MAIL in Gmail (which is not quick or really easy to get to if you have folders all over the place like I do), but that mixes all your sent mail into your conversations and inbox mail. Ok, you get used to that.  
But if you move anything back into your Inbox from ALL MAIL, when it hits the app's inbox, it will not be in order of date. And there is no way to fix it.  And that makes me nuts.  I might not be as big of a control-freak regarding foldering stuff and clearing my inbox out, but I am ridiculous about the ordering of things. It has to be in newest-to-oldest order or it's a serious problem.

Since I am still new at using this app, and a lot of folks seem to absolutely adore it, I am going to keep tinkering with it. This review is kind of mixed, and has evolved since I started writing it initially.  Hopefully when the next update rolls out, there will be a feature for sorting by date, sorting by sender, sorting by size of message. When I emailed their support folks about fixing the sorting thing, that was discussed, and I really hope it's implemented, and quickly, because that is something that could really make this a huge player and not having it, to me, would kill the app dead.

I am still waiting to see what changes come to the stock Mail app with iOS7, and obviously I am hoping for legit push email, IMAP or otherwise, to be available through any provider through that app and not just iCloud mail. But until that occurs, hopefully Mailbox will bring that solution to me.

UPDATED 07/24/13:::
I abandoned the app today and went back to the stock email application.  The quirks were making me nuts, and I hated having no accurate badge count of what was actually in my inbox unread, and having to start the app to clear any unread messages to update the app, it didn't automatically update itself, so I'd have messages long read, some long deleted, for hours sitting in there, that wouldn't clear themselves until I opened the app and let it update. I couldn't handle it. Besides that, things were not in order of date, and the update that happened not long after I started using it didn't fix the sorting issue (or give an option allowing users to sort by date, size, whatever) ... And I cannot handle that!  I gave it a good fair try, but I just couldn't find what I needed and didn't like the drain on battery having to open the app for it to update itself.

Do you use Mailbox? What do you think of it?

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