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Anything promising to simplify a ubiquitous, and often frustrating, activity—like email—is sure to have people salivating. For the new iOS app Mailbox, this promise was effectively hyped with the help of a lovely video back in December. The app has finally dropped, and you know what? It might just live up to the hype.

What Is It?

An iOS app that helps you more effectively read and sort messages in your Gmail account.

Who’s It For?

People who are overwhelmed by the traditional workflow of letting email pile up in your inbox.

Design

In a word, Mailbox is—elegant. Everything is laid out with simple and clear visual cues.

Using It

The app is structured around the concept of keeping your inbox at zero. Every message you read gets re-located. After reading a new message, you use swipe gestures to send it to one of 4 places—you can archive it, delete it, categorize it in a pre-defined list, or have it re-appear later with a timed reminder. The ease of Mailbox’s swiping scheme is at the heart of the experience. It fuses reading a message with sorting it, eliminating extra steps that inevitably are neglected, leading to an immense stack of undifferentiated slop.

Mailbox Review: Your Bad Email Redemption

That is pretty much the entirety of the Mailbox experience.

If you were looking for a robust, feature-rich workhorse of an app, time to pump them brakes. Mailbox isn’t meant to fill the gaps in other iOS mail apps. Its purpose is pedagogical, to re-condition you into a more direct and streamlined way of working with email. The app even lacks a few abilities that you would think no modern mail app would dare omit. You can’t select multiple messages and file them away at once (though you can choose to file ALL your messages away in one swipe). You can’t mark messages as spam. You can’t save drafts. These are best not seen as omissions, but as choices. Mailbox is a strict parent teaching you to behave, and you will either thank them later, or rebel by breaking curfew and smoking pot in the school parking lot.

The Best Part

Mailbox offers something new, and is bold in its quest. The app is fast and light and fun to use.

Tragic Flaw

Even though Mailbox is live in the App Store, you might find yourself having to wait a while before actually being able to use it. In order to prevent their servers from being overloaded, Mailbox is actually being rolled out to users gradually. In the app you will find a counter of people ahead of you and behind you in the count. It’s a strange way of doing things, and will annoy the impatient.

This Is Weird…

Sorting mail using Mailbox on the iPhone, but what about when you go to use Gmail your laptop? It is up to you to try and duplicate the sorting scheme that Mailbox has created. Upon visiting Gmail, you will find that Mailbox has created folders for you, but of course you can’t just swipe each new message away. It’s more cumbersome, and trying to follow the two workflows could disrupt the simple elegance of Mailbox.

Test Notes

  • The app only works with Gmail accounts.
  • Options for “snooze” settings are limited. While you can create a custom alarm at the moment that you snooze a message, you can’t create new preset alarms outside of “start my day at,” “start my weekends at,” end my workday at,” “later today,” and “someday.”
  • When I downloaded Mailbox, there were about 50,000 users in front of me, and it took about 4 days until I was granted access.

Should You Buy It?

Well, it’s free, so yes. You’ve got nothing to lose.

In many ways, Mailbox is an app that falls right in line with the Apple philosophy. Show you an easier way, simplify your experience, and deny you the ability to transgress. It’s an approach that makes many users fume with resentment, and is a saving grace for countless others. But in the end software can only go so far to condition behavior. It’s up to you to stay organized, no matter how much Mailbox greases the rails.

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Mailbox in the App Store]

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