I’ve had Inbox by Google for a couple of days now and here is my mini-review after using it exclusively for 2 days. This is coming from someone who’s used Gmail almost exclusively for 10 years (has it really been that long?) and loathes email with a passion.
It’s purty – no doubt about that. It’s nice and modern (which pretty much sums up the ‘flat design’ ethos). It really doesn’t looks like email, which is a plus. I’ve come to associate the appearance of the regular inbox as a chore. This looks very different and maybe it won’t be associated with a pain in the butt.
I am a sucker for good design so the change is welcome. It’s a reminiscent of Google Plus but only in ethos. I believe it’s in line with the Material Design guidelines that Google is following moving forward. Overall, it’s a big step forward for email.
It’s also a really, really, REALLY smart idea for Google to have Inbox be a separate product. Foisting it on all Gmail users would lead to mutiny. Many folks don’t want to change, especially if they have a customized workflow in Gmail. Good one, Google.
The hot new (and not-so-new) features of Google Inbox
Upon logging in the first time, the welcome slideshow notes 4 features:
I’m mixed on this. On one hand, we get a lot of tasks from email. On the other hand, I don’t want to check my email to see what I need to do – the less time I spend in email, the better. I tried Google Tasks way back when (and I think it’s still around in some form) and it just didn’t work for me. Reminders in the Inbox might work for you.
Personally, I prefer using Todoist and making reminders that link to an email – that way I can reply to an email without opening up my whole inbox.
This is Inbox’s killer feature, and one that every single email service needs to have. There are plenty of emails that don’t need to be addressed immediately and having them return to the inbox at a later date is incredibly helpful. It’s a great way to avoid having stuff fall through the cracks, which is the biggest problem with email. This is more like what an email reminder should be – bringing back emails at a relevant time.
The Snoozing options include Later Today (7pm), Tomorrow (7am), Next Week (Monday at 7am), Someday (?!) or a specific date and time. I have no idea when Someday is – I just snoozed a non-essential email until Someday, let’s see when it comes back.
FYI I already have this feature in Gmail via Boomerang (referral link) and I highly recommend it. Not only does Boomerang bring emails at a specified time (or you can choose from a customized set of times/days) but it can return an email only if no one responds. It’s a killer way to keep the ball moving on projects.
This is Google being Google, providing relevant information related to an email, like area details for a hotel reservation. However I have not seen anything along these lines – maybe because I’m mostly using Inbox on desktop?
Bundles are the new inbox tabs, and they are WAY better than Gmail’s stupid tabbed interface. I have lost track of more emails due to the tabbed interface than due to any other email feature in history (seriously). Crap gets lost in tabs, you have to drag things to the right tabs. Gmail’s inbox tabs are a good idea in theory that sucks in real life.
Bundles are better – way better. And you can make custom bundles too (in fact, all of my old labels are now bundles). What I like is when a bundle has a new email, the Bundle as a whole appears at the top of the list, like a new email. It shows the names of recent senders. It just plain works for large segments of email that you may want to see but aren’t important enough to stand on their own.
Marketers will also be happy because the Promotions bundle can’t be ignored like the Promotions tab, so it’s a win-win all around. Now you do have the option of turning bundles off but who’s going to do that, unless you’re someone who gets very little email?
I like Pinning, which is like Starring an email but better. It’s cool to be able to click the Pin toggle at the top and switch to a Pin-only view. This is a definite plus.
Inbox Zero is also much, much more attainable by swiping (on mobile) or checking messages (on desktop). It’s archiving an email in a more sensible, modern way.
The iOS app is a joy to use – you just swipe when you’re done with an email or to snooze it. It’s simple and it works really, really well. I like it a LOT better than the Gmail app. I don’t have an Android phone but I suspect the experience is as good there as it is on iOS.
And the negatives
There’s really only one that’s not so great about Inbox: deleting emails is a pain. They make swiping & snoozing super easy but deleting requires extra clicking. I really don’t want to archive and save that email reminder from my dentist (or the chain letter from my mom). Maybe there’s an extra long swipe or something to delete but I haven’t found it yet.
Aside from that, Inbox itself is an amazingly well-conceived product. But as with any new software, integration with other services is lacking. I miss the 3 Google Chrome plugins that I use daily for a smarter workflow: Boomerang, Streak CRM & Todoist.
Will Google allow plugins to work with Inbox? I hope so. Until then, I have to keep using Gmail primarily on desktop while Inbox is a big improvement on mobile.
Google Inbox Review – final verdict
I give Inbox by Google at B+. It’s an incredibly well conceived update that makes email way, way easier – especially for the majority of people who aren’t power users like me. I recommend that you at least give it a shot, when you’re able to get access to it.