Why I’m breaking up with Google Inbox – for now
Is it weird that as I opened Google Inbox on my desktop in preparation for writing this article a mysterious “Server is temporarily unavailable.” error stopped me from accessing my email for several minutes?
GET OUT OF MY HEAD, GOOGLE.
All paranoia aside (right, Google? Heh heh.), here’s my take on Google’s new invite-only (as of right now) email management tool.
First glance: what the %&#@
Where are the meticulously named and arranged folders I've organized over the years to save every single piece of digital communication? Why does it look like I only have five emails? I always have more than five emails. How many emails do I even have? WHAT ARE ALL THESE COLORS?
Did I mention I'm terrified of change?
While Google Inbox offers plenty of interesting features, at first glance I almost couldn't see the forest for the trees. The bold, modern trees. With an array of confusingly bright colors, a purposefully streamlined appearance and icons that don't always register on first glance (Is it too soon to tell if the next generation will even recognize a thumbtack?) I was a little freaked out at first.
However, as this article puts it, the sooner you start thinking of the tool more like a to-do list and less like, well Gmail, the more quickly you'll start learning how to make it work for you.
Following my initial freak out, here are the features I welcomed, the features I missed and more insight on how I use email than you ever wanted to know as I spent a few weeks using Google Inbox on my desktop.
Just like the name implies, Google Inbox groups similar emails into what it calls “bundles.” While it can be a bit alarming to log into your email after a long weekend and not see your usual stack of unread emails in bold text, the feature can help users prevent being overwhelmed by lower priority emails, such as those grouped in the “Social” and “Promos” folders. These bundles – as well as your imported Gmail folders, Settings and more – can be accessed from the hamburger menu icon (or “sidebar menu icon” if you’re into that kinda thing) in the top left corner.
Of course, you can disable bundling altogether or move emails between bundles, which “teaches” Google where to place those emails in the future.
After some getting used to, I did learn to appreciate this feature. However, being both an organizational freak as well as a worrier, I sometimes still opened each bundle just to triple check that an all-important Flipboard digest or electricity bill didn’t fall through the cracks.
I hear that if that happens, Google foots the bill. Right?
Snooze versus “Mark as unread”
For the short time that I used Mailbox before folding under the pressure to act on emails without at least 24 hours of careful (read: over) consideration, I became familiar with its snooze feature. While it’s not nearly as pretty on Google Inbox, it’s basically the same thing. If you aren’t ready to deal with a message for any reason, you can set an email to go into the Snooze folder until the time you choose, when it will show up again in your Inbox. You can even edit the default “Snooze until…” times in Settings.
I’m embarrassed to say that I still prefer the old “Mark as unread” Gmail feature to tell me which emails need my attention – which does not exist in Google Inbox, yet. Let’s hope Google plans to incorporate that for us old timers. Baby steps.
While Inbox allows me to move individual emails by clicking into them or move a whole bundle at once, I’m not able to use simple checkboxes to move a bunch of random emails in bulk like I can in Gmail. Again, this might actually be considered a perk of bundles, but it takes getting used to.
When Inbox first hit the market, there was a widespread panic over the lack of signature capabilities on desktop. While that has since been added, it’s only a shadow of the rich text that Gmail signatures allow for.
I actually ended up using WiseStamp, a third-party web app, to create a signature with a little more pizzazz. Be warned that if you switch back and forth between Inbox and Gmail, WiseStamp will still add its signature to your Gmail messages, resulting in a double signature if you’re not careful to remove one or the other.
“Delete” versus “Done”
Anyone else out there get a deep feeling of satisfaction from hitting that little trash can icon to send an email to the Trash folder?
Well, not anymore. You’re instead prompted to hit a checkmark on your email or your bundle when you’re finished with it, thus sending it to the Done folder. While the Trash folder is actually a little easier to find in Inbox than in Gmail, moving items there requires an extra click and I get the feeling most users will simply begin using the Done folder out of convenience.
How can I set my vacation responder so that my clients and colleagues will know when they can contact me again with their super important matters when I’m back from the Bahamas aka sleeping on my couch for a week?
Highlights show invitation details and attachments right in your main Inbox view. Gone are the days searching for that one email with the little paperclip icon or actually having to click on something to accept an invite.
Actually sending emails
Upon hovering on a plus icon in the bottom right corner of Inbox, a slew of icons pop up that allow you to compose a message, set up a reminder and invite someone to Inbox (for now). There are also icons that represent what I can only assume are several of my most used contacts, whom I can click on to open an email already addressed to them.
The UI for composing a message is pretty similar to Gmail, but a little cleaner.
Similar to Gmail, replying to an email can be done right inside the original message without opening a new window. Click on the karet to open a pop out reply, where you can edit the recipients, subject and more.
Reminders and Pinned items
Reminders are pretty cool. Right from the Compose icon you can set up a reminder to call, email or meet with one of your contacts. You can either immediately save the reminder to your Inbox or use the Snooze feature to have to sent to you at a certain time. The reminder is automatically Pinned to the Inbox.
Pinning can be compared to starring or marking an item as important in Gmail – neither of which are features I have ever used.
When you pin an item, the thumbtack icon turns from grey to blue. You can use the slider button to the right of the Search bar to open the “Pinned” view and see a list of your pins. To be honest, without moving these items to the top of your Inbox or calling them out in some other way other than a small icon, this feature still seems useless.
I can only assume that Google Inbox was introduced to compete with the other email management apps that have been popping up in response to the popular Inbox Zero philosophy. I’m also assuming the idea is to eventually replace Gmail altogether with it.
And that’s fine with me. But, until the app addresses some missing features, such as signature and vacation responder, and makes others more useful – I’m looking at you, pins – I’m going to stick with Gmail on my desktop. I’d rather get my emails out of the way with more efficiency that spend my time digging around in a more confusing, albeit more modern and attractive, app.
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