Review: Inbox by Gmail

Inbox by Google
Augh, another tool to learn.

Google gave me an invite to their new Inbox email tool. First impressions and observations (I will update this post throughout the weeks of using Inbox):

Dec. 3, 2014: In the Inbox app (Android), there is an infinite scrolling effect. What happens is as you swipe to the bottom of a message or message pile, the Inbox app then moves you on to the next conversation in your list. I don’t like this in a browser or here; it’s confusing behavior, and lacks precise control. Just clicking “X” to leave the message area makes sense and is highly controllable.

Nov. 28, 2014: How about moving the option to delete a message to the top menu bar? I know Google prefers I archive things so to better analyze my activity, but I prefer to delete them — it gives me a sense of cleanliness and control over my information. Right now, you need to click on the three dots, then select “move to trash.” This happens in both the Android app and browser version. And why not, for Android versions, make “delete” an option right from the notification screen?

Nov. 11, 2014: I’m back at it. The composing experience is very nice in Inbox. Newest wonder: Why is the option to “Trash” something buried in the 3-dot menu? Please move it out.

Nov. 3, 2014: Pretty much stopped using Inbox. My system of managing Gmail is refined and works well. The reminders, pins and snooze tricks weren’t quite powerful enough to keep me hooked. I think the biggest problem occurred in trying to keep two systems in my head regarding managing emails — especially two systems regarding task tracking. I was starting to face the question of, “Wait, did I pin that in Inbox? Snooze it? Do I need to note it somewhere else?” And I wanted my contacts list accessible from Inbox, as it is in Gmail; I jump in and out often enough to not want to open a separate tab to do so.

Nov. 1, 2014: When a snoozed email shows up again at the top of my inbox, it should be labeled or presented in a way that communicates it is a snoozed email returning as a reminder.

Very sluggish on my Nexus 4 running Android 4.4.4.

Only usable on Google Chrome, but other browsers are promised to be on the way. And, surprisingly, occasionally sluggish here (at the url of inbox.google.com), too. I’m still working out where I click to close/open messages. And the 3-dot button (a dropdown menu) in some instances seems to not work, or it only works if you click on the overall heading containing a thread of emails(?).

The pinning (lock a message into a “pinned” position and tab), reminder (add an email or fresh note to a reminders tab) and snooze (archive a message until a later date/time, then bring it back into your inbox mix) tools are extraordinarily awesome. Finally some ways to make email behave more like the task manager it ends up being.

I turned off all the bundling (the app’s name for the “Categories” function of the regular Gmail inbox) after exploring it a few times. I never wanted Gmail to sort my emails into “promotional,” “social” or any other category in regular Gmail, and I still don’t want it to do that. Things get lost, and the grouping introduces a level of complexity to processing everything that gets sucked into it. For example, some messages shouldn’t go into a certain group. But I don’t want to train my email again — I’ve already spent hours making labels and filters that do the sorting for me. Folks who haven’t invested time into labels and filters may be more interested in the bundling feature. I still don’t fully understand the full spectrum of what “bundling” does in the app, and my desire to decode it is pretty limited.

My first instinct was to abandon the app because I had no desire to relearn email. I gave it a second chance, and it’s the Snooze, Reminder and Pinning tools that will keep me interested.

It seems the Inbox team wants us to move away from using labels? I just tried adding a label to an email, and I was unable to just type in the label name and then select it. I had to scroll through my dozens of selections then click on it. Not great. It then asked me if I wanted to “always do” this type of label action. Always do what? Put emails from this sender under that label? Very vague. Grr. Underpowering the labeling process is frustrating. I’ve not encountered a software, including Google’s, that parses things correctly for me.

A bit more comprehension of the “bundling” tool: so you can treat your existing labels as bundles, then have them be the way emails within them get delivered to your inbox. You’re given the choice to act on entire bundles (aka labels) each time a bundle (label) gets updated with a new email categorized into it. Not useful for me; I have hundreds of emails with certain tags, and have no desire to constantly think about acting on all of them when perusing one of them. I just want to be able to see all emails of that label/bundle at various points. And, perhaps idiosynratically, I want to see emails labeled a certain way in my overall inbox — at a glance I can see/find what is most pressing. It’s a way to highlight things (because I use colorful label palettes). You can’t even see how an email is labeled in this new inbox. Google in fact seems to think you want an email OUT of your main inbox feed if you label, and allows you to avoid this only if you pin the labeled email. Whaaaaaaat? Worse: Even if I pin an email, if I label it, it gets archived. Augh, really don’t like that. Labeling/categorzing things is not an act of “archiving” for me, so why am I being forced into that behavior?

The design is superb. Really a pleasant way to explore/read emails. The only action-oriented design problem I’ve had is assigning labels to emails (see above, it creates all kinds of forced organizational decisions that I don’t like).

Augh, very annoying: when I assign a label to things now, it automatically marks them as “done” and moves them out of the inbox. To avoid this, I’d need to pin something and label it. Nope! Even pinning something fails to protect it from being archived and moved out of the inbox area if you choose to label it. Grr. I often like to label things, then leave them in my inbox.

Mergggghh, my keyboard shortcuts don’t work. The main one I miss is Apple-Enter, which sends the email.

Very confusing — you can choose some labels to be “bundles” that then appear in your inbox. But it seems only certain labels are allowed this, and I’m not able to select them. Gmail somehow decides a few of your labels are allowed this special treatment, and the rest not. Whaaaaat? It seems Google is trying to get me to rethink how I organize my emails, and seemingly let me allow its software make more decisions about how to sort things. No thanks! It just doesn’t do a good enough job of it.

If it remains sluggish, I’ll stop using it.

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