There's always a temptation to trash companies' efforts when they try to revamp popular formats. In the case of the new Gmail, however, this approach is unwarranted.
The main reason for this is that the new Gmail gives users lots and lots of options to customize Gmail to our own desires. So while I was initially put off by the new format that Google was offering -- it had too much white space and was too spread out for my tastes -- I quickly found that I could alter it to my own specifications with relative ease.
Let’s start off with the display density. Yes, in the default settings the display is much broader and more spread out than the classic Gmail format. But guess what? Clicking on the “Settings” button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen lets me switch it right back to the compact design I’ve come to know and love over the years.
And that’s not all the “Settings” button is good for. It also gives you quicker and simpler access to multiple backgrounds that you can use for your Gmail interface. While Google has lined up all sorts of pretty pictures of beaches, mountains and forests for you to choose as your background, I decided to go with plain black to make the contrast with the assorted reds, blues and greens on my Gmail screen even more start. Voila! No more excessive white space! The chat windows are also better-adapted to different background colors on the new Gmail than they were on the previous one. Now when I’m chatting with someone it comes up as a slightly lighter grey color instead of a pure black window that looks somewhat jarring.
Another welcome feature is the ability to re-size both your chat window and your labels window on the left-hand side of your screen. So if you’re not a big chatter or you don’t use labels all that much, you can expand one at the expense of the other and give it prominence in your main display.
This is not to say that the new Gmail is perfect, though. The advertisement at the top of your inbox is indeed too large and is far more intrusive than the ads we’ve become accustomed to on the traditional Gmail. What’s more, the chat window on the left-hand side of the screen is more difficult to navigate. In the old Gmail, you could scroll through your chat window simply by scrolling down on your main inbox. In the new Gmail, however, the chat window does not automatically scroll along with the inbox and has a separate scrolling bar all together. This is problematic because it puts a limited size on your chat window and puts it into direct competition with your labels. After all, if you want your chat window to become larger now, your labels window must become smaller.
In all, though, I think this is a net positive for Gmail. And unlike with the distracting new status update bar on the upper right-hand side of the new Facebook, the new Gmail gives you all the options you need to customize your experience to get rid of most of the annoying features. While not perfect the new Gmail gets a thumbs-up overall.