We find we are opening our email app on our Mac (and iPhone for that matter) a lot less frequently these days. We’ve transitioned all work chat to Slack because email was just becoming too much of a nightmare: overflowing with spam, 10,000 unopened emails and counting... you know what it’s like.
But regardless of the stress of the email mess, there is certainly still a place for email in both our work-related and day-to-day lives. Nobody wants to go back to the days of memos and mail rooms, even if it would mean goodbye to junk email. A better solution is to find an email package that can help your become the master your email.
We’ll be assessing a collection of email packages for Mac, looking at how well they perform in the following areas that we think are the most important:
- How easy it is to set up, whether you can have multiple email addresses and if it supports the various protocols and services.
- How well you can clear your inbox with tools such as: postpone/send later/snooze, pre-set responses, smart search, spam filters, and so on.
- How quickly you can reply to messages and useful templates, markdown support, signatures
- Other email management tools such as reminders and read receipts.
- Whether you can undo an email.
- How quickly you can find important emails.
- How well the email program integrates with other apps.
- Whether there is a cross platform/mobile version.
- Whether there are built in Security features.
We'll start by looking at some free email options, and we'll also feature some paid for email packages that are worthy of consideration.
Part of macOS
Like us you are probably using the Mail app that comes with your Mac. It’s not a bad app at all. One of the key benefits is the simple fact that there is a matching app available for your iPhone and iPad - but there is so much more than the integration between the different devices that allows you to “Hand off” an email from one device to another and carry on from where you left off.
Mail also offers various handy features such as built-in Mark Up tools that you can use to illustrate and emphasise aspects of the attachments - and even add your signature.
If you like using emoji you can do so easily in the Mojave version of Mail thanks to a new emoji shortcut in the menu bar.
There are various ways you can sort your email to make it easier to manage. You can create Mailboxes (folders) and set rules which determine the emails that are directed there. One feature of Mail that we love is the option to differentiate between VIP senders. So that emails from people in your VIP list are diverted to a separate inbox (meaning you can ignore everything else).
Use the Search field in the top right to find emails. Mail uses intelligent search to determine the most likely email you are looking for and also offers suggestions that might further narrow down your search.
If you need to send a large attachment (or more) but don’t want to clog up your recipients inbox, Mail will automatically store the attachment in the cloud for them to download. There’s no need to use a separate app like SendBigFile, Mail does it all for you with the Mail Drop feature.
Mail works with the various types of email accounts, including iCloud, Exchange and Gmail, and it’s easy to set up - just open Mail, choose Mail > Add Account from the menu bar and enter your email details. We have perviously had a little trouble setting up Hotmail and outlook.com though.
Mail is also heavily integrated with MacOS, so you can send replies from the Notification Centre, or send an email from within another app using the Share feature.
macOS Mail is a very decent email package that comes with lots of useful features, and thanks to its integration with MacOS and iOS it works seamlessly across all your devices and all your other Apple apps. It would be very easy to stick with Mail, but if your email struggles are becoming unbearable, or you think that you could use some additional features such as undo send or the ability to pin important mails, there are lots of other email clients worthy of consideration.
Below we’ll look at what we think are the best free options, along with some paid for options that might just change your life.
Free from the Mac App Store
Spark is an email app by Readdle. It’s rated by Apple, who have given it an Editors’ Choice award. Readdle claims Spark can “clean your inbox in seconds”, that certainly appeals to us.
It’s relatively easy to set up, although there are a few hoops to jump through if you are using iCloud. To use Spark with iCloud you’ll need to generate an app specific password, and to do so you’ll require Two-Factor Authentication to be tuned on.
Click on Generate an app-specific password and the Apple ID web page will open in your browser. You’ll need to scroll down to Security and click on Generate Password. Give your password a label, e.g. Spark, and click create. Now the app-specific password will appear and you just need to copy and paste it into the app. Click Add Account and the verifying process will start up. You might find this process frustrating but it’s one of Apple’s security measures that we need to accept for our safety.
Once in the app you’ll find your Inbox is split into different sections including Personal, Notifications, Newsletters, Pins, and Seen. Right from the start we already felt less stressed because it felt like the stuff that mattered had been pulled out so that we could focus on that straight away.
Open an email and you’ll see an option to Pin - which is similar to choosing to Flag an email in Mail but more in keeping with the way you can Pin a note in Notes or a webpage in Safari. It’s an easy way to separate out important emails so you can find them quickly - just don’t pin everything.
You also have a snooze option, which we think is a great idea. We tend to “manage” our email by opening emails, glancing at them to see if we need to action anything immediately, and then Mark as Unread with a view to going back to it later. The problem with that method is that it means our unread emails often exceed, well right now 2,143. With Spark we can choose to postpone an email until later today, tomorrow, next week, someday, or pick a date.
You’ll see another neat feature if you scroll to the bottom of an email. Here you’ll see buttons to Reply, Forward and Quick Reply. Quick Reply is a little like the way you can respond to text messages or social media posts with a Like or Love, with the addition of responses such as Great Idea or Call Me. We like the idea but these sorts of responses probably aren’t appropriate for work email.
There are some handy swiping actions that you can use to quickly manage your emails. A short swipe from left to right changes from Read to Unread. A long swipe from left to right archives an email. A short ship from the right Pins an email. And a long swipe form the right will delete. We were a little worried we’d accidentally delete something we wanted to Pin. You can actually change the result of the required swipes, but we couldn’t actually get Swipe Actions to work.
Templates is another useful feature. If you often send identical or similarly worded emails you can store it in Templates and add it when required. Another handy features is the option to Send Later. If you frequently find yourself checking your email late at night and stop yourself replying there and then because you don’t want your email to be missed or because you son’t want that person to feel they have to reply to you at 11pm, then Send Later is for you. You can choose to send later today, this evening or tomorrow, or pick a date on the calendar.
There’s also the option to set a reminder - so if a reply hasn’t been received in, say, a week, you can get an alert reminding you to remind them to get a move on. This could be really useful.
The app has a built in calendar that works with iCloud and Gmail. It supports iCloud, Google, Yahoo, Exchange, Outlook, and IMAP.
The app is free but you can pay a monthly per-user fee for various team focused features and extra file storage.
eM Client for Mac
Free from Emclient
eM Client has been a free email client for Windows for some time but a Mac version has only launched in January 2019! The developers say it’s fully integrated into the operating system and it works with Calendar, Mail and Contacts.
We had the usual issue setting up our iCloud account - this time there was a message that “Server says “Unauthorized”. We went back to the AppleID page and generated yet another app specific password. It took a few goes this time but eventually we were in.
Once open the app threw up a load of reminders that were a few thousand days out of date. We were curious as to where it was getting these from but it turns out it was thanks to the integration with Apple’s Reminders app, which we use as a todo list, and is very welcome. The problem is simply that it had pulled in everything ever - along with our calendar appointments going back a few years!
You’ll find your Reminders in the Tasks section. You can also find all your reminders in a handy pop up which adds the really really useful ability to snooze reminders not just for 5 minutes, an hour, and until tomorrow, as is the case with macOS, but also for 10,15, 20, 30 minutes and so on. This is something we’ve been wishing for! If only it wasn’t so buggy! While we’re writing about the software it has taken it upon itself to keep reminding us about appointments we had back in 2016 every few minutes… Slightly annoying.
Alongside the Tasks tab you’ll find Calendar - populated with all the appointments and events you’ve added already, Contacts - with cards for all your contact, and of course Mail.
Email is sorted by day, so you can see at a glance which emails have come in since midnight. Like Mail you can mark emails with a different colour flag, except that you can change the name of the Flag, so essentially create your own tagging system.
We love the Agenda that appears on the right hand side of the central email pane. Here you will see a combination of your calendar events and reminders, as well as any emails you have flagged. This is so useful that on seeing it we decided that we really would switch from Mail to using eM Client - although we’d miss Mail’s VIP system that basically means we can pull emails from important people into a separate folder and only ever look at that.
Below Agenda is another useful section - Invitations. Here you’ll find those notifications you receive when people are adding appointments to your calendar. Really useful to see at a glance. You’ll also find a Chat section which offers support for Google, Facebook and Jabber.
It feels like a work in progress, but it feels like there is a lot of promise and that this could become the email program for Mac that Mail should be.
Free from Mozilla
Mozilla is probably best known as the developer behind Firefox, but they also make an email client, Thunderbird. However, in 2016 Thunderbird development was “uncoupled” from Firefox, development continues but it's not clear what the future holds.
As with Spark setting Thunderbird up to work with iCloud involved going to the AppleID page and generating an app specific password, except the app gave us no indication that we needed to do this, it was only because we’d had to with Spark that we thought it might explain why Thunderbird kept saying our password was incorrect when we were trying to set it up.
Thunderbird’s design feels a little retro, but there are some modern features that are useful. For example, Tags is a useful feature that lets you tag emails as Important, Personal, Work, ToDo, or Later, and then view all your tagged emails, or just those in a certain category. You can also create your own Tags, so you could add project focused Tags, and you can assign more than one Tag to an email. If like us you use Tags around the MacOS to help you find project related files, you’ll find yourself wondering why Apple hasn’t implemented it in Mail. The closest you get to Tags in Mail is different coloured flags (Flags in Mail would be a whole lot easier if you could assign names rather than Red, Yellow, etc).
Tags isn’t the only feature to make locating particular emails easier. Below the Search field is a Filter these messages field which works a little differently to Search. Type in a search term into the Search field and a new tab will open up which shows the text of every email in your inbox that mentions the word. But if you use the Filter field you’ll just see the emails.
We love the idea of Tabs, which, like Tabs on Firefox, mean you can have more than one email open at a time and not have a cluttered screen. This is great if you are dipping in and out of particular emails as you can keep them open.
You’ll notice that images don’t appear in your emails by default. This is for privacy and security reasons - by not displaying images the sender isn’t being alerted to the fact that you are viewing the email. This view can make browsing emails a little boring so you can turn it back on if you want.
Thunderbird offers an integrated Calendar and chat features. You need to set up a chat account, and can do so using Twitter, Google Talk, IRC or XMPP (Jabber). It used to also offer integration of RSS feeds but doesn’t anymore.
The problem with Thunderbird is that it’s not all that intuitive to use, there are some powerful features there but you first need to learn they are there and then find out how to use them, rather than discover them. If you want a simple to use email program this isn’t it.
We’ll briefly mention Boxy here because it has been a popular choice for those wanting to bring Gmail from the web into a Mac app. It’s undoubtedly easier to manage Gmail in Boxy than in the web based UI. It’s essentially an unofficial Inbox client for Mac offering the same features as Google’s Inbox (automatic bundling of similar messages, Google Now-esque highlights and event reminders) along with a few extras.
One of the coolest features of Boxy is the ability to start writing an email on one device, say your Mac, and then continue on your iPhone. It’s like Apple’s handoff feature, except it doesn’t use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to communicate between devices – it’s automatically and instantly synced. It also offers an interesting “Reader” mode, which strips back everything apart from the text of an email, providing a more comfortable and less distracting reading experience
The problem is that Google will discontinue Inbox by Gmail in March 2019 so apps like Boxy will stop working.
$10/month from Polymail
Polymail is similar to Spark and offers just about everything you’d want within a single app. It used to be that there was a free version of the app that includes most of the features - but those days are gone, now pricing starts at $10/month for the Basic version. There’s still a 14-day trial version at least.
The app, available for both iOS and Mac, offers a range of advanced productivity tools including email tracking, send later and read later, all from a tidy interface. You can get in-depth insights such as the number of times the email has been read, and when. It’ll also provide handy info including if/when attachments were downloaded, as well as blocking any tracking features in emails you receive.
You’ll find Contact Profiles, which appear alongside emails, and display all the information it can find on that person online – LinkedIn bio, Twitter handle, photo, current job, etc. Think of it as Facebook, but for email. It’ll also bring up any previous encounters you’ve had with that person, and any files you’ve shared.
There’s also a handy Follow Up option that lets you set a required number of days in which you will follow up an email.
Oh, and it lets you un-send emails once you’ve sent them (for several seconds, anyway). The only downside? It doesn’t perform very well in offline mode, and emails can sometimes ‘disappear’ from Polymail when still present in the native email app.
If Polymail isn’t for you, then maybe Newton can tempt you. Like Polymail and other clients mentioned here, it offers both a free and paid version of its app via monthly subscription, providing more in-depth features for Pro mail users. Newton offers all the capabilities that you’d expect from a high-end mail app – email tracking, user profiles, send later, advanced search capabilities – and more.
It comes with a range of SuperChargers that aim to enhance your email experience by performing tasks like clearing out social media and newsletter emails, allowing you to concentrate on personal emails or set a reply reminder if you don’t hear back from a recipient in a number of days.
As well as offering an impressive suite of email-focused features, Newton also offers integration with several service providers including Salesforce, Trello, OneNote and Evernote, allowing users to save content from emails directly to the other services. Got a link you need to check out later? Easily add it to your Pocket account without leaving the app.
You can get a two-week free trial when you sign up via the macOS, iOS, Android or Windows app, but after that, you’ll have to pay an annual subscription fee of £39.99/$49.99.
Airmail 3 is a popular Mac Mail client, and provides the same experience whether being used with a single email account, or many – ideal for those of us with multiple email addresses for work and play. It has an Apple Design Award-winning, modern looking interface, with a flat, slightly transparent macOS look.
Like the default Mail app, the app also boasts a VIP feature, which lets you filter out emails from people you deem important from the general inbox, meaning you’ll never miss an important email from a colleague again. You can snooze emails to deal with later, “quick reply”, or choose to send an email at a later time or date. And best of all you can use the Undo Send feature - although this only works if you have set up your email to send after a delay.