Mail 3.2 (as part of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard) full review

With the new features in Apple’s free Mail 3.2, there may be no reason to look to commercial alternatives for email. In addition to handling mail, Mail now helps manage to-dos and calendar items, stores notes, and even grabs RSS feeds so users can read the latest news.

The email features haven’t changed much – there are no significant changes to existing rules, you still can’t sort outgoing email as you can with Entourage, strip attachments, or change incoming subject lines. Mail does have smart mailboxes – similar to iTunes’ smart playlists, or the Finder’s smart folders – for sorting mail according to different criteria, such as message content, sender, or read/unread status. However, smart mailboxes do have limits, so you won’t be using them for power sorting.

When you need to search for messages, Mail uses Spotlight to find them. Unfortunately, search criteria are limited, and you can’t choose which mailbox or folder to search until after the search has run. Since searches are fast, this is more of an annoyance than a problem. There’s a larger drawback, however, when using Time Machine to look for old, deleted email. While Mail integrates with Time Machine, you can’t search once in the Time Machine interface: you can browse only different folders and mailboxes, making it hard to find a message if you don’t remember where it was located.

A new aspect of version 3 is managing of to-dos and notes. If a message contains something you need to act on, you can select some of its text, then click the Create a To Do button. This turns the text into a single line that displays in the Reminders section of Mail’s mailbox sidebar. To-dos that are created in Mail also get added to iCal, so you can manage tasks easily from either program; creating a to-do in iCal makes it show up in Mail as well. Mail can also store notes, in the same location, and these notes can, in turn, contain to-dos.

Another way Mail integrates more globally with Leopard is through data detectors, which can pick out keywords on which to base various actions and tasks.

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