Sayonara, Apple Mail. Hello AirMail!

A lot of my Mail.app frustration comes from the simple fact that it works like shit with hosted Exchange. Calendar and Contacts aren't much better at allowing you to display your Exchange information either. Having me to the point of madness, having to rebuild my inbox daily was enough to get me to look elsewhere for hosted email services. After considering a lot of options, I settled on Google Apps. But where was I going to find a mail client that would give me a glorious email experience on the desktop? Enter AirMail.

AirMail is one of those apps that, when you use it for the first time, you find yourself saying "YES! This is the way email should be." For a while I've been wanting to use AirMail for my email tasks, but it doesn't support Exchange and, being that it's still in public beta, there are still some quirks around Exchange IMAP implementation. Despite these drawbacks, AirMail is still a solid email application for your desktop or mobile Mac if you use regular IMAP account (i.e., Gmail).

It seems that everyone these days uses a Gmail account for email and the makers of Airmail have catered to that demographic. From top to bottom, the developers have built in support for major Gmail linchpins like labels, starring, keyboard shortcuts and archiving. When you first add an account to AirMail, you'll notice it only asks you for three things: your name, your email address and your account password. Once these three things are entered, AirMail will begin to search for where your email is hosted, and set up your email account accordingly. Of course, if you want to tweak some settings like ports, authentication methods and server hostnames, it's one click away, on the Advanced button.

Airmail account setup screenAirmail advanced account preferences

Once you have your account set up, administration is a snap. "Administration?! I hate email administration," you say. "Psht," I say. Getting to Inbox Zero is quite a feat on most email clients. However, there are certain steps you can take in AirMail to help the process along a bit.

  • Folder view offers a listing of (you guessed it) folders, accompanied by the labels you're use to seeing in Gmail.
  • Detail view gives you a preview pane of the actual email, so double-clicking to read a message isn't a must.

Email migration is also a snap. Simply select the emails you need to move, right-click and follow Folder --> Transfer To menu. Locate the email account you want to move the messages to in the resulting list and optionally select the folder you wish to deposit them in. No more wondering how to migration emails between accounts. I'm a fan of this, as I have four active email accounts and occasionally, I get an email directed to the wrong account from a family member or business contact. I can now archive my emails in a specific category how I choose to, rather than letting my email client dictate how I can interact with my account.

If you're not a fan of how Gmail removes items you delete from your inbox into the account's archive, you'll love AirMail's ability to change this behavior. By default, AirMail will abide by Gmail's intention to move all the email you delete into the archive. However, a quick visit to Preferences --> General will give you to option to check off "Delete Key, Move to Trash". This will change the behavior so that when you tap the Delete key on your Mac, it will actually delete the email, rather than archiving it.

The only thing I've found overwhelming in AirMail is the wealth of keyboard shortcuts you can use to mark, sort, group and take action on a given email. Among the options are:

  • To Do = ⌥⌘B
  • Memo = ⌥⌘N
  • Done = ⌥⌘M
  • Clear = ⌥⌘.
  • Remove from Label = ⌥⌫
  • Forward = ⌘⇧F

Using shift in the keyboard shortcut for forwarding an email always irked me. If replying to an email is a simple ⌘R, then by logic, forward should be ⌘F. However, on most application on the Mac, this key combination gives you a Find search dialog box, rather than a new email template for forwarding. I understand why this train of thought is continued across email applications: to keep the find feature command ubiquitous across all applications in the OS. Luckily, with a little Keyboard preference pane mojo, this is easy to overcome.

Fin

Despite the fact that it is in public beta, and there are some fine tuning issues to be resolved (lack of Exchange support, onslaught of keyboard commands), AirMail is quickly proving to be a contender for the title of Best Mac Email App. It puts Apple's own Mail.app to shame, and given the lack of updates or support for Google's Sparrow, it's my go-to application when someone suggests a solid app to use with their Gmail accounts. You can easily customize the UI depending on your usage (desktop vs. laptop) by removing the folder and preview panes, and if you're already using Gmail shortcuts through the web interface, you can easily use this within AirMail.

Fans of productivity will rejoice. Dedicated followers of Inbox Zero will laud it's ability to keep your sanity. Mac users will love it simply because it's not Apple Mail.

UPDATE: Airmail is now available through the Mac App Store for $1.99. I'm sure as this app gets better with each revision, the price will eventually increase. Snag your copy now while it's at an awesome price point.