Google's Inbox, an invite only app that provides a new front end to Gmail and other inboxes, provides a nice design, some social news feed meets email river mojo and functions that make your messages manageable. More importantly, Inbox, which was cooked up by the Gmail team as a standalone app, can handle volume.
Overall, Inbox, which launched Wednesday, is definitely worth a spin. To ponder that bottom line from me and what it means it's helpful to know some background.
I've been skeptical about 99 percent of the products trying to solve the e-mail and information overload issue. Meanwhile, I've also been skeptical of efforts that do away with email and try to set up a new paradigm, say a social feed approach. Most of these products — I've tried dozens — all ran into the same wall with me. These magic bullets only turned out to be yet another tool to clutter my screen.
In other words, I hate email, but I'm stuck with it until the masses move on to something else. To make matters worse, I'm not the type that will manage folders, organize messages and peruse automated categories. I'm not going to click on those folders in real time.
For most of my day, I'm in a world of notifications — email, texts, instant messages, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, breaking news and streaming stock quotes. It's absurd. At various points in my day, I'm more inclined to take a hammer to my screens just to get away.
By 7 p.m. I'm stressed if I hear my smartphone beep with some text notification. By 7:15 p.m. I'm a digital recluse going off grid.
With that backdrop, I gave Gmail's Inbox a whirl if only to see if it could get me to put the hammer down half the time. I liked the concept of Gmail team creating a mobile app and email approach from the ground up. The thought of hitting snooze and wiping out entire categories with one swipe was also appealing.
My test for Inbox was simple. Forward all my work e-mail (Google for Work account) to my personal Gmail. I tried to pipe my Yahoo account into Gmail too, but the APIs wouldn't cooperate.
Nevertheless, Inbox had about 700 emails a day to bundle, organize and help me navigate. That tally was more than enough to see what Inbox was really about.
Among my key points for Inbox:
- What Inbox really does is give you that good feeling you get when you cross something off a list. Yes, your inbox is still a disaster and so are you, but there's something cathartic about swiping dozens of messages into the dustbin quickly. That "yeah I did something" feeling is the secret sauce of Inbox.
- Snooze and reminders are a nice touch and have a Google Now feel to them. In practice, snooze was helpful once and reminders I'd basically hit the snooze bar on later. In the end, I hit snooze and reminder, but should have just hit delete and called it a day.
- Viewing photos and documents in a stream without opening an attachment is a good feature that saves you time.
- Marked as done is a nice feature. Done items are removed from your inbox. Swipe right and bam you're done. It's a wonderful feeling. One wrinkle: I just said I was done with a lot of email just to get rid of it (knowing they were available in a done folder I'll never open).
- Google's default bundles are useful and on target for the most part. I didn't feel the need to create my own bundles, but the option is there for you super organized types.
Bottom line: Inbox is a handy app that takes Google's latest interface approach and cuts down on inbox time. My previous way to cut down on email time was to just shut it down and don't look at it. I do the same for voice mail and have a rule that once there are 40 messages on my work line I'll check (maybe).
My guess is that Inbox won't make me more efficient than simply ignoring email completely, but the app did get me part of the way there.