Why You Should Trust Me
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Hi, my name is Thomas Boldt, and like many of you reading this I rely on email for the vast majority of my professional correspondence. As a freelancer and small business owner, I have to monitor a large number of different email accounts, and I know the struggle of trying to keep up with an inbox that relentlessly fills while still trying to do all my other work.
Over the course of my career, I’ve tried many different methods of streamlining my correspondence, from time-based restrictions to all those useless “5 Ways to Control Your Email Inbox” articles. In my experience, no matter how carefully you limit the time you spend on email each day, things will get away from you if you don’t have an efficient solution that prioritizes productivity. Hopefully, these reviews will help you save time in the search for a better method of handling your inbox!
Do You Have 10,000+ Unread Emails?
If you’ve ever struggled with managing your email, you’ve probably tried to find solutions. In the modern world, much of that searching happens online – but unfortunately, very few of the articles you’ll find actually provide any kind of useful advice. You’ll find all sorts of vague suggestions about ‘managing response expectations’ and ‘self-prioritization’ but rarely any concrete advice that can be actually applied to your situation. They mean well, of course, but that doesn’t necessarily make them useful.
A large part of the reason that these articles fail to help is that they are all focused on what you could call ‘soft changes’. They ask you to change your attitude, change your habits, and prioritize your work goals differently. While those aren’t inherently bad ideas, they overlook the fact that real change happens as part of a complete system – and at least half of that system is the way you actually interact with your email – in other words, your email client. You’ll never be able to get ahead of your inbox if you’re constantly fighting against a slow, outdated interface.
Of course, you can also follow my recommendation for the best email client for Windows 10 and still find yourself drowning in thousands of emails. The idea that a single new change will all the difference is seductive, but it’s also reductive. If you want to really master your inbox, you’ll need to combine all the best advice you can find and make it work for your individual situation.
Do You Really Need A New Email Client?
We all want to spend less time answering emails and more time getting things done, but not everyone will benefit from switching to a new email client.
If you work in a corporate environment, you may not even have a choice about how your email is handled, as some IT departments are very specific about how they run their email systems. While you might be able to send a request up through your supervisor to the IT department, the sheer complexity of deploying a new email client across a workplace often keeps people stuck using their old, inefficient systems.
Those of you who are self-employed or small business owners are more likely to see some real improvements, especially if you’re currently using a basic webmail interface like Gmail or Outlook.com. If you need to check your personal email as well as the info and support addresses for your business – all the while sorting and prioritizing everything across multiple browser windows – you’ll really start to save some time with a modern email client. If you’re stuck using something horrible like the webmail clients provided by most hosting companies, you could wind up saving whole days each year by switching to a better solution.
How We Evaluated Each Email Client
If you think that email clients are more or less created equal, you’d be quite wrong. Part of the reason some people struggle to keep up with their inbox is that many email services still operate on the same basic level they have for the last decade, and their users keep on struggling, unaware that there is a better way. When I was evaluating the email clients I tested, here are the criteria I used to make my decisions.
Can it handle multiple accounts?
In the early days of email, most people only had one email account. In today’s world of constantly-evolving services and domains, many people have multiple accounts. Even if you’re only using one address for personal email and another for work, it’s much more efficient to receive them all in the same place. If you’re a power user with many different email accounts, you’ll start to really save time by collecting them all together.
Does it have good organizational tools?
This is one of the most important aspects of a good email client. Bringing together all your email in one place isn’t going to do you any good if you’re still buried in thousands of unimportant messages. Even your important messages need to be prioritized, and a good set of filters, tagging tools and task management options will make your life much easier.
Does it offer any security precautions?
The ability to have anyone in the world send you a message can be an incredibly useful thing, but it also comes with certain risks. Spam is bad enough, but some emails are even worse – they contain malicious attachments, dangerous links, and ‘phishing’ campaigns designed to get you to give up personal details that can be stolen and used by identity thieves. Much of this now gets filtered out at the server level, but it’s always a good idea to have some protections built into your email client.
Is it easy to configure?
An email client that handles messages from multiple addresses in one central place is much more efficient, but you’ll need to configure your new email client to properly check each of your accounts. Email providers often use different methods to configure their services, and it can be time-consuming and frustrating to configure each one manually. A good email client will make configuring your various accounts easy with helpful step-by-step instructions.
Is it easy to use?
If the very thought of opening your email client starts to give you a headache, you’ll never master your inbox. A good email client is designed with user experience as one of its top priorities, and that level of attention to detail makes all the difference when you’re up to your eyebrows in unread messages.
Is it customizable?
Everyone has their own personal style of working, and your email client should be customizable to reflect yours. When you spend a fair portion of your day immersed in your email client, it’s quite helpful to be able to make it work for you instead of against you. A good email client will offer you customization options while still offering a well-designed default interface.
Does it have a mobile companion app?
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. One of the best things about email is also the worst – it can reach you anywhere, as long as you’re connected. If you’re a freelancer, this can be helpful, but many of us tend to find that we’re working much longer and later than we should be. There is such a thing as being TOO connected!
Regardless, it can be very useful to have access to your email when you’re on the go without your laptop. A good mobile companion app will be available for both iOS and Android, and allow you to write and respond to email quickly and easily.
Best Choice: Mailbird
Mailbird has been in development since 2012, and the developers have spent a lot of that time polishing the program until it shines. Every stage of installing, configuring and using Mailbird was incredibly easy, and everything just worked smoothly. It’s a refreshing experience not to have to struggle with an email client!
The free version does limit your access to some of Mailbird’s more impressive features, and it enforces a small signature at the end of each email that says ‘Sent with Mailbird’. It comes with a short Pro trial of just 3 days, but subscribing to it is so affordable that it’s hard to justify sticking with the free version. The Pro version is available for just $1.50 per month, or $59 for a lifetime subscription if you don’t want to pay monthly.
To give it a good test, I linked Mailbird with my Gmail account and my personal domain email account, which is hosted by GoDaddy. I simply entered my name and email address, and Mailbird detected the appropriate configuration settings and asked for my password. A few keystrokes later and both were set up instantly.
The last time I had to set up an email client, it was a frustrating set of addresses, ports and other mysterious details. Mailbird didn’t ask me for any of that information – it just knew what to do.
There was a bit of a delay while it synced my messages, but my Gmail account has almost a decade’s worth of messages in it, so it’s no surprise that it took a while to download everything. To really put it to the test, I also added an ancient Hotmail account and a Yahoo mail account, and both were instantly added without any issues. These took longer to sync, but again, that’s due to the sheer volume of messages, not any fault of Mailbird.
I’m always hesitant to link applications to Facebook, but it’s nice to see that Mailbird promises never to post anything.
In terms of security, most of the filtering will be handled by your email server, but Mailbird does disable the loading of external images by default. This keeps external tracking images from detecting whether or not you’ve read an email, and minimizes the risk of spammers and hackers from including malware payloads in certain image types. If you’ve determined that a specific sender is safe, you can either show images in a single message or whitelist the sender to always display images by default.
In this case, the Behance network is run by Adobe, so it should be safe to display the images permanently from that sender.
One of Mailbird’s primary virtues is how simple it is. The interface is incredibly simple to use, as you would expect from a good email client, and there are handy tips that are easily accessible covering just about any task or question you might have.
Of course, the fact that Mailbird is simple to use on the surface doesn’t mean it is lacking in features. Most of the time, you’re presented with a clean and clear interface that lets you focus on the task at hand, namely taking control of your inbox. If you want to dig in deeper, however, there’s a great deal of customization that you can set up and never have to worry about again.
Colors and layout are just a few of the interface customization options, but if you dig deeper into the settings, you can choose how to use some of Mailbird’s more interesting features. One of my favorites is the ‘Snooze’ option, which lets you temporarily ignore an email until you’re ready to deal with it, allowing you a quick method of prioritizing your correspondence.
Another feature unique to Mailbird is the ability to integrate a number of other popular apps such as Google Docs, Google Calendar, Asana, Slack, Whatsapp, and more – the list is quite extensive.
The process for installing Mailbird companion apps was quick and easy, although I have to admit that being able to access Facebook while being in the middle of answering email isn’t exactly a productivity booster. It can be hidden in a single click, though, and hopefully will stop you from switching away from your inbox and getting distracted.
By comparison, Google Docs integration is a major help, and so is Evernote (although I’m in the process of transitioning to OneNote, a competing app from Microsoft which doesn’t seem to be available yet). Surprisingly, the app section is open source, so anyone with the right programming knowledge can visit the code repository on Github and create their own app integration.
The integrations listed in the Services tab don’t seem to offer much in the way of help as of yet, since most of the services are simply links to the provider websites. These run the gamut from web hosting to antivirus software, and it’s not immediately clear how (if at all) these would integrate with Mailbird, but this is the only part of the program that doesn’t feel perfectly polished. I assume that they’re going to be expanding this aspect soon as they connect with more service providers. Having a link to OneDrive and OneNote in here would be a real help, but Microsoft isn’t exactly known for playing nice with the competition.
While we’re on the brief subject of negative aspects, I noticed that the ‘New mail’ notification sound kept playing consistently during my testing. I’m not sure if this is because I simply still had unread messages from my ancient Hotmail account, or if there was some other bug, but I wound up having to disable audio notifications entirely to get it to stop.
Mailbird doesn’t have a mobile app as of the time of this writing, but the developers have announced that they are working on constantly with the hope of a Q1 2018 release for the Android platform. If it’s anything like their desktop client, it will make Mailbird your go-to email app no matter where you choose to answer your messages.
The Paid Competition
eM Client is another very well designed email client which is far more effective than most modern webmail interfaces. It supports most major email services, including Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, and iCloud. It’s available for free if you’re just using it for personal email, although you’re limited to only checking a maximum of two email accounts. If you want to use em Client for your business or you want to check more than two accounts, you’ll need to buy the current Pro version for $49.95. If you want to buy a version with lifetime updates, the price jumps to $99.95.
The screenshot here is after I deleted my accounts after testing, as it’s not fair to my clients to publicize our conversation details
The setup process was quite smooth, quickly and easily connecting with all the email accounts I tested. It did take a bit longer than I expected to synchronize all my messages, but I was still able to start working immediately. There were the standard hidden image security precautions, and excellent organizational tools for tackling your mountain of unread messages.
eM Client does integrate a number of helpful productivity apps including contacts manager, calendar and chat services, and each of the services can sync with various internet-based services such as Facebook and Google. There are no third-party app extensions which might limit your productivity, but there is something to be said for staying on-task while you’re handling your correspondence.
Overall, eM Client is an excellent alternative to Mailbird if you’re only checking a couple of personal email accounts, although it is far more expensive if you want to purchase the lifetime updates package.
PostBox is one of the more affordable paid options available for managing your email, priced at just $40, with volume discounts available for those who want to deploy it across an entire business. There is a 30 day free trial available if you’re interested in testing it out before committing to the purchase.
The Postbox setup process is smooth and simple, although it does require the extra step of enabling of the IMAP protocol to work with a Gmail account. Fortunately, it gives you explicit instructions on how to enable it, which is a nice touch. It supports as many email accounts as you care to add, and it manages to sync tens of thousands of emails quite rapidly.
This type of setup is what I’m used to when configuring email clients, but Postbox was able to fill in all the relevant details automatically
One of Postbox’s real strengths is its organizational tools, which allow you to quickly tag and sort emails without having to set up filter rules first. The search features offer a wide range of options for helping you quickly find the message you’re looking for, although it does work better once it has the chance to index all your emails. If you’re importing a large number to start with, this will take some time, but unless you’re receiving thousands of emails a day it should be able to handle it smoothly moving forwards.
Unlike many of the other email clients I looked at, Postbox displays email images by default, although it’s possible that it’s using some sort of built-in whitelist the way Gmail does in order to decide whether or not an email sender is trustworthy.
Postbox has some basic customization options, including the ability to reorganize the toolbar and some basic layout adjustments, but that’s the extent of the customization abilities. It also doesn’t include any kind of app extensions or integrations such as a calendar, although it does contain a ‘Reminders’ feature that can be used like an agenda. If you’re looking for an all-in-one organizational tool, Postbox may not be complete enough for you.
If you’re more interested in security than in efficiency, The Bat! might be just what you’re looking for – and yes, the exclamation point is officially part of the name! It’s primary claim to fame is the ability to integrate email encryption directly into the program, supporting PGP, GnuPG and S/MIME encryption options. This makes it perfect for those who are working on extremely sensitive data, but it’s definitely not as user-friendly as any of the other email clients I looked at.
It has a fairly basic interface, and the process for setting up my Gmail account didn’t work properly the first time. Typically, Google’s two-factor authentication works instantly, but despite approving the sign-in on my phone, The Bat! didn’t realize I had done it at first. It also doesn’t integrate with my Google Calendar, but there are a few basic scheduling tools that you can use – although I prefer something more comprehensive.
Rather than including a mobile app for your smartphone, The Bat! does offer a ‘portable’ version of the app, which can be run from a USB key or similar device without having to install anything. If you find yourself needing to use a computer at an internet cafe or other public places to send encrypted emails, this is definitely your best option.
The Bat! isn’t likely to be the best solution for anyone except the most security-conscious users, but for journalists, financial analysts or anyone else who regularly needs to use encrypted communication, it may be just what you need. The professional version is available for $59.99, while the home user version is available for $26.95.
A Few Free Options
Thunderbird is one of the older open source email clients still in active development, first released in 2004. Originally bundled with Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, the two development projects were eventually separated as more and more people moved towards web-based email services and the demand declined. However, the developers are still working hard, Thunderbird is still one of the better free email clients for Windows 10.
Thunderbird uses a browser-style tab system to keep different tasks separate, although the interface feels out-of-date and clunky compared to some of the other clients
I used to use Thunderbird as my email client, back when it was first released, but I gradually moved away from it in favor of Gmail’s web-based interface. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it has also joined the modern era, and configuring my email accounts was quick and easy. It was definitely slower to sync than some of the other competitors, but it has good filtering and organizational tools, as well as instant messaging, calendars and contact management built-in.
The interface is a little out of date, even compared to Mozilla’s new direction for Firefox, but the tabbed interface makes it simpler to manage multiple tasks than some of the other email clients that I liked more. If you’re a person who loves to multitask while you work, be sure to check out Thunderbird. Of course, multitasking isn’t always the best way to conquer that unread message count!
Zimbra is part of an impressively large suite of applications designed for large enterprise deployments, which makes it a bit surprising that the program is free. During the installation process, though, I ran into a snag. Zimbra Desktop requires the latest version of the Java Runtime Environment, and I’ve been ignoring the update process for a while, so the installer was forced to quit. Eventually, I got things updated, but I ran into another problem almost immediately when it was time to connect my Gmail account.
Compared to the other email clients I tested, configuring my Gmail account to work with Zimbra required adjusting some settings that many users may not understand
Despite the instructions they provided, my Gmail account already had IMAP access enabled, but it still wasn’t able to connect. The error details were a long string of unintelligible error data, and nothing I could do would make it connect. When I tried adding one of my old Yahoo mail accounts, it worked smoothly, so I assume this is more likely to be a problem with Gmail’s two-factor authentication.
Zimbra’s interface is definitely out of date, and it doesn’t really give you much in the way of customization options. I found it generally slow to load, although it does include a decent array of tools above and beyond your basic email inbox, including calendars and scheduling options. Compared to some of the more modern options available, it doesn’t really stand out, and most users will be better off with something a bit more user-friendly.
Mail for Windows
If you have Windows 10, you’ve probably already got Mail for Windows installed. Setting up accounts is simple and easy, and it integrated with my Gmail and Google Calendar accounts without any issues at all. It provides quick access to calendaring and contacts, although it’s really just linking you quickly to the Calendar and Contacts apps that are built into Windows.
If you’re willing to embrace the default Microsoft apps for all of these features, then Mail might be a good choice for you – and you certainly can’t argue with the price. You can also be sure that it’s optimized for Windows 10, since it comes bundled with it by default.
On the downside, you’re also limited in terms of any additional features. There are no extensions to work with additional apps, but you could argue that its charm is in its simplicity. You won’t be getting distracted by anything, which hopefully will allow you to focus on getting through your daily messages!
A Final Word
Adjusting to a new email client takes time, so you may not become instantly more productive as soon as you switch. If you can’t find the right balance between managing correspondence and the rest of your work, the best email client in the world won’t be enough to stop your unread message count from climbing. But if you take the time to choose a client that’s best suited to your needs, you’ll find that you are able to take back control of your inbox while still meeting your other goals. Experiment with the different options that we’ve explored here, and you’ll be sure to find one that matches your particular working style!
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