Sunday, November 23, 2014

Google Inbox: First Impressions Review

If you read my last post, you know how I use my email to help me stay organized.  Compared to some—many, perhaps—I don’t get a lot of email, and most of what I do get comes from me, articles I want to read to things I want to research or videos I want to watch.  Even my work email (used in a similar fashion to my personal email) isn’t that overloaded.  Still, it helps that each time I open either account, I clean out what I don’t need.

However, there are people who are inundated with emails, people who have to schedule specifics times—and limits—for checking email just because of the amount of emails they get.

Google has created a new email interface called Inbox.  Still in beta, you can only get Inbox via an invitation, either by requesting one from Google or receiving one from someone who has already gotten their invite, just as they did with Gmail when it first came out.  It took me a few weeks to receive my invite, but now that I have, and have been dabbling with the new interface, I can write my first impressions of it.

I don’t know what the long-term goal of Inbox is—will it replace Gmail?  Will it be used in conjunction with Gmail?  Currently, it’s being used alongside of Gmail, so if you have a Gmail account, and if you receive an invitation to Inbox, you can use both at the same time.  (Changes you make in one interface will be reflected in the other.)  One thing is clear though: the purpose of Inbox is to create a minimalistic view and put like emails with like emails so that you’re not looking at items you’re not ready for, the goal being to eliminate email overload.

First, we’ll go through the basics of Inbox.

You can see just how minimalistic Inbox is:


There is a lot of white space, and messages are spread out for easy/easier viewing.  It takes away a lot of the extra stuff to see but still keeps the main bells and whistles.

Any new messages are listed in bold.


As with Gmail, all messages of the same subject are grouped together within a thread.  Click on the group of messages to see all messages within that thread.


In the example above, there are more than 10 messages (circled in red) of the same subject.  Click on the “10” to see each individual message, and click on each message to read it in full.



Once in a message, you can choose what to do with it.  You can click on the three dots to reply, forward, or delete.


You can also do this with the entire thread by clicking on the dots for the thread as a whole.


Applying a label to one message or a thread of messages can be done here as well.

You can pin a message, which is the same thing as Gmail’s starring option.  Just click on the Pin icon at the top of the message.


To see all pinned items at once, click on the Pin icon at the top of the inbox view.


That will show you all pinned messages at once.


I don’t really like having to clicking into another screen to see my pinned messages.  Though you can see that messages are pinned in the general view, it doesn’t stand out enough for me not to go into the Pinned Messages screen.  So this is an extra step for me at the moment.

Inbox brings in a new feature: Snooze.  This allows you to hide a message until you’re ready for it.


Click on the Snooze icon (circled in red); choose the date and time you want your message to reappear.  At that time, the message will return.  To see all snoozed messages, click on the options next to “Inbox” and click “Snoozed.”


This will show you what messages have been snoozed, and from here you can edit your snooze options for each message.


I love this option because sometimes I will get a message that I need to do something with as soon as I can, though not at that exact moment.  But since I tend to check my unread messages only on my phone and iPad, I may miss something that isn’t marked as unread.  True, I can just keep a message as unread, but then I check it several times a day before I realize that I wanted to keep it unread.  So I end up performing the same action to the same email several times a day.  Having the snooze option would allow me to set a day and time for the message to reappear and I can forget about it until then.  However, this is one setting that does not reflected in Gmail.  So if I set a snooze time in Inbox, I then have to remember to open Inbox rather than Gmail to see the message, and since I’m not yet using Inbox exclusively, this does me no good.

Also new, you can set a reminder right from a message.  Just click on the Reminder icon.


You can then add text for your reminder.


To see all messages with reminders, click on the Reminders option in the main menu.


Again, this will show you all of your messages with reminders.


You can also archive an individual message or a thread of messages by clicking on the check mark at the top.


The inbox is divided into sections based on date.


When a new email of a certain label comes in, that message or group of messages gets bumped to the top of the inbox.

Personally, I’m not a fan of this.  I would like the option to have my messages sorted by bundles (explained below) rather than date.  I don’t care when a message came in or when it was replied to; what I care about it what needs to happen with or based on that message.

So, what are bundles?  In essence, it’s the same thing as Gmail’s Category options.


Currently, I don’t have this option enabled.  I prefer to see everything that comes into in email in one place.  With the category option enabled, your Gmail shows tabs at the top for the categories shown in the photo.  Gmail decides which emails should go in what category and groups those emails together, allowing you to view those messages when you’re ready for them while keeping them out of your view in the meantime.  Essentially, those messages skip your main Gmail inbox and goes directly into the corresponding tab.

The bundles in Inbox serve the same purpose.  And in Inbox, I don’t mind this set up because those messages are still in my main inbox view, allowing me to see what comes in when it comes in without having to look in a separate place.  Below is an example of how a bundle works.

The Promos bundle:


Everything having to do with sales and shopping and purchases are put here.  You can customize or “teach” Inbox what you want to appear in each bundle.  To view a specific message, just click on the message.

You can also create your own bundles, though from what I can tell, the only way to do this is to set up a filter and apply a label based on certain criteria (you can set up filters in the settings section of Gmail).  Currently, I only have a few that I’ve created.


Overall, I think the concept of Inbox is good.  Being in beta, there are things that are tweaked all of the time.  The mobile version is very much the same as what you see here in the desktop version. 

At this time, however, I am not ready to use Inbox exclusively.  There are many things that I want more control over—I would like bundles to be created by labels as well as filters and I would like the breaks in the main section to be determined by bundles as opposed to date.  I also use a ton of color-coding in Gmail and from what I can tell, this is not offered at all in Inbox.  Until those things are available to me, I don’t think Inbox is for me.  I do keep playing with it, though, and perhaps over time I’ll get more used to it and will like it better.

If you’d like to watch a video review on Inbox, check out DottoTech’s video (check out his other videos for all thing techie).  You can see screenshots in action, which might give you a better feel for Inbox than my still photos will do.

If you’ve been using Inbox, let me know what you think of it.

2 comments:

  1. Well, it's two months later, and I still have not received an invitation for "Inbox." This is very clean looking, but I wonder if it's just for the web-based product rather than the app (I would think so)? I do have filters and folders set in my Gmail account. Close friends and family go straight to my inbox, but "friends who forward obsessively" and shopping-related messages, all have their own set of tabs (by person and store / website). I think the way I have this set up works similar to Inbox, but the layout is nowhere near as nice. I'm going to have to look into this!

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  2. Hmm, I didn't have to wait that long for my invitation. I might have some "friend" invitations. I'll look and let you know. Inbox is very clean looking. The filters you have set up will determine how your messages are organized in Inbox. The labels will carry over insofar as you clicking on them to see your messages within those labels. But they aren't colored coded. And I don't think you can have a message in your inbox with a label without also having a filter. So say something comes in and you want it to remain visible, you'd have to apply a filter to it. I don't like that because for me, out of sight is out of mind. There are the reminders, which can help with that but you have to click on reminders to see those messages too, so they are hidden in your regular inbox view. I'm still not loving it and will stick with regular Gmail until they bring the features that I need (if they ever do).

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