The best email apps for taming your inbox

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The best email apps for taming your inbox

Email is a fact of modern life. Although we take it for granted, it’s amazing how much more productive those digital messages make us. In the old days, sending a document to your colleague in Paris would take days and be extremely expensive. Now, you can use email to negotiate the rent for your vacation apartment, exchange a legal contract, electronically sign it, and send a thank you note, all without leaving your couch.

But as we all know, there is a dark side to email—you’re always connected.

Work piles up. Demands never stop. While using these meditation apps is one way to bring calm into your life, using the right email app can also help you simplify things while staying productive. Here are the best apps for managing your love/hate relationship with email.

Outlook: Today’s best email app

The Outlook app is made by Microsoft, but it just might be the best email app for smartphones.
Even though the app is called Outlook, you don’t need to use Microsoft’s Outlook email service. You can use Gmail, Yahoo, your company email, or a self-hosted email account.

Outlook has one key feature that sets it above the pack: a “focused inbox” that intelligently displays only the most relevant messages. I don’t know what kind of algorithmic magic Microsoft has pulled off here, but the focused inbox really works. It somehow only shows emails I care about or need. Other email apps somehow still can’t get this balance right. With Outlook, spam just doesn’t bother you anymore.

The focused inbox might seem like a small feature, but it makes a huge difference to your productivity. Outlook prevents you from being swamped with unnecessary email notifications which break your concentration and sap your attention. The focused inbox might sound like a marketing gimmick, but once you use it, you’ll realize it’s indispensable.

Outlook does everything else you’d expect an email app to do. It supports multiple accounts, so you can have your personal Gmail and work Outlook accounts in the same inbox. It also has some features that even paid email apps don’t, like free tech support.

I had an issue once, sent a message to the in-app support chat, and received a reply in less than 15 minutes. That’s great service for a paid app and amazing service for a free app. There are more aesthetically pleasing email apps on the market, but Outlook just works. It’s probably your best choice.

Inbox: The best app for Gmail users

Inbox is Google’s attempt to create the future of email, and let’s just say the future looks nice. Inbox intelligently bundles related messages into their own categories. For example, if you’re traveling, Inbox will collect your flight and hotel emails in a smart section with all the relevant information. This feature is extremely convenient and, frankly, all email apps should work this way.

Inbox also has a clean, minimalist interface that makes dealing with a monster inbox easy. For example, if you swipe left, you can schedule a time or place for a reminder about a particular message. If you swipe right, the message will leave your inbox and go into the “done” category—perfect for all the inbox zero types.

With features like this, why isn’t Inbox the best app for your smartphone?

Well, for some people, it is. Unfortunately the app only works with Gmail. If you haven’t got a Gmail address, you’re out of luck. Furthermore, Inbox simply can’t match Outlook’s focused inbox, giving the edge (barely) to Microsoft’s app.

Astro: Email from the future

Astro is a different kind of email app. It fuses an AI-powered chatbot with your Gmail or Office 365 email account. Basically, the chatbot is like an assistant you can text orders to. But, unlike talking to a human assistant, it has limited functions.

Like Outlook, Astro divides your email into an important inbox—here it’s called “priority”—and one for everything else. It learns as you use the app, more accurately identifying what is important to you. Still, it doesn’t seem to be quite as accurate as Outlook. Like Inbox, you interact with Astro through simple gestures. Swipe left to snooze a message; swipe right to archive it. You can also customize the gestures.

When you set up the app, it leads you through a process called inbox zap. It helps you unsubscribe from newsletters, delete old emails, or erase messages from certain contacts. It’s a great concept, but it actually exposes the weakness of running everything by the chatbot. Other unsubscribe services, like unroll.me, do this in a far more efficient way with an old-fashioned list and a simple click-to-unsubscribe feature.

Astro also integrates with the Amazon Alexa smart speaker. For some, this makes Astro a great way to stay on top of each message. For others, it represents a maddening new front on the battle to keep email from totally dominating your life. Either way, the feature reveals what Astro really is—an innovative email app from the future.

As always with forward-thinking products like Astro, it can’t quite nail everything. It only works with Gmail or Office 365 accounts, and while their chatbot concept is probably going to be built into all email apps one day, for now, it’s a bit of a gimmick. Ultimately, Astro feels like a window into the future that has not yet arrived. But, if you want a preview, Astro is a solid choice.

Why isn’t Gmail on the list?

A tried-and-true classic, the Gmail app does everything you need an email app to do. It’s fast, it’s easy to use, and it supports multiple accounts. While you can’t go wrong with Gmail, Inbox, Astro, and Outlook are pushing the envelope in interesting and important ways, and you don’t want to be left behind. Bottom line: While you can’t go wrong with Gmail, you can do a lot better.

Looking for more apps to simplify your life? Here are 8 budgeting apps that can help families save money.

Image: Cecilie_Arcurs