Airmail – A Real Sparrow Alternative?

After Sparrow dropped its steady development, many users included a new item to their wish lists: a replacement to the dear mail client. The spotlight was turned onto projects that pledge to revolutionize the way we work through our inbox, using existing apps or brand-new apps. However, revolutions take time.

Airmail is a mail client that retains the simplicity which made Sparrow such a appreciated application. Because, sometimes stripping a resource to the bone is the real shake-up we need.

Early Impressions

Setting up your first email account looks intimidating, however, unless you must pick a different service, the drill is the same as in Sparrow.

Setting up your accounts is easier than it seems.

When the main window pops up we can almost feel at home already. You’ll notice the additional column; Airmail doesn’t keep the icon sidebar integrating your accounts and their main folders, it splits in two screens. If this doesn’t please you, you can easily merge both functions in a single column as in most email clients by clicking the icon at the bottom of the application.

Airmail also has a beautiful menubar icon, but unfortunately, it doesn’t display your unread messages as in Sparrow. I can only hope there’s more to come for that pretty thing.

The main window definitely raised our expectations.

When accessing a single mailbox, Airmail lists your labels right below your folders. It integrates beautifully with Gmail and the other services it supports, bringing your additional folders to your menu. Airmail also provides the Gmail’s shortcuts, so the most avid users will adapt in a blink.

Airmail displays a lot of information for your emails in a clever way that won’t clutter the description. If you’re checking your Unified Inbox, each email has a thumbnail in the right corner indicating its enclosing mailbox. Hovering over it will also show an arrow to view the available options for the message, so you may avoid a right-click.

Sending a message just doesn’t follow the expectations

Sending a new message opens a window much closer to the default mail application than Sparrow. All options are displayed right in the window.

Airmail integrates with your Dropbox, allowing you to save your attachments in a dedicated folder and send links to the shared file. This process is not as fluid as in Sparrow or Postbox, and you may only share files this way if you click the Dropbox icon. Dropping a file anywhere will create a regular attachment.

What are you gonna miss?

As you check everything Airmail has to offer, you won’t find a way to link your social accounts as most email clients do to include the picture of your contacts. Postbox even goes further and allows you to send messages to your friends in Facebook, for example.

Airmail allows you to import the contacts from Address Book and you can synchronize your social networks there. However, be careful as it’ll fill your contacts with @facebook emails most of the time and they’re sort of useless.

Social integration is missed, but importing your contacts is easy.

Two other features to miss are Quick Replies, which allow you to reply to your emails without opening the New Entry window, and support to a server other than IMAP, which means users of POP services won’t appreciate Airmail pretty much.

What it brings to the game?

If there’s one thing Airmail overcomes the competition, it’s bringing together a nice set of default filters within its minimalistic approach in design. You’ll find these options in the bar crossing the bottom of your screen. It lets you only view starred messages, those containing attachments, or only conversations. You may reverse the order in which your emails are arranged and use multiple filters to narrow your search even further. As you have a message selected you may only display the emails received from that contact.

Using the Unread filter you can get an empty inbox.

But what really stands out is the Unread filter. It works just like the notorious smart mailbox from Mail.app and only shows messages you haven’t checked yet. This means that every time you open Airmail you don’t have to face the messages you’ve already dealt with. Besides, there’s nothing more minimalist than an empty mailbox.

Airmail also presents several themes to customize your client the way it pleases you most. At the moment, there are five options that manage to differentiate from each other while maintaining the minimal layout.

Choose the theme that better fits your workflow.

Regardless of its features, the best thing about Airmail is a very active development. As you join its beta, new versions will be sent to you almost daily, with bugs being fixed and options being added. The world of email clients nowadays is up to the top with promises and, as results aren’t shown, it’s imminent that users will lose faith. Airmail is a step back into the reality. It might not be a Sparrow alternative, nevertheless, it is a much needed option in the emailing world.

Still a beta

If you need an immediate substitute to Sparrow, you’d better not hold your breath just yet. Airmail still crashes and malfunctions a lot and several of its functions often conflict with each other and display the wrong information. If all you demand is a nice way to read and reply to your emails, it is quite good to pick, but for more serious work you may expect some issues.

Airmail has a great feedback support for its crashes

This review didn’t evaluate most of the concerns related to Airmail that were directly related to its beta status. It is not as fast as its competition and its design could certainly receive some improvement, but is getting there.

It’s the world of testing, after all, and being part of the development of Airmail is your chance to shape a promising application to better suit your workflow.

Conclusion

Every minimalistic email client these days will face the shadow of Sparrow, inevitably, but what makes Airmail a great project to follow is that it can stand by itself. Great integration with the available services, Dropbox integration, multiple themes and its well-thought filters will finally let the Sparrow’s orphans sleep peacefully.

Airmail is not only the single real option at the time to fill the gap left by Sparrow, neither the candidate to keep its legacy alive. Airmail is growing to become an email application on its own. Don’t be surprised if after its release, no one will compare it to that email client you once loved and lost in the way.

Don’t throw away your actual email application yet. Just yet. In case you’ve missed, though, you may apply as a beta tester for Airmail right away.


Summary

Airmail is a minimalist approach to email client with great features that distinguish it from the competition.

8
  • Air

    I really don’t get it why people need other Mail applications when there is Mail.app in front of them! To me it is THE best mail application ever.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      Maybe this is just me, but I’ve always liked Sparrow’s slimmer look. There’s something about the way I use it and its user interface that make it so much better than Mail. I just don’t need anything complex, I guess.

    • hugo

      Well, I never got why people use Mail.app, so I guess that’s fine.

    • http://www.christiancamppro.com Andy

      I agree. I have tried almost every alternative Mail app to manage my multiple Gmail addresses, but none have beat the official Mail.app.

      My recommendation for people is this: Multiple email address = Mail.app, One email address = Gmail web interface.

    • Jeremy

      Same here. Tried em all, haven’t liked a single one. Mail.app is the best. On iOS, i do like Sparrow ok though.

    • dorian_grey

      Mail.app has a lot of quirks and is missing some important features.

      • Zoidbert

        Not trolling here, honest; what quirks, and what features is it missing?

        I’d echo what a few others have said; I try just about every new email app that comes out, and I have always come back to mail, even though it’s often the least Mac-like when compared to the new app I’m trying (I had really high hopes for Sparrow until Google came along and frakked up everything.)

        • niblettes

          There are so many reasons, but I’m only gong to mention one: unified sent folder.

          I have multiple accounts, each for a different purpose, and I want everything related to a given purpose collected together. Unless something has changed recently, Mail unifies all sent messages and drops them in a single Sent folder co-mingling all sent messages regardless of account.

          A unified Inbox is bad enough but a unified Sent folder is a deal-killer and the reason why I’m stuck with Thunderbird (which is sadly now abandon-ware).

        • http://raison-online.com Elliot

          - delay before marking unread (important if deleting messages).
          - speed (mail is clunky)
          - group inbox’s
          - ability to change the font of the inbox (ie. it would be nice to increase the font size a little.

          These are my major gripes. I currently use mail after having bought and tried both sparrow and postbox.

        • http://vaidymohan.com Vaidy

          @niblettes: Mail.app does give you separated Sent Item folders, at least to the tune of Gmail accounts. I have official & personal Gmail accounts on Mail.app, and it is collected separately. It just shows you all in one place by default, but you can see them separately by just expand the Sent Items folder and get into the respective account.

    • Dan

      Yes. Haven’t liked any I ‘ve seen, not even Sparrow. In the end, it’s still just your e-mail. Mail.app does what I need. If you are looking for alternatives, you’ve got too much time on your hands.

  • Doc

    Wait, a new mail app WITHOUT social network nonsense junking it up?! SIGN ME UP!!! That’s exactly what I’m looking for. Facebook, Twitter, etc., have no place in my email. Finally, a mail app that keeps it simple.

    • http://mikemackintosh.com Mike Mackintosh

      Agreed! Too much bloat and not enough mail..

    • Lottie

      Couldn’t agree more. Fed up with everything trying to tie itself to social networking. Especially as most people use email for work-related purposes, and you don’t want your streamlined business plan hanging out on your Facebook timeline.

      • http://www.medrollers.com Dr.Ro

        Wow, finally someone who thinks that, social networking isn’t everything in life. Thank God. ;)

  • Josh

    I’m impartial to the Mail.app, just because it’s simple and integrates well with OS X.

    The Unread filter is something easily done in Mail. Simply create a smart mailbox with the parameters of “Message in mailbox – Inbox” and “Message is Unread”. You can even drag the smart mailbox to the top bar for an easy shortcut.

  • Jono

    A lot about the design of this app looks like it’s been done with not a lot of attention to detail – particularly the layout of the compose window and the placement/appearance of the dropbox/attachment icons there.

    Also the fact that on their website they’ve misspelt “Lightning”.

    It’s forgivable however given it’s an early beta. I’ve signed up, looking forward to see how it works.

  • Anon

    >for Mac OS 10.7

    Oh well, looks like I’ll be sticking with Sparrow for now.

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  • sabes

    An 8/10 for a buggy beta that crashes? Wow, standards are low here.

    • Phillip Gruneich

      “This review didn’t evaluate most of the concerns related to Airmail that were directly related to its beta status. It is not as fast as its competition and its design could certainly receive some improvement, but is getting there.”

      ;)

      • sabes

        So it’s slow and lacking features. And you gave it an 8/10?

        • Phillip Gruneich

          It’ll get faster before leaving beta, otherwise it won’t leave beta. It’s locked-in.

          And then, there are paragraphs i had to remove from friday to monday because the guys had covered the features that were lacking within a weekend. It’s beta, unfair to rate it by the actual state, so i did it based on their commitment and dedication towards it.

          Of course you may believe it is not right, it is just my way to see things :)

    • Doug

      You rated it based on their commitment and dedication? I fell for that during the Bush administration. Never again. It’s not what they say, it’s what they do.

  • Derek

    I was excited to see this, any dev that can fill the Sparrow void and do it well will win.

    After reading this post, I went to the Mac App Store to look at other apps developed by Bloop. I found a plethora of negative reviews on all of their apps. Not sure these guys will pull this off. But good luck!

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  • Mark

    The main missing feature in Mail.app is not having an option to NOT mark items as read when viewed in the preview pane. At the current time this can only be accomplished by a third party add-on, TruePreview. Will have to give Airmail a shot & see what it’s like.

    • larrymcj

      Amen, Mark! Mail.app’s insistence on marking messages as READ when I want them to say UNREAD is a genuine PITA. Same thing with Mail.app in iOS. Mail.app is for the users…not the developers, so why not add this simple option.

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  • Alex

    What’s the point of this app?! Both Sparrow and default Mail have much better UI. In fact, Airmail UI is just plain terrible, especially after Sparrow.

    There are no ANY special features worth trying in Airmail as well. Unread filter? Serious?

    What I am really waiting for (and still waiting and wating) is .Mail (dotMail), which looks gorgeous both in a concept and design.

    • Anuenue

      Seriously, Sparrow and Mail have a better UI and Airmail UI is plain terrible. Thank God you are not a designer. I can only imagine the pure crap that can come out from someone who finds Mail UI much better.

  • Adil

    I don’t understand why people whine here. If you like Mail app, why are you looking at articles/reviews of alternatives? Maybe just maybe you’re kidding yourself – or you have too much time on your hands.

    Some of us who want an app that suits our personality and working style are thrilled by the prospect that third party developers are taking a crack at something different than Mail app.

    I for one can’t stand the constant syncing in Mail app when using Gmail, alongside the several other quirks it has.

    If there were no other options besides Mail app, I would resign myself to using Gmail on the web and be done with it.

    Besides, a little free market doesn’t hurt us now does it?

    Not everything Apple gives us is shiny…

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