MailPop Pro: Gmail in Your Menubar

The best and worst thing about Gmail is that it’s web-based. Keeping a browser tab open for it is both convenient and annoying. You can set it up with your desktop mail client of choice, of course, but that comes with its own baggage and issues. I like the idea of something in between the two — an app that I can install on my computer that isn’t overloaded with features I don’t use and segregated from my web browsing. MailPop Pro is just the ticket.

It lives in your menubar, is instantly accessible at all times, and improves upon the Gmail web app in a multitude of ways (with one big caveat). Let’s dive in.

Easy Access

MailPop Pro lives in your menubar. It pops out into a floating window when clicked on, offering quick and easy access to your inbox. You can move this floating window around, resizing it at will, and the app remembers that size and position for next time. There’s also a standard OS X full-screen option, which is slightly wonkier than usual because of the nature of menubar apps (you can’t Command-Tab out and then back in again, for instance).

It’s Gmail, but it’s floating in a window toggled on and off from your menubar.

If you switch focus to another window, the MailPop Pro display disappears. You can prevent it from doing this by clicking on the Lock button, which either makes the MailPop Pro window behave like a regular window or floats it above all windows. You can drag and drop attachments from the Finder or other apps regardless of whether this lock is on or off, though.

This is an elegant way to handle three core use cases. Over the course of the day, you might want to have the app take on each of these three behaviors. Perhaps while composing emails you want the window to stay visible while you quickly switch apps to check something. Or you like to multitask with social networking and email active simultaneously. Maybe you’re swapping to and fro between email and web browsing. All of these can be set up to work naturally and intuitively with MailPop Pro, just by tweaking a single setting.

A button on the bottom right lets you toggle between the desktop, tablet, and mobile Gmail interfaces. I eventually settled on the tablet interface as my default, for its clean and uncluttered two-column layout. You may be surprised how well the mobile view works as a drop-down menu on your computer, though — it’s perfect for at-a-glance email viewing.

Mobile view is surprisingly robust on a desktop or laptop computer, but the tablet mode is where it’s at. (The rest of my screenshots will be of the tablet view).

Notifications for new mail come in Growl or Notification Center flavors, with a corresponding sound of your choosing (within the set of system sounds) and a red menubar icon. The icon also has a number to indicate how many new messages are waiting since you last looked at your mail. Clicking on a notification will automatically open the app and load the message — just as you’d expect with a traditional mail client.

Shortcomings

My biggest gripe with MailPop Pro appears to be a common one. It currently lacks multiple-account support, which means that users with more than one Gmail account have to log out and back in again every time they want to switch. Multiple accounts is supposedly being worked on for an upcoming update (hopefully sooner rather than later). If you need that feature, don’t bother buying the app until it’s ready — it’s too much hassle to workaround the problem.

While the app does support offline caching, it does so in the same manner as your web browser — no surprises there, since it’s loading the web app. This means that many messages will not be readable without an Internet connection. Pretty much anything unread, along with most older messages and even some recent emails will show up blank except for the text “This conversation is not available offline.”

Losing your Internet connection may cause considerable frustration. Note, also, the weird rendering bug — that blank space two messages up from the blue-highlighted one should not be blank (i.e., a message loads if you click on it).

Improvements

Some Gmail shortcomings are elegantly handled. Composing emails through Gmail involves either losing the ability to browse emails as the new message takes over the screen, or popping it out into a new window by clicking on a tiny and ill-placed button (a third option is currently being rolled out, whereby you can compose in a floating pane much like the old chat function). In MailPop Pro, there’s a dedicated button for composing in a new window — and it’s brilliantly integrated.

In the bottom left of the MailPop Pro window, there are six icons. From left to right, they’re Compose, Compose in New Window, Refresh, Back, Forward, Lock/Unlock. That second one offers something you don’t get with Gmail — a media browser. This is broken into three sections: Images, Audio, Movies. Each section offers quick access to default folders, and can be customized to include whatever folders and devices you need. This saves the need to go searching through the Finder or a standard file browser pop-up window.

Adding media attachments to a new message is super easy with help from the media browser.

Even better than these is the ability to bring up your inbox or compose a new email from anywhere, with a simple keyboard shortcut or click of the mouse. This is a powerful feature, sorely lacking in any browser-based email setup. If you’re reading something and want to share or discuss it with a friend, just hit Option-C (you can change this) and write them an email without leaving the page. Right-clicking on the MailPop Pro menubar icon also opens a new message window. There’s an Opacity meter, too, which lets you make MailPop Pro more transparent — enabling more of the background windows to be seen.

There aren’t many preferences, but all of the options available make a big difference.

The default keyboard shortcuts Option-W (for showing the inbox) and Option-C (for composing a new email) may cause headaches for anyone who uses the special characters (∑ and ç) normally invoked by this macro. I suggest changing this to Control-Option-letter via the app’s Preferences (the gear icon), although you can use whatever you like.

Just One Big Issue

At this point, the only thing keeping me from ditching both traditional desktop clients and the browser-based Gmail offering for MailPop Pro is multiple account support. I have three Google accounts; it’s a dealbreaker if I can’t sign in and use all three interchangeably at any time. I suspect I’m far being the only one in this position. If and when MailPop Pro gets multiple accounts working, though, it’ll be my default email app (unless something superior comes along first). It’s Gmail made better in all other respects. I’ve never felt so limited by Gmail in my web browser as I do now.

If you’re on the fence and aren’t concerned about multiple account support, check out the free version before you buy MailPop Pro. It’s the same app, minus full-screen support, some viewing options, notifications, opacity controls, and the ability to set as default mail app. And it has ads.


Summary

MailPop Pro is a Gmail app that lives in your menubar. It packs all of the features of the web-based Gmail, plus a few more (including a stellar tablet view), and would be a killer mail client if not for the lack of multiple account support.

9
  • Don Parr

    Richard, thanks for the review. I’m curious about the multiple account issue. I have multiple email addresses, i.e., Gmail, Outlook, etc., but a single account for each. I don’t understand the need to have multiple accounts within a given provider? Is this to separate work from personal email? Again, just curious. I’m thinking MailPop Pro may work well for me. May give it a shot based on this review.

    Don

    • Richard Moss

      Ah, this is perhaps something I should have explained in the review. I, like many others, have Google Apps accounts for work. These include emails at your domain, hosted through Gmail (so my richard at archive.vg email is actually a Gmail account, just like my primary personal/freelance email shown in the review).

      I hope that clears it up for you.

  • Ian C.

    I wonder if you could use this for your “main” account, and regular web for any other, at least till they fix multi login.

    • Richard Moss

      Absolutely. That’s how I’ve been doing it while reviewing the app. It’s very awkward, though, and may defeat the entire purpose of using an email app for some people. It certainly felt a bit redundant to me with my other accounts open in browser tabs. I want to stop my reliance on the browser for email, not complicate it.

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