Postbox: The New Mail Client on the Block

As a Mail.app junkie, it’s hard to convince me to try another mail app, but Postbox seemed compelling. Based on Mozilla’s Thunderbird engine, Posbox takes that code and integrates it’s own unique features into a very attractive package.

The moment you install the application (and they do have a Windows version available as well) you quickly realize that this is not like any other mail application you have ever used before.

Download and Install

The current build of Postbox is freely available from Postbox Inc and weighs in at 84MB (to contrast, my Leopard version of Apple Mail is over 280MB). When you first launch the app, you are given a list of options for setting up an account. If you are using a commonly used mail service (Gmail, MobileMe, etc), the process is very simple. It only took a moment to complete the setup for account and server information.

Selecting a Service

Selecting a Service

To throw a heavy ball at Postbox immediately, I used an Gmail IMAP account that has over 4,000 messages. Although it took a while to download, Postbox handled it without any hiccups and presented me with my mail in a clean and easy-to-read environment.

The Main Interface

The Main Interface

Immediately impressive was the way in which Postbox automatically nested a series of emails I had exchanged with a client. It should be noted that this can easily turned off if you prefer it to not list your messages in this manner.

Nested Emails

Nested Emails

Send and Receive

Composing a Message

Composing a Message

After all my messages were displayed and I set up a POP3 account as well, I proceeded to compose my first message. When writing your messages, there are a couple things that stand out. First, there is a small ‘topics’ field that allows you to tag your messages. This is a convenient way to encourage you to categorize your messages and a welcome addition. You can also easily assign a topic from the Inbox by clicking on the topic button (a translucent HUD appears).

Assign a Topic

Assign a Topic

Secondly, there is a panel to the right of the composition window with a list of items you can use in your message:

  • Recent attachments
  • Links (including Google and Wikipedia search results)
  • Locations (from Google or Yelp)
  • Images (from Mail, Picasa web albums, or Flickr)
  • Reference
  • Signatures

This is very handy for searching from within the message for an attachment, although I’m not sure how much this would be used in a practical sense.

For instance, I typed in the name of my church into the search field and it pulled up the address/phone info for me to drag into the message. However I think most people would want to see the map in a browser before including it in an email. If you click on the link to the map, it will open in a browser; but Quick Look (which Postbox does use for other attachments) would be useful here.

The Social and Search Mail Client

Postbox goes even further to connect with social media, allowing you to update Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed right from within the application. I was almost expecting Postbox to pull content from an email for your posts, but it does not.

Social Integration

Social Integration

The organization in Postbox goes beyond the integration of the “topics” you can include with each message. It contains almost the identical filters (Apple calls them “rules”) which you can use to move and organize your messages, including the use of the “topic” keywords.

With all this strength, it may be Posbox’s search abilities that really set it apart. The search function is obviously something the team took a great deal of time to work on – it’s intuitive and works very well. First, you can search not just your messages, but set your search for attachments, images, links and contacts (listed above the main message window). Type out your search query, and then click on one of the options and that search appears in a seperate tab (more on tabs later).

Searching Images

Searching Images

In the case of images, this creates a visual way to search for a particular image or attachment. Compared to the search in Mail.app, this is a very unique way to find your content.

Search Options

Search Options

You can also drill down very specifically in your searches using the search options window. Here, you are offered the opportunity to specify to, from, subject, topic, date, and other keywords in your search. In practice, the search worked exactly as advertised and, even when looking through more than 4,000 messages, results were almost instant.

The Tabbed Email Client

Tab Bar

Tab Bar

Another unique feature for Postbox is the use of tabs – they work for websites, why not for email? If you double click on a message in your inbox it will open in a separate tab. This is a matter of preference – I for one fill up the tabs on my browser and I’m not sure I want to do that in my email client. However, it is intuitive and easy to navigate from tab to tab. If you’re like me, you don’t often actually open the email message but just read it in the preview pane.

Conclusion

With everything included in a 1.0 release, it’s hard to find much to fault with Postbox. In my use, I only had a few bugs (mainly searches not clearing after I clicked to stop them). It may not have as many features as MS Entourage, which I consider a plus for Postbox, and it may not be as attractive as Mail.app, but Postbox is a very capable email client worth a very close look.

With seemingly everyone making a gradual move from desktop to web-based email, Postbox may cause you to give the desktop a second thought. It’s completely free, and definitely worth trying out.


  • http://www.curtismchale.ca curtismchale

    I haven’t used a desktop email client in a year or more but this looks pretty sweet. Possibly sweet enough to move me over.

  • http://bluedoggiant.co.cc Ahmed

    Heh after using XSlimmer, Mail.app goes down to 21.7MB

    And beta 13 is out by now, no big deal you probably did this review before it was released.’

    Is there anything this app doesnt have that Mail.app has besides notes/reminders/todos and all?

    • http://macmagazine.uol.com.br Bruno Casarini Grillo

      I was just about to post about Xslimmer, but you were faster than me. It’s the best software I’ve purchased so far.

      by the way, the most interesting thing about beta 13 is the availability of extensions – awesome news!

      • Michael Shkutkov

        Have your heard about Trimmit (http://lipidity.com/software/trimmit/)?
        It’s free.

      • http://valendesigns.com Derek Herman

        Trimmit doesn’t look as robust as Xslimmer and it’s only $12.95 that seems worth all the extra features. The fact you can drag an app into Xslimmer and install it without all the bloat looks really sweet. Might just have to buy that one.

  • http://johnathan-barrett.me.uk Johnathan Barrett

    Gonna download it and give it a go now, looks really really impressive.

  • Rob Grayson

    I just trialled postbox a few days ago. I’m an exclusive Gmail user (so I set it up to work via IMAP too), and thought I would need some convincing to go back to a desktop client. However, what I really loved, as your article points out, was the various search features and the fact that links, attachments etc. are displayed at the side of each message. I also loved the ability to click on a contact and see all correspondence with that contact. These things were nearly enough to make me use Postbox as my main desktop client, reserving Gmail’s webmail interface for use when away from my main machine.

    I say nearly, because in the end one key point made me drop Postbox and stick with Gmail’s web access: labels. I love labels in Gmail, and they are heavily integrated into my workflow. Unfortunately, Postbox turns Gmail labels into folders, which really messes up the way I work. If Postbox topics could mirror Gmail labels, with changes made to PB topics automatically reflected in GMail labels and vice versa, I’d probably have stuck with it. As it is, the labels=>folders link is just too cumbersome and doesn’t work for me. Shame!

    • fellowweb

      In fact, this is due to the way the Gmail server “translates” Gmail’s labels into folders for the purpose of IMAP access.

      In other words: Any IMAP client will show Gmail labels just like this.

      Nevertheless, it would be awesome if Postbox would some time be able to “translate” Gmail’s IMAP folders back and forth to labels so that one would have the labels logic in a desktop e-mail client.

  • http://twitter.com/AdrianHerritt Adrian

    Thanks for the thorough review. The search functionality looks useful, and I really like the idea of Tabs. Not sure I will switch though…

  • http://www.sonaliagrawal.com Sonali Agrawal

    I have been using Postbox for almost 2-3 months now. Its simple and sweet. The only problem that I have been facing is that I need to Force Quit it when it just does not quit on its own. It sure has bugs, but a really good app as compared to others around.

    • http://postbox-inc.com scott

      Sonali, that force quit issue should be fixed in BETA 13.

  • http://www.willwoodgate.com Will

    Any news on how much Postbox will cost when it is officially released? I’m aware it is free at the moment while it is in Beta, but suspect there will be a fee to pay for continued usage after the Beta period has ended.

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    Giveaway: Win 3 Copies of Fontcase!, a great Mac app for fonts managing!
    http://tr.im/qbti

  • Quin Robinson

    I’ve been using it for almost 6 months now, and I live it. Highly recommend it as well.

  • jax2000

    Just installed postbox. I set up everything from e-mail accounts to signatures in just a few minutes. I think I’ll keep this for a while, looks and feels pretty good!

  • Emma

    This is a great review. Sums up pretty much all the reasons why I am a Postbox user. You get a lot more done with Postbox than just webmail, and I highly prefer it over Outlook or Thunderbird. Really effective client.

  • http://www.hellopanos.co.uk Panos

    I have tried Postbox before and although it is full of nice features and a great interface, something didn’t do it for me..
    Now back in Mail and on the iPhone when on the go!

    Great review, thank you!

  • Eric

    This is great.. Incredibly fast import of my Mail.app settings and accounts and it’s all there!

    Trying this for sure.

  • http://jashsayani.com Jash Sayani

    Great app! I just love Postbox. BUT, 1 missing feature- Import from Entourage! – I have 2000 mails in Entourage and if I need to migrate to Postbox, I need to get all my mails first.

    Here’s another complete review on Postbox: http://www.jashsayani.com/a-preview-of-postbox-mail-client/

  • http://www.jaixm.com Juan Manuel Lemus

    Is hour to use Postbox… downloading in 5, 4, 3, 2….

  • http://asnio.com/ Alex | Asnio.com

    I tried it, but I am just too stuck on Mail.app. It has everything I need!

  • http://thecreativelab.timothybsmith.com Tim Smith

    I absolutely love Postbox! It’s my favorite desktop e-mail client! Whenever PB comes out of beta, I like it enough to pay for it. It’s just great! Thanks for the review!

  • http://twitter.com/marceglon Marc

    I’ve been using postbox for a few months now and I love it. I just got a new iMac and tried mail.app again but it looks so antiquated now. The exchange support in snow leopard could be a deal-breaker though. I have been asking postbox to work on this for ages now. I hope thet are.

  • http://dzine-studios.com Dan

    Great app, saves me a lot of time, because GMail takes forever to load in my browser and adds more tabs to my already crowded browser window. I love the tabs idea, and the interface is slick and looks like it was specially made for a Mac. The Thunderbird UI on the other hand, looks exactly like a straight port from Windows.

  • devZero

    I would like to mention something you overlooked… For developers who send code snippets around, postbox does syntax highlighting.

    • devZero

      I stand corrected… the formatting was just copied from the cut/paste from xcode.

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  • http://Orders Larry Mike

    Hello how are you doing my name is Larry mike pls i will like to know if you do have postbox for sell and i will like to know the cost of it plux the tax and get back to me hope to here from you very soon.

    Rev.larry mike

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  • nomad

    Let me get this straight, you can get Thunderbird an open source FREE software complete with all the addons you could ever want and people still pay for Postbox ? Guess it’s true ignorance is bliss and there’s a sucker born every second lol

    Why would anyone pay for something that is already free ?

  • http://www.hejmat.se Christopher Anderton

    1. Nomad. I did tried Thunderbird (on Mac) a couple of times (latest time last week). And it’s not anywhere near the Postbox in functionality and UI details. It feels like sluggy alpha SW at the moment. So ease up with your “sucker born” and “lol” talk.

    2. I actually paid for Postbox as soon you could pay for it. The first version was buggy as hell, and the UI was not so polished. But hey, the devs did have great plans, and showed progress with turning a Thunderbird core to a great mail app, and i wanted to support them, as i support devs that do things i like.

    They released a 2.0 upgrade. You can say that the 2.0 version was what everyone would call the actual v 1.0 (while the actual version 1.0 was more alpha and beta software). Most of the big bugs was squashed and the UI got a refinement. I downloaded and entered my serial number. So far so good.

    Then a popup reminded me to register or buy Postbox. I did not get it. I looked at the Postbox homepage, and in the forum they told everyone that the 2.0 version was a main upgrade an that there is a upgrade fee.

    I’m ok with upgrade fees for major upgrades. But in this case, and as a early adopter paying for their buggy beta SW and submitting bugs i feel betrayed.

    So, adios Postbox!

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  • http://www.mydeals.gr/prosfores/s/Pros4s Pros4s

    I love postbox!

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  • Tim

    I paid for it when it was in beta and have upgraded to Postbox 3…and I still have to force quit because it stops.

    I placed several tickets for someone to look at it, then they removed me from getting customer support because of the frequency of the problems I had.

    I am on a Macbook Air 8GM RAM and still having to force quite to get out of Postbox, anyone else had similar issues?

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