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.