App Wars:Battle Of The Email Clients

in Productivity

emailI am not a huge fan of web browser based email services and, for many years have preferred to use a third party independent email client.  Over time I have lost track of all those I have experimented with.  The first was Eudora, then somewhere along the line there was Pocomail, The Bat! Outlook Express, Outlook, Becky and more recently Thunderbird.  For the benefit of this blog post I have narrowed the comparison list to just three – eM Client, Postbox and Mailbird.

Thunderbird development has been shelved which raises some security issues as updates are vital and if you want an up to date list you can visit Wikipedia.  I feel guilty about leaving out The Bat! but I feel that although it is stunningly robust it is too complicated and has more bells and whistles that a normal business user requires. Now, if you were a nuclear physicist working on the Hadron Collider …

So, here is my top three.

eM Client

em client

Following a common trend, eM Client is more than just an email program. It links with Google Contacts, Calendar and tasks and there’s a chat option that works with Google Hangouts, Facebook and the like.  It works on the freemium basis and if you use the free version you can create just two email accounts.  Set up is simple, requiring just your username,. password, IMAP or POP3 server details. On my two test accounts it quickly downloaded all the relevant folders and associated emails.  There is also the ability to automatically import email settings from other email clients, although the list is fairly limited.

Customisation is fairly limited. It comes with seven built-in themes and there is the opportunity to import more but I was unable to discover formats, etc. I found the folder font size a tad challenging. It is fine if you are in the prime of youth and have eyes as sharp as an outhouse rat, but for older eyes the ability to change font size would be an advantage.  Another negative for me is that you cannot customise the toolbar and you are limited to eight shortcuts comprising the usual new, reply, reply all, etc.

Pros: Easy to set up, fast pick up and receipt, good syncing with Google contacts, calendar and tasks

Cons: Limited customisation, I couldn’t find a way to stop the horrible email notification despite crossing the relevant boxes in options and £29.95 ex VAT is expensive for a single pro licence.  Another downer is there is no link to cloud services such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive.

Conclusion:  A robust and fast email client that does a good job but lacks that wow factor. It is also expensive compared to the other clients in this comparison.

Postbox

Postbox

Postbox has grown out of the Thunderbird stable and has the small advantage of being able to tap into a limited number of add-ons and extensions. The downside of V4 is that it does not work with some of the add-ons that worked with V3 or Thunderbird. If you want a link to Google Calendar you can download and install the Lightning and Provider bolt-on extensions

Postbox’s interface is not very customisable but is substantially softer and more attractive than the harsh look of eM Client. On a plus side if you use Gmail it does pick up the colours associated with each of your Gmail folders. Also, the toolbar can be personalised with a pre-set selection of options and the folder list fonts have three size options .

Set up is simple and fast although you will need to create an email specific password if you are using Gmail.  Once set up, Postbox quickly downloads relevant folders and associated emails. A useful tool to have at your disposal is the ability to take on to cloud services at Box, Dropbox and OneDrive and send links to files so that the recipient can download them at their leisure.  This is particularly important in today’s mobile environment when you don’t want to auto-downloads files and watch your data limit disappear if no wi-fi is available.

Pros: A very slick, smooth and attractive interface is underpinned by a host of powerful features and functions – probably far more than you will ever need, but what the hell!  The pricing for a single licence is more reasonable than that of eM Client and there are volume discounts that bring the price down even further. The “subscribe” function allows you to see your most important folders and hide those that are irrelevant – useful for Gmail accounts!

Cons:  No upgrade discount if you are moving from V3 to V4.

Conclusion:  A slick and attractive email client with lots of power and more functions than you can shake a USB stick at.

Mailbird

mailbird

Mailbird has been my email client of choice for a long time and I have reviewed it here. It is far, far more than just an email client and sets the bar for integration with a wide range of third-party services such as Todoist, Evernote, Facebook, Twitter, Wunderlist – you get the picture. All these can be accessed without leaving Mailbird.

Setting up accounts is easy and the developers have recently added Google Oauth2 which relieves you of the task of setting up username and generating a specific email client Gmail password for Mailbird in Google.  Syncing with the relevant servers has folders and emails imported quickly and smoothly.

Of the three clients Mailbird is the most customisable.  This is both a curse and a blessing. Let’s praise the blessing options first.  If you don’t choose a background theme and go for the blank option there are a wide range of colours for you to personalise the interface to suit your mood, temperament, etc. The downside is that while the developers have created a library of background patterns a lot of users are still waiting for other functions to be introduced.  I would far prefer they spend their time integrating Google Contacts than giving me Game Of Thrones or Star War themes.

At times, the service can seem slow with emails arriving on my smartphone and tablet before they drop into Mailbird. The developers and tech support have looked into this but cannot find an obvious problem.  I think it might have something to do with the fact that all client traffic goes through Mailbird’s own servers.  It is not a game changer for me and if you are worried by this I suggest you check out the company’s privacy policy.

Pros:  An outstanding communications hub that integrates email with a host of third-party services. It is very customisable so if it looks ugly you only have yourself to blame!

Cons:  Can appear a little sluggish at times and the delay in integrating Google Contacts is a PITA.

Conclusion:  Still the market leader as far as I am concerned despite the development idiosyncrasies.

Overall Conclusion

Business communications have come a long way since Ray Tomlinson invested email back in the dark ages of the Internet.  The needs of businessmen and woman have changed dramatically and it is no longer suitable to use a tool just for sending email.  There are some that predict that collaboration tools such as Slack will kill off email, something I disagree with.  Not every company which runs Slack or a similar service wants all its suppliers, clients, freelancers etc on The System so communication through the likes of email is still required.

As a lone worker, I do not need Slack but I do need a tool which enables me to communicate with others, sends and receives files and links with third party services. Which is why I use Mailbird. From  a single interface I can do the mundane task of sending and receiving emails but I can also monitor Facebook, Google Calendar, see how my Karma is doing on Todoist, share lists with friends and colleagues via Wunderlist – the list just goes on and on.

OK, so there are frustrations with Mailbird but the advantages and benefits far outweigh these and Mailbird is still a young whippersnapper in email client terms compared to the likes of Outlook and the growth potential is phenomenal.  That said, if I am still waiting for Google Contacts integration at Christmas and I get an update offering Santa Claus themes then I am going to be pissed off big time and looking at Postbox as an alternative. Allegedly contacts integration is coming but then, so is Christmas!

Finally, I haven’t looked at these clients as a power user, but from the perspective of a busy small businessman or woman who wants a robust and effective email solution and if that involves integrated business tools then so much the better.

Previous post:

Next post: