I was recently chatting with a few of my fellow AppStorm writers about email apps. For most of us, it’s almost a non-subject; we use Gmail as our inbox provider, and as a result, we use the official app, which just happens (in my humble opinion) to be the best Play Store offering in the email genre. But there was one writer who had just moved to Android from the Cupertino-based dark side. His main address was hosted on iCloud. Which outstanding non-Gmail app should he go for? Ah, about that…
I’m hoping that in similar future scenarios, I’m going to be able to recommend SolMail. This is an app which has clearly drawn inspiration from the smooth operators of email on iOS, such as Mailbox. But can SolMail really reproduce the kind of sleek design and ease of use pioneered by the Dropbox-owned app?
As with most modern email apps, SolMail doesn’t require much by way of user input in the setting up of an email account. After you enter your login details, the server information for incomings and outgoings is automatically retrieved. During my testing, the detection of these details worked perfectly with Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail, and given that SolMail is compatible with IMAP, SMTP and POP3, it should work seamlessly with nearly any email host.
Then, before viewing your emails, you simply need to give the newly accessed inbox a name, and select how often you’d like SolMail to check for new messages. The default setting of the latter is hourly, but you can reduce or extend this gap. The two shorter intervals available are half an hour, or ten minutes, a choice which will be good enough for most users. It would, however, be nice to see a couple more options here.
On a more positive note, SolMail handles folders very well — it even keeps count of the number of unread messages in each folder — and, in general, the journey from downloading the app to browsing your inbox is one which can be completed remarkably quickly.
I can’t fairly say that SolMail is the prettiest app I’ve encountered, but it is certainly clean, clear and well ordered.
This feeling of clarity is aided by SolMail’s use of only six icons in the menu bars surrounding the message list. At the top are icons offering the creation of a new draft, and access to the main folders menu. At the bottom, the four icons allow you to select all, refresh the list of messages, filter your emails and search.
The email list is also pleasantly presented. Emails are nicely spaced, in spite of the fact that each email is presented with its title, sub-title and a two-line excerpt. Unread messages are in bold text, and are accompanied by a small envelope icon. Add to this the well-chosen font, and the result is very good legibility.
Legibility, and other aspects of message browsing, can also be enhanced with a quick trip to the Settings.
There are three font sizes and three default message viewing sizes to choose from. The way images are downloaded, and the path in your handset’s storage which they should take, can be adjusted too.
SolMail isn’t just about pretty looks — it is well-equipped to cope with the rigours of complex inbox management. SolMail is happy to play with nearly any kind of email host, although there are some pretty obvious Gmail leanings going on here. But those outside of Google’s bubble shouldn’t be put off — these are UI choices, rather than Gmail-centric functions.
The system for marking messages of importance is star based, for instance, and the sideways swipe with which you can dispatch messages (yes, Mailbox-style) can either be used to delete, or to archive, depending on your chosen settings and email provider.
Users of any email host will appreciate the filtering options. Tapping on the funnel-shaped icon in the bottom menu reveals four preset sorting methods: Important (starred), Attached (messages with attachments), Unread, and To Me (handy if you share an address). This is a reasonably useful list, but it becomes far more so when you combine two or more types of sorting, as is possible in SolMail. By doing so, a very specific type of email can be targeted without having to search — important messages with attachments, just as an example.
If you do need to search, you’ll find an equally proficient toolkit at your disposal. You can select the folder in which you’d like to conduct your search, and you can also define what you’re looking for, whether it is an email address, a message subject, or just a fragment of email content.
In total, the inbox experience is in no way revolutionary, but it is on the highest rung of tried and tested solidity.
Solid the inbox may be, but SolMail positively excels when it comes to email composition. “How can message writing be that outstanding?”, you might ask. Once again, I have to say that SolMail doesn’t break new ground, but it just works (to borrow a Jobs-ism).
For example, take the To: box. As I start typing, SolMail starts to guess possible autocompletions, adding my contacts’ profile photos (which it automatically retrieves, I should add) to aid the process. And there’s even a “To Me” button offered for the sending of quick notes to yourself.
Equally, the bottom of the composition interface is lined with preset options, offering the virtually instant inclusion of an image (pre-taken or otherwise), a sticker, or any other kind of file. Even videos, and audio files, can be added with a total of just two taps. It all adds up to a very smooth message-making workflow.
It’s a rare Android email app that matches Gmail’s function and quality, stride for stride. Not only does SolMail accomplish this feat, but it does so whilst ably dealing with pretty much any email host you could possibly throw at it, and looking pretty good at the same time.
Negatives? Well, for the sake of balance, I must note that SolMail essentially recycles ideas from other apps, rather than striking out on its own with some brilliant new technology. And although this app should be praised for its design in terms of practicality, it doesn’t exactly have a drool-worthy UI. As a result of both of these factors, I’m not sure whether SolMail has enough to tempt exclusive Gmail users away from the official app. However, for everyone else, SolMail is, quite simply, the best multi-provider email client currently available in the Play Store — and by some margin, too.