Email is the arena for an almighty battle of innovation right now. Ever since Mailbox introduced its shiny new side-swipe sorting to iOS, there have been innumerable reinventions of the veteran communication platform, with new clients arriving, by the bucket-load, on pretty much every OS.
Android has been no exception to this rush — in fact, it has been at the forefront. Google, itself, has made the official Gmail app a market leader in terms of intuitive design, whilst apps such as SolMail and Dextr are well-made alternatives, each with a slightly different approach to inbox sifting and sorting. There are plenty more where those came from, as well.
Take new email client, CloudMagic, for example. With a sleek interface and all the usual tricks of the email 2.0 trade, it looks like a great, free download. But how does it measure up to the fierce competition?
For the new user, Cloud Magic is a very friendly app to get to grips with. A grid of brightly coloured on-screen boxes encourages users to log in to Gmail and Google Apps, Yahoo, Microsoft’s family of email products, and even iCloud, whilst everybody else can just head for the box marked IMAP.
Apart from the catch-all IMAP option, all accounts are configured swiftly and automatically. It’s a shame that you can only add three accounts, and there’s no POP3 support, but CloudMagic’s setup will be good enough for most users.
Once you start adding accounts, it is instantly notable that Cloud Magic’s inbox, by default, is a unified one. This is not a format that will suit everyone’s style of email management, but the combined approach feels quite neat to me, particularly as each message has a thin strip of colour down its right flank to indicate its source account. If you really can’t stand it, though, you can choose to view accounts individually via the side menu.
Also notable is how clear the message list is. The sender’s name is, by far, the most prominent title in each message, but both the subject and the one-line excerpt are in a large and highly legible font, too.
At the top-right of each email is the star control (as known to Gmailers — known as a flag by everyone else), which looks hopelessly small, but is actually quite easy to select with accuracy. Below this is the time of arrival, but it is listed in terms of the minutes, hours and days since the email arrived, rather than the clock-face time and calendar date when it was delivered to your inbox.
More subtle cleverness can be found in CloudMagic as you start organizing your email.
The swiping seen in most up-to-date clients is present here, although it is a two-step process: swipe left (only), and then select delete, archive, or mark as read. On paper, this looks like a minor gripe, but for the accomplished Gmail power user, it will cause a significant drop in productivity.
However, the starring system in CloudMagic represents a major improvement on any app I’ve personally encountered. Rather than merely tapping the star icon, you can hold it and create a notification-equipped reminder. It’s quick, it’s simple and it makes your inbox hugely more dynamic and actionable.
These are all clearly nice features, but CloudMagic’s signature function is its search.
Addresses and keywords, in that order, are produced without any discernible delay. Furthermore, tapping on an email address within the search results rapidly brings up a sub-search, which provides all the emails you’ve received from that contact.
Much as these innovative flashes of brilliance are attractive, any email client needs to execute the basics flawlessly, and CloudMagic’s performance is mixed.
The message viewer, for instance, is not as intelligent as the one in Gmail, and as a result, emails don’t always fill the width of the screen. Far worse, though, is that pinch-to-zoom can only be enabled via the menu in the top-right.
Just as irritating is the inability to select multiple emails for sorting, so your only option is one-at-a-time sluggishness.
On the other hand, the message composition area is neatly presented, and decently equipped. Addresses auto-complete, and the CC and BCC address fields are tucked away behind a pop-up menu. Attachments can be included in outgoing emails, and the selection process is remarkably efficient. You don’t have to be looking at a particular inbox to send from it, either.
The absence of text formatting is not surprising in a mobile app, although that doesn’t make it any less inconvenient.
Unfortunately, there are more minor disappointments. CloudMagic’s settings are sparse, not allowing for any kind of personalization outside of notification behaviour and a signature.
The one bright point here is the password lock, which will please those who work in a communal or hot-desking workplace.
It is abundantly clear that a lot of thought and effort has gone into the making of CloudMagic. Visually, it ranges from active beauty to passive faultlessness. The starring system feels like the creation of someone who relies on their inbox(es) to get things done. The search is strong, too, and whilst it may not be a winning feature on its own, it will still save CloudMagic users plenty of time in the long run.
In many respects, the quality of these features makes the small weaknesses in this app all the more frustrating. The initial inability to zoom in on messages is bizarre and annoying, as is the compulsion to sort emails one-by-one.
For some users, CloudMagic‘s strengths will outweigh its weaknesses; for others, the opposite will be true. As a free download, though, I recommend that you see for yourself which scenario applies to you.