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Google Inbox: A guided tour

This guide compares and contrasts Gmail with Google Inbox to help you get started with what could become Google’s next-generation email service.

Inbox

Inbox is Google’s new experimental email service that’s currently open to the public to try out, if you request an email invite. It’s meant to present your incoming emails in a way that’s more personally relevant, but it can be a tad confusing learning how to use it. The Inbox UI is not immediately intuitive, but once you get the hang of it, Inbox can be a powerful tool. If you are already familiar with Gmail, this guide compares and contrasts Gmail with Google Inbox to help you get started with what could become Google’s next-generation email service.

googlemail-inbox-gmail

Say hello to Bundles

With Gmail, an algorithm analyzes the contents of your incoming emails to sort them into four label categories: Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates. (There’s a fifth, Forums, which is not activated by default.) 

Inbox categories are referred to as Bundles. There are several more labels/bundles that the Inbox sorting algorithm puts your incoming emails into: Travel, Purchases, Finance, Social, Updates, Forums and Promos.

Tabs out, Timeline in

In the web version of Gmail, the label categories are presented as tabs under which incoming emails are grouped. In the mobile version, you swipe in or tap the three-bar icon to access these categories. With both the web and mobile versions of Inbox, emails that the algorithm doesn’t drop into a pre-existing Bundle, email threads, and Bundles themselves are all shown in a vertically scrolling timeline. Bundles are ordered based on the most currently dated incoming email.

More robust presentation

With Gmail, your emails are simply listed by their subject headings. With Inbox, your emails are shown in a far more robust way. In the website version, uncategorized emails, email threads, and Bundles are shown as a series of horizontal bars. In a Bundle, the horizontal bar lists the sender names or email addresses of the emails that are grouped within it. Email attachments are depicted as large icons. Clicking/tapping the icons for Google Drive or Microsoft Office files, or PDFs, will load most of them into a viewer. Attached pictures or video files, and certain links embedded within the email are shown as thumbnails.

Customization options

In Gmail, you can create a customized label and designate which incoming emails get tagged with it, based on things like sender email addresses or names, subject headings, or keywords in their message bodies). But in the website version of Gmail, these labels cannot be set to appear as tabs alongside the label categories already included with Gmail. With Google Inbox, not only can you create your own Bundles into which your incoming emails can be grouped, your custom Bundles can also be set to appear on the timeline.

Highlighting or stowing away your emails

In Gmail, when you mark an email to “archive,” it’s removed from the inbox, but stored for later retrieval under the label “All Mail.” Gmail also lets you mark an email or email thread with a star, which then files it under the Starred label. The engineers of Inbox appear to have rearranged Gmail’s archiving and starring functionalities into two features: You can mark an incoming email or email thread as “done” by clicking/tapping the checkmark icon. You can also mark all the emails in a Bundle by clicking/tapping the Sweep icon, the checkmark with three lines. Either way, emails or Bundles marked done are removed from the timeline and filed under the “Done” label.

Snooze alarms

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Two new features in Google Inbox have no equivalents in Gmail. When you “snooze” an email, it’s removed from the timeline and will reappear tomorrow, next week, “someday” (the Inbox algorithm will determine when it should show you the email again), or on another day and time of your choosing. Under the mobile app version of Inbox, you can also set a snoozed email to reappear when you arrive at a location, like your home or office. 
Reminders are simple message alerts you write to yourself, which will appear at the top of the timeline on a day and time that you pick.

What’s missing?

It would be nice to have a one-click button to select all emails and/or Bundles on the timeline, or a button on the timeline to send all emails and/or Bundles to the trash: This seems to be less of an oversight on the part of the Inbox engineers, and more of a way to slow you from throwing away your emails. Why? So that Google’s algorithms can continue to sort through your unread emails, we presume. 
Likewise, the Inbox mobile app won’t let you trash an email, email thread or Bundle by swiping its horizontal bar on the timeline off the screen. (Swiping will only let you either mark an email/email thread as done or to set it to be snoozed. Swiping a Bundle will mark all the emails within it as done.

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