Inbox vs. Gmail 5.0: Which one is right for you?

gmail vs. inbox
Credit: Derek Walter
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Just when you were convinced to wave farewell to the Gmail app and move on to Inbox, Google turns around and overhauls Gmail. 

Version 5.0 of Gmail for Android doesn’t just paint over everything with a Material Design brush (although it does that, too). It makes the app an all-in-one email hub for your phone by supporting more than just Gmail. You can now get POP, IMAP, Yahoo, and Exchange mail in the Gmail app, too.

The new Gmail app looks better and is more capable, but it doesn't attempt to change the way you use email, like Inbox does.

We all use email in different ways and for different reasons. So, which is best for you: Gmail or Inbox? 

With Inbox, Google’s algorithms make a clean sweep

Inbox is for those who are looking for a little help getting organized. You don’t want to mess with labels, rules, folders, or stay inside your inbox any longer than needed. You want the app to do the heavy lifting and let you get back to Disco Zoo.

inbox bundled

Inbox bundles together messages and makes it easier to spot what you’re looking for.

Say you get an email from your credit card company about paying that monthly bill. Inbox smartly bundles it with other money-sucking messages so you can deal with them all at once.  You can also swipe them away to the archive or snooze them for a time or location of your choosing.

Snooze deals with those messages where you have to reply or do some task with them, but gets them out of the way so they don’t clog your inbox. 

inbox yell at companies

Google has some rather interesting auto-suggest ideas for which companies need a reprimand.

Inbox also syncs with your Google Now reminders and uses auto-suggest (sometimes cleverly) to make it fast and easy to make a new reminder. It turns your inbox into an actual to-do list, which your Gmail has probably become anyway. Inbox is also just quicker to navigate, as scrolling down past the bottom of an email will pop you back up to the folder you were in.

Bundling is something you’ll either love or hate—though you can turn it off for specific messages. For now it’s very consumer-centric, as labels are built for finance, travel, or social updates. When Inbox eventually gains support for Google Apps, it will be interesting to see if other bundles are included for business-type uses.

Stick to your system with Gmail

Gmail is still Gmail, which may be just what you want. Version 5.0 paints the app with Google’s Material Design brush, but it also makes Gmail your all-in-one email hub. It can handle Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, Outlook.com, IMAP, or POP mail.

gmail slide out menu

Quickly get to labels and other sections you’re used to finding in the new Gmail app.

It’s a pretty glorious thing if you have an Exchange or other account that you need to maintain. In the past you had to use the not-so-great stock Email app on Android or get a third-party alternative from the Play Store. Now it can be all Gmail, all the time (maybe the web version of Gmail could do the same. Hint, hint, Google).

Gmail is also better for those who permanently delete everything. These days, archiving is probably the better option, but some people just can't give up permanently deleting email they suppose they won't need anymore. I’ve had difficulty breaking the habit myself, as I’m quite the minimalist and always on the hunt for both real and imagined clutter. There’s also the idea that if I’m looking for a past hotel reservation, I don’t want to have 1,000 results for “Hyatt” when doing a Gmail search.

gmail inbox

It’s still Gmail, although it’s been reconfigured with Material Design.

But with how much storage space you get there’s really no need to delete email unless the message is an argument or something else you don’t want hanging out on Google’s servers. But if you feel strongly about this, Gmail still puts the trash can icon front and center or lets you adjust the swipe gesture to delete instead of archive. No such option exists with Inbox.

Also, those Gmail labels you know and love are just one swipe away. It’s something I rely on, with labels for “assignments” and “invoices” as they’re key parts of my freelance writing life. The compromise with Inbox is to turn them into a bundle, but they’re still grayed out, and forced beneath the list of default Inbox bundles.

There’s always the compromise: Use both!

Who says you have to choose? You could always juggle the two, using Inbox for sorting, snoozing, and setting reminders while jumping into Gmail when you need to.

It will be interesting to watch how Google evolves Inbox. If it tweaks the app with specific features for Google Apps users, it could get more work-friendly bundles or some of the other tweaks we would like to see. These changes would make it hard not to completely break to Inbox.

Supporting both apps feels like the right approach for now. It reduces the temptation for leaping to Mailbox or other competitors and keeps Gmail die-hards happy. 

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