Mail Pilot (or, The State of Email on the Mac)

Let’s face it: email on OSX sucks. For all of Apple’s skill in crafting beautiful hardware (and as much as I like OSX as an operating system), is outdated and still has limited support for Gmail labels (there’s a workaround but it’s gross). Sparrow showed signs of promise, but it disappeared into the black hole of Google acquihires in 2012 and essentially hasn’t been updated since then. Unibox is okay, but forces you into a very specific email workflow: messages are conversations (think something like Facebook chat) and folder support exists but breaks the application workflow, as putting something in a folder also removes the contact from the recent “chat” list and kind of defeats the purpose.

Airmail has been my solution for a while but it’s still buggy and slow to improve. It still crashes far too frequently for a daily driver mail application, especially when I’m doing something like, oh, composing a long email that I don’t want to lose. The most recent version seemed to introduce a bug in which my accounts like to randomly reorder themselves. And it’s an absolute memory hog, using at least 100MB at startup and easily clearing 250MB if I’m actually using the application. Gah.

Today, I discovered Mail Pilot, which has existed for a while as an iOS mail app. I haven’t used it extensively, so this isn’t an in-depth review, but I’m really hoping it’s the holy grail in my quest for tolerable email. Off the cuff, it has a couple of features that I find attractive:

  • Cross-platform: As I mentioned, Mail Pilot has both OSX and iOS versions. This is convenient because it keeps me from getting multiple sets of specialized labels (Mailbox and Airmail both insisted on their own set of application-specific labels) and also gives a coherent experience across my devices.

  • Folder support: Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I want to put my email in folders when I’m done with it. Search is okay but it’s not perfect; it’s much easier to remember that I’ve put a mail in my Senior Design folder than to remember sufficiently relevant keywords from the subject line or content. Mail Pilot doesn’t treat folders as second-class citizens, giving a quick keyboard shortcut to sort mail from the inbox into folders.

  • Set Aside / Review Later: Mail Pilot takes one of my favorite features of Mailbox (“snoozing” messages to appear at a later date/time) and brings it to the desktop. By highlighting a message and hitting R, you can set a review date and be reminded to review the message. You can also put the message in a general Set Aside folder to be reviewed sometime later while keeping your inbox clutter-free.

  • Keyboard shortcuts: I’ve already mentioned this briefly, but Mail Pilot’s set of keyboard shortcuts are extremely well done. After selecting one or more messages, you can hit the spacebar to “complete” (archive) a message, F to place it in a folder (by typing the folder name, which autocompletes), S to set aside (see above), L to add to a list (similar to folders, but maintained at the Mail Pilot level across multiple accounts), R to set a reminder (also above), ⌘R to reply, ⌘E to reply all, or ⌘F to forward. This is largely a matter of preference, but I found the shortcuts to be very intuitive and efficient to use when plowing through a few days of built-up messages.

To conclude, Mail Pilot is an exciting addition to the general mess of OSX mail applications. As with any new software, I’ll need to use it for a few weeks and see what issues crop up, but I’m really hoping Mail Pilot can blaze a new path forward to better email.

Tags: workflowemailreview

Zach Schneider

Zach Schneider

Rails, React, & Sundry