December 22, 2018

The Perfect Email Client

See, right away, I’m misleading you. There is no such thing as the perfect email client.

Now, perfect is relative and all of that but, that said, I’ve yet to find a single client that fulfills each of the items on my wish list:

  • granular aesthetic control for sent and received messages (i.e., I want my messages displayed in a clean, sans-serif font — and I want them displayed as such by those reading my messages);
  • the ability to temporarily ‘snooze’ messages in order to reduce immediate clutter;
  • the means by which I can pause or delay the delivery of a message I’m sending (just because I’ve got an idea at 11:54 pm shouldn’t mean that you have to feel compelled to read about it at that time or, worse yet, get notified about it by some kind of chime or vibration);
  • support for all major providers (including Gmail and Outlook/Exchange);
  • calendar functionality (at the bare minimum, if I get an email notification about an upcoming meeting, I should have the option to add that meeting to the calendar of that account/provider on the spot);
  • read receipts (because I don’t mind if you know when I’ve seen your message and I’d prefer to know the same thing — I mean, really);
  • a clean, spacious, modern, and customizable UI;
  • integration with popular task or project management solutions — or at least a system to support plugins — in order to get messages out of the inbox and into the apps in which I’m doing the work that needs to get done;
  • platform ubiquity (iOS, macOS, Windows, Android, and web);
  • a unified inbox (but only as an option);
  • support for GIFs (seriously);
  • reasonable pricing (preferably free unless you’re a part of a very large organization);
  • flexible and customizable keyboard shortcuts (including Markdown);
  • smart notifications (allow me to take common actions without having the message open); and
  • long-term investment (i.e., don’t get in this game if you don’t want the experience you’re offering to continue for your users — see: Newton — either as part of your own company/efforts or as part of the open-source community).

Yes, as is painfully obvious, I’m finicky about this and, no, I really can’t stop myself. Email is such a core concept for so many people and I have high expectations for how it should be handled.

My only recommendation.

Having said all of that, Spark fulfills more of these requirements than any email client I’ve ever used before — and I’ve used dozens. Dozens.

The only exceptions include:

  • a lack of support for Windows, Android, or the web right now (sorry, I know that’s a big one for a lot of you);
  • limited support for composition formatting (e.g., I can’t resize an image I’ve pasted in);
  • there are no read receipts (they apparently used to offer them but not anymore);
  • limited integrations (e.g., Spark offers an integration with Asana but, for some strange reason, it uploads the message as a PDF instead of inserting the message content into the task description — which is how the Asana add-in for Gmail functions)
  • a lack of support for GIFs (you might be able to paste ’em in but you can’t easily add them like you can in the Outlook mobile app);
  • quirky keyboard shortcut functionality (there’s no Markdown support and there are several weird shortcut inconsistencies); and
  • weird UI issues (mostly using dark mode on macOS).

Despite those things, it’s worth a look if you primarily use iOS and/or macOS.

Runners-Up

Like I said, I’ve used dozens of email clients… and there are a few others that have come close to offering the functionality that Spark does:

Pretty much everyone has to use email at this point in time. That, in turn, means that there’s a lot of it flooding your inboxes every single day. Investing in the fullness and fluidity of that experience should be the goal of every company or developer that currently offers an email client — and nothing has provided an experience that offers everything I’ve mentioned.

These results could change. I’ll evaluate it in six months. 😉

Feel free to make recommendations in the comments, by the way. This is something I’ve been monitoring for years (and years and years) so I’m super-curious if I’ve missed any new or established players in this space.

Update, February 8th, 2019: I just found out the other day that Newton is back from the dead. For whatever it’s worth, Newton was, for me, the ultimate email client. It checked off just about all of the criteria listed above and I was more than willing to pay the $50/yr for it — given its ability for me to adequately handle the βάρος that is email. (The Greek pronunciation of “burden” is just the best way to communicate/emphasize the weight of the problem for me. Go ahead. Click that link. Then click that little pronunciation icon next to the word. It’s intensely satisfying in a therapeutic kind of way.)

That said, and for now, I’m still sticking with Spark. It’s free for how I use it and it handles just about everything as well as Newton did — for the most part. At this point, I couldn’t justify the additional $50/yr but I’m gonna keep an eye on the new/continued development of Newton and I’d still highly recommend it.

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