Forgive me – I’ve been writing a lot about email recently, but that’s for one very good reason.
Not that long ago, I published my thoughts on Spark. I called it “the best email client”, which is something I still stand by.
As is always the case, several readers agreed with me, and a few others pointed me in the direction of some alternatives. That’s why I love the internet and my audience; I’ve discovered some of my most useful tools because of you lot.
One person who commented on the aforementioned Medium article suggested that I should try out Big Mail, which apparently takes an entirely different and somewhat contemporary approach to email.
So, I did. And boy is it close to being a worthy replacement for Spark.
What is Big Mail?
Head over to Big Mail’s website, and you’re told that the app will ‘upgrade’ your inbox. I quite like that – it suggests that email is well overdue for a rethink, and I’d be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.
While I love the way Spark organises my email and helps me deal with it, I always have a nagging suspicion that it probably shouldn’t have to go to such lengths. It is, after all, dealing with a form of digital communication that was invented in the early 70s.
Big Mail uses ‘advanced AI categorisation’ to display your email in a completely new way. Just take a look at the screenshots on their website (linked above) – it looks like a cross between Apple’s News and Podcasts apps.
There’s also ad tracking built-in, and, unlike Spark, email doesn’t pass through Big Mail’s servers before it reaches you (a concern lots of people raised following my gushing review of Spark).
Big Mail appears to have it all. Indeed, we’re told that users will spend less time organising their inbox and more time ‘enjoying it’. And all this for just $6.49 per month, when purchased annually.
So what do I like and not like about Big Mail? And will it tempt me away from Spark?
What I (really) like about Big Mail
I love the idea behind Big Mail’s design. As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t look like an email client; its Apple design-inspired user interface demands to be explored. This creates a few issues, which I’ll get to later, but I’ll give any developer the thumbs up if they attempt something this different.
The developers refer to their approach as ‘big design’, and that’s entirely accurate. Subject lines are big and clickable, and the way it groups and displays newsletter emails is a real ‘why hasn’t anyone else thought of this?’ feature.
It’s impossible to look past Big Mail’s security features, too. They don’t intercept your email, and Spy Scanner is directly integrated by default, so those pesky tracking codes can’t hurt you.
But it’s the ideas the developers have invested time in for email management that are the most interesting. For instance, ‘The Latest’ provides a bird’s eye view of everything that’s taking place in your inbox. It can be customised, but by default will provide grouped conversations, notifications and a running total of new senders.
Oh, and those new senders have to pass something called ‘The Bouncer’ if they want to stand a chance of making it into your inbox. I love this. Unlike virtually every other email client which attempts to categorise your emails, Big Mail places all new email from brand-new senders into a holding pen. From there, you can ignore or approve the messages (and change your mind in the future, if you wish).
I rely far too heavily on flagging emails as unread in order to deal with them later. This invariably results in certain emails getting lost when the unread status doesn’t invoke for some reason or if I forget to do so. In Big Mail, there’s a feature called ‘Reply Later’, which places emails into a separate holding pen for future action, and it syncs their status across all of your devices. Neat!
If, like me, you’re forever hunting for old emails or attachments, Big Mail has you covered there, too. This is thanks to a single area in which all attachments can be found and searched, and ‘profiles’ for each sender, where you can view all of their past correspondence. This was genuinely useful and the time saved hunting through my inboxes was tangible.
I also think Big Mail is reasonably priced, given its feature set, approach to privacy and the fact that it’s developed by a small team.
It isn’t all roses though, I’m afraid.
What I don’t like about Big Mail
As much as I love Big Mail’s approach to email, the user interface is a bit overwhelming.
This isn’t because it puts design before function or even that it’s needlessly complicated – it’s just such a different approach to email. I found myself constantly having to readjust my thinking when looking for a specific message or feature. Where should I go to find my Medium notifications? How do I sort through the newsletters when I have limited time?
It’s an admirable reimagining of the email experience, but I do wonder if they’ve gone a little too far. Converting anyone to Big Mail who has spent their life using traditional email clients might be a bit of a stretch.
I should note that the version of Big Mail I tried was the first public release. However, unfortunately, it felt a bit like a beta release. The developer certainly seems very responsive on Twitter, but there are a few too many glitches to make it a full-time app for me.
For instance, Big Mail informed me that it ‘couldn’t understand my account’. The only problem was that it didn’t reveal the account to which the issue related (I had several set up), or what the issue was.
There’s also no ability to create a signature, which is an odd omission from any email marketing client release. Account syncing didn’t appear to work between my Mac and iPhone, either, and the configuration settings for the app, in general, felt a little underserved.
There were a couple of minor annoyances, such as ‘glancing’ being turned on by default, which reads messages as you scroll through them – a pretty dangerous feature for anyone who takes pride in not missing important emails in their inbox. I’d also love customisable swipe actions and the ability to drag messages into scenes (which is essentially a list of areas within Big Mail), but they’re more wish list items than bug reports.
On the whole, Big Mail feels like it has been rushed to full release. I dearly wish it had been labelled as a beta because my expectations would have possibly been tempered a little.
Big Mail shows big promise, but it just doesn’t feel ready for full release.
This isn’t a criticism of the developer, either. They appear to be a small team with, I’m sure, limited resources. I’ve worked in that game, and I know what it’s like when you want to get a product out of the door as fast as possible.
But despite the initial niggles and odd feature omissions, I’m excited to revisit Big Mail in a few months to see how it has developed. Any app that takes such a comprehensively new approach to email deserves special attention.
With that in mind, you can give it a go yourself, free of charge for seven days, which I heartily recommend.
If you’re interested in pitching Big Mail against another email client, I recommend checking out Newton. It definitely isn’t for everyone (me included), but I think there’s an audience for what is yet another relatively fresh take on email.