I’ve never been very good at email.
Scratch that – I’m absolutely terrible at it.
This isn’t a reference to my inability to reply or keep on top of incoming messages – I’m actually pretty proficient in that area and pride myself on rarely missing important emails.
The issue has always been the way in which I approach email. For years, it’s been a mess of hacks, workarounds, stupid reliances, and endless amounts of gaffa tape.
The good news is that the email client I’ve used for several years has received one hell of an update, and it has transformed my approach to email.
This is my Spark 3 review.
A new approach to productivity and email
During a press briefing, Readdle co-founder, Alex Tyagulsky, revealed that the goal for Spark has always been to “make email smart”. This resulted in a development path for Spark that saw the introduction of the smart inbox, intuitive search, and a bunch of collaboration features.
Tyagulsky explained that the inspiration for Spark’s latest reimagining came from the information overload most of us are contending with these days. “We have more wants and needs than we have the capacity to fulfil,” he said. “We have to accept our limitations.”
That feels uncomfortably familiar. My email inbox has always played too big a role in my day, and I’ll often find myself breaking away from an important production task just to see who wants me.
The solution to this lies in proactive limiting the distractions, Tyagulsky explained. This is why Spark 3 is built around something called ‘Intentional Productivity’.
This isn’t bullshit. A bit like Brain.fm’s uncanny ability to make you more productive by piping sounds into your ears, Spark 3 has been designed to focus your attention only on what matters when it matters.
Oh, and it’s also cross-platform, now, too. That’s right – you can get Spark 3 on Windows. Finally.
The new Smart Inbox
The free version of Spark has always seemed overly generous, and the good news is that Spark 3 is no different. It’s basically a fully-featured free email client if you’re not too fussed about the advanced productivity and collaboration stuff.
The entire app has had a huge visual overhaul. So much so, that it might be a little disorienting at first. Stick with it, though – because it soon pulls you in and, for me at least, felt just like home after a few minutes.
More importantly, there are a bunch of new features for the Smart Inbox that make it far more useful. Emails from people are always ushered to the top of the list with newsletters and notifications bunched neatly into their own areas (which are represented by a single line in the inbox).
Spark 3 also includes two options for email management which sit squarely within the productivity app bracket. The first is ‘Done’ which resides in a number of locations and acts as a way to rid your inbox of an email you’ve dealt with. As you’d guess, what it actually does is place it into the archive, but the process of checking a box is immensely satisfying.
The second is ‘Set Aside’ which moves the message into a separate list (previously ‘Snoozed’) you can revisit later. This does away with the need to flag emails or mark them as ‘unread’ – two habits I’ve never been able to shake, and which have sometimes landed me in trouble.
The result of the new Smart Inbox is a home for your emails which is far easier to keep tidy, and which prioritises the stuff that matters to you the most.
It goes further, of course – if you’re willing to pay.
The stuff you have to pay for
Readdle has switched to a subscription model for Spark 3. So, let’s tackle this, immediately.
Pretty much every meaningful piece of software appears to be going subscription-based, whether we like it or not. For some, this won’t matter; they see the value in supporting developers in this way and might even prefer it over a larger up-front fee.
But there’s a significant number of people who have subscription fatigue. I get that, too – I number among them. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the answer is. As much as I hate to wave the white flag on this one, it is a case of keeping calm and carrying on, I’m afraid – it ain’t changing.
Spark 3 Premium is either $7.99 or $4.99 per month, depending on how you chose to pay. I’d argue that at $59.99 per year, it’s awesome value for what is a fantastic, productivity-boosting email client.
You get a lot for that, too. If the free version of Spark 3 is an email revelation, Spark 3 Premium is a revolution.
It starts with the Gatekeeper, which is majestically simple in its approach to new senders. It achieves this by chucking them into a horizontal list at the top of the screen, out of the way of your recognised emails. From there, you get immediate options to either block the sender or accept them and open the message (or mark it as done).
The premium version also offers the ability to mark specific people as priority senders. In doing so, they’re always shoved to the top of your inbox and remain gently highlighted to alert you of their presence. You can also group emails by senders to further tidy up your inbox – useful if, say, you want to batch all of the replies from your most persistent colleague into one non-inbox-destroying line.
Large attachments (i.e. those over 25MB) are now sendable via Spark 3, there’s the ability to mute threads (yay), and all of the lovely stuff that was previously in Spark 2 – including templates and team collaboration – remains.
The only slight downside for some will be the removal of the calendar feature. Tyagulsky was very open about this – Readdle simply hasn’t found the time to implement it satisfactorily yet, but it will arrive in a future update.
There is one last addition to the Premium tier which can’t be ignored – the Home Screen. This is intended to remove your focus from the inbox entirely unless it’s one of your scheduled email sessions (which can be configured in the settings).
This is definitely a Marmite feature, and I confess it isn’t really for me. I’m also not convinced it really does the job intended; even though the Home Screen is dominated by a random tranquil backdrop, it still contains a preview of recently received emails – which inevitably leads you into the inbox. Every time.
My experience with Spark 3
The best compliment I can give Spark 3 is that it has turned me into a not-terrible email user. Thanks to this brilliant reworking of one of the oldest forms of digital communication, I have consistently maintained an inbox over the last few weeks that is clutter-free and only there when I absolutely need it.
I’m checking email less. I’m definitely not missing any emails. Senders I never want to see again are banished before I even have to read their inane, spammy drivel. Stuff that can wait until later really does wait until later (and I no longer forget about it).
Readdle hasn’t done that much to help me achieve this, either. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not making light of the huge development effort that surely went into Spark 3, but the result is simply a smart reimagining of archaic email features and enough Premium productivity boosters to make the negligible annual fee an absolute bargain.
The first thing I did when I started testing Spark 3 was archive all of my all emails. It was cathartic – enjoyable, even. Everything I wasn’t dealing with right now was removed from view, leaving me with an active, task-focused inbox. It has stayed that way since.
I love the arbitrarily satisfying feeling of hitting the ‘Done’ option, and that, coupled with Set Aside, are two options that have made my inbox management task-driven. That’s a far better approach to email.
Gatekeeper is the best example I’ve seen for triaging unknown senders. The grouping of notifications has forced me to set aside specific times for dealing with YouTube channel management, rather than doing it ad-hoc throughout the day.
There are some niggles, of course.
The Home Screen isn’t for me at all, but it’ll please those who have the willpower to avoid being consistently sucked into their inbox. I’d also like faster access to the spam folder because although the sidebar remains, it’s always hidden unless you reveal it.
Another slight annoyance is the fact that Spark 3 only requires one click on an email to open it, which remains a little disorienting a few weeks in. I’d prefer to have the option to double-click, personally, but there doesn’t appear to be an option for that.
They’re small gripes, though – this is a wonderful update. The free version alone is worth checking out for the generous bunch of included features.
Nice work, Readdle.
A note on data privacy
Whenever I feature Spark on these pages or my YouTube channel, the question of data privacy rears its head.
This is because there is some communication between Readdle’s servers and your email data haul. So, I asked what the company’s stance is on data privacy.
This was their reply.
First of all, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right. That’s why we never sell or unlawfully share data of our users. We are committed to creating amazing products that provide a safe and secure environment for tens of millions of our users.
We value the trust of our users and always rely on these principles while working with your data:
1. Purpose limitation. Spark uses your data only to provide you with amazing services and features. Also, the Spark team is using the anonymized analytics in order to create better experiences and to optimize the product. We don’t use your data for any other purposes.
2. Data minimization. We won’t ask for more data than is needed to provide you with the service. We always delete your data once it’s no longer necessary.
3. Honesty and transparency. We are always clear about what data we collect and why.
4. Security. We use the recommended industry practices to keep your data safe.
5. Respect for your rights. Spark is GDPR and CCPA compliant, and you have the right to get access to your data or require its deletion.
As an email client, Spark needs to have access to some of users data. It’s impossible to use an email app that can’t access your email account. We use your personal data only when it’s absolutely necessary to make Spark work as you expect.
I’m just the messenger on this one, guys, but if it helps, I’ve never worried about data privacy and Spark. The explanation above certainly works for me.
Images courtesy of Readdle