Mailbox app, Google Inbox, and Boomerang are the three big names that stand out for time shifting your email. I want to focus on mobile apps and that means Mailbox and Inbox. Boomerang has some unique features  but they struggle on mobile. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple winner here, both Mailbox and Inbox have strengths and trade-offs. Overall, Mailbox takes a more Apple like approach, while Inbox is clearly developed by Google. This is all about design philosophy. Google has added options and control at the cost of simplicity. The Mailbox team focused on ease of use at the cost of some features. After spending months with both apps, I’m back to Mailbox as my primary email app, but it is a close call.
Really you should just install Mailbox and Inbox and try them out, but I realize that is a pretty steep ask. Instead, I’ll walk you through the differences that were most important to my decision and you can feel free to skim or just look at the pictures.
This is making me sleepy, anyone else getting tired? Oh god, that is a pun isn't it. I'm so sorry. I am just so SO sorry. I didn't mean it that way. Please forgive me.
It would make sense that the snooze function, being the marquee feature for these apps, is the most important differentiator. Every email that touches your inbox will either get archived or snoozed so even the slightest friction makes a big difference.
Mailbox’s approach is to fill the screen with 8 preset options. The large number of options help reduce the number of times that you need to pick a specific date. That may sound unimportant at first glance, but this is Mailbox’s biggest differentiator. It means that most snoozes only require two taps. The design is simple and goes for the “just works” approach. Yes, you can change what each button does, but Mailbox doesn’t show you exactly what time an email snoozed to tomorrow will show up.
Inbox, on the other hand, uses the available space in their snooze picker to show exact times for 3 presets. So the trade is giving up the Later Today, This Weekend, In a Month, and Desktop options but being reminded of exactly what time your snoozed email will return while you are making your decision. However, Google also adds two useful features: Snooze to Last and Snooze to Location. The Snooze to Last is great if you have multiple emails to snooze to the same future date. God I miss that one. Snooze to Location I can safely say that I never tried, but I could see how they could be cool? Finally, I like that Inbox offers a re-snooze feature. If you snooze a conversation to Friday, then get a reply before then, Inbox offers a 1 tap option to snooze that conversation back to Friday. Nice.
Currently I prefer Mailbox’s preset approach. I found Inbox sent me to the “pick date and time” option too often when I just want to push an email back a few hours or until the weekend. The difference sounds so minor that it is hard to appreciate without trying for yourself. But snoozing is meant to be a feature that makes your life easier. Requiring 4 taps plus some playing with date and time scrollers to schedule an email to come back into your life can easily pass the threshold into “this isn’t worth it” territory.
Ok, that was a lot of detail, luckily notifications are a simpler comparison. Inbox has better notifications. They include a preview of the first few words of each email in the lock screen just like the built in Mail app. This is just hands down better than Mailbox which only gives you the sender and subject line. That said, they both push emails instantly.
When multiple snoozed email triggers back to your inbox, Mailbox groups them and notifies you that you have a batch of snoozed emails to look at. Inbox just treats these same emails as if they were hitting your inbox for the first time. Which option you like here is probably going to be up to your own preference.
Interactive notifications are also an option. If you feel comfortable archiving or snoozing an email just from the notification preview then that could be cool? I haven’t found a use though.
Mailbox fits more emails on the screen, color codes each mailbox (here, yellow for snoozed messages), and is more plain. Inbox displays more information and lets you do more from the inbox.
The rest comes down to details. In terms of visual design, Inbox follows Google’s material design so it doesn’t fit well with the appearance of other iOS apps. Mailbox adapts their visual style to iOS and Android respectively. If you are used to Apple Mail, then Mailbox will feel familiar on iOS, where Inbox will feel like a big change. I also find that Inbox’s animations make it feel slower than Mailbox. They are pretty, but pretty only goes so far.
Neither app handles manipulation of email addresses as well as Apple mail. Copying an email address requires 3 taps in Mailbox. Which sounds way less annoying than it really is. Good luck copying an email address from Inbox, Google basically hides them, driving me insane in the process.
A few additional details to note about Inbox:
- You can accept calendar invitations straight from your inbox, this is cool but always bugs me because you still have to open the invitation for it to be marked as read
- There is no way to mark as unread, Google apparently wants you to not give up the significant of read vs. unread, I’m not really cool with that but it ended up not bugging me as much as I expected
Probably the biggest two are that they can remind you if you haven’t received a follow up to an important email and they let you easily schedule emails to be sent at a later time ↩
It is worth noting that I’m writing from a completely Apple-centric viewpoint. Those are just my biases. Feel free to adjust your opinions accordingly. The Mailbox app for Android follows material design and may be completely different ↩
I have to honestly admit that I had no clue what the “someday” option did until looking it up just now. I don’t think it fits into my workflow, but I could see how it could be useful ↩
If you haven’t been paying close attention you may have missed that Google stopped offering push for gmail accounts running through Apple Mail. If your setup was grandfathered in you should still be getting push, but you might be stuck on stupid fetch and getting your emails on a delay. It never seems like a big deal until a really time sensitive email proves that it is a huge deal. ↩