Thursday, 25 February 2016

Windows 10 System Apps Review: Mail

Note: This page is a review which forms part of the post Windows 10 System Apps Review

What’s this app for?

Remember email? Yes, it’s still going. This is the app to add all your various email accounts to, so that you can send, retrieve and respond to your email from the comfort of Windows 10. Worth mentioning that the Mail app comes bundled/integrated with the Calendar app,

Does it do the job it was primarily designed for?

Yes. Although it didn’t always do such a respectable job as it does now. In its early formative days, this was an app about as feature packed and reliable as a paper bag would be as an umbrella. But times have changed and this app is now arguably the one app that’s had the most visually dramatic changes over the months since the launch of Windows 10. To start off with, it now looks pretty to look at, and has some decent personalisation options:

You can customise the background wallpaper to the app and change the accent colour, which both go towards actually giving the best personalisation options in any Microsoft System App. You’d almost forget it’s a universal app without the usual dull open expanse of grey that we get used to in most apps.

Setting up email accounts is reasonably easy, although maybe a little more clunky than it needs to be. There’s an oddness with the defaults for account synchronisation, which are a bit poor I’ve found. The setting “Based on my usage” which has no definition of how its calculated concerned me enough to immediately ignore that and set things to hourly or less. The downside of that default is I’ve heard from several friends who have thought the app was broken as they had no emails for ages due to that setting.

Creating and replying to emails works very well in this app, and is actually a lovely experience with spellchecking built-in, rich text options (Bold, italics, underline, fonts, highlighter, font colour, font size) as well as bullet lists, paragraphing options, and even styles built into the app. That’s not all. Of course you can attach files as one would expect and insert pictures, but you can also easily insert tables and perform a decent amount of customisation of them; almost everything you’d expect in Microsoft Word.

The variety and amount of settings that that the app has is almost unprecedented. Managing accounts is respectable, the personalisation of appearance as I've said before is very good, but there’s also settings for quick actions (swiping left/right to delete/archive etc. Useless on a computer however), automatic replies (when the account supports them), reading customisation, conversation view on/off (always off in my case!), signatures and notifications (which is useful for stopping the annoying new email pop-up). And, best of all, most of those settings have a “Apply to all accounts” toggle, which really is a masterstroke of time-saving usefulness.

It’s not all good news with this app. Some problem still persist even after many months. Hitting the sync button manually is an unreliable experience. Sometimes quick to sync, you’re often left hanging for ages. Downloading of attachments still seems like a big drag with them often just never downloading first time. There’s also no preview of attachments. I’m still often loading up Microsoft Outlook or web-based versions of email accounts to view attachments quicker than in the mail app. Then there’s the folders issue; you can see folder in your email account but you can’t rename them or move them about. On top of that, if you make changes to folders in Outlook or a web-based client, the Mail App often doesn’t update the folders for ages.

What’s the alternative?

If you’ve Microsoft Office there’s obviously the very comprehensive Outlook but free-wise, Windows Live Mail can still work in Windows 10 and there are always web-based portals to most email accounts.

Hit, Miss, or Maybe?

Maybe; for a long time I’ve used this as my default mail app but the issues over customisation of folders, attachments and manual syncing mean I’m often swapping to Outlook or web-based alternatives most days. It is however, still a mostly reliable and useful app for email and unlike some system apps, a very worthy and beautiful looking addition to Windows 10.

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