No, it is not Outlook, or maybe it is. Let me share my perspective
I am a sucker for good quality productivity apps, and email client is one such app that I use daily. With hundreds of apps and software available for any activity you might think of, it becomes difficult to zero down on one that checks all the boxes of the wishlist that you have from that particular piece of software. Though I frequently use apps like Slack which aim to reduce or obliterate emails, when you are working with multiple clients spread throughout the world, it becomes imperative that the most sought after information must be shared over an email.
I am going to share my experience with some of the top-rated emails apps available for macOS. I do not intend to review similar apps on Android, iOS or Windows platform. I will probably park that for another article. In any email client, the two deal-breaker aspects for me include the perfect rendering of emails with a variety of HTML content and a rich email composer.
The contenders for this discussion are Outlook, New Outlook for Mac, Airmail, Spark, Postbox, Missive, Superhuman, Polymail, Edison Mail, Canary Mail, Kiwi for Gmail, Tempo and eM Client. (Phew!) My point of view is based on what I like about Outlook and the features which I want Outlook to have.
I am sharing a sample email which includes almost all of the content formatting options that I use frequently.
Where Outlook excels
- Calibri font: There are only countable few email clients which support Calibri font while composing an email. This typeface is by far, one of the most commonly used and is fittingly rendered in almost all of the email clients. Calibri font looks professional but there are many email clients that do not support it, and thus, will render the whole email in Times New Roman.
- Inline images: If you are using Gmail or GSuite, Airmail, Spark, or Kiwi for Gmail then you must be well aware that the options to resize an inline image are limited to small, large, best fit and original. If you are selecting anything other than best fit or original, the chances are that you will lose out on the image quality and the text within the image will not be visible clearly. Outlook wins here hands down. Outlook allows you to resize the image while maintaining the aspect ratio and quality. Adding a drop shadow effect in inline photos is something that only Outlook and eM Client offer. I use this effect frequently to make the inline image stand out.
- Bullets and Numbered Lists: Since the email composer of Outlook has almost all of the features of text formatting which Microsoft Word provides, you have a variety of bullets and numbered lists that you can include in the emails. In every other email client, the bullets are limited to round bullets, and the numbered list is restricted to 1, 2, 3… In Outlook, you can use nested lists with alphabets and roman numerals. Well, I should mention that Postbox email client provides you with fancy bullet options, but they are not displayed correctly in all of the recipient email clients. Another peculiar observation is that in email clients other than Outlook, you cannot resume or restart the numbering of a list. You will have to create a new list starting from 1, that is the only option.
- Tables: Creating tables and changing their layout or format is super easy in Outlook. Alas! I cannot say this for any other email client. For Gmail, you can install extensions in Chrome to create tables, but they are limited in functionality. You cannot tweak the row or column height or create banded rows. Again, Postbox email client has this feature, but for some reason, which only their developers can fathom, the tables created in Postbox do not look the same when the email is opened in any other email client.
- Email chain with several conversations: Outlook is reasonably robust when it comes to the handling of email chains which contain more than, let’s say fifty conversations. Edison Mail, Airmail and others break a sweat when loading all the emails in such a huge conversation. They get stuck, and all you see is the beach ball (on macOS, similar to the sand-timer in Windows) on your screen, and eventually, you will have to force quit this app.
- Searching emails: Like Gmail, Outlook also gives the search results in an instant and highlights the appropriate word within the subject or the body of the email for easy filtering. This is especially applicable for the New Outlook for Mac, where the search feature is super awesome. Other email clients, well, they are either a hit or a miss in this department.
Where Outlook fizzles out
- Design: The design of Outlook has now started to feel dated. Microsoft is trying to catch up by introducing a new Outlook for macOS, but it is currently available for Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) subscribers who have opted for Fast Insider builds. Even this new look does not make a cut for me. There is a lot of white space; colourful themes are not available; integration with Microsoft ToDo is still a work in progress. Airmail, on the other hand, gives you so many ways to customise its looks and has also won the Apple Design Award in 2017.
- Animations: Developers are taking advantage of writing their apps in Swift language, thereby introducing lightweight apps with smooth animations. Airmail 4 and Airmail Zero are classic examples of such butter-smooth animations and transitions when selecting and clicking various elements on the app.
- Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts: Not everyone uses Exchange services these days. Startup and other new and emerging companies opt for GSuite because of the price difference. Most of the modern email clients support Gmail keyboard shortcuts.
- Unified Inbox: No colour code makes it difficult to identify emails from two or more mailboxes when skimming through these emails in the Unified Inbox. Airmail, Canary mail and Spark all of them pass this test with flying colours.
- Tasks and Events: Outlook’s calendar can only display both your tasks and events if you are using Exchange services. If you are using Microsoft ToDo (formerly Wunderlist) with GSuite, then you will not be able to display both on a single panel. You will have to keep on switching between calendar for events and ToDo for tasks.
- Integrations: People want to send Zoom, and Google Meet invites directly from the calendar. If Fantastical 3 (the best calendar for macOS) lets you do this, why can’t Outlook? Why can I only send a “Skype for Business” invite or “Microsoft Teams” invite?
- Snooze and Send Later: The New Outlook for Mac has introduced the Snooze feature, though you cannot customise it the way you can do it in Airmail. Let us say that you want the Later Today option to nudge you about an email in 2 hours instead of the default 3 hours, you can change this setting in Airmail, but you cannot make any such tweak in Outlook. Send Later is a legacy feature in Outlook available under Delivery Options, but is only possible with Exchange services. Also, it is cumbersome to use. Gmail implementation of Send Later is far better.
- Templates: Response templates offered by many other email clients is missing from Outlook. The best you can do is use Mail Merge, but it requires using MS Word, Excel and Outlook together to get the desired results.
- Outlook, even the new one, does not display labels in the email preview window.
- There is no option to colour code the labels or the folders.
- Read receipts are supported only for Exchange servers and not for GSuite. Also, the read receipt is basically an email informing you that your mail has been read. It is not a fancy implementation like two blue checkmarks similar to what Spark offers.
- No sound profiles other than the default one.
- Markdown support.
All these features help you sift through your emails quickly and if you are like me, you can also achieve inbox zero, if you plan to use these setting meticulously. However, since none of the email clients correctly handle HTML rich content in the most aesthetically pleasing way, I tend to always rely on Outlook to do the hard work.
Finally, a quick summary of why I discontinued using every other email client:
- Airmail: No option to remove formatting. Email attachments are displayed ridiculously large, and you have to scroll through the entire conversation to find the attachments.
- Spark: Limited text formatting options.
- eM Client: Looks like a rip-off of Outlook. If I am already paying for Microsoft 365 yearly, then why should I pay for eM Client when in offers no killer feature.
- Superhuman: $30 per month for a minimalist and keyboard shortcut friendly email client. No way!
- Postbox: Emails look good in Postbox, but they lose their shine when delivered.
- Canary Mail: Outlook is fast than Canary Mail, and again text formatting options are only a countable few.
- Missive: Good for teams and has an amazing feature of WhatsApp integration. You need not carry your phone around to use WhatsApp within this email client. But all this comes at the price point that will make you take a step back. Missive Email is $15 per month per user, and you need to pay extra for integrations like WhatsApp.
- Tempo: Involves a significant learning curve. Accessing folders and labels is difficult. Ultra-minimalist.
- Polymail: Not the best for independent users. Teams can benefit from it. Uses a chat feature similar to Slack. Compromised text formatting features.
- Edison Mail: Unified inbox is meh! These guys are coming up with a new email client, OnMail. Let’s hope it offers something better.
- Kiwi for Gmail: It is just a wrapper on Gmail. Nothing else. I do not like how Gmail handles email conversations. It becomes confusing to read the relevant email when there are multiple unread emails in a chain of email conversations.
Someday, I hope, there will be an email client that will tick all the checkboxes of my wishlist.