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Trying Different Email Clients for Mac

[ Trying Different Email Clients for Mac ] As a professional web developer slash book author, I spend a LOT of time with email. Recently, I discovered that my email client does not provide some of the functionality that I require. So I set out on a mission to find something that works. Something better.

This article aims to add to the rather thin assortment of information regarding email clients for Mac. I’ve tried reading through some of the available online reviews and so forth, but the information is all pretty general. To help dive more into the “nitty gritty”, here are some notes from my experience trying to switch from Thunderbird to any email client that supports SSL, and meets some other basic requirements.

Requirements

Thunderbird is my first choice for email management, but it wasn’t working with SSL email at Media Temple. So my goal was to find a similar email client or app that would do the job. I don’t mind paying a flat fee for the right program, but some of the more popular email apps/services offer only recurring monthly/annual billing. That’s the last thing I need. So beyond that requirement, I was looking for an email client with the following features:

  • SSL email support
  • POP and IMAP support
  • Searchable email archives
  • Local app only, not a service
  • Supports multiple email accounts
  • Able to delete emails (not just hide them)
  • Support for 3rd-party services like Gmail, Hotmail, et al
  • Support for custom folders (I like to stay organized)

There are a lot of other details that are important, but are not really deal breakers. So with those modest requirements, I hit the search engine and began experimenting with the handful of apps that met most or all of my needs. Unfortunately, there were only a few that qualified..

Polymail, Spark, et al

I looked into these options but they require logging in and/or a monthly fee. I don’t mind a reasonable flat one-time fee, but the recurring fee and login requirement (i.e., cloud storage) rouses the paranoia in me, so I quickly moved on to alternatives.

Airmail

I really wanted to use Airmail. I stuck with it for about a week. Tried everything possible to make it do what I wanted it to do. But in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be. Here are some notes (pros and cons) from my brief Airmail adventure.

PROS

Airmail looks very slick on the surface, nice design, custom icons, and so forth. The main reason I spent a week working with it was that it hit that first requirement on my list: it works great with my server’s SSL/email setup. Airmail also handles multiple email accounts and provides plenty of essential functionality. I kept thinking that “this is the one”, while trying to make it “fit” my needs. Sadly, the downsides were overwhelming..

CONS

I’ll go with a list format for the cons (in no particular order):

  • Awkward layout, can’t change to horizontal view
  • For any moved or sent email, duplicate copies were showing up in Trash, Sent, and elsewhere
  • Can’t permanently delete messages, they are archived forever (bad for privacy, performance, and disk space) (see comment thread)
  • “Deleting” emails for some reason is very slow
  • Folder sidebar takes up too much space. So it may look great on wide screens, but virtually unusable on smaller screens
  • Limited sorting options (e.g., can’t sort by multiple variables like in Thunderbird)
  • Can’t manually receive mail for individual accounts
  • Extremely limited in terms of flagging, priority, and other email header items, header views, et al
  • Can’t view message source
  • No exporting of messages
  • No way to make backups
  • Search works weird and is cumbersome
  • Can’t search email content directly
  • Can’t search specific folders
  • Forwarding adds > before each line in message (other apps do not)
  • No way to control the interval for checking/receiving new email, which it does all the time (despite the setting to check every “x” minutes)
  • Can’t save messages locally without using a 3rd party-service like Dropbox
  • Saving messages locally via Dropbox et al for some reason formats the email(s) as a PDF file (instead of as .eml files)
  • Lack of documentation is frustrating
  • Lack of support even more frustrating (I tried leaving a request at the crazy locked-down Airmail forum, but it was ignored and deleted)
  • No RSS support (not a huge deal)

Bottom line: Airmail has too many bugs to be taken seriously by professional users. For causal email use, it’s certainly capable and worth a try.

Outlook

I’m not fan of Microsoft products, but for awhile, Outlook was serving my needs. It is very refined and robust like Thunderbird, and yes it can handle my SSL setup without issue. It’s got a lot of features, so it’s very flexible and capable. Oddly, it’s Outlook that I originally started with many years ago when I first got a computer.

For the most part, Outlook hits everything on my list, including bonus features like:

  • Advanced sort order
  • Whitelist domains
  • Custom signatures
  • Grouping of messages
  • Folders anywhere
  • Global email account options
  • Custom/granuar send/receive sync settings
  • Plus more calendar/notes functionality than anyone will ever need
  • Data export

In fact, there was nothing that I needed from the app that it couldn’t do, unlike the other apps I’ve tried. Unfortunately, after spending half the day transferring everything over to Outlook, I restart the app and now it won’t stop asking for a password. After a lot of time researching and trying to resolve the issue, I finally gave up. It turns out the password-required bug is an ooooolllldddd issue that is not resolved and driving users insane. Not gonna waste any more of my time with Microsoft stuff, so moving on to the last app that meets my requirements, good ol’ Apple Mail.

In the end..

Currently using Apple Mail and rather like it. It’s got a lot of features, but also does a few minor weird things that I don’t like. For the most part, it’s doing the job (until I can find something better). My only real gripe is that there is no way to customize the auto-sync intervals for separate accounts. Overall, I would say that Apple Mail is a solid B+ email client for Mac.

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Fullstack Developer. Book Author. Teacher. Human Being.
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16 responses
  1. I’m interested to know why Thunderbird wasn’t working with SSL at MT.

    I had hundreds of thousands of emails with Eudora back in the day and finally had to move to something else. I’d tried a bunch of clients too and ultimately went with Postbox (based on TB code I believe) which is currently handling a bit more than a quarter of a million emails (via POP [yeah, I know] and IMAP accounts) I think it checks off all your needs. It seems to be doing well for me, but I’m still keeping my eye on MailMate.

    • Jeff Starr

      Yeah I wish I knew for sure why SSL/MT doesn’t work with Thunderbird. The symptom is an endless loop: add mail account, invalid certificate popup, click to always allow, then the popup again, over and over it won’t go away. From what I’ve gathered the issue is related to the domain’s Zone/DNS/MX records. Apparently, Thunderbird has different requirements than other email clients. Was not able to figure it out this time around. Will follow-up if/when I discover a solution.

  2. After Apple Mail and Postbox I have been using Airmail for about 1.5-2 years now. First time I hear that emails cannot be deleted. Where did you get that and do you know where those “deleted” emails are archived?

    • Jeff Starr

      I have no idea where they are archived (somewhere locally I would imagine). I discovered the issue while performing a search for a bunch of messages that I had just “deleted”. Not sure if they were just temporarily cached or what, but I didn’t like the idea of seeing them again after pressing the Delete button.

      • I think the deleted mail is in fact deleted, not archived. Depending on the amount of deleted mail in the trash it can take some time to actually have all mail removed, but once it is gone, it is in fact gone.

      • Jeff Starr

        That wasn’t my experience, but could be the case. I just remember being pretty upset to discover that I was still seeing deleted messages in my search results. But you’re probably correct, I just found this in the Airmail FAQs:

        “The delete/backspace key is archiving a message, but I want it to delete the message. Can I change this? Yes. In Airmail 3 you can customise keyboard shortcuts under the Actions section of Preferences.”

      • Andrea Hübsch April 19, 2017 @ 9:15 am

        By default Backspace archives the email and CMD + Backspace moves the email to the Trash. From there you can manually empty the trash.

      • Jeff Starr

        On Mac the backspace key is named “Delete”, and is used to delete email in every other app I’ve tried.

      • Andrea Hübsch April 19, 2017 @ 9:35 am

        > On Mac the backspace key is named “Delete”

        Actually that is only the case for US Mac keyboards. Even the UK Mac keyboard does not have the word “Delete” on it, let alone other localised Mac keyboards.

        This thread shows a bit more info: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201794

      • Jeff Starr

        Wow that is really neat. Guess I should have researched international Apple keyboards before writing my post on email clients.

        The point remains that the delete (backspace) button actually deletes email in every other email app I’ve ever tried. Airmail does it differently, which is fine but potentially confusing to users.

  3. Ah yes, that is something different altogether!

    By default Backspace archives the email and CMD + Backspace moves the email to the Trash. From there you can manually empty the trash.

    I would like to suggest to change the article :)

  4. Carl Zetterberg April 20, 2017 @ 2:13 am

    I would recommend Newton Email – A minimalistic and simple yet powerful email client. ??

    • I’m not sure I understand, or like, the Newton Email privacy policy.

      https://newtonhq.com/k/privacypolicy

      Sender profile:

      We obtain and store information from our third-party partners about people that e-mail you. We will use this information to improve the service by showing you contextual cards about the senders.

      We then use the authorization provided to download your emails on the cloud and push to your devices. We use AWS servers to store your data: emails and authorization. Here is an overview of AWS’ security policies. Apart from that we take a number of security measures to ensure that your data is never read by anyone else.

      I dunno, I guess it’s no worse than putting your email with Google :)

      PGPFTW!

  5. I LOVE Spark Mail! I use it on two iOS devices and my Mac. It is just so far superior to anything else out there that I am quite willing to pay for it.

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