Why I Switched Back to Gmail from Inbox

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Yeah, not so much.

When Google made Inbox available to everyone, I jumped at the chance to use it. I had put in for an invite, but never gotten one. (This was all the stranger when I had also applied on my wife’s behalf, and she had gotten one though we applied at the same time.)

Inbox was supposed to make email better. It was supposed to help you get to “Inbox Zero” which is the idea of finally clearing your inbox of all email, purportedly because you’d responded to everything and done all the things you were reminding yourself to do. I’ve gotten to inbox zero with all my inboxes in the past, but it’s not an easy thing to maintain. Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to maintain it, but it’s an ideal at which to aim.

The thing is, though I used it for several months, Inbox by Gmail is not easier. It did not make me more productive, and it did not bring me closer to the inbox zero goal. In fact, it seemed to make it much more difficult, and also raised my stress levels greatly whenever I went to check my mail.

I’m going to start this by saying that I have been using email now since at least 1993. Yes, that makes it more than two decades. I got my first email address during college, and have used email since the days of Mutt, ElM, and PiNE. There is fair reason to think that my email habits are fairly ingrained, and I would not argue that point.

That having been said, it’s also possible that that’s the case for almost everyone. It’s email. It’s done a certain way.

Here’s why I switched back.

  • There’s no way to mark messages as read/unread. This is actually quite annoying. The way I use email is that I have to attend to things that are unread. Sure, I can flag things, and use all the different follow-up flags and set dates and things like that, but the unread count serves as an easy, binary indication of whether I have things to do.
  • Done v. Delete. Inbox by Gmail gives you the option of choosing whether you want to delete things or mark them as “Done” (like archiving in Gmail) by default. While this is an improvement over the fact that they didn’t even do that at first, I want both buttons. Sometimes I want to delete, and sometimes I want to archive (ahem, “Mark Done”). It’s just a pain to have to choose awkwardly each time.
  • There are few counts anywhere. How many emails do I have? After you go above 25, wherever there are counts displayed it’s just “25+”. Well, that’s not really too helpful. I would like to know how many. How far am I from inbox zero? Also, the counts are only for their “bundles” like “Promotions” and don’t apply on the main screen.
  • Previews are nice but useless. In Inbox, you’ll get little previews (with pictures) of what your emails will look like. (This is most useful for Google Alerts.) The thing is that they’re not really that helpful. They take up screen real estate, don’t improve the reading experience (they often scroll off to the right), and force most of the things I wanted to see (like how many emails I had) down below the scroll limit.
  • The scroll limit. In order to go back further into time to see your previous emails, you have to scroll down, and keep scrolling down, and things are only loaded once you do this. “Out of sight out of mind” does not help you actually deal with things, it just hides them. This is a key problem I see with Inbox – hiding things equates to doing things, when that’s not really the case.
  • I had some emails miscategorised as spam. The spam categorisation is very aggressive, and has started marking legitimate emails (such as from Brian Krebs) as “containing potentially dangerous information”. (That’s not the exact language, but it’s fairly close.) Not only is this wrong, it’s annoying for the sender and the recipient. Additionally, other than pinning them to the inbox and then unpinning them, I could find no way to move them out of the spam folder. That operation does not actually remember your preferences either, and there was no way to mark a sender as safe.
  • Google has started acting parental and has started removing the actual links from messages that it deems unsafe. While I understand how this could be helpful to some, I’m an adult, I’m in cybersecurity as a career, and I should have the choice to enable my links if I want. Additionally, it leaves the text as the blue link colour, so they still look like links, making it very confusing at first.
  • No Norwegian. This is a very minor point, but I have my Gmail set to display in Norwegian. (I switched over once I started learning.) The option does not seem to exist for Inbox and did not carry over from Gmail.
  • It’s more difficult to attach files from Google Cloud to emails. I’m not sure why they would make it more difficult, but it’s much easier with Gmail.
  • Reminders. Inbox provides something called “Reminders” which allows you to create a reminder. It shows up in your Inbox inbox almost like an email but includes date and time information if you want it. It’s a combination appointment and inbox item. The only thing is, that since I still have to use Google Calendar anyway for many things, I can just as easily do this in calendar and email myself an invite. Since Calendar steals focus (semi-necessary but really SO annoying) whenever there’s a reminder, Inbox Reminders are largely redundant and don’t help you get to inbox zero any faster.
  • Finally, I’ve never actually gotten to inbox zero with Inbox. It significantly increased my street levels because I couldn’t even see how much needed doing. I could just see a constant flood of emails (which looked larger due to the previews at that!) which never seemed to end and I had no idea if it ever would. Since switching back to Gmail I can see quite clearly what lies ahead.

Do you prefer Gmail or Inbox? I’d be interested in hearing from people (preferably in the comments) who haven’t used email as long as I have. I’m interested to determine if it’s an ingrained thing or if it’s just because Inbox by Gmail takes a different approach that generally doesn’t work for people.

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