Email Client Wars: Airmail vs Spark

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Email; the bane of most business people. It is unproductive, it is at times valuable and other times a nuisance. Unfortunately it’s not going anywhere and we all need a tool to manage the volumes.

Apple Mail unfortunately does not quite hit the mark and many of us are in search of a email client that works for us as individuals with all the bells and whistles. I have been testing two clients Airmailby Bloop and Sparkby Readdle.

Both apps have been extensively reviewed by others and I’ll not go into that depth. What I will aim to show is the differences that are swaying me towards one app over the other in the fight for a place as my iOS email client.

Two articles are great for understanding both apps in details

“Airmail is the most powerful email app for iOS out there right now, treating iPhone and iPad users with the same respect and attention other developers would only show for their Mac apps.”

“For now, Spark continues to be one of the top email apps on iOS, with dozens of smart features and nice touches.”

User Interface

Spark is by far the more polished UI it looks great. It is not too cluttered and can be personalised with theme choices and the addition/removal of some features. The same UI crosses both iPhone and iPad.

Airmail unfortunately is a very bland vanilla looking interface. There are no themes to choose from and is quite stark. There are options that allow you to colour the various email accounts you have. This is then shown in the main screen down the left hand side as a small strip of colour . As with Spark the UI is similar across both iPad and iPhone.

Both UI’s have two similar features; firstly both are optimised for iOS 9 and a the iPad Pro which is a big plus in my world however both don’t allow the email on the iPad the fill the screen. Both UI’s divide the screen with 1/4 filled with the inbox and the 3/4 the email being viewed. In my opinion this should be an option to turn on or off as you please. Some emails like newsletters really benefit from utilising the whole screen for viewing.[1]

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Setup

Both apps are reasonably straight forward to set up. Once you accounts are created and configured[2] it take little time to get up and going. Spark has a neat Smart inbox feature that determines the type of email you are receiving and seperates them accordingly. Airmail has so configurable and has many configuration options. One of my favourite options is the Send to 2Do; this options sends the email to 2Do, opens 2Do at the task and also as a URL linking to the original email.

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General Use

Emailing should be straight forward and easy here both apps don’t disappoint. Following the theme of the app Airmail offers lots of formatting and other options on the email screen while Spark is more straight forward offering the basics. Again the interfaces are quite different with Spark being spartan with a dash of colour and Airmail being bland however full of options.

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and the winner is?

For me both apps offer something for everyone and are probably two of the best clients since the dearly departed Mailbox app. However for me Spark is the better client. It is refined and polished to near perfection. It also handles better with less little bugs getting in the way of everyday use. While not important to use, the look plays an important part in my opinion and Spark really is easy on the eyes particularly if you need to look at it 8 hours a day. Spark is my client of choice but try them both they are both solid apps.

Continued: Check out Part 2 of my battle with email

 


  1. It certainly better on my eyes too. It would remove the need to wear glasses in some instances  ↩
  2. Airmail struggled to setup a POP3 account correctly. Deleted items would remain on the other device. Sync didn’t appear to be the issue. Support has been prompt however no resolution  ↩

Review: Notebooks 8 by Alfons Schmid

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Over the last couple of months I have been reviewing my workflow to accomodate writing for my new blog, my business writing and documentation storage. Finding a single solution to create, annotate and store this documentation has become increasingly laborious.

Finding a solution among the many suitors is also difficult not to mention expensive. The list of options is at times overwhelming; 1Writer, Drafts 4, Ulysses and Editorial all fit the bill while having many pros and cons.

One app Notebooks 8 I am currently trialling has some interesting features that may hit the mark. Notebooks 8 provides a solution that meets some of my needs, from markdown writing through to PDF annotation. As described on the developers website;

With its unique combination of functions, Notebooks can replace multiple dedicated apps on your iPhone and iPad:
* Note Taker
* 1st Text Processor
* Markdown Composer
* HTML to Markdown Converter
* Task Manager and Reminder
* File Storage and Organizer
* Clipboard Manager
* PDF Converter
* PDF Reader
* eBook Creator

My needs are simple I need a place to write in markdown, a location to store and annotate PDF’s all synced and backed up through Dropbox. Interestingly Notebooks 8 works well in this regard.

The UI is a straight forward folder structure appropriately named books. It allows you the ability to organise your work into meaningful books that syncs to your Dropbox account

No matter whether you want to quickly put down a note or carefully craft a formatted document with styles and images, in Notebooks you can do both

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The layout and interface of Notebooks is clean and offers a number options to display your files. The left hand side of the screen shows the books. Also on this side you can have standalone documents and a power user feature of @contexts which shows you searches based on tags.
You can add and create multiple document types with the better options being markdown and plain text. Document types that can be stored and viewed are;

  • .doc (not displayed like they do in Word)
  • .md
  • .txt
  • .pdf
  • .png
  • voice memos
  • photos

PDF’s added to Notebooks can also be annotated with a toolbox of stock standard annotation tools. My only complaint with this app is its handwriting engine its pretty poor and hard to write anything legible. This makes it hard for me to move from my current PDF annotation app PDF expert.

Two of my favourite features are found in the way documents are viewed. Firstly PDF’s in landscape can be viewed as a book with two pages at a time with a really smooth page turning experience. The best feature of the two is the ability to view two documents from the app side by side. While only one app can be edited it is a really handy feature on the bigger iPad Pro. Something I havent tested as yet is the publish to ePub feature which sounds handy and could be another favourite feature down the track.

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Writing in notebooks is similar to most basic writing apps supporting markdown. Its isn’t as powerful as Drafts, Byword or Uylsses and requires an app like Workflows to publish or create further actions with the text. One little gripe when writing in Markdown I would really like to see some coloured syntax to help the eyes focus on my writing.

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Overall Notebooks 8 is a solid app from a repsonsive independant developer. There is much to like about this app and the sync to Dropbox make its a safe option. Given time and further development I can see it becoming an important part of my workflow. The app price alone makes it worth a try and the small in app purchase for PDF annotation worhtwhile if you want to help support the developer.

For now its staying on my home screen.