Over the years I’ve used about every email application available to Apple’s Mac customers. All are deficient in some ways, a few are very good, but if I could I would take the best features from each and cobble them together into a single Mac, iPhone, and iPad email application that had only the features I want and use.
From Eudora to Thunderbird, from Outlook to Canary, I’ve trued them all. It’s not that I don’t like Apple’s built-in Mail application. It works. Most of the time. But it has problems, doesn’t handle multiple email accounts well (I have many), doesn’t sync well from device to device, and seems to be crash happy at times.
The two most recent email apps that caught my eye and usage are Spark and Airmail. I like both. I chose one to use.
Spark may have the best email interface ever and no email application synchronizes as well between Mac, iPhone, and iPad. To use it is to like it. Spark runs everywhere you need to be.
There’s not much customizability in Spark. It’s all IMAP and that’s fine with me. I haven’t used POP email in a decade. Spark has some security issues with email account data being kept on their servers, but that’s a minor issue. Your email– incoming and outgoing; especially if you have many email accounts– gets sent all over the place anyway.
Spark is free. But so was CloudMagic, which became Newton, which brought in a crazy expensive subscription model so I moved on. A free Spark on Mac, iPhone, and iPad means the other shoe will drop soon. Plus, there was no spam catcher and I collect more than my share of spam.
Airmail is a decent email app I tried a few times in recent years. It has improved steadily and recently became my go-to email app. Why?
Like Spark, Airmail’s interface is intuitive and usable without a manual for every device. It handles IMAP, but also MS Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo!, iCloud, and others. It also synchronizes accounts easily between devices (though you must add the password back in). Spark is more customizable, though, with more options for gestures and swipes and account colors, and one very big function that’s built in but not elsewhere on an email app I would use other than Apple’s Mail.
Spam. Or, rather, SpamSieve, which also works on Apple’s Mac Mail (but not on iPhone or iPad) is integrated into Airmail. That’s a deal breaker.
Airmail features the standard, must-have unified inbox, custom aliases, iCloud sync (which syncs accounts and many– but not all– preferences. Why it doesn’t sync signatures is a remarkable surprise.
There’s a quick reply function, offline ability, and messages can be moved from one mailbox to another. Airmail also routes mail so if you need complex organization, it’s there. Attachments can be stored on third party cloud services including Dropbox, GoogleDrive, Microsoft OneDrive, and others.
Airmail has multiple themes and colors galore; by account if you want. It handles plain text (my preferences; sorry, old school), HTML, rich text, and even Markdown, and many settings are custom per account. There’s a built-in send delay function but not a send later option. It uses the macOS and iOS Share feature to send messages to Fantastical, Reminders, Calendars, Things, and 2Do (I use all those) among others.
In other words, there is much to like including routing functions, fast search, and it’s easy on the eyes; not as cluttered as Mail, but looks and feels like Spark, though a bit more spartan (visually). For iPhone and iPad Airmail can be set to use Touch ID fingerprint reader for more security. The Mac version is affordable. The iOS version is half the price.
Caveats? Not many, but a few. Not all preference settings are by account. Signatures don’t sync over iCloud though other settings do. There’s no built-in Send Later feature (found in Newton and MailButler, but you pay by the month; forever). For whatever the reason, IMAP message counts do not sync up between Airmail on Mac, iPad, iPhone. They do on Mail and Spark. They’re close, but never the same.
Reviews are mixed on the Mac App Store and iOS App Store, but the positive reviews mirror my own experience. On all devices, Airmail has been stable, dependable, and I’ve been able to set up the few dozen email accounts I use regularly with ease. For me, the killer feature is integration with SpamSieve. That means my Mac captures all the spam, so iPhone and iPad go spam free.
Airmail and Spark as close in usability, but Airmail gets the nod thanks to more customizability, SpamSieve integration, and a modest price tag.