Postbox 1.0 review
Taking some ideas from successful webmail apps, Postbox is a power user's email client.
Review Date: 17 Sep 2009
Price when reviewed: (about £24.10)
Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull
Postbox is a new email client with big ambitions. Okay, it's not entirely new; large chunks of it are re-worked from Mozilla's open-source Thunderbird application, which is four years old now and still in widespread use.
It's more than just a re-package of its parent product, though. A lot of work has gone into re-imagining what an email client should do and how it should function. Some features and concepts are borrowed from web applications like Google Mail. The result is innovative and shows great potential.
Getting started is easy. If you already have an account at Google, Yahoo or a handful of other web mail services, you simply select a radio button and enter your password. There's none of that irritating messing about with Pop3 or SMTP server settings. Importing archives from Mail is also easy and relatively quick, even for many thousands of messages. Postbox takes a little longer to index them all for searching, though.
Alongside the traditional inbox and folders views, Postbox has a multitude of tabs and panels on show when it first starts. Perhaps too many for beginners, but email-dependent professionals will love all the different message sorting options on offer.
One clever new idea is the Topics HUD, which lets you assign arbitrary labels to messages. By selecting Search all folders in the Accounts pane, it's then possible to pull together a view of messages sharing topics across several different email accounts, an extremely useful organising feature.
There's more innovation when a message is selected or opened. The Inspector pane appears to one side of the compose window, with a web search box and a list of all the non-text elements of any threaded conversation. All the links, attached files and images mentioned in the thread are brought together and can be viewed without losing sight of the thread itself.
The value of all this begins to emerge after a few days' of use. Returning to a conversation thread that's a few days old, relevant files can be opened with the minimum of hunting around.
All this associated data is stored centrally and can be accessed from outside the message thread. While composing a new message, the Inspector is not shown by default. Instead, there are buttons to activate quick searches for files, images, links and more. Anything that's been mentioned or attached to any message in the past can be recalled from here with a search of the local database or the web. Even items that are associated with another email accounts can be located here.
Like Google Mail, Postbox helpfully displays messages in context with their replies, as conversations. Attaching a new file from your computer means using a separate Attach control. It would be nice if this was combined inside the Inspector too, but that's a minor issue.
Postbox copes well with multiple email accounts, although it lacks a built-in unified inbox. That said, and considering this is a 1.0 release, we were amazed at how few problems we encountered.
Apple's Mail application has not had any serious commercial competition for some time, and Postbox could well provide some. It's a heavyweight application for heavyweight email users, who are more likely to appreciate its complexity. If, however, you prefer things simpler, stick to Mail.
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