Airmail, MailMate and Apple’s Mail

Back to Apple’s Mail

OS X comes and always came with Apple’s Mail app. And since I can think many folks are complaining about the shortcomings of this app. While I always thought this was exaggerated, I wasn’t enthusiastic about Mail either.

In more or less regular intervals I cancel my friendship with Mail and look for something better. And almost every time I find something. Some time ago it was MailMate, and very recently it was Airmail.

The strange thing however is, that my love with the other and “better” mail client was always of limited duration. With MailMate I stayed for maybe 8 or 10 months, with Airmail a couple of weeks. Currently I’m back and happy again with Apple’s Mail.

Why is this?

The mentioned alternative, “better” mail clients have their advantages, but: each of them has a critical shortcoming which is not present in Mail and that outweighs all its nice things. For me.


Good things:

  • You can fine-tune virtually anything IMAP related.
  • Highly customizable smart folders.
  • Very good Markdown integration.
  • Integrated tagging.
  • Very good conversation thread view/handling.
  • Almost mouse-free operation is possible.
  • Good message filing.
  • Good search.
  • Very actively developed, good mailing list.

Not so good things:

  • The GUI is not exactly a pleasure and sometimes confusing.


  • There is no option for multiline list preview. It may sound silly, but a mail list display with a 2-, 3- or 4-lines preview has turned out to be the only efficient way (for me) to get an overview of my mails in the inbox or any other mail box. A one-line list display with truncated sender and subject just doesn’t do the trick.


Good things:

  • “Nice” UI, though it has its weak spots.
  • Very good account setup.
  • Nice gimmicks like ToDo, Hide mail until later. I’m calling these “gimmicks” because I prefer to delegate this kind of task management functionality to a specialized app like Reminders or 2Do.
  • A nice iPhone version is available.
  • Flawless sync between Mac and iOS, including all account settings.
  • Good signatures and alias management.
  • Many theme options, including multiline previews, customizable account (and sender) icons.
  • Good conversation (thread) display.
  • Very good integration with services like DropBox, Box, etc. for quick and easy sharing of download links (instead of attachments).

Not so good things:

  • Though very appealing at first glance the GUI is somehow inharmonic. Hard to describe. Maybe too many colors, too many different sizes of elements. Overloaded.
  • While the thread view is good, it lacks an easy switch to view a thread uncollapsed. You have to go to the preferences for this.


  • No Spotlight. Airmail stores the mails locally in a database. This is certainly good performance-wise, but it cuts off Spotlight access. Spotlight is crucial on the Mac and this is a no-go for a mail client (especially for a mail client). If I do a Spotlight search on my Mac mails just have to be included.1

And Apple’s Mail?

Not so good things:

  • Smart folders are there, but with room for improvements.
  • Sometimes glitches when setting up a new account.
  • No accounts sync with the iOS version.
  • Sometimes it takes a lot of time until bugs get fixed. That’s Apple.

Good things:

  • Good and flexible thread view and handling.
  • Good “Connection Doctor”.
  • Possibility to remove attachments (local and on the server side!)2

Things that make me come back to Mail:

  • Clean interface with good multiline list display.
  • Spotlight and system integration.
  • Mail Drop.
  • The availability of very good plugins, first and foremost MailHub. This is an extremely useful and essential plugin that gives you the following:
    • Index-based filing/organizing of mails, including sent mails. Semi or full automatic. Unrivaled by any other mail client.
    • Auto-coloring messages.
    • Send later.
    • Integration with Apple’s Reminders.

I really don’t understand why none of the alternative mail client developers manages to reduplicate MailHub’s feature set. Other good —albeit not essential— plugins are the ones from indev.

So, for the next time I’ll be staying with Apple’s Mail and I’ll be fine.

MailMate is still in my Applications folder, and it’s possible that some time ahead I’ll start a new affair with it. MailMate is really good.

My enthusiasm for Airmail was overwhelming when I discovered it, but the disappointment was huge when I learned that it is not transparent to Spotlight.


  1. Some other apps show the same very bad habit to ignore Spotlight accessibility, for example the notes app “Notability”. If you have your mails and your notes outside Spotlight, it means you already have to do three individual searches instead of one if these apps would respect proper Spotlight integration.
  2. This was buggy and unusable for a long time but it is fixed now.