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Top 5 alternatives to Apple’s Mail app

Want to experiment with the apps you use on your Mac? Check out our guide to the best Mac App Store alternatives to Apple's very own Mail app.

Sparrow's inline replies in action

Chances are you’ve been using Mail since the day you bought your Mac. Much like Safari it’s become a mainstay of many an internet-savvy Mac user’s dock, and for good reason. Aside from being painless to set up, and even easier to tweak, like Apple say themselves, “it just works”. But what about those times when you get itchy feet? When Mail, in all its regimented Apple UI glory, just doesn’t quite cut it? What if you want to try something new? Then read on for our guide to the top five alternatives to Apple’s Mail app. Best of all, they’re conveniently situated in the Mac App Store!

1. Sparrow (£5.99, Mac App Store,
As one of the youngest contenders to offer themselves up against Apple’s mighty Mail, Sparrow certainly looks like it was designed with youthfulness in mind. Gone are the rigid UI elements that the business-y types love, and in are the soft edges, light textures, and subtle transitions that tip a hat to Tweetie and, in turn, Twitter for Mac. Much like Mail, set-up is a breeze, and if you’ve ever used Tweetie or Twitter for Mac before you’ll have no trouble in working your way around the interface. Sparrow has some formidable tricks up its sleeve including threaded conversations, a unified inbox, drag & drop attachments, to name but a few. I’ve tried it with GMail, but it works with all the main players in the webmail business, as well as IMAP too.

Sparrow's inline replies in action
Sparrow's inline replies in action

2. Postbox (£11.99, Mac App Store,
In comparison to Sparrow, Postbox has been around for a while and it’s certainly built up an impressive list of users. It’s not hard to see why either – despite looking dangerously similar to Mail, it’s jam-packed full of features that must’ve had Apple kicking themselves when they first took a peek. The ability to group certain inboxes together really caught our eye, especially if you’ve got a few personal email addresses and a couple of business ones, for example. It’s also riding the latest email management trends flaunting vertical thread pane views and threaded conversation views amongst its myriad of features. It’s certainly a str0ng contender for the email power users out there.

3. Mailplane (£14.99, Mac App Store,
Taking on the ‘do one thing and do it well’ mantra of software development, the Mailplane team have focussed their efforts solely on making GMail a breeze on your Mac. Taking Google’s take on email out of the browser and into its own dedicated window may well appeal to many of its users, and features such as Evernote intergration and easy switching between GMail accounts are certainly a bonus, but we can’t help but feel that Mailplane is a bit of a one-trick pony. If you’ve not got GMail chances are you wont be that interested. If you have though, it’s certainly worth checking out.

4. Mail Access 2007 (£4.99, Mac App Store,
In the same vein as Mailplane, Mail Access 2007 takes on the dreaded Outlook Web Access and does, in our opinion, an absolutely stellar job of prettifying it for the Mac. If you’ve ever used Outlook Web Access you’ll probably agree when we say that, at best, it’s not exactly easy on the eyes, and at worst, it’s just a bit user-friendly, fortunately Mail Access 2007 is the exact opposite. Boasting a beautifully clean interface and an offline mode, it’s the perfect antidote to the bad UI you’ve been forced to stare at for years. Did we mention they also have iPhone and iPad apps too? That one-trick pony caveat might apply again, but there’s certainly a huge market for Mail Access 2007 to take a bit of.

Mail Access 2007's clean UI is a hit
Mail Access 2007's clean UI is a hit

5. Thunderbird (Free,
As the open-source contender against Mail, Thunderbird has a lot of pedigree. Made by Mozilla (the fine folks who bought us Firefox, in case you didn’t know), it shares a lot of its features with its web browser brother. Tabbed emails, Smart Folders (haven’t we seen them somewhere before?), built-in Phishing protection and easy set-up wizard all make for a great open-source browser. The UI isn’t so great here, but if you’re looking for a free alternative to Mail, then Thunderbird should be at the top of your list.

So that’s our guide to the best alternatives to Mail, we cheated a little on the last one because you can’t actually get it in the Mac App Store, but the rest of them are all there. If you like the idea of finding great alternatives to Apple’s apps, make sure you pick up the next issue of the magazine, (Issue 97 – on the shelves on 28th July) we’ve got a great guide to enhancing iLife with alternative programs from the Mac App Store.