I am primarily an Apple and Gmail user with some other email accounts with my own domains and Yahoo mail. But 90% of my time is within Gmail via the web, so the focus of these reviews and recommendations are from a Gmail centric life within Mac OS X, but native on the desktop vs. the web. Currently the three primary alternatives to the native Mail client in OS X for those that use Gmail is Mailplane, Sparrow and Postbox.
Going into this, my thinking was that they would all 3 be similar, and I could not have been more wrong. Each are distinct from the other and come at the solution from a different angle. So in no particular order:
Sparrow was an easy set-up, just asking for my Gmail credentials. A negative right off the bat is It asks for your Facebook login to integrate and pull profile pictures and only allows you to either do it, or say to do it later. It does not allow you to say “never ask again”. Really?
The look of the client is very Twitter-like and pleasing to the eye, both running full screen or not. I like how it manages the labels from Gmail, as I use them extensively. Unfortunately the app likes to always download images for every message and I could not find a way to turn that off, even though I have Gmail set up to not do so due to security. But the usability is simple, fun and unique that you will feel comfortable with if you use other social/Twitter client apps.
While downloading, be sure to click on Activities to watch what Sparrow is doing in the background. I liked that feature a lot. Maybe because I am a nerd.
Sparrow also integrates with Cloudapp so you send links instead of files which is nice if you use Cloudapp. It does have IMAP abilities for the paid version. The lite version will have ads, but the paid does not.and only costs $9.95, the cheapest of the three clients.
Postbox looks to be an updated version of a more traditional full featured email client. It does integrate directly with Gmail, but also adds the IMAP capabilities as well as Newsgroups and RSS feeds. It has integration not only with Facebook, but LinkedIn and Gravatar for your profile pictures. But unlike Sparrow, it was simple to select the “No Thanks” option.
It also integrates Social by allowing you to update your status on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It also had additional add-ons you can get from the Postbox website.
The interface is a familiar email client interface with a lot of options (choose between color or the Lion icons) and layouts. It has both a Mac and Windows client and is simple to understand, yet powerful enough to personalize for your workflow. If you currently use a traditional email client, you may want to check this one out and compare.
Also unlike Sparrow, it did not download images in my email messages which is important to me. The settings for controlling your email are very robust vs. the other clients in this review.
Mailplane is the third client and is basically the web-based Gmail with an additional Toolbar and extras. So it also has most all of the web-based features such as G-talk integration and the Google toolbar along the top to have access to your other Google services. It also does not download images since it seems to just be your web-based Gmail in an app.
It does hide the ads which may be the best feature vs. the actual web-based Gmail, but overall it seemed to just be a browser running Gmail with some extra add-ons.
So what is my recommendation? As much as I want to say Sparrow due to it’s interface and new way of using email, I am going to say Postbox due to the strong options and abilities it provides beyond the basics. However, if you want to do away with the more traditional email client, Sparrow would be a good choice.
After a couple of weeks of using all three, I have found myself wanting to use Sparrow only. I still have an issue with the security of not letting me get text only, but from a usability standpoint, it is handsdown the best.
I have heard from Sparrow support regarding the Facebook nag screen and there is no way to turn that off. So if you do not want to connect with Facebook, the nag screen will continue.