Email, like calendars, is something that is very personal. Over the years, email has morphed from a way to send electronic letters to turning into the digital hub of all we do online. Your Facebook account is tied to an email. Your Amazon account is tied to an email. Everything is tied to your email, so the app we choose matters. What’s the best email app for iPhone? Read on to find out.
An email account is also difficult to change. Once you have used it with multiple services, moving from it is like moving your physical address. I’ve seen this first hand when folks leave the school I work at. I usually give them a few days to tie everything up, but many of them have used it as a personal account for years despite my warnings not to, so it becomes a difficult transition.
Like Calendar apps, there are many email apps for iPhone. I’ve tried and used just about all of them over the years. One of the questions people often ask me is: what’s your favorite email app for iPhone?
I always say: it depends. I have my favorite, but it may not line up with the way you manage email or an app might have features you rely on that I don’t need. I’m going to show you my top email apps, and I’ll give you my pick at the end. If you don’t agree — that is perfectly okay. Let me know what you think in the comments.
One thing to keep in mind, I am looking at iPhone only. Some apps work better if you use their macOS counterpart, but I am just looking at the iPhone experience.
Table of contents
I’d dare to say that the Apple Mail email app is one of the most used email apps in the world today. It comes built into every iPhone, and it supports just about any account type you’d like. It’s easy to start new messages. It’s fast to do tasks like archive, delete, move to folders, etc. It’s easy to add attachments/photos to email. As far as traditional email clients go, it’s about the best you could ask for.
My concern is that a lot of other apps are innovating with email. Apple’s app covers the “stock” experience (sending, reading, etc.) very well, but it lacks snooze, quick replies, and other features that should be added. Apple Mail works great, but a lot of apps are rethinking email where Apple is settling for the standard-quo. I know it’s difficult to innovate when a lot of users want the basic experience, but it’s long past time for Apple to add power-user features to Apple Mail on iOS (and macOS).
If you are used to Outlook on PC or Mac, you’ll be surprised how much different Outlook on iOS is when you first launch it. It’s not the traditional Outlook, but a reimagining of what it should be. Microsoft bought Acompli back in 2014 and launched the original version in 2015. They’ve kept enhancing it since then.
If you want to find an app that feels like Apple Mail+, Outlook is it. It includes a smart inbox (sort between important emails and non-important ones). It contains customizable swipes (delete, archive, etc). You can also schedule messages to show back up in your inbox. This feature is useful if you want to make an email disappear until you are back at work, etc.
It includes a built-in Calendar (negating the need for a separate calendar app) that can pull in iCloud, Google, Exchange, Outlook, and Yahoo calendars. Because it integrates everything into a single app, you can easily share availability for meetings right inside the app.
It can also work with third-party apps such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Trello, and more.
Overall, Outlook is a really great iPhone email app. It’s free, works with all the major accounts you’ll have, and provides a lot of great features. Now that iOS 14 supports setting a new default email app, I see a lot of companies deploying Outlook to the company-owned iPhones if they are using Microsoft 365.
Spike email is one of the most unique takes I’ve seen on email in many years. It takes a cue from an app like iMessage or Facebook Messenger, and it brings that same look to email. So many of my emails are short messages (think Slack style), and Spike has built a design that helps you be more efficient. It strips away things like headers, signatures, etc., and help you focus on just the content. It also includes a priority inbox to help keep your inbox with the items you need to see vs cluttering it up with newsletters, receipts, etc.
Another unique aspect is the Groups feature that Spike offers its users. You can create groups for work departments, sports teams, etc. They’re similar to iMessage groups but work over email. In the Groups I have set up, it’s great to keep conversations about specific topics in one place so you don’t have to find old email threads.
Spike also recently added notes and tasks to its app. With Spike’s notes functions, you get a regular notes app, but it’s inside your email app where you can manage it with your email. You get all the features you’d want: rich text, links, comments, sharing/collaboration, and file sync (similar to how you can store files inside Apple Notes). Spike’s task function isn’t as fully featured as Things or Todoist in terms of project management, but it’s perfect if you use a simple to-do list or are a heavy Apple Reminders user.
One of the key things missing from the mobile version is a Send Later function. It’s available in the Mac version, so I assume it will come to mobile at some point. Spike is a free app on the App Store, and there are paid options for business users.
Airmail has been around for many years, and it’s one of the most common third-party mail apps that people mention. Airmail supports all the major email accounts like iCloud, Exchange, Outlook, Google, Yahoo, IMAP, etc. I originally tried Airmail when it was first released, and it has seen a constant stream of updates since then.
Airmail features an extensive list of apps to integrate with. The list includes Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Box, Trello, Asana, Omnifocus, Google Tasks, Evernote, Todoist, Drafts, Deliveries, Things, Calendar 5, and many more. Like Outlook, Airmail supports snoozing an email to another date/time. You can create a PDF from an email, mute/block senders, or create a to-do (Airmail offers a lightweight to-do list built-in). The action list of items you can take on a message is long.
Design-wise, Airmail has done a great job of staying with iOS design trends while keeping a unique style. It stands out from any other app you’ll use, and it’s overall pleasant to look at.
The last thing I want to say about Airmail is almost everything is customizable. If you want an email app with a lot of knobs to tinker with, Airmail is going to be a good fit. Airmail is a free app, and there is an upgrade option for Airmail Pro for $9.99/year or $2.99/month to unlock additional features.
Spark is one of the newcomers to the third-party email app market, but it has had constant enhancements since it was released. Their tagline is “Love your email again,” and it certainly does a great job of helping you take control of your inbox. It supports all the usual accounts like iCloud, Google, Yahoo, Exchange, Outlook, and IMAP.
Feature-wise, Spark includes a smart inbox to help organize your email into buckets like newsletters, pinned, new, seen, etc. It also includes the ability to snooze emails, send later, email follow up reminders, smart notifications, and tons of integrations with third-party apps (Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, etc.). You can also personalize the app to your heart’s content. Do you want a right swipe to delete and a left swipe to be pin? You can do that. Do you want a calendar button at the bottom? You can add that.
When Spark was initially released, I worried about the longevity of it due to the fact is was free. Over the years, we’ve seen many email apps released to be discontinued shortly after, so I am always curious about the business model of the various apps. Spark now has a teams plan that answers that question for me. By signing your organization up, you can collaborate on emails together, talk about replies privately (without having to forward things back and forth), and create permanent links to email messages (helpful for linking to a CRM, etc.). A basic version of Spark for Teams is free, but they have paid versions (monthly per-user fee) with extra file storage, enhanced link sharing, and team roles and control.
Edison Mail is a great email app for the iPhone. One of the features I’ll praise is how fast it is. It includes an Assistant feature to help you organize your mail automatically.
Get organized with categories. The app’s assistant will automatically categorize messages for you to make them easier to find. Like peanut butter and jelly, some things go together.
Edison has a lot of nice features that will appeal to many different users. It has your basic power-user features like snoozing and customizable swipe options. It does include the ability to set an Undo Time Window (3–15 seconds), so you can quickly get your emails back if you regret them. It supports all the usual accounts like iCloud, Google, Yahoo, Exchange, Outlook, and IMAP.
For a long time, I had concerns that Edison was completely free without a business model. Just recently, Edison launched Eidson Mail+ and their new OnMail email system that answers that question. OnMail has a lot of nice options if you are looking for a new email address.
Twobird is a relatively new email app from the team behind Notability that brings a lot of unique features not seen in a lot of other email apps. Like Spike, it removes as much as it can from email (introductions, signatures, etc) so you can focus on quickly reading and replying. It also includes collaborative notes and reminders inside your Inbox. In my testing, there was a lot to like about it. The major flaw is that it only works with Gmail and Microsoft, so you are out of luck on adding iCloud or your own IMAP account to the app. If you only use Gmail, you’ll want to check it out, though.
Twobird is a free app on the App Store.
Hey launched a few months ago to much excitement and discussion. From the same team that launched Basecamp, Hey is their love letter to email. Hey brings a lot of excellent features to its service, but the problem for a lot of people is that it’s tied to an email service. If you are looking for a new email address, and Hey’s features interest you, it might be worth checking out. For $99/year, you get some excellent features like read receipt blocking, email screening, reply later reminders, and a focus “imbox” that contains only essential items as it filters out other items into things to review later.
I spent some time using Hey as my primary email solution recently (forwarding all mail to it), and there is a lot to like about it, but there are also some things I struggled with in day-to-day usage.
I loved the screener functionality where when someone emailed me the first time, I got to pick what happened to the email. For things like Amazon receipt, they went into The Paper Trail. For the newsletter, I sent them to The Feed. I could also tell Hey that I don’t want to receive emails from this person, and Hey would handle it. All of these features were awesome and they worked as advertised.
Since Hey requires you to use their service, if you have a bunch of email accounts, you’ll have to forward them to your Hey service to having everything in the Hey ecosystem. If you have a business account, that is an obvious problem. Hey is offering Business Plans similar to Google Workspace, but it requires your entire company to switch to Hey.
If I had just a single personal email account, I might try to make Hey my primary solution, but for me, I just ended up with a lot of weird forwarding going on. What I wish would happen is that Basecamp would make Hey an email app that works with other accounts as a lot of what they’re doing could be done server-side or locally in the app.
Wrap-up on best email app for iPhone
At the end of all my trials, I’ve come up with these recommendations: If you like the experience of Apple Mail, but want some additional features, Check out Outlook or Spark. Both of the apps do a fantastic job of making email less miserable.
If you want to check out an email app that is rebuilt for 2021, I would check out Spike or Twobird. I’ve been using Spike as my email app of choice since earlier this year, and I really like how it works. I treat my inbox as a to-do list and Spike has helped me stay on top of an inbox that grows by the hour. I was equally impressed by Twobird, but until it adds support for my iCloud email, I can’t use it as my only email app.
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