Despite all the new messaging services, project management tools, and chat-based ecosystems, email remains essential. Signing into iCloud (and email) is one of my first tasks when setting up a new Mac. Signing up for almost any service on the Internet requires an email address, so it’s a universal digital identifier. Even with the popularity of web-based services like Gmail, many still prefer a desktop app to pull in multiple email addresses, use desktop plugins, and have a more native Mac experience. So what’s the best email app for the Mac?
I got my first email account in the mid–90s (When it was still $2.95 per hour for AOL). I stuck with AOL until I got an @comcast.net account when my parents first got high-speed Internet. I switched to Mailblocks around 2002 (it was eventually acquired by AOL). I switched to Gmail in 2004 when it first launched, and I finally switched to Mac in 2005 when I got my first Mac (a Powerbook G4). I stuck with it during the disaster that was MobileMe and finally arrived at iCloud.
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Gmail for Mac
Before I look at the various email apps for Mac, I want to mention one other app. If you have a few Gmail accounts, and you are happy with the Gmail interface, check out Boxy. It’s a native macOS app for Gmail, and it supports G-Suite as well.
One of the things about my use of email that is most surprising is that I’ve gone in the reverse direction compared to how technology has moved. In the early days of email usage, I preferred using web-based mail, but as time went on, I preferred app-based email. I am bringing in multiple accounts into one app (personal iCloud and multiple G-Suite accounts), but another aspect is that I prefer native apps. I think a lot of it has to do with iOS, where native apps are the default. On the desktop, we’re moving everything to the web.
As much as I love iOS, If you told me that I had to pick between the Mac and iOS, I’d choose the Mac. When it comes to my “heavy lifting” type work, I can get it done much faster on my Mac. Like I said earlier, I am pulling in multiple email accounts into one app, so using webmail isn’t something I want to do. I want one app to use instead of four web apps. So if you are reading this article and are screaming about how much better Gmail’s web interface is – know that I am not looking at web-based solutions. So I want to answer the question: What’s the best email app for the Mac?
Apple will always be at a disadvantage in some ways when building apps because they have to develop for the masses. They are developing apps for the power user while also the computer novice. In a lot of ways, Apple Mail doesn’t seem to be a lot different than it did when I first used it under OS X Tiger.
From 40,000 feet, Apple Mail does precisely what you’d ask of it. You add your mailboxes, and it builds a traditional-looking mail app (with a universal inbox), it supports all the primary services (iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Exchange, etc.), and generally works well.
My biggest issue with Apple Mail is that it doesn’t do anything to drive the concept of email forward. It primarily works the same as it did a decade ago. It’s only added a few new features like Mail Drop (a feature where you can send large attachments using iCloud), mark up on attachments, and VIP support.
On the flip side, if you want the traditional Apple experience, you’ll love it, but it’s mostly lagged behind a lot of the other apps concerning new features. If you do want to extend Apple Mail further, be sure to check out plugins like Mailbutler and Mail Act-On. The downside is that these run locally, so if your Mac is offline, they won’t work.
Overall, Apple’s Mail app is fine, but I am hopeful the company begins to add new features to help drive the future forward of Mac email apps.
When I did my review of best email apps for iPhone, I praised Outlook.
If you want to find an app that feels like Apple Mail+, Outlook is it. It includes a smart inbox (sort between essential emails and non-important ones). It contains customizable swipes (delete, archive, etc.). You can also snooze 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.
Unfortunately, Outlook on the Mac hasn’t been given the same treatment. It feels like a completely different app. Microsoft has said they are overhauling it to make it more like the iOS apps, but we’ve not seen that yet. It still feels like a Mac version of Outlook for Windows. If you are a business user using Microsoft 365, and heavily tied to the Microsoft ecosystem, you’ll probably love it. Everyone else should look elsewhere.
It’s not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with Outlook. It’s just that, like Apple Mail, it feels stagnant. It’s the same tried and true app that they had years ago with a prettier design. If it can act more like the iOS version, it would be a strong contender thanks to the robust ecosystem it would bring along with Word, Powerpoint, and Excel.
Spike is one of the most unique takes I’ve seen on email in many years. It takes a cue from apps like iMessage and Facebook Messenger, and it brings that same look to email. So many of my emails are short messages (think Slack style), and Spike builds a design that helps make you more efficient. It strips away things like headers, signatures, etc., and helps you focus on just the content. It also includes a priority inbox to help keep your inbox with just the important stuff, so you can get right to work.
Another unique aspect is the Groups feature that Spike offers. You can create groups for work departments, sports teams, etc. There is no need to download another app for messaging. Groups is a collaborative tool for businesses that keeps people together and everyone on the same page. Simply choose the type of group you want to create, give it a great name, and invite everyone who needs to be a part of the discussion. You don’t need separate instant messenger apps for quick communications, and you don’t need complicated collaboration platforms to share files.
Spike has the option to add notes and tasks to its email inbox. With Spike’s notes functions, you get what you’d expect from a 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 in terms of project management, but it’s perfect if you use a simple to-do list or are a heavy Apple Reminders user.
Spike just recently added voice messaging inside the app, so if you want to send someone a quick comment about a draft document or mockup, but want to avoid another Zoom meeting, you can record a message and send it inside the app. I’ve been Apple’s voice memos app for this previously, so it’s nice to have it integrated into the app. It sends a native audio file, so even non-Spike users can listen to it.
One final feature that is extremely well done is the Priority Inbox. I get a lot of emails that I didn’t ask for (PR pitches, random newsletters, etc). Spike automatically moves them into an “Other Inbox” to keep my main one clean. My main complaint about the app is that it’s based on Electron rather than a native Mac, but it’s super fast.
Spark is from the team at Readdle that makes PDF Expert and other really amazing apps for iOS and macOS. Their tagline is “Love your email again.” 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.
The great thing about Spark for Mac is that it brings over many great features from the iOS version. The app 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.). One of my favorite features of Spark is swiping on an email to send it to Todoist, and then in Todoist, it has a link back to the original email.
The send later feature is one I’d love to see come to Apple Mail. I want to be able to process my inbox on the weekends, but not clutter other people’s inboxes up while they aren’t at work. It also includes a built-in calendar that supports iCloud, Gmail, 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. This add-on turns Spark into a platform as much as it does an email app. When Spark initially launched, I questioned how it could remain in operation with no business model, but I now clearly understand how it plans to grow. If you’re interested in a team’s plan, but Spark doesn’t work for you, PolyMail is a similar product.
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 in a CRM, etc.).
Hey launched in the summer of 2020 to much fanfare. 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 is 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 newsletters, 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.
I didn’t like their actual app, though. It felt like I was running a web app inside of an app window that somehow wasn’t as easy to use as an Electron-based app. It’s hard to explain, but I struggled to get through my emails like I would using other apps. I wanted to love using it, but I felt like I was running through my inbox with wet shoes.
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.
AirMail has been around for many years, and it’s one of the most common third-party mail apps that I see mentioned on the Internet. AirMail supports all the major email accounts like iCloud, Exchange, Outlook, Google, Yahoo, IMAP, etc.
AirMail features an extensive list of apps you can integrate. The list includes Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Box, Trello, Asana, Omnifocus, Google Tasks, Evernote, Todoist, Drafts, Deliveries, Things, and many more. AirMail supports snoozing an email to another date/time, as Spark does. 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 available actions for messages are too long to list. With AirMail, almost everything is customizable. If you want an email app with a lot of knobs to tinker with, AirMail will fit in with your workflow.
One feature that AirMail offers that I’ve not seen any other macOS email app include is a Google Apps/G-Suite Directory lookup. This feature allows you to look up email addresses in your global G-Suite directory that you don’t have in your contacts list.
My main complaint with AirMail is that it lacks the polish of Apple Mail and Spark. It’s a great app, but it’s never been able to win me over for day-to-day usage. It’s definitely near the top, but it’s not the best email app for the Mac.
AirMail is a free download on the Mac App Store, and there is an option for a Pro upgrade subscription.
Post Box is one of the apps I hadn’t heard of before I started doing my research on this topic. At first glance, it is nice looking, and it seems a lot like a prettier Apple Mail. It claims to be an email app for power users, but I fail to see what it does that Spark or AirMail isn’t doing. Post Box does have many third-party integrations, but so do many of the other apps. One of its most powerful features is the search function, though.
Post Box lacks essential features like Snooze and Send Later. Its most unique feature is Account Groups. This feature allows you to combine multiple accounts (example: all of your personal accounts) into one unified inbox that keeps your work separate.
You can buy Post Box for $40, and there is a 30-day free trial available.
MailMate is most known for its extensive keyboard control, Markdown email composition, and advanced search conditions. It’s not the prettiest app, and it doesn’t have the most overall features. It really could be called the Plain Text Mail App. I find it hard to recommend for novice users or for someone who wants features that Spark and AirMail are known for, but if MailMate interests you, it’s probably the only app that will satisfy you. It has a unique set of features that aren’t for everyone, but it will interest a specific user group. I wouldn’t be able to say it’s the best email app for the Mac, though.
MailMate is $49.99, and there is a free trial available.
Twobird is the same team behind Notability, is a really nice email app for people who use Gmail or Outlook. Twobird brings a lot of similar ideas around viewing email as a conversational chat-like experience. With Twobird’s calendar integration, you have another reason to stay inside a single application. What’s interesting with this trend of email applications integrating a calendar is that it is a callback to Outlook on the Mac and PC which is an all-in-one communication and productivity suite. Apple always was unique in keeping email and calendar separate, but the trend currently is to bundle all essential communications and appointments into a single application.
If you’re a Gmail or Outlook user, Twobird brings a lot of nice things to the table for a focused email application. It combines email, notes, tasks, and calendar into a single application, so you’re able to avoid switching contexts constantly throughout your day. With the calendar addition, you can scroll through your calendar to get an overview of your upcoming events and reminders for the week. The general idea is that all of your notes, reminders, calendar events, and emails are all in a single place.
Since my personal email is on iCloud, I’ve not be able to use it for everything, but it’s an app I have my eye on in the future.
Wrap up best email app for the Mac
Deciding on the best email app for Mac is a difficult decision because people manage and use their email differently. If you’re wanting a similar experience to Apple Mail, but wanting more advanced features, then you’ll want to check out Spark. It’s a well-designed app with a lot of features worth trying. Spark’s teams features are particularly well done.
Personally, I’ve bounced around email apps for years on macOS without finding anything I could stick with, but since the beginning of 2020, I’ve been using Spike as my go-to email app. I wrote an in-depth article explaining why Spike finally clicked for me. To sum it up, I love the conversational format it brings to email, built-in notes, and tasks in my inbox. Spike is free for personal accounts, and there is a premium upgrade for business accounts that includes more file storage, longer search history, more notes, etc.
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