In the past few months, the number of alternative iOS email apps has steadily increased, with Mailbox and Triage as the newest releases and others, like SquareOne Mail and Mochila Mail lining up on the horizon. However, with just one exception, all of these alternative iOS email clients are (or will be) available exclusively on the iPhone.
There is also another common element among all these new and upcoming email apps: They all try to help you better manage your email by turning it into a to-do list. I’ve already reviewed Mailbox in the past, which in my opinion overuses this approach.
So I was a bit dubious when I found out that Turbine for iPad, a great-looking email app for iPad (whose development I have followed for a few months) also used the to-do metaphor.
The email app has been available in the App Store ($2.99) for a few days now and, thankfully, besides missing a couple of features upon its release, it is a solid email client that already stands firmly on my iPad dock.
Let’s take a look what Turbine brings to the table in the alternative email app space.
Interface and Design
As you can see by the screenshots in this post, Turbine looks just gorgeous. It uses a two color scheme (with the occasional hint of green for unread messages) that complements its perfectly executed flat design, giving it a more minimal and overall better look than even apps on Windows phones and tablets, which are known for their flat design philosophy.
While the design sense and care placed into the app already puts it above most offerings for the iPad in the looks department, Turbine goes beyond mere appearances and also builds in simple gestures and smart interface choices that make using the app a pleasant experience. Case in point: Whenever you want to read an email in full screen, instead of the message taking the entire screen, the mailboxes and message list panels remain slightly visible letting you know that you can bring them back with a swipe.
Email as Tasks: Turbine’s Quick Priority List
As mentioned above, Turbine for iPad (along with almost every other newcomer to the email app race) uses the email as tasks metaphor. The approach is nothing new of course. In fact, it dates from years ago, with concepts like .Mail (still unreleased, sadly) among the most popular innovators in this area.
However, while the idea of emails as tasks is definitely attractive, I found that apps like Mailbox and other upcoming ones provide too many options and even worse, require different gestures to access them. This has made Mailbox for example, very popular among heavy email users, most of who have to deal with dozens or even hundreds of emails a day, but for the average person who only deals with a few messages or who has many of them but doesn’t want to handle them through several lists or reminders, this approach can be an overkill.
Turbine on the iPad takes care of this with a very smart and simple approach called Priorities. The idea is simple: On your email list, slide any message to the right to mark it as a priority. The further you swipe the message to the right, the higher the priority.
Messages you “prioritize” don’t leave your inbox to foreign folders or trigger any reminders. In fact, once prioritized, your messages don’t require any further action at all. Instead, they are just displayed with a subtle, but unmistakable red vertical bar beside them. The more important the message is, the more intense the color red of its bar. This allows you to quickly find messages that are important while you scroll through your inbox.
Now, let’s say you just want to see your “prioritized” emails. On the leftmost panel there is a section named Flow. There, you will find only prioritized emails, all sorted by relevance with the most important ones at the top.
Once you take action on a prioritized email, you can swipe the message on the message list again to mark it as done or tap on the checkmark (located under the subject line) on the main view to do the same. Likewise, you can also set a priority for any email while on this view, tapping on any of the three red priority circles.
All in all, I found using this approach a much friendlier experience and it even helped me get to the much sought-after “inbox zero” with relative ease.
Note: Priorities on messages are synced via iCloud, so you won’t lose them if you change your iPad or if you use more than one.
Common Features and Issues
As for the rest of the app, Turbine behaves as you would expect from any capable email app. Messages download fast and there is absolutely no lag when navigating through your email or through the app’s panels and settings. Turbine also supports both Gmail and IMAP accounts (up to five accounts), making it far more flexible than alternatives like Mailbox, which only support Gmail for now. Gmail folders are not yet supported though.
Not everything is roses and rainbows though. Being a 1.0 release, Turbine underperforms in a few areas, some of which you might consider essential depending on your usage. The first is attachments. Not all of these are handled as they should, and I found a couple of pps files that the app wouldn’t let me open. Gmail folders are also not supported at the moment. I barely use them, so I didn’t miss them at all, but it is not hard to see this can be a big issue for many.
The app also doesn’t offer Push Notifications, the importance of which is far more debatable. Apps like Mailbox offer it, but at the cost of having your email go through their servers. In the case of Turbine, like Sparrow and just about every other email app out there, not having push notifications means you will have to open the app to check for new email every time, but your messages will never leave your email provider’s servers, which is a plus for anyone concerned about their privacy.
Still, the developer mentions in the app’s description page that both better attachment handling and push notifications will be available at some point in the future.
Final Thoughts on Turbine
As I mentioned above, just the looks of the app would be enough to give it a try, especially since Apple’s own email app for iPad has offered so few fresh ideas in this department. However, Turbine’s unique and simple approach to the “email as tasks” metaphor makes it a must-try for anyone looking to better manage their email without being overwhelmed by options.
The app will also be available on the iPhone and on the Mac (the developer says there is still some time to go until we see those), which makes it even more attractive to own in the long run, although I hope nothing stalls development as is the case with so many promising applications.
So, if you are looking for a simple, yet fresh take on email on the iPad that offers something new and that looks just insanely good, give Turbine a try and you might find what you want.