Big Mail is an interesting proposition; an email app for iOS and MacOS that “brings a fresh new look to your inbox, as well as an entirely new way of working with it.” Always a sucker for a new email app, I kept a close on their impending launch back in early 2021. British developer, Phillip Caudell, experienced a few issues with Apple’s App Store which delayed the launch a little. This only led to the anticipation of many potential users, desperate to try out Big Mail. I was one of them, and signed up as soon as I could.
The experience was not all plain sailing. A number of issues with the app, including a rogue blank dialogue pop up, plus sync problems, marred the experience somewhat. It was clear to me that Big Mail has great potential, but what was launched in May 2021 felt like a fairly rough beta. I stuck it out for a couple of months, and all credit to Caudell, updates came quick and fast. They were not enough to tempt me away from Superhuman, however, the email app which I struggle to tear myself away from.
In November, however, I decided to give Big Mail another go.
Here are a few thoughts on things I like, and things I don’t like about Big Mail:
Things I like about Big Mail:
- The Bouncer: when I tried Hey email, one of my favourite elements was the ability to decide who should be allowed to send me an email – or rather, whose messages should be allowed to make it into my inbox. Big Mail has adopted a similar feature. When a message arrives from a new sender, it is sent to “The Bouncer” where you can decide whether messages from this sender are allowed into your inbox. Click thumbs up and it Big Mail filters the message and places it into the right scene. Click thumbs down, and the message, and all future messages from this sender, disappear into the ether. Made the wrong decision? Just click on “Bouncer” in the menu and you can review every decision you have taken and change your mind.
- ‘The Latest’: The opening screen of the app is a good idea-all your latest emails (as the name suggests!) grouped for easy access, split into the various scenes. Initially this struck me as rather messy – I’d see, for example, all the latest newsletters to arrive right on the home page. I don’t want to see these every time I open my email app, though; I want them tucked away somewhere where I can access them as and when I want. That’s no problem though – the latest is highly customisable, so you can choose which scenes are allowed to display messages here. I customised mine to show only new messages from the Conversations and the Purchases scenes. Everything else is just a click away.
- Email sorting: I have developed a fairly complex system of filters and splits in Superhuman to sort my email into specific locations based on the type of message. Big Mail tries to sort incoming messages, and does this pretty well. At present messages are sorted into Conversations, Purchases, Newsletters, Notifications and Events. If a message lands in the wrong place, you can tell Big Mail to always deliver messages from a particular sender to a different location.
- Scenes: Once Big Mail has sorted messages, it places them into specific scenes, along the same sort of lines as Superhuman’s splits. Unlike Superhuman, Big Mail presents messages in each scene differently. Messages in the Conversations scene, for example, are presented similarly to how emails are presented in most apps. Notifications and Newsletters are treated rather differently. When opening one of these scenes, you’re presented with a row of big, colourful, message previews to scroll through. Below this, there’s a row of top senders, and beneath this, all messages from this scene presented more traditionally, in a vertical list. This presentation is great-it makes reading, or scanning through, messages much more pleasurable, and definitely has the edge over Superhuman.
- Customisable views: In each scene you can select from three different views – the bespoke Big Mail view with a carousel of large previews at the top (The Latest), then a horizontal display of Top Senders, then a list of all messages. Want something a bit more traditional? No problem – switch to a view with messages down the left hand side and a reading pane on the right (only on an iPad or Mac). Want your email old school? Switch to a good, old fashioned list view of all messages.
- Email presentation: this, for me, is undoubtedly the best feature of Big Mail. Emails look beautiful, particularly newsletters. In the Newsletters scene, emails display edge to edge on a phone, and with all the usual unnecessary elements removed-sender’s email address, reply options etc. On an iPad or Mac, they look even better.
Things I’m not so keen on:
- Inconsistent actions: Some actions are inconsistent across the app. For example, when displaying messages in the Conversations scene, swiping left deletes the message. In other scenes swiping left does, well, it does nothing.
- Deleting/archiving messages: This is all a bit confusing. When long-pressing a message in the Conversations theme, a menu is presented which gives lots of options, including to archive or trash a message. This is generally also the case when in other scenes too. But when doing the same action to an unread message in ‘The Latest’ at the top of each scene, only the option to archive OR trash is given, depending on what is chosen in the settings. When scrolling through messages, it is possible to archive or trash a message, but when this is done, there is no indication that anything has happened. The message stays in view. You’re not taken to the next message or back to the Scene. This seems odd; I would expect something to happen to show that an action has been taken. Interestingly if you try this on an iPad, it does switch back to the Scene view – but not on an iPhone.
- Sender Profiles: These work great in most scenes, but not in Conversations. Whilst I can click on the BBC News in the top senders list and get all the emails they’ve ever sent me grouped together conveniently in one place, I can’t see any way to do the same for emails from actual people. Why can’t I pull up all the emails from my wife, for example, or from my friend Ian?
- Swipe actions: I’ve already mentioned how these are inconsistent. Even when they’re present, they still fall short of what I would like. It would be great to be able to swipe left to delete and to swipe right to archive on every message, in every Scene. This would make dealing with email much faster.
- Inability to create custom scenes: It would be great to be able to build custom scenes and not rely on those built into the app. The developer says that these will be added in a future update, so fingers crossed!
- Bugs: whilst the app has improved considerably between May and November 2021 and is far less buggy, I’m still experiencing some glitches every now and again. I periodically still get a blank dialogue box pop up for some reason. The app still crashes too often, particularly on my iPad.
- Price: as a Superhuman super fan, this may seem unreasonable, but I feel the price point of Big Mail (£8.49 a month on a rolling subscription) is a little high. I have no objection paying a subscription – the developer has demonstrated that he is committed to constant development and improvement of the app, and does not make revenue by selling data (hurrah) but I would be happier with a price point of £4.99 a month.
I really like Big Mail. It is a fresh take on email that works well. It looks good and brings some new ideas to what has been a pretty stagnant field. Will I switch to Big Mail? Probably not, although I will continue using it for the remainder of the month I have paid for. I am, however, massively impressed with the ambition of the developer. The fact that there appears to be a single person (based in the UK no less) behind Big Mail is really impressive, and he deserves to get a large client base for this impressive app.
Big Mail offers a free seven day trial, and it is well worth giving it a go, even if you ultimately decide it’s not for you.