Managing email on OS X has always been about finding the lesser of many evils. I have too many email addresses to use webmail efficiently, but I’ve never been happy with any email program on the Mac. That finally changed, thanks to OS X Lion.


Managing email on OS X has always been about finding the lesser of many evils. I have too many email addresses to use webmail efficiently, but I’ve never been happy with any email program on the Mac. Frankly, I end up bypassing it altogether and answering emails on my iPad. Luckily, the updated version of Mail that ships with Lion brings a lot of that iPad goodness to the desktop.

A full-screen world

While it may seem a largely cosmetic feature, in Lion, full-screen apps are assigned their own space and get pinned to the top of the screen when you access Mission Control. You can access Mission Control to see all your spaces by swiping up with three fingers. You can also swipe from space to space by swiping to the left or right with three or four fingers. Depending on how you’ve assigned your spaces in Mission Control, it may be quicker to access other apps than cmd-tabbing. One downside, though, is that multiple apps running in full screen can’t occupy the same space. The biggest downside to full screen is losing the ability to drag a file from the Finder to a mail message as an attachment. Naturally, if I kick it out of full screen I can drag attachments in just fine, so it isn’t a huge problem.


If you’ve grown to like Gmail or Outlook’s message-threading features, you’ll also like how it works in Mail. If there’s a conversation, you’ll see the latest mail message in your Inbox and a counter in the lower-right corner of the preview telling you how many messages are in this conversation.

Each conversation looks like the above screenshot. While you can’t make the page graphic (message boxes with a raised, shadowed appearance) go away — setting “show classic view” in Preferences only changes how the Inbox list looks, not the conversation messages — I quite like the look.

Better searches

Apple advertises searches as being better: Simply type in anything you can remember and you should stand a better chance of finding what you’re looking for. Using a slew of search phrases I had great results. The only time it got stymied is when I searched “word attachment.” It can search for messages that have attachments, just not apparently the app attached to it. I couldn’t find an easy way to search all of my mailboxes at once; the best I could do is all of the Inboxes, which doesn’t do me any good if the mail message is my All Mail Gmail folder. For that, I found creating a Smart Mailbox was the best way to search everything thoroughly.

Cosmetic touch-ups

There are a few cosmetic items that are welcome additions. One is the ability to hide frequently quoted text, so you don’t get long email messages that also contain the previous 10 emails in the chain. You can also see the first two lines of the email in the message list, too. There’s a new Favorites bar that lets you pin frequently used folders to the top of the screen and displays the unread-messages count. Heavy folders and rules users should appreciate this.

Final thoughts

Mail in OS X Lion gets a much-needed upgrade. Mail was one of the Lion changes I was looking forward to, and it hasn’t disappointed me. I haven’t run into any of the problems I’ve encountered with previous versions (endlessly updating Inboxes, messages that refuse to be marked as read, messages that refuse to be sent, SMTP servers that refuse to be remembered). If, like me, you’re a heavy user of OS X Mail, I think you’ll like this new version.

  1. chris giammona Monday, July 25, 2011

    One thing that you did not mention is how well the new mail app integrates with gmail – e.g. labels, since this was called an in-depth review.

  2. Actually you could drag files from finder to full screen apps though not convenient.
    Tap the files, drag a little bit, then with you other hand, go to the space you want by using ctrl+arrow (left or right), find the space than drop.

  3. This seems a little brief to be considered “in-depth”. A few paragraphs? How about the improved account management? How about rules, have they been improved? Does the new mail make working with large quantities of mail easier? How does it interact with IMAP accounts such as GMail (i.e. archiving messages). I’ve heard some people having problems with POP accounts, did you encounter any of those problems? How is overall stability and performace? Does it use more or less memory than previous iterations?

    Been a little disappointed with the overall decline in quality of writing on TAB over the last year.

    1. I haven’t used POP in years. Archiving seems to be about the same. It’s hard to say about large quantities of mail. While I tend to get a lot of email, it’s mostly auto generated and usually gets deleted (Twitter replies, etc.).

      Stability is fine. No crashes. I had one random instance where adding an attachment had a delay, but Spotlight might have been indexing.

      Not looking into Rules was my bad. I’m so used to wanting to set them on the server-side I didn’t think of checking out the new rules.

  4. Until they support Gmail-compatible message labels or tags, Mail and its siblings such as Windows Mail and Outlook shall unfortunately remain anachronisms left over from an era in which office productivity was inhibited by burdensome and highly redundant paper-based file cabinets.

  5. wow. worst article ever. this is not in-depth at all. screenshots showing the new features would actually make this article a little bit more useful.

    1. I wrestled with the screenshot idea, but I just wasn’t comfortable with displaying my “real” e-mail messages, sorry.

  6. Your opening paragraph makes no sense at all to me. When it comes to email programs, the iPad’s has to be one of the most limited I have used. It lacks a decent way to manage folders, has no filters, and you cannot communicate between pop and imap servers. I have use many different mail applications on both Mac and Windows, and for a reasonable balance of simplicity and power the Apple Mail program cannot be beat. I have no tried the new version because I am holding off Lion until the Applications I use have been updated, so I am referring to Mail 4.5

    1. At some point when I was writing this, that line said “triage” for e-mails. I don’t have a problem with IMAP on the iPad. What appealed to me on the iPad was conversations.

  7. Great article. I’m also a heavy user of the OS X mail and love the new version. Your tip on the new Favorites bar was helpful.

  8. Richard Hyde Monday, July 25, 2011

    My favourite feature in the Mail App is the ability to archive emails. I used to manually drag the emails to an archive folder but now I can right click on an email and choose “Archive” to achieve the same thing.

    You an add an “Archive” button to the toolbar by right-clicking on the tool bar and choosing the customise option.

    1. This may sound somewhat dumb but I’m yet to full understand what archiving your mail is all about. My assumption is that, mail you want to keep to reference some time in the future can be archived, but does that mean it is stored and compressed somewhere else? What are the main benefits of archiving and when you do archive by want to retrieve something, is it easy to find what you are looking for? I’d really value yours or someone else’s opinion on this – thanks

  9. this is not in-depth! The title is MISLEADING and is just an attention grabber!

  10. I deleted Mail in Snow Leopard….if I upgrade to Lion will it be installed again?

    1. Yes it will.


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