An in-depth look at Mail 5 in OS X Lion


Managing email on OS X (s aapl) 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 (s goog) or Outlook’s (s msft) 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.



This upgrade really is a giant leap forward for mail. So much so that I no long want to use Outlook on my Mac. One slightly annoying feature is when you are writing a mail in full screen mode which is how I always like mail to run, if you want to reference any email, in that I mean, cut and paste or read an earlier email, the only way you can in full screen mode is to go and save as draft and then close the email window you are writing, painfully annoying. However, if you don’t have it in full screen mode it allows you to. I think this needs to be fixed because in full screen it’s a proper pain to have to either save as draft or come out of full screen mode just to reference another email.

I still think outlook does a slightly better job at handling when you forward and email and use the text from the email you are forwarding as mail seems to get all messy with indents, fonts etc, which is a pain again. To use text from a message you are forwarding is still not clean. Overall, I love the new mail program.


My major problems have been in the area of features not working. Persistent loss of passwords and lack of consistency in following rules were major problems. Every few days a message would popup asking for a password. Checking accounts would reveal a blank where the password had been. The same with rules. work well for a while and then messages would start appearing in the wrong folders.
Until I am sure that that is fixed Mail is DOA.


Mail in Lion is still not as good as Mail on an iPad or iPhone when you need to access Exchange 2003.
On both of those devices access via IMAP is a single step process and Mail, Calendar and Contacts all work perfectly.
In Lion I can connect via IMAP for Mail but still have to mess around with alternative solutions such as DavMail to get iCal and Contacts to work.
This has been a long running problem and while the new Mail app “looks” nice, the connectivity of the other apps as a complete solution still sucks.
How hard could it possibly be to make this all work as easily as on an iPad or iPhone?


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


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

Richard Hyde

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.

David Leong

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

Apple Girl

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.


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

Mark Crump

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.


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.

Mark Crump

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

Michael A

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.


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.

Mark Crump

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.


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.

chris giammona

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.

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