We deal with an unprecedented torrent of email every day, and many people are stuck with an ever-increasing ‘Unread’ count. There are a number of different email platforms available each with their own strengths and weaknesses, but we don’t always have a choice of where we want our email hosted. Work, school, fun, and even just changing your ISP can create a trail of new addresses, all of which need to be checked regularly. A good desktop email client such as Mailbird and eM Client can solve this problem by bringing all your email together into one simple interface – but out of all the choices out there, what’s best for you?
eM Client isn’t the most imaginative name for an email client, but this no-nonsense approach has helped craft a simple yet effective productivity tool. It’s easy to configure with excellent organizational features, and it integrates well with a range of calendar and task management systems. Delayed sending, contact groups, and on-the-fly translations round out this great client. Read our full review here.
Mailbird puts a bit more focus on style than eM client, but it’s also easy to configure and comes with a range of app integrations to create a dashboard of your most-used services (the Mailbird ‘nest’ as they sometimes call it). Mailbird offers a few features that eM Client doesn’t, but also leaves a few outs that would be extremely useful. Read our full review here.
1. Initial Setup
One of the things that make webmail services like Gmail so appealing is that they just work – there’s no hassle about remembering server addresses and port settings, all you need is your email address and password. Fortunately, modern desktop email clients have taken the hint and setting them up is usually just as simple as logging into a webmail account.
Mailbird’s setup process is quite simple and automatically recognizes a wide range of email hosts. Setting up my Godaddy hosted accounts was as simple as setting up my various Google accounts, and configuring any additional accounts you want to add for app integrations is as simple as logging into their website.
eM Client’s Automatic Setup function is just as simple, although it’s not quite as streamlined. This is partly because it gives you more options such as setting up CalDAV calendars and CardDAV contact lists that aren’t necessarily associated with email addresses. That being said, I’m not sure who the actual users of CardDAV are, but having extra options is always a good thing.
Winner: Tie, each with their own strengths. Both programs provide extremely simple automatic setup processes that make it easy to set up as many accounts as you want. eM Client does offer a bit of extra flexibility for adding Calendar and Chat accounts that aren’t associated with email accounts, but Mailbird’s process is faster.
2. User Interface
Both eM Client and Mailbird have simple, clean interfaces that minimize your distractions and help you stay focused on the task at hand. Both offer color customizations as well as a handy ‘Dark Mode’ feature which provides your eyes with a bit of relief. Both also offer custom color themes, but in Mailbird these only change the left menu and button colors instead of the complete overhaul offered by Dark Mode. eM Client’s themes are far more impactful, although I’m not sure if you really want to read your emails against a pink or powder-blue backdrop.
Mailbird has the virtue of simplicity on its side, and it has a tablet-oriented option that rotates for those of you working with tablet PCs. The interface simplicity can be a double-edged sword, however. It’s fine as long as you like one of the few preconfigured options that are available, but if you want to really customize things then you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Mailbird also has an advantage for Gmail users, as the keyboard shortcuts within the program are the same as you’d find in the web interface. They’re quite simple to use and don’t force you to hold down.
eM Client’s default interface is a bit more cluttered than Mailbird’s due to the fact that it frames your inbox on three sides, but there is a great deal more flexibility when it comes to the interface layout. The panes on the left and right are collapsible or hideable, and you can really drill down into the customization options from editing the buttons on your toolbars to adjusting the size of each folder on your inbox list.
Winner: eM Client. If you don’t want to bother adjusting the interface at all, the default options are fine in both programs, but eM Client offers far more flexibility for users who don’t mind digging into the details to find the perfect balance. Mailbird’s keyboard shortcuts are faster, but that doesn’t make up for the lack of customization options – and eM Client even lets you customize your shortcuts.
3. Organizational Tools
Perhaps the most useful feature of both programs is the ability to consolidate any number of inboxes into a single location. Gone are the days when you had to remember to make sure you check each of your 5+ different accounts, and instead you can focus on a single centralized hub for all your correspondence. However, bringing all those emails together in a single place makes it extremely important to have good organizational tools for sorting and searching through them.
Mailbird’s organizational tools are quite basic, only allowing you to move emails to different folders. That’s useful in and of itself, but there are no automatic sorting rules that you can set up, which forces you to label and copy/move each email individually by hand. You can set up message filters and folders within the original interface of your email accounts and Mailbird will follow them, but that really defeats the purpose of having a desktop email client to handle all your email.
eM Client also incorporates any existing folder structure and message filters associated with your account, but it also allows you to set up customizable message filters and folders within the program itself. These are a type of ‘Smart Folder’ called a ‘Search Folder’, and you can make them as general or as specific as you want.
The other important aspect of any good organizational system is the ability to search for a specific message, and this is where eM Client really shines. Over time, even the best automatic filters and smart folders will fill with messages, so being able to search through multiple criteria at once is essential.
Say you want to search for an email attachment from someone at the office, but you can’t remember who sent it. You’d search for the keywords you remember from the message body, but restrict the search results to only messages from your company’s domain name that also contain attachments. If you want to get really complex you can use the Advanced Search option, and there is a handy button to create a new smart Search Folder from the search criteria you outline.
By contrast, Mailbird’s search feature almost feels like an afterthought. It only allows you to search for simple text strings, without specifying what they refer to or where they appear in the message. So if you want to find a message with the same criteria as in the eM Client example above, you’re going to waste a lot more time scrolling and reading through your search results. Despite repeated requests from users in their own Knowledge Base going back several years, the Mailbird developers don’t seem too concerned with improving this aspect of the program.
Winner: eM Client. Mailbird’s hand-labeling system, lack of filter rules and extremely basic search may not matter to casual users who just want to combine their inboxes, but heavy email users will be frustrated. eM Client has great search features and configurable rules that pre-sort your messages, allowing it to separate emails according to your priorities without demanding your attention.
4. Task & Calendar Integrations
In addition to handling your inbox, both programs also offer the ability to manage your calendars and tasks, although they approach this in different ways.
eM Client connects with Google Calendar, iCloud and any calendar service that supports the CalDAV standard, and handles everything natively within the app. This means that you can create new events and tasks right from your mailbox, but you may not get all the functionality that you’re used to.
The only part of eM Client’s calendar management I don’t like is the way it handles Google’s automatic Reminders calendar (or rather, how it doesn’t). It should operate just like any other calendar associated with the account as it does in the web and app interface, but for some unexplained reason eM Client refuses to display it no matter what I try.
Mailbird uses their ‘add-on’ feature to create new tabs for any and all services you want to access from the app. I am not sure about the exact technical specifics, but it looks like this is simply a browser window without all the usual navigation buttons rather than a true integration. This makes for simple setup across a lot of supported services and gives you access to their full features, but also limits how they can be accessed while working in your inbox. If you want to create a new event based on an email invitation, you have to handle that manually, while a true integration would provide a quick interface between the two.
From what I have been able to find in my research, there isn’t any standardized format for managing tasks the way CalDAV works for calendars, which makes this feature a bit too localized for serious usage in my opinion. It may be fine if you only use one computer for everything, but who does that nowadays? 😉
Winner: Tie. eM Client offers good integration with Google, iCloud and generic CalDAV calendars, but is limited on the Tasks front. Mailbird doesn’t support CalDAV or iCloud, but offers a wide range of task management options through the add-on feature.
5. Bonus Features
In order to stand out from the competition, each email client has its own set of little bonus features that the developers have included. These can be hard to compare as they rarely match up, and these two programs have fairly different extras. While these are rarely the elements that make or break our final verdict, everyone has their own unique needs and there might be something you just can’t live without.
eM Client has a few excellent extra options when it comes to sending emails, such as delayed/scheduled sending and message groups, which works quite well with scheduling for making announcements to friends/family/coworkers. If you work in a sensitive industry such as finance, security or journalism, you’ll also appreciate the ability to encrypt all your messages with PGP.
For those of you with contacts who speak a variety of languages, it can be very helpful to have a translation service built into your email program. I don’t speak any other languages well enough to comment on how the quality of the eM translation service, but it’s a nice feature. Both programs do include support for in-program localization and spell-checking in most major languages, although only eM Client can handle the translation of the messages themselves.
Mailbird comes with a unique feature that may be familiar to Gmail users: the ability to’ Snooze’ any conversation thread. This is one of my favorite features, and I really wish that it was available in eM Client, but Mailbird has them beat on this one. We’ve all been stuck on those email chains that we should be a part of but still don’t need to obsessively check while we’re supposed to be focused on something else, and snooze makes it simple. Just choose how long you want to ignore the conversation for, and it disappears from your inbox until the time you’ve selected.
That’s not Mailbird’s only trick, although it might be the best one. They’ve also incorporated a speed reading function, which is a completely unique option that I’ve never seen in any other email client before. A quick shortcut key enables it, and the message window begins printing your message a single word at a time in the same place. Apparently, the biggest delay in reading times is caused by the simple act of having to move your eyes, so allowing you to read while focused on a single point can dramatically increase your reading speed. Unfortunately, it can’t be applied to entire conversation threads but only to individual messages, which seems like a real missed opportunity.
Winner: eM Client. While Mailbird’s features are interesting, they’re a bit less functional and a bit more gimmicky. eM Client’s support for translation and encryption is far more practical.
The Final Verdict
The Winner: eM Client.
If you’re a power user who wants to focus on working within your inbox, powerful search and organizational tools are going to be the deciding factor for you, and eM Client is going to be the best option for you. Even if you’re a casual user, you’ll be perfectly happy working with the default settings within eM Client, even if it’s a tiny bit less user-friendly than Mailbird. You may find your skillset growing as you become comfortable with the program, and you’ll discover just how useful it is to be able to customize everything.
If you use your inbox as part of a multi-platform ecosystem, constantly switching back and forth between task managers and other apps, then the Mailbird dashboard might save you a lot of time. However, the problems with organization and the lack of CalDAV support might be enough to cut your flight short. I like the ‘nest’ dashboard system that Mailbird offers, but the clumsy handling of multiple Google accounts and the lack of search and organizational tools are real productivity killers for me.
If I have to switch back to the Gmail web interface just to find an old email that I need, there isn’t much point in sticking with Mailbird. I’ve been holding out hope that the developers will finally incorporate this, but it doesn’t seem to be a priority for them.