Do More With Mail (Part 3) - Sparrow

7/21/2012 4:29:19 PM


Sparrow was a hit when it first appeared on OS X. It started life as a Gmai front end, wrapping up Google’s email service in a minimal interface, but is now a fully fledged mail client supporting POP and IMAP too. Apple’s own Mail stole its thunder in OS X Lion with the collapsing message view that lets you shrink the app down to a Sparrow-esquelist of headers and senders, and this is precisely the view adopted in the iOS edition.

Description: Talk show Flick a conversation header and you can see each of the messages that it comprises
Talk show Flick a conversation header and you can see each of the messages that it comprises

It’s fully tooled up for gesture-based con­trol. Pulling down the message list by a single line reveals a search field; pulling further refreshes your inbox. Swiping the message list to the right uncovers your mailboxes, while dragging individual messages to the left exposes a Twitter-like menu within the message list for forwarding, starring, tagging, filing or deleting them.

Flicking up on the header of a conversa­tion reveals each of the messages that make it up, neatly stacked in boxes so you can switch between them, and each view has an overlaid action button to either compose a new message or file away what you’re currently reading. Finally, swiping on the inbox header switches between that, you starred items and your unread messages. After a few minutes of working with it, it all becomes highly intuitive, and it makes for much faster message navigation than you’ll ever manage in Mail.

Description: At aglance recipient addresses are coloured to show how they’ll be addressed
At aglance recipient addresses are coloured to show how they’ll be addressed

Tap the new message button and it’ll step you through the process of picking recipients from your address book, with green Cc and orange Bcc buttons beside each one. Tapping these will color the background of each con­tact as appropriate so you know at a glance how they’ll be addressed, and if you signed in to your Facebook account when setting up Sparrow then your recipients’ avatars will

There’s also an attachments button in the message composer, a feature conspicuous by its absence in Mail for iOS. This lets you choose images from your iPhone’s Photo Library or Photo Stream, but sadly not work files either from within other apps or stored oniCloud. Neither does it hook into DropBox or CloudApp like the desktop edition.

Gmail labels are carried across, complete with colors, if you’ve signed in to a Google- hosted account. They can be edited directly through the app to save you going back to your online inbox to tweak them. Further, if you have multiple Gmail accounts - perhaps one business account hosted on Google Apps and a personal account using regular Gmail - you can log in to both simultaneously and display all of their contents in a unified inbox, in much the same way that Mail can display all your messages in chronological order regardless of where they’re stored.

Sliding doors Swiping a message in the inbox reveals a shortcut management menu

Is Sparrow good enough to replace Mail on your home screen? Yes and no. In its favor, it’s a far more usable app. You can get around it more quickly and access your messages in shorter order. We love the gestures, which make Mail look clumsy and cumbersome by comparison.

However, it doesn’t yet support push email, which means you have to manually dive in and check for new messages (which could be a good thing in some peoples’ eyes, as it means you’re not being constantly bombarded by updates).

There are two reasons for this shortcom­ing. First, the maker wisely doesn’t want the responsibility for holding your login creden­tials on its servers so that it can poll your mail service on your behalf. Second, Apple rejected its use of an API that would enable it to make use of network events to wake up the iOS app when it detects new mail. Sparrow is pushing for Apple to reconsider this decision. If it does, it would be enough for us to consider the wholesale ditching of Mail in favor of Sparrow. As things stand, though, our recommendation comes with the aforementioned qualification.


Mug’s game If you’ve given Sparrow permission to access your Facebook account, it can pull down your contacts’ profile pictures

“Sparrow is a fully fledged email client, but doesn’t yet support push, so you have to manually check your messages”





App Store


Gesture-rich controls * Very fast


No push email... yet be displayed in the address bar when you start composing the message



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