How to Enable the Message Preview Pane in Gmail

Open emails in split screen with a reading pane.

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Gmail has a built-in option called Preview Pane that might make it easier for you to read messages. This feature splits the screen into two pieces so that you can read emails on one half and browse for messages on the other.

This reading pane feature is really easy to use. You can choose to put the preview pane on the right side of your emails so that you can view the message and email folder side by side, or you can choose the other option that puts the pane just below the message.

Switching between the different reading panes is a breeze, but before you get started, you have to enable Preview Pane in Gmail (it's disabled by default).

How to Enable Preview Pane in Gmail Labs

You can turn on the Preview Pane option in Gmail through the Labs section of the settings.

  1. Click or tap the gear button on the top right-hand side of Gmail.

  2. Select Settings from the menu that appears.

  3. Go to the Labs section.

  4. Enter preview in the text field next to Search for a lab.

  5. Select the bubble next to Enable to the right of the Preview Pane lab.

  6. Use the Save Changes button at the bottom to turn on Preview Pane. You'll immediately be taken back to the Inbox folder.

You'll know the lab was enabled if you see a new button appear at the top of Gmail, right next to the settings gear button from Step 1. 

How to Add a Preview Pane to Gmail

Now that the reading pane lab is turned on and accessible, it's time to actually put it to use.

  1. Click or tap the down arrow next to the new Toggle split pane mode button (the one that was enabled at Step 6 above).

  2. Choose one of these two options to instantly enable the reading pane:

    • Vertical Split: Positions the preview pane to the right of the email.
    • Horizontal Split: Positions the preview pane below the email, on the bottom half of the screen.
  3. You should have a working preview pane.

Open any email from any folder. Preview Pane works with all types of messages.

Tips on Using the Preview Pane in Gmail

The Vertical Split option is preferred for widescreen displays since it separates the email and the preview pane so that they're side-by-side, giving lots of room to read the message but still browse through your emails. If you have a traditional monitor that's more square, you might prefer using Horizontal Split so that Preview Pane isn't truncated.

After you've enabled either split-screen mode, if you put the mouse cursor directly onto the line that separates the preview pane and list of emails, you'll find that you can move that line left and right or up and down (depending on the preview mode you're in). This lets you adjust how much of the screen you want to use for reading the email and how much should be reserved for viewing the email folder.

There's also a No Split option that you can choose along with the vertical or horizontal split. What this does is temporarily disables Preview Pane so that you use Gmail normally. If you choose this option, it will not uninstall the lab but instead just turn off the split mode you're using.

You can press the Toggle split pane mode button (not the arrow next to it) to immediately switch between the preview mode you're in and the No Split option. For example, if you're currently reading emails with Horizontal Split turned on, and you press this button, the preview pane will disappear; you can press it again to immediately return to the horizontal mode. The same is true if you're using the vertical mode.

Along these same lines is the option to switch between the vertical and horizontal pane while you're reading emails. You don't have to disable, reinstall, or refresh the Preview Pane lab to do this. Just use the arrow next to the Toggle split pane mode button to choose the other orientation.

Something to realize about switching the reading pane position while an email is open is that it will "reset" the reading pane. In other words, the email will be marked as read and the preview pane will say No conversations selected. You have to reopen the message if you want to read that same email in the new orientation.