Review: Why Gmail Is Good and Bad

Is Gmail Still the King of Webmail?

Gmail: the King of Webmail?
Gmail webmail. Gmail

Is Gmail Still the King of Webmail?

I have used both Gmail and Hotmail since 2004 and 1997, respectively. I've transacted over 14,000 emails across both platforms, and accumulated over 7 GB of saved data between the 2 services. Until now, I've preferred Gmail for organizing and sending my voluminous messaging. I would go so far as to say Gmail has been the king of webmail services for the last several years for multiple reasons.

The question: is Gmail still the best free webmail service today? Let me offer you one person's answer in the form a pros and cons list below.

Gmail Pros: The Upsides of Gmail

1) Gmail 'stacks' and organizes conversations into threads. As you receive and send messages, the emails are automatically grouped according to the subject line, regardless of the age of the conversation. As someone replies to you, Gmail automatically brings up all previous related messages for your reference in a collapsible vertical thread. This conveniently reviews what has been discussed before, and spares you the effort of searching folders to see what you wrote 4 weeks ago. This feature is absolutely invaluable to organizers, team managers, public relations, professionals, and anyone who communicates with many people and needs to keep accurate tracking on the details of each conversation.

2) Gmail has very thorough malware and virus checking. This is also invaluable because it removes 99.9% of the risk that your computer will be infected.

Not only are file attachments saved on Google's Gmail servers, but Google constantly updates its anti-malware software to give you the most modern anti-virus protection possible. When a nasty payload does make it to your inbox, Gmail will send up a warning and immediately quarantine the offending payload to keep your personal computer clean.

Whether you are an email beginner or a computer expert, this malware protection will serve you well.

3) Gmail offers a one-stop portal for calendaring, file storage, photo hosting, Youtube, blogging, financial advice, and more. Because Google combines ('federates') all of its main services into your Gmail navigation bar, it is very easy to go about your computing day from a single interface. Book your appointments, upload your files for sharing, read the latest news from the Olympics, see the lates YouTube memes, find a restaurant, and surf the web... all from the bar at the top of your Gmail window.

4) 10+ GB of email storage space. 10 gigabytes is 5 times more space than most people need, but it's comforting to know that there is no pressing need to delete anything. If you are a packrat mentality and like to hang onto emails 'just because', then Gmail is an excellent choice. If you are a clean freak, then consider tagging and archiving your read emails so they vanish from your inbox, but relish that there is no urgency to delete.

5) 25MB per email capacity. Yes, if you want to send 25 megabytes of file attachments to a friend, Gmail will support that. While many people's inboxes won't take more than 5 megabytes, another Gmailer can.

Most people will never use this capacity, but it's good to have for when you return from that trip to Europe, and you have a boatload of photos you want to send. Yes, using file storage services online are probably more convenient in the long run, but for those rare instances where a big send is necessary, Gmail is a good choice.

6) Really good uptime. 'Uptime' is how many days per year that the service is working properly. In the case of Gmail, I have only seen 2 server crashes in 8 years, and both crashes lasted less than an hour. For a service that charges me 0 dollars, I cannot complain.

7) Composing a new email has many rich text features. 'Rich text' is about having the full ability to use stylish fonts, colors, indents, bullets, hyperlinks, emoticons, and the pasting of photos directly into a message. Gmail offers all of this, and its functionality is 8/10 strong. On some occasions, I find that the copy-pasting doesn't quite preserve font and paragraph formats, but it is still very possible to make your emails look like a beautiful and professional documents.

8) POP3 and combining multiple emailboxes into your Gmail. Gmail will connect to your other Exchange and online emailboxes and combine them in your Gmail inbox. Conversely, Gmail lets you send email with the identity of your other accounts. This is invaluable to people who use Outlook at work, or who use different email addresses. Many power users choose to use Gmail instead of MS Outlook as a way to protect themselves from viruses and malware, but still access their work messages. Good work on this, Gmail! 9/10

9) Keystroke shortcuts. If you are a hardcore typist, then you can enable keystrokes to speed up your messaging. Press 'c' to compose a new email, press 'e' to archive a message, press 'm' to banish the conversation from your inbox, and more. For those people who do use Gmail shortcuts, this feature is both confidence-inspiring and very convenient.

10) Spam handling is excellent. Gmail does a very good job of scanning your incoming emails and identifying unsolicited email by patterns. This is the power of Google at work, folks. The annoying offers for cheap pharmaceuticals are kept to a minimum, and quarantined quite conveniently in your spam folder. Good on you for the powerful anti-spam, Gmail!

11) The Power of Google. Yes, when you come from a family as powerful and wealthy as Google, you're going to have the backing of hundreds of fulltime employees and a powerful brand that people trust. This means: the Gmail service gets fulltime maintenance attention, the clout of a respected domain name, and the lateral benefits of YouTube, GoogleDrive, Flickr, Google+, and Google Maps. It's nice when Gmail is respected enough that you can use it as a business email address without stigma. It's also nice when you have so many related services at your fingertips.

12) The Speed of Google. Gmail delivers messages very quickly. VERY. While the competition of Yahoo! and GMX will take 30 seconds to 5 minutes to actually post your messages to the recipients, Gmail delivers its goods within 10 seconds of you pressing send. Thanks to the expensive and widespread network of Google servers around the world, Gmail users can benefit from near-instantaneous sending.

Next Page: The Shortcomings of Gmail...

Gmail Cons: The Downsides of Gmail

1) Composing reply messages uses a small screen. Unlike the brand-new message screen, Gmail displays advertising to the right side of the reply screen, which cuts into your available reply viewing space significantly. Just like being forced to work on a small desk, this narrow screen space is frustrating for people who value the quality of their writing.

2) Google advertising is tiresome. Because Gmail does offer its service for free, targeted text ads appear on the right side of the screen whenever you read or reply to an email. While they are not blinking pictures (thankfully), these text advertisements do sour the flavor of daily email. Gmail users learn to tune it out of their thinking, but advertising never goes away in Gmail. My suggestion is that Google consider moving the text links to be outside of the typing area.

3) Gmail gives you 'labels' instead of folders. People prefer folders. I think it is the out-of-sight/out-of-mind experience that goes with moving messages into folders. While I do believe that Gmail labels are ultimately more practical for tagging and organizing messages (i.e. you can put multiple labels on a message, a big advantage over using multiple folders), most users just don't like labels. Google: why not give people both folders and labels, and just make this a non-issue?

4) Gmail only integrates with Google+ social media. This is a downside for people who like their Facebook and other social networks outside of Google. Email senders do not have their photos appear, nor do social profiles hyperlink automatically. This seems like a frivolous and unnecessary feature, but people want their social media, and they want it to be convenient and seamless.

5) There is no undelete. Sure, there's no reason to delete anything in the first place, considering that you've got 10 gigabytes available to you. But should you actually press the delete command, then you're stuck with the results... there is no recovering that message or the files attached to it. Believe, the 2 times per year that you will do this, you are going to miss undelete.

6) Gmail is really plain looking. While you can skin your Gmail with various themes, the Gmail interface is just plain boring. This is not a showstopper by any means, but Google could easily put some style and design into making Gmail more attractive. Come on, Google: perhaps collapse the left nav bar into a small menu, and create more space for the rich text message reply screen.? Or maybe give us the ability to change the font appearance of our inbox? Why can have these features and not Gmail?

Verdict: For 8 years, Gmail's shortcomings have been proportionately small in light of its many positives. But in 2012, the competition for your webmail is fierce, and other services are offering many enticing reasons to switch. Now, Gmail's shortcomings have gone from 'forgiveable' to 'hey, other services don't have those problems'. Yes, Gmail is still an excellent service, and its name is still respected. But Gmail just isn't the clear leader of webmail that it was years ago.

Question: Is Gmail still the King of Webmail?
Answer: Yes. But it is an aging king.

Despite the plain visual experience and the ultimately unappealing 'labels' feature, Gmail is still an excellent service. If appearance and social media are secondary for you, and if you like your Gmail for how practically it manages your daily messaging, then there isn't a big reason to switch to

Convenience: 9/10
Writing and Rich Text Formatting Features: 7.5/10
Keyboard Shortcuts/Customizing: 9/10
Organizing and Storing Email: 8/10
Reading Email: 9/10
Virus Protection: 9/10
Spam Management: 9/10
Appearance and Eye Candy: 6/10
Absence of Annoying Advertising: 5/10
Connecting to POP/SMTP and other Email Accounts: 9/10
Mobile App Functionality: 9/10
Overall: 8/10

Next: If Gmail Is Still the King, then Is the Prince-in-Waiting?

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