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Interact With Your Mail Differently With Braid Mail

December 9, 2013

Braid Mail (Free) by Braid Labs is a new approach to your email. While the trend lately seems to be email apps that turn your inbox into a to-do list, like Mailbox and Mail Pilot, Braid separates itself from the new norm and wants to help you quickly find things in your inbox by classifying your email.

Email is always a difficult thing to tackle, because most of us get flooded with various things like coupons, shipping notices, deals, newsletters, social media events, and much more. I know that each day, my inbox is inundated with all sorts of things like this, and as a result, I just don’t check it as often as I used to. Even though my email drags me down nowadays, I’m always still curious to see if the next email app can change things for me. That’s what I was hoping for with Braid Mail.

Currently, Braid Mail only works with Gmail and Google accounts. This can be quite a deal breaker for many, but the developer already has plans for more services, as noted in the app description in the App Store. However, if you use Gmail or Google accounts primarily, then you are golden. The negative? You can only be logged in to one account at a time — a huge deal breaker for me as a primary email app.

Once access is permitted to Braid, it will begin fetching your current inbox. While this should be a streamlined process, I was experiencing some issues with it. At first, I was getting only one or two emails in my inbox from last week, when I know that there are a lot more (Airmail was open on my Mac, and I had several hundred messages in my inbox). I kept pulling to refresh, where it would only seem successful once out of every five pulls (when I actually see the data spinner in the iOS status bar), but it was still only getting in a few emails at a time.

I signed out and back in multiple times, pulled-to-refresh, and wasn’t getting anything different. As I finally decided to let the app sit, and hope it keeps fetching emails, I got a phone call. When I was done with the call, which lasted about 10 minutes or so, I was back in Braid Mail and found the most recent emails at the top of the list. I could only think, “Finally, it only took about 15 frustrating minutes of setting up, but I have my emails, kind of.” I’m still missing over 100 unread emails in my inbox, since I have not checked it much in the past week, so that’s still irking me.

If you are a user of Gmail labels, then prepare for some disappointment, because they aren’t supported in the app. If you tap on the “Back” arrow (for some reason the app does not implement a swipe gesture for menu access), you will reveal a side panel navigation menu with four options: Activity Feed, Inbox, Unread, and Starred. The Starred section will not fetch the flagged emails that you currently have in your account either — this is only for messages that you star within Braid Mail, which can be quite a pain if you have many previously starred emails that you need to recall. I’ve also encountered vanishing starred emails, so it’s still quite buggy. You can swipe left on a message to reveal a contextual tray for archiving and “More” options (including deleting).

The Activity Feed is the main feature of Braid Mail that sets it apart from the rest, that is, when it is working, at least. Since Braid Mail has the main purpose of classifying your email, it will go through your inbox to see what kind of email it is, such as deals, attachments, social media, calendar invites, travel itinerary, shipping notices, newsletter, and more. When it’s able to determine what type of email it is, it will identify it with the appropriate icon and it will then show up in your Activity Feed. The icon is only visible when it’s in the Activity Feed as well, so it doesn’t display in the inbox, unread, or starred messages list.

I really like the concept behind Braid Mail’s Activity Feed, but as my primary Gmail account relies on labels and filters, the stuff that ends up in my Activity Feed doesn’t stay there. I really would like to see label support in Braid Mail, as it would perhaps make the app itself much more useful to me. But at the moment, it only goes through your inbox, which doesn’t work for how my email is set up. Also, I noticed that Braid Mail misses quite a bit, because I see a lot of “deal” emails and newsletters that remain in the inbox (like from Amazon) and don’t get filtered into the Activity Feed. Not sure why this is the case, but the algorithm the app uses to determine those classified emails may need some work.

Braid Mail features a fairly basic message composer, which consists of your To:/Cc:/Bcc: fields (it will ask for permission to your contacts), subject line, and body text. There’s no way to add an attachment to the message, which can be a letdown if you are frequently sending images or files on-the-go.

The only thing at the moment that Braid really has going for it (besides the Activity Feed) are the looks. It’s clean, simple, and elegant. I like the icons that the app uses for categorized emails, but that doesn’t last long for me since they disappear once my filters kick in.

I really wanted to like Braid Mail, but at the moment, it’s just a no-go for me. I like the concept quite a bit, but it’s very limiting with only one email account at a time, no existing labels or filters, previously starred messages, folders, no way to access archived or deleted messages you may need to recover, and no sending attachments. Plus, the initial set up for my primary Gmail account was quite a pain, so I hope that it becomes a bit faster at fetching your inbox in the future.

If you just want an email app that categorizes your inbox by email type, and you don’t currently use automatic filters or labels, or need to send attachments, then this could work for you. But if you have specific workflows with your email, then this won’t work. I think it still needs quite a bit of work before it can become a contender for a primary email app.

You can find Braid Mail in the App Store for your iPhone for free.

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