Nylas, an email client for 2016

I have been experiencing an unusual burst of adventure and excitement surrounding some of the tools I use. Over the past week and a half I have been trying out Nylas N1 as my daily email client.

Nylas is an open source, extensible email client. It follows the recent software development trend of editors like Sublime Text and Atom. The app focuses on core functionality and relies on the community to add features and visual themes. As a developer you can build the app yourself and use it for free, but you’re locked out of some of the paid functional. So, I signed up for the free trial to give it a full shot.

Nylas has three features I was most interested in:

1. Social Sidebar

When you open an email, the right-hand view pulls up social info for the sender. Including their Twitter picture and other social links. I thought this would be kind of cool and useful. However, I ended up ignoring it entirely.

2. Read Reciepts

Back in the bad old days of Outlook Express (and beyond), you were able to send a “read receipt” to your recipient. IIRC this depended on a proprietary (or non-standard) attachment. The recipient would have to acknowledge the read receipt, then an email would be send back to you in the background and your local copy of OE would process it and produce a “read” checkmark somewhere in the UI. A horribly Kludgy and inefficient process!

Nylas handles read receipts with a server-side process, similar to the way Mail Chimp, etc track opens and clicks. It’s totally seamless.

I found this to be a compelling, albeit creepy feature. My main complain is that the there was no in-app way to disable the notification. Though, seeing someone open your email immediately after sending it, then not hearing back from them (ever!) is also horribly disheartening.

3. Snooze/Send Later

Prior to Nylas, my email client (both on desktop and mobile) has been Google Inbox, prior to that I was using Mailbox. A key feature with both clients was “snooze,” it allows you to basically resend an email to yourself at a later date (or location). My stress level surrounding email decreased 1000% when I started using snooze, I can’t live without it.

I had assumed that Nylas’ snooze feature would sync with Google Inbox’s snooze. Unfortunately they don’t, so Inbox on my phone had no knowledge of the snoozes I’d set in Nylas. Bummer.

Send later is sort of the opposite feature to snooze. It’s a great way to compose an email to a client at midnight and have it automatically send during regular business hours, for example. In the past I’d used Boomerang to send later with gmail. I had been missing the feature since Boomerang is not compatible with Inbox. Nylas’ send later works as advertised. Bonus.

Conclusion

Nylas is good. It’s been a long time since a decent alternative has entered the email client arena. I recommend you give it a try.

Unfortunately, there’s one big issue. The search, it just doesn’t seem to work right. I found myself switching back to inbox to search almost every time.

And there are a few other minor issues that will prevent me from using it.

  • It’s slow. I found significant lag between issuing a command and it actually being sent to the server.
  • Emails are unsorted. I’ve grown quite accustom to the way inbox groups email by day. Nylas just shows one big ugly list.
  • Minor email rendering issues. Sometimes emails appeared to be super wide and off the screen.
  • Lack of enhanced email. Google Inbox shows useful snippets for certain types of emails (orders, receipts, newsletters, etc)
  • Other minor UI issues. Various parts of the UI seemed a little unrefined. These issues varied somewhat depending on the theme I was trying, leading me to wonder if the theme API is buggy.
  • Read Receipts, snooze and send later are all paid features. It’s hard to argue that these features combined are not enough to justify $9/mo and since they rely on Nylas’ servers they couldn’t really exist without paid support.

These are all fairly minor, I know. But for me they add up to a deal breaker.

People Suck At Email #8, Order Lists

After a 9 month hiatus I’ve been inspired to write another installment of “people suck at email.” In preparation for this post I read over the previous entries in the series, I realized that the previous post have been written from my perspective. I didn’t want this to turn into “people suck at emailing me” or “ohryan sucks at email.” My intention was to provide some useful tips for email and netiquette, not just annoying whinging.

This installment of [email protected] concerns the use of ordered list. When I write an email containing multiple questions or comments on a general topic, I find that it can be useful to track each separate point with an order list. By doing this the recipient has an easy way to refer back to specific points in the body of my email, it beats inline replies and awkward sentences that start with “Re: XYZ” or “When you said Acme…” I also find that writing in point form has the side effect of helping me keep my emails short and sweet.

Of course, this system is completely useless if the recipient doesn’t honour the list items.

People Suck At Email VI, Topic Threads

This post is someone related to the part v in the series, subject lines.

The subject of the email should reflect the topic of the body. When replying to an email thread, you should only reply with content relevant to the main topic. Do not ask an unrelated question, or start writing about what you had for lunch.

If you have a new topic, compose a new email!

It may not be entirely obvious why this sucks, I’m going to go into a little more detail than usual. This sucks because it makes it impossible to reference the email in the future. When I do a search for something, I usually ignore subjects that don’t pertain to my search. If I give the thread a label based on the content, when I reference the label in the future I will probably think it has been incorrectly labeled. It also makes it more difficult to resolve the email thread. It is also more likely to spin out of control, especially if there are a lot of CC’er in on the thread (see: [email protected] IV).

Lay off that reply-all button.

People Suck At Email V, Subject Lines

Subject lines are hard. Your subject line can fail if it is:

  1. Not descriptive enough. Tell me what the email is about, I need to know whether to read it, file it or delete it without reading the body.
  2. Too long. I need to be able to read the subject on my mobile device and gmail cuts subjects after about 12 words. Gmail is just being generous though, 12 words is far too long. I’d suggest less than 6.
  3. Too short. One word is not (usually) going to be descriptive enough.
  4. Full of “Re:” and/or “Fwd:” more than one of either is too much, they waste valuable character real estate.

As a rule of thumb, try to use 3 – 6 descriptive words. An extra word or two –  surrounded by separator like a pair of braces – for a tag is also acceptable if you need that for your GTD filters.