If there's a single case to be made for picking an Android phone over an iPhone, it's Android's tight, nearly seamless integration with Gmail. Managing your Gmail account on your Android phone is more intuitive than on other mobile clients, because the functions you expect from Gmail—archiving, deep search, threaded conversation views, and labels—are available right inside the Gmail app.
If you want the full Android email experience, you should start switching your web mail account over to Gmail—and we'll explain how to do that here. You can still receive your Hotmail, Yahoo!, and AOL messages in your Gmail inbox, and reply with a Gmail address that, eventually, your contact list will come around to. Got a personal site, small business, or other organization account that runs on Google Apps? You're good to go on Gmail as well.
If you'd rather keep receiving and sending email through your non-Gmail account, or have a corporate account that requires Microsoft Exchange, you're likely still covered through Google's not-quite-as-awesome Email app—more on that in a bit. In the meantime, let's dig into how Gmail works on an Android phone.
In other words:
If you're rocking an HTC or Motorola phone, you might notice the non-Gmail email app has seen a few changes on your phone. We'll cover those specific changes toward the end of the chapter. The Gmail app, and the basic setup of the non-Google Email app, remain the same.
By default, the Google Account you signed in with, or created, when activating your phone is loaded up on Gmail and the password is saved permanently. Before you start messing with your other accounts, though, let's load in whatever else you need to check and send mail from.
If your school, business, or personal site has set up their email to be managed through Google Apps, well, you have it pretty easy.
From your phone's home screen, hit the Menu key, choose Settings, then select "Accounts & sync." Click the "Add account" button at the bottom of this screen, then select "Google" from the choices. You'll get a familiar prompt to either create or sign into a Google account. Choose "Sign in," then type in your username and password for your domain account—"email@example.com" and "itsasupersecretphrase," for example. You'll then have to choose which aspects of that Google account to sync to your phone—we're only dealing with Gmail here, but go ahead and sync the others, if you'd like. Note that your Google Apps email messages won't be filtered into your main Gmail inbox by default—you'd have to set it up in your main Gmail account's web settings to do so. You'll just simply switch between the two accounts, using either a button in the upper-right or a Menu option, which we'll explore in a bit.
Click the Gmail app icon from your home screen or app tray, and you'll arrive at the inbox. You see a list of messages, a preview of their subjects on the top line, and the sender on the second line. There are check boxes on the left where you can select multiple messages, star icons on the right for showing and tagging important messages, and up on the top-right corner, a button showing which account you're looking at. Hit that button to switch over to another account, and you'll get a similar view.
Next to the sender name, you might see one, two, or no arrows, which Gmail calls "personal level indicators." One arrow (>) shows up next to messages sent directly to you and others. Double arrows (>>) appear next to messages sent only to you. No arrows indicate a message was sent as part of a mailing list. This doesn't work flawlessly, as you can see from my inbox example—I seriously doubt someone at BJ's Wholesale Club was writing me a personal note about "OVER 25 INSTANT COUPONS," but, generally, they give you an at-a-glance idea of a message's importance and origin.
There are two kinds of option arrays offered when you hit the Menu key on your main inbox screen, depending on if you've selected messages with the left-side check boxes. With nothing selected, you'll find lots of handy stuff tucked away—including the "Compose" button, which they really should have a separate button for.
With messages selected, you get options relating to what you've selected. You can add stars, mark messages as spam, mute annoyingly recurrent conversations, leave messages unread, and start over with your selecting.
Power Gmail SearchingThe Search function built into your Gmail app is more powerful than it seems. At a base level, you use it like your own personal email Google; searching for "The Wire" omar brings up every email in which you've mentioned the HBO drama's coolest character. But Gmail has far more helpful advanced search operators you can get familiar with. Here are a few key power tools:
- from: Find messages from particular names or email addresses (from:firstname.lastname@example.org, from:dave).
- to: Find messages sent to someone, whether by you or in another email you were copied on (to:dave).
- has:attachment, filename: Bring up only emails that contain attachments, and specify a search for an attached file you're looking for (from:dave has:attachment, from:dave filename:presentation).
- -, "", (): Context tools for specifying "not" certain results (hyphen), exact phrases (quote marks), and use an AND-type requirement (parentheses) (hamburgers -mcdonalds, from:dave "birthday party", from:dave (birthday party July)).
- is: Follow with "read," "unread," or "starred" to specify status (from:dave is:unread).
- after:, before: Specify a date. You have to write the date in numeric, non-U.S. style—year/month/day (from:dave "birthday party" after:2010/06/20).
Gmail for Android supports this author's favorite Gmail feature, besides its fast web interface: the Priority Inbox. In regards to your phone, this means you can quickly see which messages matter most, and, more helpfully, only get notified about those messages, rather than every little blip in your inbox.
If you haven't enabled Priority Inbox in your Gmail account, do so now in the Priority Inbox section of your Settings. Once you've done that, head back to your Gmail inbox, hit your Menu button, choose the More option, and tap Settings. The first option should be to set the Priority Inbox as "your default inbox." Go ahead and do so.
Once you've done that, not only will your default view change to show just the messages that you, along with Gmail's brain, think are important, but you'll only get notifications about those important messages. Don't worry, you can still see all the stuff you've got--press Menu, choose "Go to labels," then pick the plain old "Inbox."
When looking at your inbox, regular or Priority, you'll now notice small yellow symbols underneath each sender, which combine with Gmail's directness indicators to give you an idea of how explicit and pointed an email is. If it's got an Important marking (yellow arrow, filled in if unread, outlined if read), plus the double arrows to indicate a direct message sent right to you, it's not just a pitch to Save 20% All This Week. You'll quickly pick up on the subtle signs, and start using them to subconsciously pick through your messages--trust me.
What happens when Gmail gets it wrong, and marks a boring group email as Important, while an employment contract ends up in the Inbox? Select one or more emails from your Inbox using the left-most check boxes, or just open up an email, and tap Menu. You'll see an option to note "Important" or "Not important." Gmail then takes your cue--this person, or this group of recipients, is pretty important--and adjusts its future behavior accordingly. As you open and reply to emails in your Android and web browser, the Priority Inbox gets smarter and smarter, too.
Click on a message, and you'll see something like this:
Most of these functions should be pretty familiar to experienced email users. The unique Gmail features are the labels listed up top (this message only rates a standard "Inbox" label, a "Star" button offered near the top-right, and the "Archive" button at the bottom-left. Put simply, "Archive" is how Gmail would prefer you discard messages you're done with—they get dropped from your inbox, and go into a kind of filing cabinet, not in your way, but easy to pull up again with a search. "Delete" just deletes things. Hitting the left-pointing button takes you to a previous (newer) message in your inbox, and the right-pointing button to the next (older) message you'll want to review.
Up top, you see immediate options to "Star" a message for easy finding later on, or quickly reply to just the sender. Press the arrow to the right of the reply button, and you'll get an expanded list of options:
Reply-all, as you probably know from your overzealous coworkers, sends a message back to everyone the original sender included in their original message, while forward sends it along to whoever you'd like.
When you're looking at a message that you or another recipient has already replied to, your Gmail app, like Gmail on the web, groups together the messages into a single email, but one with multiple "threads." They're visualized as paper-like tabs on top of the current message, as if you were thumbing through a series of memos in reverse chronological order. Click on that "X read messages" tab, and the messages expand for scrolling reading:
As you can see, senders who have Google profiles set up, or that you've assigned pictures to, will show up with those pictures in their messages. But those thumbnail icons do more than show off your gang's great looks. Click on a sender icon, and you get a list of contact options for them, just as if you had a shortcut icon for them on your home screen.
Put simply, the app Android provides for non-Gmail email—simply named "Email"—is not as good as the Gmail app, but it works fine for the purposes of reading and writing. You'll probably use it if you have an Exchange-based email system at work, a webmail address you don't want to change to Gmail, or your own email address on a site you own that you don't run Google Apps on. Before you get started setting up your email account, check to see that it offers some kind of non-web access, and find out the details. Most accounts provided by internet providers—RoadRunner, Verizon, Comcast—do offer access. Among web-based providers, it varies—AOL and Hotmail offer POP or IMAP access, while Yahoo! requires a premium (i.e. paid) account for the lower-level POP protocol. The two most important things to know are the addresses for your incoming server and outgoing server. In most cases, the incoming server for your IMAP service will be something akin to imap.somewebsite.com, and the outgoing server will be smtp.somewebsite.com. For POP-based access, both servers are likely accessed at pop.somewebsite.com. Do a Google search for your provider and "IMAP settings," and you'll likely find other details, too, like whether you can enable SSL or TLS encryption on your connection (which would be a good thing) and if there's a specialty port you need to set.
When you start up Email for the first time, you'll be asked to provide your own email address and the password you use to retrieve your email. Go ahead and fill those out. Unless the app knows something specific about your email, it will next ask what kind of account you're trying to connect with: POP3, IMAP, or Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. As noted above, you'll need to know what kind of access you have available—most free accounts offer POP, and some paid services offer IMAP. If you're an old pro at this kind of thing, hit the "Manual setup" button and enter all the details you probably have memorized. Otherwise, hit "Next." Enter in the details that you know about your email provider's incoming server on the next screen. In the example shown, I'm entering an email address that I created on my personal site. The IMAP server isn't the same as the URL my email arrives at, and the port changed after I scrolled down and chose to use SSL encryption. Hit "Next," and you'll have to enter your outgoing server credentials this time. There are options for security as you scroll down, as well as an option to have the server verify your username and password when sending—check with your provider to see if these are recommended.
Entering in an Exchange account? You'll get something like this screen, instead:
When you're all done filling in that exciting username/password/server information, hit "Next," and if your phone can connect to the server and sign in for your email, you'll get to choose how often you check for email, whether this account should be the default for sending mail (a good option, if you're not adding any more accounts), and if you want to get pings in the Notification Bar when you get new messages on this account. You can change all these settings later if you're not sure about any of them.
Here's how your inbox looks after you've loaded up your first account. You'll probably have more than me—nobody was writing to me about a book not yet published at the time of this writing. It's a pretty basic view: unread messages have bolded text, read messages do not. Just like the Gmail app, you can "star" a message. Also, like the Gmail app, most of the functions you need are tucked away but accessible by hitting your Menu key.
Refresh and Compose do just what they sound like. Folders shows you the folders you've created on that account—if you haven't created any, you'll only see the "Inbox," which is, in fact, a folder. We'll describe the Account settings in detail below. The Accounts button gets you to an interesting place, which we'll show in just a bit. Click on one of your emails, though, to see how Email handles it.
You know what's a sad feeling? Sending yourself a fake motivational email, from one non-personal account to another. Anyways! Note that you don't get the threaded conversation view of the Gmail app—you see all the text from previous replies in the email itself, and each reply arrives as its own email. Hit the Menu button, and you'll get your standard options to delete, forward, reply, reply to all message recipients, or reset the message as if it were unread.
Back at the main Inbox, hit Menu and choose that Accounts button.
You'll see there a "Combined Inbox," which is just what it sounds like: a list of all your incoming email, across all the accounts you've loaded into the Email app. Want to add another account to try it out? Hit Menu again on this screen, and you'll see an "Add account" option.
After you add more than one account, what's the best way to get to a specific inbox? You could wait for new message notifications or open the Email app, hit the Accounts button, then hop into your chosen account. But you're probably aggravated just having to read all those steps, let alone tap them out. Head to your home screen, press and hold on an empty spot, and choose Shortcuts from the pop-out menu. Scroll down to find Email (it might not have been available before you set up an account), and you'll then be asked to pick out your account. Do so, and you'll now have a shortcut to a particular inbox on your home screen.
As you might have noticed, your author is a Gmail devotee, and a big fan of the Gmail app on Android—much more so than the Email app. With the Combined Inbox recently added to the system, though, I can see it being a lot more useful—and for those with multiple accounts, Email offers a unique way of deciding when, and how often, you get pinged about each email address. Now that we've covered most of the nuts and bolts of your phone, let's move onto the fun stuff: music, apps, and texting your friends to brag about your new phone.