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Google Remixes Gmail with New Interface, Contact Features

Small changes they may be, but those who live and die by the coming and going of e-mail woke up Wednesday morning to a revamped Gmail that should make one of the world’s most popular free e-mail services easier to use.

Here’s what’s new:

Tweaked Interface

Although the basic screen looks more or less the way you remember – and Google hasn’t slid in any new options – engineers and designers have poked and prodded things around.

Perhaps most notably, the all-important left-hand column now features Mail, Contacts and Tasks prominently in a pane of their own at the top. Compose mail, the former king of the mountain, has been moved down and turned from a link to a button. Messages scoot closer to the top of the screen thanks to a smaller header, and selecting messages (all, none, read, etc) has been moved to a drop-down.

Overhauled Contacts

Treat your friends like your e-mails. That seems to be the gist of Google’s new approach to contacts, which makes sorting, grouping and managing contacts much more like dealing with e-mail. You can also sort them by last name now, add custom fields (like “team” if you’re managing a sports league newsletter) and break down name fields into first, middle and last, if you so choose. Merging has been made easier via the “more actions” panel, and all changes are now saved automatically rather than requiring you to enter an edit mode. Thankfully, there’s also an undo option as well, in case you manage to delete all 987 contacts in one fell swoop.