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Why Gmail is awesome (and how to get the most out of it)

If you’ve stuck to Hotmail for the past decade, you may be surprised to hear that another email client – Google’s Gmail – has surpassed your client’s offerings. For example, with Gmail, as opposed to services like Yahoo! and AOL, you can email files as big as 10GB and video chat with as many as nine of your friends at one time. Gmail has managed to remove common obstacles and replace them with fun and intriguing technologies to make your corresponding experience efficient, practical, and as gaudy as your playful heart desires.

From making your email more efficient to blinging out your background, here are some of the many reasons why we think Gmail rules.

Boost your efficiency

New compose – Gmail’s latest offering is the new compose window for writing or responding to messages. A small window opens at the bottom of your screen so you can scroll through your messages and find and refer to other items while you type an email. You can have as many of these small new compose windows open simultaneously as your screen size will allow. You can also minimize and pop these windows out and position them however you find most useful. To access it, just click on “Compose,” followed by “Try out the new compose experience” next to the labels button at the top – don’t worry, you can switch back to “old compose” if your mind’s too blown by this newfangled way to write emails.

google-hangouts-ipad-625x crop
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Package deal: Chat, call, and video – Gmail comes with chat, call, and Hangouts all built-in to save you time and your computer energy. Gmail’s multitasking abilities makes the need to have several programs open (such as Skype) moot. Are you working from home? Launch a virtual meeting with up to nine people at a time with Hangouts, right from Gmail (you no longer have to access it from Google+). You can share your screen, watch YouTube together, and even wear funny hats.

Priority inbox – Let Gmail sort through your inbox and find which emails are the most important so you can start there and leave your Groupon deals and daily horoscopes for later. Google’s superpowers actually enable Gmail to predict which emails deserve priority access based on the emails you read and reply to, making it easier to feel less overwhelmed every time you check your Inbox. If it messes up, teach it how to improve by marking a message more or less important. 

Personal level indicators – Enable personal level indicators under “Settings” (click the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner) and instantly see whether a message in your inbox was sent to you, a group of people, or an entire mailing list – depending on the number of arrows next to each message. One arrow means the message was addressed to a group (including you), two arrows means the message was sent to you alone, and no arrow means it was sent to a mailing list.

Gmail label colors 2Labels – Organize your emails into categories and/or colors with labels. Labels in Gmail function like folders, but are better since you can apply more than one label per message. Want to give mom’s emails priority? Make them stand out with a “mom” label, and spot them even quicker by assigning that label a color. If you’re getting emails from your work and personal accounts delivered into one inbox, designate a different color label for each account to make them distinguishable. The label will appear next to the subject title of each message in your Inbox.

Stars – If you’ve fallen victim to receiving scores of emails every day, you can use the stars feature to mark which ones you want to read later. You can even apply a star to thousands of messages from the same sender. And when searching for messages marked with a blue star, for example, just type “has:blue-star” in your search box.

Drive – To share files or folders weighing as much as 10GB, use Google Drive instead of attaching a file. Google Drive amalgamates Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, making collaboration easier. Taking this route gives you the additional option of deleting or updating files or folders saved in Drive and allows you to update sharing settings. Store up to 5GB worth of files for free or upgrade for reasonable prices.

Google Search – Want to save time? Type a term into your Gmail search box to bring up autocomplete predictions and the option of searching the entire Web for your search term.

Filters – You just went on an epic vacation to the tropics and want to group all related emails together for future reference but don’t want to sit at your computer for an hour browsing each email one by one. Filters to the rescue! Simply create a filter by entering your criteria, such as ‘subject contains: mojitos,’ run a test search to find the right emails, and apply the filter.

Snippets – Snippets give you a glimpse into each email before you open it by showing you lines of text next to each message.

Keyboard shortcuts – Forget your mouse: enable keyboard shortcuts from Settings and save time by never having to take your hands off your keyboard. Work like a speed demon by hitting “c” for compose, “k” to move to the next conversation, “s” to add a star, and so on. There are dozens of shortcuts to make your Gmail use more productive. 

Gmail Offline – For those times when you’re cursing at the airport or on a lousy plane that doesn’t have Wi-Fi, try Gmail Offline. This feature makes Gmail available to you when you’re offline or with a spotty Internet connection so you can compose and reply to messages without a hitch and have them sent out and synchronized with your Gmail account once your computer is back online. To use Gmail Offline with Google Chrome, you can download an app from the Chrome Web Store

Discover innovative solutions

Gmail labs
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Gmail Labs is a set of over 30 experimental new features you can choose from to enhance your email experience. While some may eventually be terminated, the best ones are upgraded to become a regular feature. Available Labs features include getting Yelp reviews, Google Maps, Flickr, and Picasa previews in your emails; moving the chat box to the right side of the screen; and creating a Google Document straight from an email conversation. Here are some of our favorite Lab features:

Undo Send – A much loved Labs feature for impulsive senders, Undo Send gives you a few seconds to change your mind and fix that typo or remove that incriminating comment.

Authentication icon for verified senders – This feature helps keep spammers at bay by showing a key icon next to authenticated messages from eBay and PayPal, so you can feel safe replying and following the links in your messages.

Background Send – Impatient Gmailers will appreciate Background Send. Press send and get back to your (food) porn without wasting any vital seconds.

Message Sneak Peek – Okay, your ESP’s a little rusty. You can now turn to Message Sneak Peek. Like Snippets on crack, but without the paranoid delusions: right-click on any message in your Inbox and see the latest response in full without opening the entire thread.

SMS in Chat – This is pretty neat. With the SMS in Chat Lab, you can enter a phone number and send and receive text messages right from your Gmail Chat box. Text message responses will appear as a reply in Chat. This one only works in selected countries.


Gmail Tea House theme
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Themes – Forget dull settings. Change the background and colors of your entire Gmail experience by choosing from almost 40 available themes. Make your inbox look like fresh turf, a sunny beach, a Japanese tea house tended by a meticulous fox, or be surprised by choosing the “Random” option.Alternatively, you can choose a featured photo or upload your own. 

Display Density – Gmail already automatically adjusts how “densely” your emails are packed in your window based on the size of your browser window and screen. Take back the power by choosing from “comfortable,” “cozy,” and “compact” modes to modify the “Display Density” and alter how much space Gmail leaves between individual messages in your Inbox, around the sections of your inbox, and between labels.

Have any Gmail tricks you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments below. 

Natalia Real
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Natalia Real is a writer and Web developer who previously worked as a copyeditor, features editor, blogger, translator…
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