Gmail 2.0 for iOS hands on: It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there

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Google has been making it a point to show its apps some more love these days. After an update to Gmail on its native OS of Android, Google decided to give iOS users a gift of a major update to its mobile mail client. The previous versions of the app on Apple devices left a lot to be desired and led to a lot of third party solutions, one of the best of which being Sparrow, which is now owned by Google. After six months of reworking its in-house offering, it’s clear Google made something worth using – as long as you don’t compare it to it’s Android equivalent.

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After getting the update to the new look Gmail app, the first thing users will notice is an entire redesign to the interface. The previous theme of Gmail included dark colors and somewhat boring, rounded corners, and so-so fonts. Now bright colors, crisp texts, and sharp boxes. Even pulling down the menus to refresh or loading a message displays a multi-colored, animated ball that offers just a second of extra brightness to the experience. 

It’s not a deal-making feature or anything, but it’s just a nice little touch that adds a bit of class to browsing mundane emails. That or it’s a very clever cover up for some in-app lag, in which case it worked because it’s distracting.

The threaded message view now includes a nice icon, subject, sender, and message information taking up all available space. There’s a bit more in the iPad version, taking advantage of the extra screen space, but on the iPhone it’s a little sparse. It’s also a bit more difficult to collapse an expanded thread on the iPhone. This is just the start of issues with message movement. You have to back out of each message and re-navigate your inbox to go to the next message. It seems like a little thing, but it really does change your browsing experience – especially if you’re used to Sparrow or other major third party options.

Integration with other Google products like Google+ and Calendar are welcome improvements that make things a lot easier. Direct replying to events with Calendar is great for creating a more universal Google experience. Seeing Google+ notifications right in your Gmail inbox is also nice, especially if you’re a heavy user of the social network that, with the bigger push by Google through other tools like Gmail, now seems like an inevitably perpetual presence than a forgotten option.

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A heavily requested feature that has finally made an appearance in Gmail 2.0 is the ability to include multiple accounts in the app. You can link up to five Gmail identities to the Gmail app and switch between them. It’s nice, but if you’re a power user it probably still isn’t quite what you’re looking for. Changing between accounts is a multi-tap process. It’s not painful or anything, but it’s a little cumbersome and less than efficient – more just required to get to where you need to go. Perhaps we should just be glad it’s here but when you’re used to things like Sparrow, it’s hard to accept less.

All things considered, Gmail 2.0 for iOS is anything but a disappointment. For people using Apple’s Mail app or other free alternatives out there, Gmail is definitely a big enough step up to act as your go-to mail client. It looks great, the ability to manage multiple accounts was much needed, and the overall Google integration is very useful for people that already call other tools from the search giant their defaults. If you spend a lot of your day communicating from inside your inbox, Gmail 2.0 probably still leaves a bit to be desired. Navigating the app can be cumbersome and there’s a bit of a lag issue. It’s too clunky to be as quick and easy as one would want, it’s not quite up to par with Sparrow or the Gmail Android app – technically making Google it’s own biggest competitor no matter how you look at it. Gmail 2.0 is a huge jump from its previous version, but it doesn’t quite land it in the big leagues yet.