Google’s own apps for Android are part of what makes the OS great for some people, and without things like Gmail and Google Maps a device simply doesn’t feel like Android – and those devices exist. This is also why I’ve been hesitant about replacing any of the stock Google apps – it just feels unnatural in a way.
After months of being annoyed at the stock Gmail app however, I finally made the move to the free, open source K-9 Mail app.
The reason for that basically comes down to the advantages outweighing the disadvantages. I’ve had a few issues with K-9 while testing it out in the past, basically things related to syncing read status back to the server. The advantages have been evident for a while though, and simply gotten more important lately.
First off, there’s the widget thing. I’ve expressed my feelings about Google’s lack of a Gmail widget on anything below Honeycomb before, and using K-9 simply means using an email client that is open for widgets to interact with it.
K-9 can also interact with other apps in other ways, most importantly (for me): Tasker. Once installed, Tasker will have a new trigger action available that reacts to incoming emails. Using this makes it possible to create an email counter variable that you can then use for various things.
In my case, when I wake up and deactivate sleep mode, one of a few variables that Amy tells me as part of my good morning message is how many emails I’ve gotten while asleep. Using K-9 also enables some built in variables in Tasker, namely %EFROM / %ECC / %ESUBJ / %EDATE / %ETIME. These variables contain info about the last email received, like subject or who it’s from. I don’t use them (right now), but it’s possible (quite easy actually) to use these to create, for example, a car mode profile that reads new email info aloud, or parse the info to a widget that shows you the email info you want. The email widget on Asus’ Transformer tablets is for instance very popular and has been making the rounds to other devices, and with this Tasker interaction you could duplicate it – and improve it – from scratch.
The third and final feature that has been pulling me towards K-9 is something that is such a no-brainer feature that the lack of it in the stock Gmail app is just beyond stupid: the ability to share emails.
The Share/Send feature in Android is present in just about every app that deals with information and is the Android version of iOS’ “open in…” There are lots of things you can do by opening an email in another app, but I just need one of them: the ability to add an email to my to-do list. This is a feature that Google even has hard coded into Gmail in a desktop browser, then linked to Google Tasks. Yet not only is this feature missing on Android, it doesn’t even have the ability to open an email into to-do apps that support it.
With K-9, if I get an email that I need to make a task of, all I need to do is open it in Astrid Tasks and it will then create a task with the subject as the header and the body as the task notes. This replaces a system where I have to forward an email to a special email address on astrid.com and then wait for auto sync to kick in (or sync manually) to see it. You really shouldn’t have to use email to get info from one app to another on the same device.
I know that there are also other advantages to K-9, and I’m looking forward to exploring those and seeing what’s useful. These three things I’ve mentioned however are specific features that I’ve manually looked for in the past and been lead to K-9 Mail every time, and when that happens a third time, it’s time to stop being prejudicial and just kick Gmail out on its butt. For a company that makes such a great (in my opinion) browser based email client for PCs, Google really needs to learn a thing or two about doing the same on its own mobile OS.