Advantages Easy to search and navigate around, some nice unique features, lots of storage, its free
Disadvantages Takes a while to get used to some of the more unique features
Let me start by saying that if you really just want the most basic info. about GMail then rather than sit and read through all this, skip down to where it says '-Basic Stats & Summary/some basic Q&As-' there's plenty enough info. from the start of that section to the end of the review to help you so you don't need to read my entire review and for everyone else wanting to know more details and get a better idea of the bigger picture, keep reading, ill start by saying how I signed up with GMail...I got an invitation to get a free account with Gmail a year or so back and I don't regret signing up for it at all. Infact its my favourite email account, for a number of reasons which should soon become clear and ill explain the main ones below.
To start with, one of the most convenient things about Gmail is the sheer amount of storage space each persons mail box has, which is currently over 2.6GB, enough for literally 1000s of messages, so you don't have to regularly prune back old messages (ie. sit down and go through your inbox deleting unnecessary messages), though unwanted messages can always be deleted. It states 2.6GB as being the current storage space available to all users though it says (and counting) on the Gmail main info. page, so it appears that this may rise, either way trust me its enough to store a good number of years worth of emails, even if you get many every day!. I've checked what its currently saying and currently I have 494 message in all mail and inbox and it says 'You are currently using 12 MB (0%) of your 2909 MB' so it is plenty of space really!.Now with so much storage space, there is the potential to get bogged down with a massive inbox, 100s of messages permanently stored and the thought of trying to search manually for specific messages in amongst so many may fill you with dread but actually im quite keen on how Gmail handles this particular scenario/problem. The user interface your faced with, when you sign in to your Gmail account, is quite good, certainly pretty practical. There is a basic search text box placed next to the 'Google Mail Beta' logo, which you can use to enter a keyword or any text that would identify the email your looking for and it'll search all the folders for any messages that fit whatever you entered.
Also, once you've read a new message thats arrived, as new messages automatically appear under 'Inbox', you can select the message by clicking on the tick box on the left by the sender name, then click on the 'archive' button above and the message will be moved to the 'all mail' section, so not every message kept is under the one area/section, which is good as it means that the Inbox is (or should be if used properly) kept fairly small and its quick and easy to get a quick glance of all the new messages.Now Google decided to look at emails slightly different than some other email programs do and they think of each message as potentially being the start of what they call 'conversations' and they keep track of these conversations. What this means basically is that if you reply to a particular email message and then the person that sent it reads your reply and responds with another message, that response and all subsequent responses are attached to the original message (if you follow what I mean, I try and explain things as well as I can!)), so that you can easily keep track of long conversations. Its a bit like on some message boards where you'll see the subject line of a discussion and many underneath the original one called 'RE subject' 'Re re subject' and so on, only on Gmail this is less messy than that can be, as you don't see all the subject lines like that, instead you'll see a number in brackets next to the subject, so Hi (6) would indicate that there have been 6 messages in that conversation, as an example.
Another thing that I believe is a Google invention is the stars feature. Next to each message is a hollow star icon and if you decide that a particular email is particularly important and you know that you'll have to refer to it quite often, you simply click on the star icon and it then lights up and that message will appear under the 'Starred' section (in the sort of contents links on the left of each page within your Google Mail/Gmails web account). This could be useful if you have, say, a certain booking you made online with important information, only star the few most important messages so the folder doesn't fill up and its quick enough to find the message you want, though if you can't you can always use the more basic functions like the main search box mentioned previously as well.The final main function Gmail offers in terms of organising emails is the labels feature. This you can use to again identify and organise certain messages and it works by creating a label which would have the name of whatever it is that the messages all apply to, for instance 'Take That Concert' would be the label to use if you want to group all the messages you get related to a Take That Concert you might be planning to go to (not that im going to a Take That concert, its just an example!). You can create a label by selecting a message (clicking on the tick box next to it) and then go to the 'More actions' drop down list, next to the delete button and select 'New label' under 'Apply label'.
Similarly, you can give a message a particular label, ie group it to that particular label, by clicking on the tick box next to the message and again by going to the 'More actions' drop down list, then select, under 'Apply label', the label that you want to group it to.You can edit the labels through accessing the labels box, just above the 'Invite a friend' box near the bottom left of the account screen and its from selecting the 'edit labels' button that you have the option to create a new label, rename or remove a label. You can also change other settings from this screen as well, it just loads the main settings screen automatically at the 'labels' tab.
Another unique function within Gmail is the chat function. Now I'll admit that I haven't really used this myself but I'll explain how I believe this works. To start with, you'll notice under the main sort of contents/section links at the far left of the screen, you also have a 'Quick Contacts' section. This is similar to an address book like on Outlok etc., if you have someone you email alot then you can add them to your contact list (by clicking on the 'add contact' link at the bottom of that section). The quick contacts shown are the main or most popularly used contacts. You'll notice that under where it says 'Quick Contacts', your name/username will be shown and just next to it, you'll find a coloured dot. This is very similar to MSN/Windows Live Messenger in that it indicates your availability and if you have left your GMail account screen for a long time, it will indicate that your 'away', or you can set your status under 'Set status here'. This works as the contacts can be used in an IM environment, so if a contact listed is also a fellow GMail user and they are also online and logged into their GMail account, it will indicate this with the green ie 'online' status coloured dot next to their name (or so I presume, I don't have any contacts listed who are with GMail accounts im afraid) . I presume that if you click or double click on the name, you get the option of starting a live chat and can start whats basically an IM conversation. These conversations, once finished, can then be made available in the 'Chats' section (the third link down in the main contents/section links under 'Compose mail'). This I know as if you click on the 'Chats' link before having saved any chats, it says this:- 'Your chat history will appear here if you choose to save your chats. You can change this in Settings'. There the word settings is a link to, obviously, change the settings.The only other option/feature that you'll notice within your account web pages/screen is the invitation box, which you'll find just under the 'labels' box on the bottom left. This is pretty much redundant now as, as of February this year (2007), you can sign up for a GMail email account without needing a direct invitation. You can sign up for a GMail email account now by going to this URL:- http://mail.google.com/mail/signup
The only other thing potentially worth mentioning before going on to talk about more basic features, is the optional GMail notifier. I find this very useful as it means that I don't have to keep on specifically logging on to my account to check if I have any new messages. It works by being downloaded to your computer and whenever you switch your computer on, it asks you to sign on to your account by entering your username and password and once you've done that, the GMail envelope icon will appear in your system tray and it will load a brief window that details the sender, subject line and the first line or two of text of any unread messages that are in your inbox. If you double click on the GMail envelope icon in the system tray, then an IE window will load and your able to sign in to your account (or it might automatically log you in, depending on how you set it up) and can view your inbox etc. there. I find that very convenient, so as im browsing the 'net, im aware as soon as (well within a minute or two certainly!) a new message arrives in my GMail inbox!. You can download the GMail notifier here:- http://toolbar.google.com/toolbar/gmail-helper/What else is there? well there's a 'report spam' function, like most email/webmail packages, Gmail has many security settings and depending on which you set it to, it will scrutinise and try and delete spam messages before reaching your inbox but sometimes some still get through, luckily its very simple to select and get rid of these, simple click on the tick box next to the message within 'inbox' or wherever and click on the 'report spam' button. When this is done, the message I think is sent to Gmail who should investigate and add the details to their junk/spam filter system to improve it. There's also a separate 'Spam' folder, so you can check in there incase you accidentally reported something as spam and if it is spam then just go to that folder and select 'delete forever'.
Another basic feature is that if you start typing out a new email by clicking on 'Compose Mail' which is directly under the 'Google Mail Beta' logo and it takes more than a couple of minutes to type the message, a draft of the message is autosaved every few minutes, just incase you sudenly lose your internet connection or otherwise have a computer problem and otherwise you would have lost everything you'd typed out, so if that happens then when you re log in to your Gmail account, you can get the message back, at least as much as was saved the last time the autosave ran, finding it under 'Drafts'.Also in terms of reliability, I know now you don't require an invitation to sign up, the servers will probably be alot busier and yes on ocassion the GMail Notifier warns that it can't connect to the mail server to check my mail but generally I don't have problems logging on to my account... at least 98% of the time I have no problems gettng in to my account, thats more than good enough for me, I hope it stays that way (which is maybe a little optimistic as its a free service but oh well, you can but hope!).
The following is a basic list of some info., for anyone not interested in sitting and reading all of the above, I tried to include most all of the basic info. people would want to know about or might question into it, hope this covers at least the main stuff!-Basic Stats & Summary/some basic Q&As-
Storage Space per user - Currently 2.6GB as of 7th October 2007, this may increase in the future.Maximum attachment file size - 20mb (double what I believe it used to be)
Main sections:- Contents links are - Inbox, Starred (ie starred messages), Chats, Sent mail, Drafts, All Mail (archived/older messages), Spam and Trash.Does it scan all emails for viruses when new emails/messages arrive? - Yes
Is there a built in spam filter? - YesDoes GMail support POP3/forwarding? - Yes
Can you import contacts from previous/other email programs? - YesCan I create and use a signature with Gmail? - Yes
Are there ads? - Yes but only Google text ads and their quite discreet, their also keyword generated (if thats the correct term?) ads. Google try to match up ads that might interest you based on Google search terms you've used in the past (unfortunately yes its true that Google save some of your search terms, I know people complain about why they insist on doing this but I believe they only save your search history and keep it for a year or so max.? there's plenty of info. about this matter available online).Where can I signup for my free GMail account? - http://mail.google.com/mail/signup
Are there any recommended optional extras compatible with GMail that are worth downloading/using? - Yes GMail notifier, which sits in the system tray once activated (by entering your username & password) and will alert you as soon as a new message arrives in your inbox. This can be downloaded here:- http://toolbar.google.com/toolbar/gmail-helper/I hope this answers everyones questions and if there are any other more technical questions about Gmail, I'd like to suggest that you check out the official Gmail information website for more information, which you can find here:- http://mail.google.com/mail/help/intl/en/about.html
there's lots of other information there...Overall I find GMail to be a very good email package, it offers plenty of storage space and sme pretty innovative and good features, I can easily search and find particular messages out of the tons of them that I have. I find the GMail Notifier is also a great sort of plug in that makes GMail even more handy and certainly at the moment anyway, its my favourite webmail email system. It might take a while to get used to this system with labels and conversations and starred messages and what not, its a slightly different and not entirely traditional system but once you get the hang of it and realise how the most useful features work, if your like me anyway you'll be hooked! I also particularly like how well laid out the main account screen is, it isn't full of pop up ads, or any ads really minus a few discreet text ads and the colours used are all nice neutral colours with a white background, so there are no clashing neon colours or anything cheesy like that... all in all, im very impressed with GMail and as its free, I'd recommend everyone at least give it a try!
I hope you found this review helpful and as usual all ratings and comments are much appreciated!
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