Nylas N1 review: Open-source Mac email client shows promise

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At a Glance
  • Nylas N1

    Macworld Rating

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after years of reviewing apps, it’s to not get too attached to an email client. I’ve always been petty picky when it comes to them anyway, but still, my poor track record has put my guard perpetually up.

My first love was Sparrow, and I fell hard for its Twitter-inspired interface and quick replies. But then Google bought it and it languished before being shut down altogether.

When Dropbox bought Mailbox just a month after it made its the App Store debut, I was already in too deep to realize that our relationship was doomed. Its gesture-based system of swipes and strong-hearted belief in Inbox Zero truly transformed the way I manage and maintain my messages.

I should have seen the writing on the wall, but when I read that Dropbox was shutting it down, I was crushed. I was ready to swear off third-party email clients for good and just go back to using Apple’s stock Mail app, but less than two weeks later, I’ve found another one that’s swept me off my feet. And this time, it just might last forever.

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Nylas N1

Its name is N1 and since it’s open source (and published on GitHub), it promises to never be bought and shut down. Built by Nylas’ team of developers to showcase its next-generation email platform, it’s everything I want in a client: compatibility, customization and cleanliness. I was initially attracted to its looks, but since I’ve gotten to know it, I couldn’t be more excited for our future together.

But while I adored its panel layout and typography choices, N1 and I didn’t make an instant connection. My first few days with the app were filled with frustration: there was no way to print, switching between accounts caused crashing and there was no way to unify my Inbox. But the biggest annoyance was syncing with my iCloud account. I had 22 unread messages the first time I fired N1 up, but even after I cleared them out, the app continued to tell me they were there; so if I had 10 unread messages it would tell me there were 32, and neither quitting nor resetting was able to help. It was like the opposite of Inbox Zero and I was ready to write N1 off as just another flawed email client.

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N1 features a clean interface and updates are available regularly.

But then an update came through that cleared up the problem. And another that added a tiny print button. In fact, over the short time I’ve been using N1 I’ve gotten three updates, each of which fixed bugs and offered noticeable improvements while also bringing new features. I’ve never used an email client (or any app, really) that pushed meaningful updates so regularly, and based on the ambitious N1 roadmap shared on Trello, the frequency isn’t about to slow down anytime soon.

And it’s not just Nylas that can make N1 better. As a full open-source project, the community can offer endless feature requests and issues (as well as tinker with the code directly), but more than that, N1 is designed to be modified. Much like Google’s Chrome browser changed the way we surf with a variety of extensions and plug-ins, N1 can be extended and customized to your heart’s content, provided you know your way around JavaScript. And if you don’t, you can install someone else’s plug-in. There aren’t too many available yet, though I found a couple that were quite useful. And since N1 also supports themes, I was even able to give it a Mailbox-type look with Tiaga.

Of course, N1 isn’t perfect yet—a unified inbox is still in development, formatting is a little wonky, and it doesn’t handle my iCloud messages as well as Mail does—but I’ve never met an email client that puts an equal premium on design and adaptability. My love for Sparrow and Mailbox was always on their terms, but with N1 there’s a mutual respect and an willingness to change and adapt to my needs. And I couldn’t ask for much more on an email life mate.

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N1 can be enhanced by installing extensions. 

Bottom line

With an open-source heart and extensible attitude, N1 might be the email client of your dreams.

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At a Glance
  • Nylas N1

    Macworld Rating
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