Apple’s stock mail app got some nice upgrades with iOS 8, but it still lacks many of the more powerful features found in other third-party email apps.
With so many different choices out there, you may be wondering what the best alternative is for your needs, so we tried out a handful of the most innovative email apps that want to be your inbox managing assistant.
Each of these apps take vastly different approaches to email. Some help you categorize the jumble of messages to mine the gems, while others ruthlessly cut through the clutter to achieve a pristine and empty inbox.
I tried out all of these apps on an iPad mini, as it’s compact enough to bring everywhere and use as a primary email device. However, all of these options are universal apps with iPhone 6 and 6 Plus support either in place or pledged to come.
For apps that supported it, I connected a Gmail, iCloud, Microsoft Exchange, and Outlook account to see how they handled each of the dominant email platforms. I also wanted to discover what they brought to the table in terms of unique features, interface design, and their overall philosophy to managing email.
Best overall: CloudMagic
CloudMagic (free) stands on top of the pyramid for its minimalist design, integration with other cloud storage services, and how well it pushes email from almost any type of account. It supports Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook, iCloud, Microsoft Exchange, Office 365, AOL, and IMAP.
CloudMagic’s strength is its smart cards, which can save a message into a preferred productivity tool: Evernote, Todoist, Pocket, Trello, OneNote, Zendesk, Salesforce, Asiana, and MailChimp are all supported.
CloudMagic also has a pretty clever edit mode that queues up several messages for editing with one action. You can swipe on messages to archive, delete, or attach a follow-up reminder for CloudMagic to bug you about it later.
In addition, you can link CloudMagic to a cloud storage account for attaching files to outgoing messages—it works with Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, and OneDrive. And of course the app has been optimized for iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
Best for reaching inbox zero: Mailbox
If you love the satisfaction of an empty inbox, then Mailbox (free) could be your cup of tea. Its whole premise is to help you reach the elusive Inbox Zero by swiping away your messages, with each of its gestures attached to a specific action.
Not only do the swipes archive and delete messages, but they’ll “snooze” an email, which then schedules it to re-appear in your mailbox after a specified amount of time. It’s good for those messages that you aren’t ready to archive but don’t need to keep in you inbox, mocking you with their unfinished status.
Unfortunately, Mailbox only works with Gmail and iCloud. Support for other platforms is coming, though no specifics have been offered by parent company Dropbox.
If you really dig the Mailbox philosophy, then get the Mac desktop app (it’s still in beta) for the most fluid email experience. Mailbox is also optimized for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
Most social: Tipbit
The term “contacts” or “address book” harks back to the days when office workers kept all this information on a circular card-holder called a Rolodex.
Now keeping tabs on your contacts’ social networks is a vital part of staying connected. Tipbit (free) does a great job at this by pulling in your contacts’ Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn info—once you grant permission, of course. That way, if you get an email from someone and want to see what they’ve been tweeting, or need a reminder of their job title, you can just tap on their name and view his or her contact card.
Tipbit also tries to connect a contact with what it thinks is their Twitter account if they don’t have one listed in their signiture, but that doesn’t always work out—the app showed tweets from Anderson Cooper’s Twitter account for one of my contacts named David Cooper.
Tipbit supports email from Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, IMAP, iCloud, Outlook, and IMAP. It is optimized for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
Best customization: Boxer
Boxer (free) has also jumped on the swipe-on-messages bandwagon, though with many different customization opportunities for these actions. It takes a bit of work to set this up, but if you want to work a very particular way and use muscle memory for certain tasks, then you’ll like what Boxer has to offer.
It integrates well with features found in other desktop email apps, such as Gmail’s labels and sharing files through your Dropbox or Box account. Boxer supports Gmail (it also syncs your labels—a plus for Gmail power users), Yahoo, iCloud, AOL, and Outlook. Microsoft Exchange support only works with the premium version of Boxer, which is $10. It’s optimized for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
Best for power users: Acompli
Acompli (free) is the best app of the bunch for power users who get a ton of email and despise constantly moving back and forth to different apps to reference calendar appointments or files.
Acompli’s design isn’t as polished compared to some of the others, but it compensates with excellent functionality—it includes your Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or OneDrive contents and calendar events right inside the app.
If you’re the business type with multiple meetings and events going on, or if you generally need to plow through a lot of mail during the day, then Acompli should possibly be on the top of your list. It supports Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud, and any IMAP account; it is optimized for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus as well.
Best for Exchange users: Mail+ for Outlook
Mail+ for Outlook ($6) follows the Exchange philosophy of putting all of your core needs right into one application: Email, contacts, calendar, and—unique among this app list—Outlook’s tasks. It connects to any Microsft Exchange and Outlook account.
It also does a better job than others at handling the formatting found in Outlook messages—like when you get a message from your coworker who uses five different colors in their email to highlight different information. Now you can see it on your iPhone or iPad.
While other apps on this list handle Exchange, I’d put this as the top choice if your core productivity takes place with Microsoft’s platform. It’s also optimized for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
All in with Google? Go with Gmail
As someone who has also used Android, I can say with certainty the Gmail app for iOS isn’t as fast or robust as its Android counterpart. However, if you are a power Gmail user and rely on labels, Google’s search prowess, and the Googly design, then go with the Gmail app (free). It works with consumer Gmail and Google Apps for Work.
It supports up to five accounts, so you can check up on your personal and work email. It’s updated for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus so you don’t have to contend with an ugly and stretched out interface.
It’s still a little slower than what I would like, but it works and functions like Gmail, making it easier to transition from the desktop to mobile when powering through subscription offers, coupons, or (in my case) an excessive amount of PR emails.
If you’re a Gmail user who loves the Inbox Zero philosophy, than you should give Gmail’s Inbox (free) a shot, too, if you can score an invite.
Best for categorizing clutter: Inky Mail
An email account can quickly fill with a mashup of coupons, travel deals, and shipping notices, so Inky Mail (free) works to filter these out—that way, you’re not rummaging through this deluge while looking for that hotel reservation. The app’s home screen has 15 different categories for actions and messages, including a unified inbox, personal messages, social, packages, maps, contacts, and subscriptions.
The Filtered Inbox is the most powerful tool for focusing on essential correspondence, as it strips out all the excessive newsletters and weekend sale notices. Once there you can swipe to the right to get back to the app’s home screen
The different inboxes have other helpful tools for cleaning things out and offer quick access to your email list’s “unsubscribe” links. It also offers a very helpful Today widget, which you can customize to show messages from one of your specific filters or the unified inbox.
Inky Mail is targeted more at consumer accounts, especially if you’d rather keep messages hanging around to avoid missing a great deal. it works with Gmail, iCloud, Outlook, AOL, Yahoo, IMAP, and POP accounts; Microsoft Exchange support is forthcoming.
Email is a hot app category that has new apps popping up all the time, each of which is designed to fit different needs and workflows. Though we think one of these apps will suit your style, most of them have free versions, so we encourage you to try a couple of them out to see what's best for you. If there’s an app you love and we didn’t cover it here, let us know about it in the comments.
Editor's note: This story was updated on November 11 at 12:00 p.m. PT to fix the spelling of Acompli.