When I reviewed the Mac mail client Spark last year, I thought I would never need to consider a new mail client again, or at least for a long time to come. But with the recent invitation to check out MindSense’s Mail Pilot, I’m having to reconsider which application will get my Inbox to zero the quickest.
Spark and Mail Pilot both have similar powerful features that I think are highly necessary for any Mac users looking to get beyond the limits of Apple’s Mail, and maybe who don’t find Google Mail or other mail clients to their liking.
Mail Client Feature Similarities
- Snoozing emails ranks at the top of my list for a useful feature, useful for not only processing emails, but also for setting reminders.
- Filtering important emails from other types of emails, such as a newsletters, ads, requests for donations, etc.
- Managing emails into folders.
Below I discuss the three main features of Spark and Mail Pilot and compare and rate how useful they are.
I can’t say enough about how useful snoozing emails has been for managing emails and getting reminders. Spark makes it easy to quickly zoom emails for later in the day, the next day, or anytime you choose. Snoozed emails reappear in the inbox based on the day and time set.
Mail Pilot also contains a snooze feature, but it does not as advanced.
Spark's snooze feature allows for snoozing emails for the evening, the next day or week, or any day and time you want. Personally, I find it useful to snooze meeting related emails as reminders to appear back in my Inbox at a specified time. Assigning times helps reduce clutter in my Inbox, because the snoozed emails appear at the time I need them.
Mail Pilot's snooze feature allows for snoozing emails for any day, but it doesn't include time slots. And instead of the snoozed emails appearing back in the Inbox, they get moved to the Today or Upcoming reminders sections of the user interface. Spark also puts snoozed emails in a folder, but I find Mail Pilot's interface easier to navigate, which I will talk about later.
Spark’s Smart filter feature filters your unread personal emails, notification and newsletter emails, as well as your previewed emails into separate sections. There's also a Classic view of emails that presents all your unread emails chronologically.
Though the Smart feature is a good idea, I never caught onto it. Filtered emails are filtered in sections, but they still all appear in the middle column of the user interface which makes the Smart Inbox looked cluttered.
In Mail Pilot, unread emails are filtered as Important and Batch. Important emails are your personal contacts, or any senders that you you want to appear in the Important section, and Batch emails are for newsletters, ads, notifications, and the like.
The smart filtering in Mail Pilot is better in my view because the Batch emails stay hidden until you want to view them. And even better, at the end of the batch you can click and trash all the Batch emails at once, or you delete them individually.
Spark has a traditional left side column for its default and custom folders, including folders for drafts, spam, and snoozed emails. The custom folders you create are synced to your respective iCloud, Gmail, or Outlook accounts. Folders can be arranged by Favorites and there is a folder within folder hierarchy.
You can drag emails to folders in the sidebar, but you can trigger a shortcut to have your folder structure pop up in a floating window, where you can send the selected email to a folder.
Spark also has a folder suggestions feature. Spark remembers where you saved an email from a particular sender to, and it suggest that same folder when you want to save new email from the same recipient.
Mail Pilot gets away from the traditional sidebar view of folders. All your folders are hidden away in the More section, which like all sections of Mail Pilot, you can reach by clicking a keyboard shortcut or selecting in the user interface.
I like the minimalist design of tucking away the folders in separate section. However, in order to save emails to a particular folder, you have to click the folder list icon and then add the selected email to an existing folder or create a new one. You also get access to the folders in your respective emails accounts.
Mail Client User Interfaces
Spark User Interface
The Spark user interface is fairly traditional in that it’s broken up in three columns. The size of the columns can be adjusted, but they can’t be hidden.
Mail Pilot User Interface
Mail Pilot takes very minimalist approach in that it puts email front and center, with no columns. Personally I find this presentation appealing. The interface seems to reduce clutter and helps focus on one email at a time. Notice also that there is a quick reply box at the bottom of each email. If you need more space for writing, you can trigger the Reply shortcut to write and edit longer text.
All the Mail Pilot folders are accessed in a More section, which can be revealed using the assigned shortcut or by clicking the icon on the top-right side of the application.
Spark’s unique mail client features include a built-in calendar and a much better signature and email template features. While I don’t use these Spark features everyday, I would definitely miss them if switched over fully to Mail Pilot.
Mail Pilot also contains the signature and email template features, but they simply are not as robust and developed as Spark’s features.
One of the expectation I have a for an applications I use is that include shortcuts and menu items for all the features of the application, so that I can trigger most used features using BetterTouchTool (now at version 3.0) and some Keyboard Maestro.
I have over a dozen BetterTouchTool triggers for Spark, because it provides shortcuts for nearly all its features. I have triggers for deleting emails, creating a new email, triggering the snooze and folder windows, opening a designated website, entering a URL, and pinning an email.
Mail Pilot has shortcuts for creating new emails, switching between the different user interfaces, and for deleting emails. But the snoozing and folder features lack shortcuts. I have created BetterTouchTool triggers though that make easy to switch between the four areas of Mail Pilot: Important emails, Batch emails, Snoozed and Set Emails, as well as the More section.
Spark for individual users is free both the Mac and iOS versions. For team users, Spark is $6.49 per month. Mail Pilot is $49 per year, or $4.99 per month.
Spark or Mail Pilot?
It’s still too early for me to choose between Spark or Mail Pilot. For the last week I’ve been using both applications, but I’m trying to see how much I actually use Mail Pilot though it lacks the shortcuts that I would like to trigger with BetterTouchTool. I do though prefer Mail Pilot’s clean user interface because it seems to help me get through emails faster.
However, I’m weary of another application subscription, and I’m not sure Mail Pilot is worth the price right now. I’ll test it out for a month before I pony up the $50.