App Directory: The Best Email Client For Mac

When first choosing the best email client on the Mac, we went with the pricey MailMate knowing that someday Sparrow would mature into a contender that could take its place. Today's that day, so we're updating our App Directory entry to reflect that.

I've always been fond of Sparrow but it was never justifiably the right choice for most Mac users. The app has now become so versatile that it's a wonderful choice whether you're a minimalist or a power user. It's especially great if you have a Gmail or Google Apps account.


Platform: Mac OS X

Price: $US10 (or free with ads)

Download Page

  • Supports Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo!, MobileMe, AOL, and any IMAP server
  • One unified inbox or separate inboxes — your choice
  • Adjustable interface that can be as minimal as the official Twitter app for Mac or as large and robust as any other powerful email client
  • Powerful searches via a token-based system, similar to Gmail and Spotlight in Mac OS X Lion
  • No need to attach files — you can set Sparrow to automatically detect files in your Dropbox or just upload them to Cloud App instead
  • Support for native Gmail features like labels, spam filtering, and priority inbox
  • Pulls in images from Facebook to put a face beside the messages you get
  • Excellent threaded conversation view
  • Swipe up to refresh your email feed
  • Press the spacebar to use Quick Look to preview your email attachments

Sparrow started off as a minimal Gmail desktop client but has since blossomed into a versatile multi-service email client for basic and power users alike. Although it's what I used back when this App Directory entry was first created, I'd originally chosen MailMate because Sparrow was too new and lacking in important features. Now it's both simple and very feature-rich, making it versatile enough to meet the needs of practically anyone.

Additionally it's fast, attractive and easy to use. Sparrow's support team is responsive and its developers add new features on a monthly basis. While I consider $10 to be a very reasonable price, Sparrow also has an ad-supported version that you can use free of charge. Sparrow really goes out of its way to work for as many types of people as possible, and it accomplishes the task without compromising anything. What was once a niche option is now the best email client on the Mac.

Sparrow has its quirks. The keyboard shortcuts are a little unusual and hard to remember. For example, you press Command+1-7 to navigate through different mailboxes. These shortcuts pertain to the order of your different mailboxes, so they're not hard to figure out, but it is difficult to memorize which numbers apply to which mailboxes. You just have to look. You also can't archive messages when you're searching for them. Sparrow has a few little quirks like this. They're certainly not deal breakers, but they do get a little annoying at times.

The obvious competition is Apple Mail(.app), which is very similar to MailMate but with fewer features and more problems. If you want to save $40, however, those problems might be worth it.

MailMate ($US40) was our previous top pick for the best mail client, and it succeeds on many, many levels—especially if you like Apple's but find it to be lacking in features, speed, viewing options, and several other things. It has a very similar interface to but corrects pretty much everything that's wrong with Apple's default client while adding a few other really compelling features. It's light on disk space (only 13MB) and it runs very quickly in comparison to every other email client we looked at. Search is amazing, providing you with a ridiculous amount of control. Smart mailboxes are smarter because you can filter based on plenty of very specific criteria, plus you can get pretty specific with the rules you can assign.

Practically everything can be accessed using the keyboard. The layout of the app can be changed with a quick shortcut to one of five very useful options, including widescreen mode. While Gmail support could be better, you can actually do things like archive messages with a click of a button. Lastly, dynamic signatures is very helpful. MailMate takes a look at the last email you sent to a particular person and what signature you used (if any). Rather than selecting a signature based on the email account you're sending from, it selects the last signature you used. But it's not perfect. For starters, it's $30 more than Sparrow. It only supports IMAP, has some navigation issues, it's threaded messages aren't ideal, and it isn't always intuitive to use.

Postbox is another great competitor with another high price tag ($US30). Like MailMate, Postbox excels in search options and additional powerful features you won't find in most other mail clients. For example, you get message summary mode, sorting by type/subject of email (called the Focus Pane), add-ons, easy archiving of messages and more.

For the ultra-minimalists, there's Notify. It runs in your OS X menubar. It's pretty. It's surprisingly feature rich for such a tiny application. It's very much not an app for the power user, but rather someone who uses email casually.

Lastly, there's Outlook and Thunderbird. These are two well-known email clients on the Mac (and on Windows as well, of course). Both offer compelling features but tend to not integrate with Mac OS X quite as well as most other apps.

Lifehacker's App Directory is a growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools.


    Apple Mail only demonstrates how Apple has dropped the ball on its 'real' computer software.

    I'll be installing Sparrow ASAP

    I've been using Postbox for a few months now and it's great. You can get it a bit cheaper if you check out their Facebook page too.

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