Using Offline Google Mail
When I first ran the Offline Google Mail app, I had to select and okay an “Allow offline mail” setup page, which seems odd, given the name of the app. I’m not sure why you’d use this app if you’re only going to use it while online, since the regular Gmail app/site is more capable. Even before okaying this, I saw a new system tray icon in my Windows 7 taskbar for Chrome. Interestingly, this icon wasn’t just about the mail client, but offered purely Chrome browser functions, such as a task manager.
After okaying offline mail reading, I was immediately taken to my inbox. As advertised, it looked identical to the Gmail client you see on an iPad or an Android tablet in landscape view, with the mail headers in a list on the left, and preview of the mail contents on the right. This is almost worth the installation of Offline Google Mail for me, since the regular Gmail site doesn’t offer a preview of mail contents unless you install an experimental Labs add-on.
For the current mail you’re looking at, a drop-down menu lets you do the usual mail functions—Reply, Move, Label, Mute, Report spam, Print, and Mark as Unread. Buttons above let me delete or archive the piece of mail. One odd limitation was that if an email contained multiple addressees, I only saw Reply All; there was no Reply to Sender option, though I could remove other addressees individually later.
A Menu back-arrowed button takes you to Gmail’s organizational features. These include: Priority Inbox’s Important category; Everything; “Labels” (Google’s word for mail folders) such as Starred, Sent, Outbox, Drafts, Junk; and any personal folders you’ve created. Important appears in both the Priority Inbox and Label sections, which seems an unnecessary duplication. The interface does implement conversation view, showing the names of participants and number of emails in parentheses, and you can collapse individual messages with a button to the right above the message area.
Then I pulled the Internet plug, switched off Wi-Fi, and started composing an email. I could even attach a file, but there were no formatting options at all for text, and no type-ahead suggestions when entering email addresses. I couldn’t include a signature, or specify an importance level—it’s pretty much the most bare-bones mail app you can imagine. If you’re used to all the features like these you get in Outlook (which, by the way, has worked offline for decades) you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The mailer does, however, point out misspellings with squiggly underlines, and you can select a correction from a right-click context menu, and even add spellings to your custom dictionary. And if you’re not ready to send the mail (maybe you want to add some formatting later in a more powerful client), you can just hit the Save button. If you want to scrap your draft, the final piece of the interface is for you—the Discard button. A tooltip appears in the bottom of the Inbox window apprising you of what’s in your outbox.
After this inspection of the interface, it was time to plug the PC’s Ethernet cable back in and wait for the test emails I’d composed to be on their way. For a while, the tooltip showing emails in the outbox remained unchanged, even when its “Last Checked indicator said “Just now.” Soon after, it periodically read “Checking,” but after that check, it still showed two messages waiting in the outbox. After the connection was completely restored, the test mail was sent at the next check. The mail’s timestamp reflected when it was actually sent, rather than when I hit Send after composing it. This means you lose track of when you were actually working on an email.
It’s a Start
Chromebook users can now do something with their laptops if they don’t have Internet connectivity. When this capability arrives for Docs, it will really make the new class of computers useful offline. But the email client is as basic as it gets—forget addressing multiple. Non-Chromebook users who prefer Firefox or a browser other than Chrome also need not apply. Another problem is that you’ll probably find yourself having to switch between the more-capable Gmail interface for online use and this offline app when offline. Existing mail apps like Outlook and Thunderbird offer you the same full-featured interface for both offline and online use.
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