Long time computer users no doubt remember when Google Mail (called Gmail from this point forward) was an invite-only Beta application. This was really Google's first big undertaking in to the online world. Fast forward many, many years and Gmail has become one of the most popular email services available. And Google itself might possess the most powerful Internet presence on Earth. Gmail has recently redone their entire Inbox system, offering a selection of five separate folders to help sort mail. It's a solid setup that works better out of the box that many might have expected it to do. At the same time, the Compose system has been reworked to take place in a separate pop-out box from the rest of the interface. It was a bit alarming at first, but it works well. Everything is clean, without much clutter anywhere, though it can almost be a little too clean and sterile. Google Chat and Drive are integrated in to the service, though there is a surprising lack of other Google service integration in to the overall system. Still, Gmail is absolutely one of the best email services available for no cost, featuring almost everything that most people want.
Opening up Gmail will bring the user face-to-face with the new Inbox interface. There are now five separate tabs within the Inbox (though some can be removed if the user wishes). Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums act as a filtering system for all incoming email, siphoning each message off to the most appropriate tab. It actually does a pretty good job of managing and organizing incoming mail, but the sort settings can be tweaked however the user wishes. Any email can be dragged from one folder to another as well, either on a one-time basis or as a new rule which the Inbox tab system will remember from that point forward.
Over to the left of the Inbox tabs are a couple of folders labelled Inbox and Starred. In truth, these are but the tip of the iceberg. Hovering the mouse pointer over the gray line beneath Starred opens up an entire panel of folder choices, with even more (such as Trash and Spam folders) opening up by hitting the More button at the bottom of the list. Each of these Labels, as Gmail refers to them, can be used to further break down email and store it according to type. Any of them may be added or removed at any time, and new ones added from the bottom of the list. The one complaint about this drop-down system is that it can sometimes be a bit fiddly to actually get it to open up fully, though mouse detection seems to have at least improved lately.
Beneath the labels section is the Google Chat interface. This allows the Gmail user to see all of their Google contacts, with clear demarcation over who is available and who isn't. Clicking on any of the names opens up a chat box interface for IM communication. Buttons are also available for making phone calls directly out of this interface, as well as for setting up video chat sessions. It's a pretty light IM chat program, but it gets the job done.
Hitting the small arrow next to Gmail in the top left opens a drop down menu offering Gmail, Contacts and Tasks as choices. Contacts brings up the list of Google and Gmail contacts you have, allowing the list to be edited and new contacts added at any time. Additional information may also be added to any whenever you wish, and contacts further divided in to custom categories for easier management. Tasks opens up a pop-up box to allow the user to enter any sort of task or scheduled event. There are a wide selection of options for customizing each, though it seems a bit odd that direct use of Google Calendar doesn't seem to be one of the possibilities.
Hitting the large Compose button opens another pop-up box for writing outgoing emails. The basic look of the form is incredibly bare bones, with all of the options opening up from the items along the bottom of the box itself. Files can be added from the user's system or directly from Google Drive. As Google Drive is also where Google Docs works from, this opens up full Google Docs functionality for cross-use with Gmail. Pictures may be added from your own system or an online URL, and can actually be embedded in the message itself the same as Outlook.com allows. Invitations may also be crafted here which let the user create custom invites to events. This includes a full Calendar interface and allows for every aspect of the invitation to the written specifically for that event and inserted in to the message.