When I think of AOL, I cannot help but also think about the “You’ve Got Mail” tone that they made famous. As you take a look back on email, AOL was a pioneer in the field as they were one of the first companies to offer it to the masses, way back in the late 90′s. But outside of that and Instant Messenger, they have been very quiet now for quite some time.
Well, that all has changed recently, with their newly, upgraded email client called Alto. Yes, email has come a long way since AOL last came out with a client, and some would even say it is an already crowded space. When I got into the beta for this, the main thing that I wanted to see was whether or not this could replace the apps I currently use for email. I tried to use it by itself for the last couple of weeks and I came away with some interesting thoughts about it.
The first thing that you have to know is that Alto is a web based email client. I am going to be perfectly honest and say that I am not the hugest fan of web based clients, but I tried to not let that sway my opinion of it. When you first start out using the app, you can connect it to four different types of email. Gmail, Yahoo, AOL (who uses AOL anymore for email?), and iCloud are your options to connect with Alto Mail. What I found odd was the fact that if you wanted to connect to more than one email account, you had to log in separately, and there was no way to have more than one account in a unified inbox.
After your email gets all synced up, you will notice that Alto looks a little different in that they have a feature called “stacks”. This is their way of giving you an option to organize your email and be able to visibly see them along with the rest of your inbox. Each stack can be whatever you want it to be. For example, I have a stack for all my emails that are daily deals and I can choose to have those emails go straight to the stack and skip my inbox if I want. I can then click on the stack and I can see all of the emails that are in it.
Creating a stack is pretty simple to do and they can come in very handy. You can personalize it so that it knows what kind of email to put in that stack. For example, you can create them based off of a specific sender, recipient, or subject line. You are even given a stack that has all of your attachments in them, which is really nice. What I like about this feature is that it gives you a good way to unclutter your inbox, but what I found is that you have to make a conscious effort to check then so that you don’t miss out on an important email. There is a “new” badge to indicate to you that there is new mail in your stack so you don’t have to worry about knowing if there is a new email in it or not.
Outside of this, there is not much else as far as features are concerned. I connected my Gmail account and there were shortcuts on the sidebar that would take me to my Google Calendar and to Google Drive. When you hover over the Google Calendar icon, there is a mention that Alto will be coming out with their own calendar soon. By connecting these services, it leads me to believe that there is going to be some kind of integration of Google Cal and Drive in the future.
Can It Replace My Email Client?
This is the whole reason why I tried it out in the first place, was to see if it would be better than what I already have. In short, no, it won’t replace what I am currently using, but that doesn’t mean that this is not a good client. I think it is too early to tell how good Alto mail really is going to be. It is still in beta, and although I haven’t seen any new features in the past few weeks, it doesn’t mean that they are not working on them.
Overall, it seemed to work okay for me and I was able to get my email and put them into stacks and my Google mail folders as well. So the functionality worked good, but it was definitely slow in some areas. When I compared it with the Gmail web client, it would take a lot longer to get email, and some times new mail would show up in Gmail and wouldn’t show up in Alto for at least 30 mins later.
Will It Replace Your Email Client?
Well, that all depends on what you prefer. If you like to use a web based email client, then I would say you should definitely take a look at Alto. If my guess about it integrating more with Google, I think it will definitely become a more full featured client. If you rather use a desktop email app, then Alto may not be your best solution. It definitely doesn’t have the features to compete with a desktop client at this point, and I am not sure if it ever will.
Regardless of what I have to say, you should go and try it out for yourself. You can sign up on their site to be notified about getting into the beta. I will be interested to see where they go from here and if they can actually make some noise in this very crowded space. The stacks feature is nice, but they are going to have to add more than that to compete. What do you guys think, can this client really make people want to switch to it?