Ever since Google killed off Google Gears, users were left without any way to access their Gmail accounts without internet. Google said they were ending Gears because they wanted to focus on implementing HTML5 to get a newer, more complete, and less plugin-based system for offline email.
Even though it’s been a long time in the making, Google’s finally kept their word: the Offline Gmail app is now available for free in the Chrome Web Store. Let’s check out what it’s like!
The Main Interface
The layout is simple: navigation on the left, emails on the right. When browsing a folder with multiple emails, you can use the check boxes next to each email to easily label them and move emails in groups. If you’re an iPad user, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the striking similarity to Gmail’s web interface on the iPad, shown below:
They took a bunch of design element they liked on the iPad and brought them to the desktop. While it’s debatable whether this was the best idea or not (as we’ll discuss later), the interface is certainly easy to use and has all the usual features you’d expect.
The sidebar is where all the navigation takes place. From it, you can maneuver your way through to your inbox, to any labels you’ve created, or take a look at spam or archived messages. At the top is a search box which you can use to quickly find any email. In the bottom left is a small overlay that shows the current status of the app, such as if emails are being synced.
On the opposite side of the sidebar is where your emails are shown. Whenever there is more than a single email, the emails are displayed in a “conversation view,” meaning that each email is collapsed down and organized in a way that makes it easy to see all the emails in a correspondence in an ordered way.
From the dropdown in the top right, you can select a variety of other basic options, such as printing an email or marking it as spam. You can also archive emails and the right and left arrows allow you to read the next or previous email in your inbox.
Composing an Email
Creating an email is as simple as hitting the “compose” button next to the sidebar and writing your email. In the “To” and “Cc/Bcc” text entry boxes, if you start to type a name or address, a list of possible entries are instantly given underneath. Simple features like this really add to the overall feel of quality in this app. You also have all basic editing and formatting tools.
If you create an email and accidentally leave the app or close your browser, it will automatically save it as a draft so no damage is done; you can simply open the app up again, find the draft, and continue writing. This is especially handy for those long important emails that take time to create.
The Offline Gmail webapp is speedy. Emails appear instantly when they’re received, and past emails are synced to your computer locally blazingly fast. The app even downloads attachments so you can access them when you don’t have internet access. Through my experience using it, I haven’t come across any lag or slowdowns whatsoever, even when I was on my underpowered Chromebook.
What’s also cool is that the app is reliant on HTML5 standards instead of using plugins. This means that if you’re using Chrome, you don’t need to download anything extra to use it.
The iPad-like interface serves its purpose well, but it’d be nice to see Google add the option to use the regular Gmail interface. Their design team recently redid the whole standard Gmail interface and its a shame that offline support only works with the iPad-esque app; the new design makes much better use of screen space and packs a lot more information in the same space when compared to the current offline app.
As of now, the Offline Gmail app is only available on the Chrome browser. While Chrome is certainly a great browser, this limits offline Gmail usage quite a bit and is definitely a downside.
Hopefully the Gmail team will allow offline access with the standard interface and on more modern browsers sometime in the future.
Offline Gmail is a well-designed, well thought-out webapp that accomplishes its goal of providing offline gmail access to all. While it’s not perfect by any means, it’s certainly an awesome first step to a unified experience with Gmail, whether you’re on the internet or not. Go ahead and grab it from the Chrome Web Store!