A few weeks ago I blogged about moving from Microsoft Outlook (and an Exchange account) to eM Client using Google’s productivity tools Gmail, Calendar and Contacts. These are my reflections on using eM Client for the last month or so, having been a faithful Outlook user for the last 14 years.
My reasons for moving were three-fold:
- Simplify—I was using at least three email accounts, as well as trying to synchronise Outlook calendar and contacts with Google. This way I could keep everything in one place.
- Share—I needed a more robust way of sharing my calendar with (my wife) Jane, and she uses Gmail as her primary account, so it made sense to move.
- Cost—Though they do offer a terrific service, buying an Exchange account from Simply Mail Services was costing me about £70 per year. I could put that money to better use.
My hesitations in moving were two-fold:
- Email address—I really wanted to keep my email@example.com email address, and for email to send as that. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that was just vanity. So long as all mail sent that address was forwarded to me it didn’t really matter what email address I was sending from; besides some people were emailing me there anyway. (As it is I can configure Gmail to send as my own domain, I just haven’t done it yet.)
- Email client—I’ve enjoyed using Outlook because I like having everything in the same place: email, calendar, contacts and tasks. I’ve adapted my workflow around this set up. and it works for me. I knew that Outlook wasn’t suitable but didn’t know of an alternative. eM Client proved to be a near perfect replacement.
Setting up eM Client was so simple. Upon installing the application I was asked to enter my account details. I typed in my Gmail email address and password, and eM Client did the rest.
The free version of eM Client allows you to connect a maximum of two accounts, the pro version (£29.95 GBP) allows unlimited accounts. I’m currently on the free version but I intend to upgrade to pro at some point, simply to support the company.
During the setup eM Client alerted me to the fact that I hadn’t enabled my Gmail account to use IMAP. This was easy to do within Gmail settings.
IMAP enables two-way communication between eM Client and Gmail, so any changes made in one client are immediately made in the others. This makes it really useful when trying to access your email from multiple devices, e.g. Windows and Android.
Once connected to my Gmail account eM Client took only a few minutes to download my email messages, calendar and contacts data.
I also connected my Facebook account which allows me to use eM Client as a chat client, and to update contact details and avatars from Facebook.
Review of eM Client
The following is a summary of my experience of using eM Client over the last few weeks.
Bear in mind that I am using eM Client only for Email, Calendar and Contacts. eM Client also supports Tasks and what it calls Widgets, which are plugins like an RSS reader.
I discovered, quite by accident, that if you right-click the left-hand panel you can decide which modules to display.
This also affects the shortcut keys to quickly navigate to these modules. With Tasks and Widgets removed these are now, for me:
- Ctrl + F1 Mail
- Ctrl + F2 Calendar
- Ctrl + F3 Contacts
The full list of shortcut keys can be viewed at Tools > Settings > General > Shortcuts.
Using Gmail with eM Client
The email client looked very similar to Outlook, albeit with a simpler, cleaner look. The screen shows four columns (from the left):
- Folders (Gmail labels)
- Mail received
- Message (full text of the currently selected message)
- Sidebar (showing contact details, agenda or chat)
eM Client comes with a number of built-in themes. I’m using a light blue theme called Arctic which is very clean looking. It clearly distinguishes the different areas of the screen: menu bar, mail folders, message, sidebar allowing me to get on and work undistracted.
Folders and labels
One feature I used a lot in Outlook mail was folders. Gmail doesn’t use folders. Instead it uses labels.
For many years I have used the following primary folders:
- Mailing lists
- Waiting for
I tend to create sub-folders for Projects and Waiting for to make it easier to find emails. Then when the project is finished, or the item I’m waiting for (e.g. Amazon – CD order) has arrived I destroy the folder and either delete the emails or move them into the Archive folder.
In Gmail email can be categorised with more than one label. I have decided to use only one label per email. This matches the way that I used folders in Outlook. I find it simpler this way.
Something else I had to learn about Gmail is that “Inbox” is a label too. If an email doesn’t have the “Inbox” label then it is regarded as archived and appears under the “All Mail” label.
In eM Client Gmail labels appear as folders. So if I drag and drop an email into a folder in eM Client, it applies that label in the Gmail web client.
Once I understood these subtle differences between Outlook and Gmail I was happy to explore setting up rules to automatically filter my email.
Something that I relied on a lot within Outlook were rules. I created a lot of rules to filter all my regular newsletter and mailing list emails into a sub-folder called ‘Mailing lists’ (who would have thought?).
I’ve found this prevents my inbox from clogging up with ‘noise’, enabling me to see the more important emails from friends and family.
Gmail calls these rules filters. But unlike in Outlook, you cannot set up these filters within the eM Client. They must be done using the Gmail web interface.
Initially I thought that I might find this a bother, but in reality I’ve just accepted that this is the way it is. And besides, for each newsletter I only need to do it once.
It has also allowed me to review.all the mail I’m getting and decide whether I should cancel the subscription or not.
I tend to use the same rules for each message:
- Skip the Inbox (Archive it).
- Apply the label: Gareth/Mailing lists.
- Never send it to Spam.
- Also apply filter to X matching conversations.
As well as labels/folders, eM Client supports categories.
There are four contexts in which categories can be used: contacts, emails, calendar events or tasks. Categories can be unique to a context or shared across any of the four contexts.
You may set the context when editing the category.
I have still to finalise the categories, but I tend to use these only for grouping items within my “Action” folder/label. These are emails that I have identified that I need to do something with: reply to, read, or follow a link to download something, for example.
Something I used quite a lot in Outlook was “Quick Parts” where you could store standard replies to certain questions. I used these a lot for replying about Psion repairs or certain mahjong questions.
eM Client doesn’t support this feature. However, you can create a number of custom signatures and using the “Insert signature on caret position” option to can use this to insert these standard replies into your text. And unlike Outlook 2010 you may add more than one signature to an email.
If your reply is longer then you could opt to use templates. As far as I can see, however, you cannot insert template text into a reply. You may only use it to create a new email. So if you don’t mind a bit of copying and pasting then you may choose to do this. Otherwise, stick with the signature workaround.
When I used Outlook with a standard (POP3) account I needed an add-in to filter out spam emails; I used Cloudmark DesktopOne, which I found excellent.
After I moved to Microsoft Exchange I paid extra for a Postini server-side spam filter to be activated on my account, which I found gobbled up more than a few genuine mailing list emails.
Having moved to Gmail, only a few rogue messages have got through to my inbox, and I’ve had maybe only four or five false positives.
Right-clicking the Junk E-mail folder in eM Client allows me to empty my Gmail junk mail.
On the whole I have been able to use eM Client in exactly the same way that I used Outlook. In other words, my familiar workflow hasn’t really been upset.
The only real difference is needing to go to Gmail itself to set up mail filters.
I am actually surprised at how easily and seamlessly I’ve made the transition from Outlook to eM Client, after 14 years of using the former, but I suspect that reflects the quality and flexibility of the software.
Using Google Calendar with Em Client
As sharing calendars was one of the drivers for moving from Outlook I reckoned that this had better work seamlessly. And I’m delighted to report that it is.
I have five Google calendars that I display:
- My default calendar (green)
- Children (orange)
- Home (grey)
- Jane (violet)
- Scottish Episcopal Church saints days (rose)
Regardless of the device (web, eM Client, or Android) Jane and I have synchronised the colours of the calendars. So my calendar is always green, Jane’s is always violet, children is always orange, etc. That way we don’t need to think twice about what we’re looking at.
eM Client draws its colours from Google Calendar itself. On our Android devices (Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini) you have to set the colours on the device itself.
I used to use a lot of colours and categories when using the Outlook calendar to denote different activities, e.g. coding, writing documentation, meeting in the office, meeting in St Andrews, meeting/conference outwith St Andrews, etc.
I expected to miss that when I moved to a mono-colour calendar but again I’ve surprised myself. The clarity offered by colour equals person has been really valuable.
I don’t use any categories now for events. eM Client comes with four built-in (vacation, must attend, needs preparation, birthday) but I don’t use any of them; you cannot delete these four.
Another decision we made was to give each other full read and write access to each other’s diaries. That way we can add appointments directly to each other’s calendar without having to go through the rigmarole of inviting each other to events.
Calendar for home events
Another innovation was to add a generic, shared calendar for home events such as which recycling bins go out and when, gas boiler service dates, car tax, etc.
I chose grey for that calendar which makes it neutral but helps it stand out enough to notice it.
Google Calendar’s recurring event feature was ideal for this calendar.
Like eM Client’s handling of Gmail, the lag between adding an event within eM Client and it appearing either on the Google Calendar web interface or on our Android device is minimal. It is almost instant.
While eM Client displays an Agenda view in the sidebar, I have not found myself using it and tend to leave the sidebar set to viewing Facebook chat contacts.
Tasks and calendar
One feature of Outlook that I used a lot was to drag and drop tasks from the sidebar onto the calendar.As it’s not possible to do this in eM Client I am now using Todoist to manage my tasks.
I now either manage the dates within Todoist itself or simply copy and paste tasks into my calendar. It’s a little overhead but really not that much.
As this was one of the primary functions that we needed to get right (sharing multiple calendars) I have been quite delighted not only with what Google Calendar itself offers but also how eM Client handles the management of these calendars.
Unlike Gmail there is very little that I have needed to do using the Google Calendar web interface, once we got the calendars created, shared and set to the right colours.
Using Google Contacts with eM Client
Google Contacts is yet another area where eM Client excels.
When I used Outlook (either standalone or connected to Exchange) I would every now and then import my Outlook contacts into Google in the vain hope of keeping them backed-up and synchronised. It was an overhead that I didn’t need and it’s been quite a relief, actually, to have them all in one place for a change.
There are five ways to view your contacts, as well as a couple of ways to filter them. The five views are:
- Phone list
- By Company
- By Location
- Custom View (which by default shows you every contact card field in a spreadsheet-like table)
- Business cards
The default view is Business cards, and this is generally the view that I prefer. Each tile shows you the person’s name, email address, telephone numbers and/or company:
The coloured blocks on the left-hand side represent categories.
In Outlook I used to categorize almost all my contacts, but I used the Company field for that. I used this field to record where I met the person, e.g. National Youth Choir of Great Britain, School, Family, etc. I can use the “By Company” view to display contacts in this way; although it displays them by default as First name, Surname.
I have also created a number of key categories, e.g. colleagues, family, home-related contacts (plumber, joiner, etc.) so that I can filter my contacts by these categories.
These categories also come in handy when viewing contacts on my Android phone.
One thing that I discovered was that for contacts to appear in Google Contacts they seem to need to be categorized as “My Contacts”,
The other way to filter, of course, is by search. I would have found it handy if the search updated the list as you were typing but you have to hit Enter before the search begins.
Using a combination of categories, search and the scroll bar you can quickly locate the contact you are looking for.
Something I really miss from Outlook 2010, however, is the A-Z list down the right-hand side of the contacts cards view. This allowed you to very quickly navigate within your contact cards. I do hope eM Client adds this to a future version.
One neat feature, once you’ve connected your Facebook account to eM Client is the ability to have your contacts’ profile photographs imported into Google Contacts.
That obviously requires your contacts to be using Facebook, and for them to have used the email address that you have for them to be registered in their Facebook account.
Duplicates and conflicts
Occasionally things can go wrong. When I used a Psion to sync with Outlook on two PCs (home and work) I was forever needing to remove duplicate entries. This isn’t as big a problem with eM Client as it is in Outlook.
eM Client comes with its own built-in duplicate remover (Tools > Deduplicator…).
I found it pretty effective, to be honest. It found a number of duplicates and where possible it combined information very effectively and deleted the rest.
A couple of times while updating contact cards I found that I made too many changes in a short space of time. In these cases eM Client asked me which data I wanted to keep and which I wanted to overwrite: local or remote.
Another win. To be honest, I can’t see myself needing to use the Google Contacts web interface terribly much. More or less everything is handled very nicely within eM Client.
All in all, I am pretty delighted with eM Client. It does exactly what I needL which is to manage Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Contacts in one place. I really couldn’t ask for much more.
Sure there are a few niggles, like the lack of A-Z navigation in Contacts, and needing to set Filters in the Gmail web interface, but really these are minor issues.
If you are looking for an Outlook replacement (and eM Client does support Exchange, Gmail, iCloud, Outlook, as well as other standard POP3 and IMAP email accounts etc.) then I can thoroughly and warmly recommend eM Client.
If I was to score it for its integration with Google services then I would need to give it a full 5/5.