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Win the inbox war: Four utilities fight email onslaught

Rick Broida | Aug. 1, 2013
Managing your inbox can feel like a full-time job, which is problematic given that you need all your time for your actual job.

Those results can be confusing at first. The Mailstrom dashboard lets you sort messages by sender, subject, lists, time, size, shopping, and social. When you click any of these view options, a middle pane lists the results from most to least. In the sender view, for example, you'll quickly identify who sends you the most mail, because they'll appear at the top of the list. You then click any sender to see a list of the messages from that person, which appears in a pane on the right.

Mailstrom gives you four key tools. For any given selected batch of messages, you can archive, delete, or mark as spam. You can also move them to another folder (in other words, out of your inbox), at the same time optionally creating a rule so that future messages land in the same spot. And if you're looking at the Lists view, which shows any mailing lists you might be on (Groupon, stores, message forums, and so on), there's an Unsubscribe button.

However, Mailstrom doesn't distinguish between read and unread mail, which I found a serious limitation, and the color-coding it assigns to each filtered list of messages seems to serve no purpose. Plus, you can't view individual accounts; the service lumps everything together.

Although PCWorld reviewer Liane Cassavoy liked Mailstrom a lot, I found it less helpful. I felt like I spent more time trying to figure out how to use the tool effectively than I would have simply processing my inbox the usual way. That said, it's definitely worth a try, and for now the only cost is your time: Mailstrom is currently free.

SaneBox
Picture a bouncer stationed at the door to your inbox. VIP messages (like those from business contacts) get past the red-velvet rope; all others must stand in line. Outside. Like the undesirables they are.

That's SaneBox in a nutshell. The service works with webmail clients like Gmail, iCloud, and Yahoo, and also Exchange, Lotus Notes, and Outlook, making it without question the most business-savvy inbox attacker in the group. I tried it with a Gmail account.

In a matter of seconds after I signed up (with nothing to install, thankfully), SaneBox had analyzed some 1500 messages and relegated roughly a third of them—those deemed unimportant—to a newly created SaneLater folder. So in one fell swoop, the size of my inbox shrank by more than 30 percent. However, I was still looking at a mix of business and personal mail in both locations; SaneBox analyzes based on communication history, not content.

Over time, as you drag messages between folders to "train" the filtering system, SaneBox will indeed keep the important stuff in your inbox and consign the rest to SaneLater. You can also add SaneBlackHole (a trash bin for senders you never want to see again), SaneTomorrow (which holds emails until tomorrow), and SaneNextWeek (which holds them until the following Monday). Need a custom "defer" folder? SaneBox lets you add those, too. The service even has a reminder option similar to that offered by Followup.cc., along with loads of other customization options to help steer mail to more desirable places. (Think: attachments automatically saved to Dropbox.)

 

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