Mac Email Client Test Drive

Are you looking for an email client for Mac?

In this article we review six, including Apple's Mail, Mulberry, Opera Mail, Postbox, Thunderbird and Unibox.

There were several programs that we considered that simply didn't make the cut. They were often limited to a single email provider (eg. Google), lacked essentials (eg. IMAP support), had bad reviews or no free trial.

No time to read the details? Skip to the conclusion for our top picks.

Test Criteria

For each client, we considered:

  • Ease of installation and setup
  • Look and feel
  • Reliability
  • Ease of use
  • Integration with macOS
  • Distinctive features
  • Spam filtering and filter rules
  • Ease of configuration
  • Documentation and support
  • Price and license

The Contenders

Mail (Apple)

Mail is installed by default on all new Mac computers. It really sets the benchmark for what to expect from the others.

It packs all the standard features you expect from a basic email client into an elegant interface that is easy to use.

There is a spam filter and filter rules. Note that you must turn on the spam filter in the preferences.

The preferences are adequate and well organised.

Built-in help is adequate. Apple also have support forums and a customer support hotline.

Apple Mail is free.

Mulberry

Mulberry is a cross-platform client that suffers from unnecessary feature bloat and whose integration with the Mac feels like an after thought. If you need a cross platform client, maybe take a look. Otherwise, stay clear of this one.

Installation and setup need improvement. The client is distributed in a standard Mac disk image. Installation involves copying the program and non-standard documentation folder separately to the Applications folder.

There's no wizard or anything like that, just the standard Preferences window. In our testing, we had to go back later to fill in the outgoing mail settings in order to send mail.

Look and feel is where the program really suffers. Though technically it uses the standard widgets, it has a very dated appearance.

The interface feels a little clunky and awkward. It is often unresponsive or excessively slow. It just feels alien and quite unintuitive at times.

Mulberry seems to have a rather annoying habit of asking how you want to do simple things, such as creating a new email, forwarding an email, and where to save the sent mail. Though there is an option to remember a default, I am already finding this tiresome.

Basic functionality like the Address Book feels cumbersome to use. The interface uses far too many windows!

There doesn't appear to be any integrated spam filter, or filtering rules.

The preferences for this client are feature-packed, but frankly a little over-cooked. I would have preferred more time spent on basic usability, than all these options.

The documentation is available, but in non-standard PDF format only. The manual while comprehensive, is not task-oriented and is not particularly easy to follow. Simply choosing Help from the menu gives an error message. The website does offer support and there is a Mac 'Quick Start Guide', though that is not immediately obvious.

Mulberry is free and open-source.

Opera Mail

Opera Mail is a tidy, barebones email client with a few customisation options. The only significant failing is the lack of address book integration with Mac.

Installation is a breeze. Opera Mail comes with a New Account Assistant which guides you through the setup of your accounts.

Opera Mail feels reasonably responsive. It has a relatively clean and elegant interface. It doesn't really adhere to the Mac look and feel, but it is not hard on the eyes either.

Though relatively easy to use, there are a few 'gotchyas'. By default, the shortcut for creating a new message is Command-Option-M, rather than the usual, Command-N. You can customise these, but it is not what you might expect after install.

Where it really starts to fall down is the lack of integration. Opera Mail uses it's own address book, rather than the one built into the Mac.

On the plus side, Opera Mail includes a feed reader for subscriptions to your favourite blogs and news services. It also has an option that enables you to choose your preferred reader layout so you're not stuck with the default three-column view.

Opera Mail doesn't seem to offer any spam or filtering options.

Basic configuration is not onerous and fairly straightforward. Though if you want to go all out, some of the other configuration dialogs are a bit hard to follow.

Built-in help is included, and Opera provide online forums and a support contact should you need it. Though most things are easy enough we doubt you will use it.

Opera Mail is free.

Postbox

Postbox is a modern, feature-complete client with good integration with the rest of the system.

At first launch, a handy wizard is presented to guide you thorough setup of your email accounts.

The look and feel of this client is fantastic. It is modern and feels right at home on the latest Mac desktop.

Postbox is easy to use and integrates well with the rest of the system.

This is a feature complete client with all the essentials. It includes filter rules and junk mail sorting, which is an unfortunate must these days.

The preferences screen is a little on the heavy side, but still fairly easy to use and well organised.

Postbox provides Help menu access to their website documentation, which shouldn't be a problem these days. The documentation is elegantly presented and there is also a Help Centre and contact form if you need it.

The worst thing about Postbox is the price. At $40 (US), it feels a little on the pricy side.

Thunderbird

Thunderbird is a heavy-weight client with an established history and a vibrant community.

Installation and setup are simple with the built-in account setup assistant.

Thunderbird has an elegant, customisable user-interface. Despite all the features of this client, it doesn't feel cluttered. The basics are still easy to accomplish.

Along with all the basics, Thunderbird includes a feed reader for your favorite blogs and news, and integrated calendar and chat. Junk mail filter and filter rules are included. If there is something it doesn't do, the add-on community has you covered.

Overall configuration is straightforward albeit packed. The one gripe I had was the account configuration dialog. It scrolls vertically, though this isn't at all obvious. It is a feature-heavy client, so it may take a little time to familiarise yourself with the options.

Documentation is available on the Thunderbird website and there is an active support forum community should you need it.

Thunderbird is part of the Mozilla project, and is both free and open-source.

Unibox

Unibox is a capable, albeit light-weight client with a fresh take on email.

The client has a standard Apple installer and a setup assistant for quickly entering your account details.

The interface is a refreshing take on email. It offers a clean, contact centred design reminicient of text messaging on the phone. It probably wont appeal to everyone.

Address book integration is key and Unibox seems to handle with without a hiccup.

Unibox only seems to have rudimentary support for junk mail sorting.

The Unibox preferences panel is fairly basic and suits the functionality on offer with the client.

The website has a frequently asked questions section that provides basic help, and a place to log a support request.

Unibox is available on the App store for $25 (US).

Our Picks

Unibox offers a light and fresh take on email for an acceptable price.

If you want features, Thunderbird packs a lot of features into a modern client, and it's free.

Postbox is a feature-complete client that will feel at home on the latest Mac, provided you can overlook the price.

Finally, if you just want to get on with it, Apple's mail is standard on the Mac and has the essentials well covered.

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