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Yahoo, who? This is Gmail. This is Great.
Member Name: sy2kgbr
Date: 01/09/06, updated on 02/09/06 (469 review reads)
Advantages: Very reliable, lots of space, no spam and integrated features such as search and chat.
Gmail first open to beta testing in the UK in April 2004, and I've been a member since October 2004, so hopefully I can provide you with an informed review about the email service that they provide.
SPEED & RELIABILITY
Gmail is incredibly quick to load - if you enter the wrong username or password, you find out in a second; there's no long wait as the database tries to match up your wrongly entered details with the correct ones. The site does go down from time to time, but never for more than 5 minutes and you get the impression that the site's down because they're adding more space or working on new features.
Before using Gmail, I was always losing messages. I knew that someone had emailed me about something roughly on some date, but I could never quite track them down, partially because the messages were sandwiched in between layers of spam. With Gmail, there's a handy built in search feature.
To refine your search, you can use the following criteria:
- search (e.g. inbox, sent mail...)
- has the words
- doesn't have
- has attachment (yes/no)
- date within X days of ...
As you would expect from Google, the search feature is fast and accurate. I usually send myself files to back up, and whenever I need them again, I run a search for messages from my email address with an attachment. This means thanks to the search feature and generous space allowance, I can use Gmail as an online storage solution. I can also find messages from specific people (e.g. if I remember one of my friends has written to me about a party being organised for the following month and I didn't reply at the time, I can find that message in seconds and let her know if I can or can't come).
Unlike with other email providers, I rarely get spam messages. If I do receive any, normally they go straight to the spam folder. If they do arrive in my inbox, I can mark them as spam, they get moved to the folder and the Gmail team investigate how the message got to me and add a new rule to their anti-spam script to make sure similar messages don't bug me or anyone else. Messages that end up in my spam folder are deleted after 30 days, giving me ample time to check them out and mark them as "not spam" if they're actually genuine newsletters I want. I only have to tell Gmail once and they won't try to delete messages from that company again.
In my spam folder, it currently says "Hooray, no spam here!" At the top of the page, Google have provided a link to "Spam Fajitas - Serves 8, add extra salsa if desired" and if I use their arrow buttons, I can find a recipe for "Vineyard Spam Salad - Combine grapes, spam, peapods and onions in large bowl" or even "Spam Skillet Casserole - Broil until golden". Never let it be said that the Gmail team don't have a sense of humour.
I don't give my email address to companies that want to send me advertisements for viagra and gambling, and apparently, neither do Google. Not having an inbox full of sexual propositions really is a joy.
When I open up an email, there's a space to the right of the screen where advertising goes, if it's appropriate. Ads come in the form of text links and are based on keywords used in my emails. In an email from my very grumpy Irish friend, there is no advertising displayed, probably because she's managed to make the ads depressed through her 'cheerful' manner and they've gone off to cry somewhere.
In an email from a business advisor, there are text ads displayed for "HSBC Business Banking" and "Car Finance for Start Ups". I don't drive, but the ad script doesn't realise that. However, the link to HSBC banking interests me, and I've clicked on it to read more.
Now, for you paranoid people out there, it should be noted that people do not read your email - the keywords are picked up by an automated script and your emails are not seen by anyone. It's all very private; as it should be.
Since the ads are text only, they're very discreet. They're also usually relevant and are not shown everywhere.
To demonstrate how minimal the advertising is, I'll compare the ads on Gmail with that of a well known rival - Hotmail.
When I log into Hotmail, instantly a 300 x 250 pixel graphic based ad appears accusing me in big red letters of being deep in debt. When I go to my actual inbox, there's a big 160 x 600 ad on the right for some sort of casino and at the top, there's a huge flash ad 728 x 90 pixels wide about me not having a TV licence. I also have six new messages from various interesting people, such as "HôrñyWîfeý" whose email is titled "Lêts Hôôk Up Fôr SêX", but I've already mentioned the lack of spam in Gmail elsewhere in this review.
I do digress. Back to the advertising, which is kind of hard to miss, given that a lot of the ads use bright colours and some even flash repeatedly, which I'm sure is not brilliant for epileptics. With Hotmail, it's very in your face and tends to be about products or services you would never consider purchasing. Gmail ads are so discreet that you don't have to pay attention to them if you don't want to (as they're to the side and not brightly coloured, you can zone out) and you can follow up potentially useful links if you do want to.
LOTS OF SPACE
I've had my Gmail account for roughly two years now, and I've never deleted anything. According to the bottom of the screen, I 'm currently using a tiny 7% of my 2760MB allowance. I strongly suspect that if I ever managed to use all of that up, Gmail would give me more space, and for free. I'm not sure how I'm going to prove that though, given that I use my Gmail account for emails and for online storage to back up important files, and I've still not managed to use 10%.
Hotmail now offers 250MB as opposed to the measly 2MB allowance they started out with, but 250MB is still less than 10% of what Gmail offer. Yahoo offer 1GB, but Gmail offer 2.5GB. Competitors are clearly trying to catch up, but seem to be either reluctant to offer as much, or are not in a financially viable position to do so.
EASY TO ORGANISE
The Gmail team don't believe in folders. So, there aren't any.
When an email message comes in, it's at the top of your inbox. When you reply, your response is grouped with it. If the other person replies again, the new message gets grouped with the original two. This way, it's really easy to follow an ongoing conversation without becoming confused. If you're not used to this feature, the concept might sound a bit strange at first, but trust me, it's such a brilliant idea. I send so many emails that I don't always remember what I've said to which person, but with this feature, one click with display all of my previous words.
Gmail do have labels in use - you can mark emails (or groups of emails) with a label (the names of which are entirely customisable) but I don't use this feature as I don't feel it's necessary.
If anything comes in that's really important (e.g. emails from your bank, log-in details from important sites), you can star them and they get displayed under "Starred" as well as in your inbox. If you manage to mess up the really easy way of organising emails that is Gmail, don't forget, there's always the search feature!;)
Despite being around for so long, Gmail remains officially in the beta stage. You cannot join Gmail without being invited by someone else, or alternatively, you can now get an invite by entering your mobile details. The more you use Gmail, the more invites you receive that you can send to your friends. On my main account, I currently have around 97 invites left. Newer accounts start out with 0 and eventually build up to 15. Regular users like me normally have about 100 invites spare.
All new Gmail accounts actually end in @googlemail.com, because Gmail lost a court case over the right to issue @gmail.com email addresses for free. However, if you open a new email address called firstname.lastname@example.org, all messages to email@example.com will reach you anyway. It works the other way around - I have a @gmail.com address, but @googlemail.com reaches me too.
If someone sends you an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or even email@example.com, that'll reach you too. Dots can be confusing ("was his email address firstnamelastname or firstaname dot lastname?") so Gmail don't use them. It can be really easy to send off an email to someone using a non Gmail provider and send it to the wrong person, because both jbloggs and j.bloggs are registered to two separate people. With Gmail, you can't do that. It's typo friendly.
And speaking of being bad at spelling, there's an inbuilt spellchecker so you can in fact check your messages before you send them, if you're so inclined.
If you log into Gmail using Internet Explorer 6.0 or above, or Firefox 1.0 or above, you automatically are signed into Google Talk, a messaging service that comes automatically with all Gmail accounts. Now, you can use Google Talk as a stand alone program, but with the latest browsers, you can find it integrated into your email account, which is really handy.
To the left of the screen, your name (the one you provided when you signed up) is displayed with a little green dot next to it, and below, it says "Set status here" and here's a little arrow. If you click on the arrow, you can see options to set your status to Busy or choose a custom message. If you click on the word "Set status here", you can type your own status message, e.g. "just popped out", "on the phone" or "washing my hair".
Below this, there's a list of all of your Google contacts, with a dot next to their name. A green one means they're online and available to chat, a red one with a white line through it means they're busy, and a grey dot means they're not signed into Google Talk at all.
To talk to somebody, click on their name, and a window pops up to the bottom left of your screen, staying on top of everything as you read through your emails and answer them. If you'd prefer to keep your messaging separate from your emails, you can click on Pop-out and a pop up window will open instead. You can click on "Options" to block that person if you decide you don't in fact like them very much, or "Go off the record" if you don't want a copy of your conversation to be saved to your Gmail account.
If you'd like to provide a photo of yourself, you can. Click on the arrow beside quick contacts, then click on your name, and select "Edit Information". You can now upload a small picture of yourself.
Gmail is fast, reliable, packed full of features, has a user-friendly interface and is growing in popularity around the world, not just in the UK.
It often amazes me just how Google can offer so many high quality services for free, but I'm not going to complain if that's what they want to do. Gmail (or Googlemail, as it's officially know as these days) is probably the best free email provider out there, if not the best email provider full stop, including the paid-for services available from other companies. If you don't already have a Gmail account, you should go ahead and get one.
Go on, make the change. You can even import contacts from Hotmail, Outlook, Yahoo! and more, if it makes things easier. Heartily recommended.
Summary: So good, I'd pay for this.