Getting started with the new Gmail tabs

For most Gmail users, the new tab approach is going to be a new way of using Gmail. Here's what you need to know.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Google on Wednesday made a big announcement regarding Gmail's overall look and feel. Gmail will be taking a new tabbed approach to helping users organize e-mail -- something I'm sure we all struggle with. Over the next few weeks a new tab workflow will be slowly introduced to the Web, iOS, and Android versions of Gmail.

While iOS and Android users have to wait for app updates to hit the respective stores to get the new Gmail, there's a chance your Gmail account on the Web already has access to the feature. It's a quick process once your account has access, and it's easy to change back to the traditional layout should you decide you're just not feeling the tabs.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

The easiest way to check for and enable the tab-centric Gmail is to log into your Gmail account using the browser on your computer. Once logged in, click the gear icon in the top-right corner of your screen. If you're lucky, you'll have a "Configure Inbox" option under the settings menu. Clicking on this item will begin the process of enabling tabs for your account.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

The process requires you to pick and choose which tabs will be enabled by default once you being using the new layout. You'll have the option for a Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums tab. As you hover each tab category you'll see a preview of the e-mails in your account that will be associated with the tab. Uncheck the box next to each of the tabs you don't want to be active. And don't worry if you see e-mails or contacts listed under the wrong tab; you'll have a chance to change the assigned tab for individual e-mails and contacts once you start using the new layout.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Lastly, you'll see an option to "Include starred in Primary." All this means is that any starred e-mails, regardless of the tab they may belong to (and as long as they aren't archived), will show up under the Primary tab.

Should you want to sort an e-mail into a different tab, you can click and drag it to the tab of your preference, or right-click on the e-mail and select Move to Tab > (tab name). (Either method accomplishes the same results.) After moving an e-mail, you'll be asked if you would like to set the sending e-mail address to always go to the newly assigned tab. Clicking Yes will ensure it's properly filtered going forward, otherwise it's viewed as just a one-time move.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Disabling the tab layout and getting back to the Gmail inbox you're accustomed to is as simple as clicking on the "+" sign to the right of your last tab and unchecking the box next to all tabs but Primary. Then, if you change your mind down the road and want to try tabs again, you just repeat the same process of clicking on the Settings icon > Configure Inbox.

When you do get access to the tabs, be sure to let us know in the comments below what you think. Or if you've already decided you don't ever want to mess with them, we'd love to hear from you, too. So far, I'm undecided on the new layout, but I'm going to give it some time before making the call one way or another.