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​Four free email apps for iPhones and iPads

Gusto, Mailbox, CloudMagic, and Molto make it easy to manage your mail on the go.

The Gmail app for iPhones and iPads makes you wonder what Google is doing with all its money. The company certainly isn't spending it on interface design. Four free programs give you an entirely new view of your mail on a phone or tablet, letting you slice and swipe your way through your inbox.

Of the four apps I tried, my favorite is Gusto, although Molto (formerly Incredimail) offers a first-rate mobile interface, Mailbox takes swiping to a new level, and CloudMagic integrates with your favorite productivity apps. (Note that Mailbox, CloudMagic, and Molto are also available for Android devices.)

Gusto separates your files and photos

My on-the-fly backup method of choice is to attach important files to an email I send to myself. Gmail's has:attachment feature lets you see all messages to which a file has been attached. Gusto goes Gmail two better by automatically separating the files and photos in your email archive, and by integrating with your Facebook account.

I used a Gmail account to test Gusto, but the program also supports Yahoo, AOL, and Outlook accounts.

The app gives you four views of your email archive: "All" lists attachments separate from the message they're attached to; "Mail" is the standard message view; "Files" lists Office files, PDFs, ZIP files, HTML, and other files; and "Photos" shows icons representing your archive's MOV, JPEG, PNG, and other image files. (I was hoping to see thumbnails of the images themselves, but no dice.)

Gusto email app's file view
The Gusto email app for iOS lists the files and images attached to your messages separately from the messages themselves. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

You can toggle among three inbox views: list, two-column, and an abbreviated preview. Press the down arrow at the top of the screen to switch between inboxes, accounts, and folders. You also get three views of your Facebook photos: list (thumbnail, identifying text, and date); thumbnails by month; and preview, which includes controls for sharing, deleting, emailing the photos.

Gusto view of your Facebook photos
Get several different views of the photos in your Facebook account via the Gusto email app for iOS. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Note that the Gusto support site states the program is free "during the trial period." The developer offers a desktop version; I tested only the iOS version on an iPad running iOS 7.1.1.

Swipe your inbox clean with Mailbox

The version of Gmail for the iPhone lets you swipe the screen to open the next message. The free Mailbox app puts a finer point on your swiping. The program creates five "zones": your inbox is in the middle (the default view), your archive is directly to the right, your trash folder is to the far right, your snooze options are to the near left, and lists are on the far left. The three default lists are To Buy, To Read, and To Watch, but you can delete these and create your own lists via the app's settings.

From your inbox, you slide your finger slightly to the right to archive a message, far to the right to trash it, slightly to the left to open your eight customizable snooze options, and far to the left to add the message to a list. The app claims to work best when it holds only the messages requiring your immediate attention, so it prompts you to use its built-in cleaner to scrub your inbox.

Mailbox email app get-to-zero prompt
The Mailbox email app for iOS offers to help you get your inbox to zero messages. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

If you have only a handful of messages in your inbox, you can select several and batch-swipe them. The program lets you drag messages in your inbox to reorder them. You can disable autoswipes and create a swipe pattern by pressing and holding the list, snooze, archive, or delete icons. The app's preferences let you disable the options for marking swipes as read, unstarring moved items, showing "help me get to zero," and swiping right to view drawer.

Mailbox links to your Dropbox account and works with Gmail, iCloud, and Apple Mail for OS X. Of the four iOS mail apps I looked it, Mailbox is the one that most closely resembles the Gmail interface, for better and worse. The program's neatest trick is its four degrees of swiperation.

CloudMagic unites your inboxes and work apps

If you're looking for a splashy interface for your mail, CloudMagic probably won't be your first choice. But if you're looking to get more work done in less time, this may be the email program for you. (The program is available for Android devices as well as for iOS; I tested only the iOS version.)

The "magic" worked by this clever app is behind the scenes. You can create CloudMagic Cards that provide access to your mail from within Salesforce.com, Zendesk, Pocket, Evernote, OneNote, Trello, and MailChimp. In addition to Gmail and Google Apps accounts, the program supports Yahoo Mail, Microsoft Exchange, iCloud, Hotmail/Outlook.com, Office 365, and IMAP accounts. It allows you to integrate as many as five separate accounts.

To keep costs down, the cloud-based service pushes to your CloudMagic inbox only the messages you've sent and received in the past 30 days, although the developer states it hopes to allow you to access your entire inbox in a future update. You can set notifications for individual accounts, apply a passcode lock to the app, add custom signatures, and display the number of new emails on its icon badge.

After you create a CloudMagic account, you're prompted to add an email account by requesting permission to access the account.

CloudMagic access-permissions screen
After you install CloudMagic and choose an email service, you're prompted to grant the app permission to access the account. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

CloudMagic's interface is similar to that of Gmail and other mail apps for devices, but it has a couple of nice touches: press the header of the message you're viewing to open a sidebar that lists conversation details: contact information for the sender and recipients; the To: and Reply to: addresses; the date and time the message was sent; and the message's subject.

CloudMagic's conversation sidebar
Press the current message's header to open CloudMagic's conversation sidebar, which lists more information about the message. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

CloudMagic invites developers to create CloudMagic Cards for their apps. The vendor's FAQ includes information for troubleshooting account-access glitches and other problems.

Get a capsulated view of your mail with Molto

If you're looking for a new way to browse your inbox, Molto's swipable mail capsules are worth checking out. Gone is the standard message list along the left side of the screen. In its place are five to 10 message summaries presented in two columns, complete with image thumbnails for senders and attachments.

Molto email app's capsule inbox view
The messages in your inbox are presented in two-column capsules, complete with image thumbnails, in the Molto app. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Molto works only in landscape mode on the iPad. It connects to iCloud, Hotmail/Outlook.com, Yahoo Mail, AOL, and "other" mail systems (POP3 and IMAP) in addition to Gmail. The app lets you add a custom signature, and you can choose one of several email stationery designs, several of which are available for free. Other stationery selections cost $3 apiece.

One of Molto's settings lets you share images and links on social networks directly from your messages. When I tested this feature, Facebook was the only service available for in-message sharing. A "share" icon appears in the top-right corner of the attachment; pressing the icon opens a small window for adding a caption to the image or link before you post it. When it comes to Facebook integration, Molto has a long way to go to catch up with Gusto.

Not a loser in the email-app bunch

Each of the four email apps I tried beats the generic Gmail app for iOS in one or more important ways. The programs are also a big step up from the mail app built into iPhones and iPads. If you spend much time sending and receiving messages from your phone or tablet, one of these programs is sure to make your workday run more smoothly.