Five power-user tools in Gmail for Android

Get the best tips and tricks for increasing productivity using the Android Gmail app.

Sharon Profis Vice President of Content, CNET Studios
As the Vice President of CNET Studios, Sharon leads the video, social, editorial design, and branded content teams. Before this role, Sharon led content development and launched new verticals for CNET, including Wellness, Money, and How To. A tech expert herself, she's reviewed and covered countless products, hosted hundreds of videos, and appeared on shows like Good Morning America, CBS Mornings, and the Today Show. An industry expert, Sharon is a recurring Best of Beauty Awards judge for Allure. Sharon is an avid chef and hosts the cooking segment 'Farm to Fork' on PBS nationwide. She's developed and published hundreds of recipes.
  • Webby Award ("How To, Explainer, and DIY Video"); Folio Changemaker Award, 2020
Sharon Profis
3 min read

By default, Gmail 4.5 on Android ditches the trash can icon to delete selected messages and adds a button to mark messages as read or unread. It's the center of the three, looking like an envelope with a little circle on it.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Though it's not nearly as robust as the Web version, Gmail for Android packs a good number of tools that, when utilized correctly, can make managing e-mail on the go a little less painful. And, when mastered, they'll even increase your productivity.

Gmail veteran or not, dig through this guide to uncover understated workflow tips, along with some of the not-so-obvious features you may have missed. And, hey, maybe you'll finally achieve that mythical "Inbox Zero."

1. Use search the right way.
Search is one heck of a powerful tool that often masquerades as a simple feature. If you're using it to surface specific e-mails, you're probably doing it wrong. Effective searching involves picking up a few of Gmail's advanced search operators. For instance, the label it's under, who the recipient was, or if there's an attachment. You can even go as far as using keywords in combination with one or more of these operators, separated by commas or spaces. Here's an example:

bake sale,in:sent,newer_than:2d

In this example, Gmail will look for a message with the keywords "bake sale" in your Sent folder, sent within the last two days. For the complete list of search operators, visit this Google support page.

Tip: Still can't find what you're looking for? It might not be synced. Go to Gmail (on Android) > Settings > Your e-mail account > Days of mail to sync, and adjust this number to display older messages.

2. Use the two-finger selection trick.
In the latest iteration of Gmail, the check boxes are no longer. Instead, tapping the image to the left of an e-mail selects it. But what if you (rightfully) changed the settings to hide those images?

To go into selection mode, long-press an e-mail. Better yet, if you're applying changes to multiple e-mails, you can long-press two e-mails (adjacent or not) to select them at the same time.

And yes, you guessed it: you can also long-press with three fingers (but we don't necessarily like to encourage such awkward behaviors.)

Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

3. Fine-tune notifications.
It's a well-known fact: notifications can absolutely kill your productivity. On the one hand, they ensure that you'll never miss a message from your boss; on the other hand, dinner should never be interrupted for a shoe sale.

An underutilized feature, Gmail for Android lets you fine-tune notifications so that you only receive alerts for specific labels. Here's how.

4. Train Gmail to be smarter.
When you receive a message Gmail thinks is important, you'll see it land in your "Priority Inbox" flagged with a yellow arrow (or a couple of yellow arrows). Most of the time, Gmail is surprisingly accurate, but other times, you'll see undeserving e-mails marked as priority messages.

By monitoring your inbox behavior, Gmail will get better with its assumptions over time, but if you want to train this puppy a little faster, force it to learn.

When you receive a message marked as important, and it's not, select it, then tap the menu button in the upper-right corner and select "Mark not important." Alternatively, let Gmail know a message should be marked as important by selecting it and choosing "Mark important" from the menu.

Sure, it's an extra step, but it'll be well worth the effort when Gmail accurately categorizes your messages so you can sort through your inbox a little faster.

5. Zip through messages.
Once you archive (or delete) a message, Gmail immediately returns to your inbox. But if you want to hustle, and get through your inbox a little faster, have Gmail take you to your next-newest message.

To do so, launch the app and head to Menu > Settings > General Settings > Auto-advance. Here, choose Newer, or Older if you prefer.

Bonus: Bring back the Trash button.
Why Google removed it beats me. Luckily, you can get the Trash button back with an easy settings tweak.