Working with Email on Your Android-Powered Mobile Phone
Overview of Gmail
One of the key reasons to pick up one of the Android-powered phones is how closely hooked into your Google accounts they are—the calendar, the contacts, the maps. But right now we'll talk about Google's second-biggest killer application—Gmail.
On the surface, it's just another Web-based email client. But something about it draws people in. Perhaps it's the large amount of storage that Gmail makes available to users for free. Or perhaps it was the invitation-only scheme they used for years that gave it an air of exclusivity. Whatever the reason, Gmail remains one of the most popular Web-based mail clients.
It uses a relatively unique method of displaying messages, grouping them by threads, so that as you exchange emails, they take up only one line in your inbox.
Reading email is quick and easy. Whenever you receive a new email, you get a nice little notification on the status bar to let you know, as shown in Figure 4.1.
Figure 4.1 The Status bar shows your email notification.
Now, just like every other time you get a status bar notification in the upper left, you can tap the status bar and drag it down the screen to see your notifications. Note that, as shown in Figure 4.2, you can just tap Clear notifications to get rid of all the notifications, or you can tap the notification in question to pull up—well, whatever the notification is for. In the case of email, you just tap New email. Because, as we said, Gmail stores emails as conversations, you see some number of unread conversations. If it's only one, tapping the New email notification loads that one unread email. If you have multiple unread conversations, you instead end up in your Inbox.
Figure 4.2 Clearing all your notifications at once.
"Wait a minute," I hear you saying. "What about reading all the mail in my Inbox that isn't new? How do I get there?" That's easy enough. Just open the Application tab and tap Gmail (see Figure 4.3).
Figure 4.3 The Gmail icon in all its resplendent glory.
You can use the trackball or your finger to scroll through the list. If a conversation has an unread message, it's bold in the list, with a white background.
Tap an email to open it. If it's a completely read conversation, you see the most recent message, along with a link to tap to see all the messages. If the conversation contains unread messages, they are all open for you to read.
If you receive a message with an attachment, you can preview most Microsoft Office file types and images by tapping the Preview button. You can also save some attachment types, such as pictures and graphics, by tapping the Download button, as shown in Figure 4.4.
Figure 4.4 You can preview or download attachments.
Whenever you read email, you can press the Back button to get back to your Inbox. Or you can press the Menu button and then tap More and Back to Inbox.
The menu has a few other options besides the More button, as shown in Figure 4.5:
- Archive: Archiving an email removes it from your Inbox without actually deleting it. We'll talk about the difference later.
- Add star: Stars are just one way to organize your mailbox by adding an icon to emails that you want to flag for some reason.
- Mark unread: Marks the email, or the conversation, as unread.
- Change labels: This allows you to set one or more labels on a message. Labels will appear at the top of the message/conversation.
- Delete: Delete actually deletes a message or conversation.
- More: Gives you access to Back to Inbox, which we just mentioned, and Report spam, which is used to let Google know that a spam message sneaked through the Google spam filters. This option removes the spam from your Inbox and helps improve Google's spam filters.
Figure 4.5 The Menu button is always useful.
If you press the Menu button again and scroll to the bottom of the message, you'll find six more buttons. The first three are visible for every message in a conversation, and the last three are at the bottom of the conversation.
- Reply: This starts a new message in the conversation to the person who sent the message you're currently reading.
- Reply to all: This starts a new message in the conversation to all the people on the To or Cc line of the message you're currently reading.
- Forward: This starts a new message and requires you to provide the address of whomever you want to forward an existing message to.
- Archive: Archiving a conversation removes it from your Inbox. The conversation is stored in the All Mail folder.
- Labels: You can add and remove labels for the conversation. A label is an easy way to categorize a message or conversation.
- Delete: This is just another way to delete the conversation.
As you can see, the buttons on the email and conversation are pretty self-explanatory, so we'll go back to the Inbox and take a look at the other options you have there.
Now that you're in the Inbox, press the Menu button to examine the following options:
- Refresh: Although your phone should regularly update your list of messages for you on-the-fly, if it hasn't, you can tap this option to refresh the list.
- Compose: When you want to create a new message, this is what you tap. We'll cover this more a little later in this chapter.
- View labels: You tap this option when you want to view the labels you have given to messages.
- Search: This is what Google is known for—searching for stuff or, in this case, your email. Tap this option, type in what you want to search for, and off you go.
- Settings: Tap this option to view your email settings. We'll cover this option in the section "Customizing Gmail Settings."
Sending a New Message
Even though reading email is fun and exciting, at some point you'll want to send email as well. To send a new message, follow these steps:
- From your Inbox, press the Menu button.
- Tap Compose to bring up the form shown in Figure 4.6.
Figure 4.6 The new message form.
- Type an address in the To box. If the recipient is in your Contacts, the phone automatically fills in the email address as you type. This process is known as autocomplete.
- Tap in the Subject box, and type a subject.
- Scroll down to the large, unmarked field and tap to start typing the body of your email.
- Tap Send when you're done to send your message.
While you're composing a new message, you can access several options by pressing the Menu button:
- Send: This is just another way to send your message.
- Add Cc/Bcc: This adds the Cc and Bcc fields so that you can add recipients to those fields.
- Attach: If you have a picture stored on the phone, you can attach it to the message and send it.
- Edit subject: This option is helpful if you are replying to an existing message or forwarding an existing message. Tap this to change the subject.
- Discard: This sends the message to the trash immediately. Be careful with this option, because you receive no warning message.
Replying to or Forwarding a Message
These tasks are so easy, they don't even need steps. Simply open the message you want to reply to or forward. Tap a button at the bottom of the message to either Reply, Reply to all, or Forward the message. These actions do the following:
- Reply: This creates a new message to the person who sent you the original message.
- Reply to all: This creates a new message to the person who sent you the original message and anyone else who received the message because their name was on the To or Cc line.
- Forward: This sends the existing message to another person. You can also add a comment to the message before you send it.
Archiving an Email
We mentioned both archiving and deleting. Both actions remove an email from your Inbox. However, that's where the similarities end. Unlike most other email clients, Gmail doesn't have folders, so to speak. Figure 4.7 shows a typical Gmail account.
Figure 4.7 A typical Gmail account.
The Inbox is where all received mail goes automatically, unless it has been marked as spam. The Inbox stores all mail that hasn't been trashed, marked as spam, or archived.
The All Mail folder is all email messages that haven't been marked as spam or trashed. So it includes any mail that has been archived. It also includes all messages you've sent, as well as all messages that are currently in draft form.
The Trash folder stores all mail that you've deleted. When you delete (or trash) a message, it is stored in the Trash folder for 30 days. On the 31st day, it's deleted forever. If there's any chance that you might need a message later, do not send it to the trash. This is a bit like storing your tax returns or your driver's license in the garbage.
So what is the Archive? Archiving an email simply removes it from the Inbox. If you like the peace of mind of looking at a clean, organized Inbox with just a few items, you'll probably archive items often. However, because Gmail offers you such a great amount of storage, there is no real reason to archive other than organization. Archived items can still be found in the All Mail folder.
All About Labels
Because Google stores all the unarchived mail in one giant Inbox, as soon as you get more than a handful of messages, you'll probably sometimes need to search your Inbox for specific messages. Although this works quite well most of the time, sometimes it's more convenient to set aside certain messages for easy retrieval.
That's one of the primary functions of labels. They help you organize your mail within your Inbox or within the All Mail folder. While you're viewing a message, press the Menu button, and then tap View Labels to display the screen shown in Figure 4.8. Just tap the label you want to apply. You can apply multiple labels to a single message.
Figure 4.8 You can tap any of the labels you have defined.
Although applying labels is quite easy, there is no way to create new labels on your phone. To do that, you need to open www.gmail.com on your computer and sign in with the same account you're using on your phone. From there, you can edit labels or create new ones.
Applying Labels to Received Mail Automatically
Although it's useful to be able to apply labels to mail you have received, it isn't very efficient. The following steps show you how you can automatically apply labels to new messages as you receive them:
- On your computer, open Gmail and click the Edit labels option on the left side of the screen.
- Click the word Filters at the top of the screen.
- Click Create a new filter.
- Specify the criteria you want, such as From: firstname.lastname@example.org or Has the words: "Family Reunion."
- Click Test Search to verify that the filter captures the messages you intend. If not, continue editing the criteria.
- Click Next Step and choose the action you want to happen when you receive a filtered message. You can take a variety of actions, including applying a label.
- Choose the label you'd like to apply, and then click Create Filter.
Within Gmail, you can see only email that has this label, giving your Inbox the appearance of folders without actually having them. You might think that sounds rather silly, and that folders are far more convenient, but consider this: Unless you make a copy, thus doubling the size of the message, it can't exist in two folders. But you can put as many labels as you want on a message. So, that work-related email about the Peterson Project? You can use the "Work" label, the "Peterson Project" label, and the "From Dave" label, thus making this message easy to find in all three filtered views.
How's that for efficiency?