Best Mac email client for multiple accounts?
January 6, 2021 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I have five (5!) email accounts that I need to check regularly: 3 Gmail-based + 2 Outlook-based. I need a free Mac-based email client that can handle them all, with a few further stipulations ...

I have looked through similar questions but they seem a bit out of date or not specific enough to what I'm looking for.

I can't be juggling this many damn browser/email tabs. I need to centralize my emails in a lightweight, highly functional, ideally free (but I'll pay if I need to) client. My ideal client possess the following traits:

- Supports Gmail and Outlook accounts, and allows simultaneous access to multiple Gmail AND multiple Outlook accounts.
- Can handle at least half a dozen accounts.
- Seamless/easy handling of "correct" accounts for every reply. Someone who emails me at needs to receive a reply from; if I have to email someone from, I need to be able to do that very easily.
- An easy way (color-coding?) for me to know at a glance which inbox email in connected to which account.
- Works with Mac OS Big Sur (11.1).
- Synchs with the "home" accounts in such a way that, when I delete a message from the client, it's also deleted from Gmail/Outlook.

- Free or low-cost. (If I need to pay, fine, but I'd rather just buy it outright than pay monthly, SAAS-style.)
- Nice design.
- Natively displays attachments like PDF, JPG, etc. The standard stuff.
- Customizable preferences and signatures for each account.

I've searched around a bit and found mostly clickbaity stuff. Looking for recommendations for knowledgeable email-savvy Mefites!
posted by Dr. Wu to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason that Apple Mail isn't suitable? I think it meets all your requirements.
posted by kaefer at 9:53 AM on January 6, 2021 [9 favorites]

Thunderbird, the email app from Mozilla, the makers of Firefox. Before I pitch it, though, I'll note that at this moment, it does not officially support Big Sur, but it supports Catalina and it's evident that many people are running it successfully on Big Sur.

Like a lot of email clients, it has a left sidebar with a list of folders in a kind of tree format, and each email account you add will appear as a separate tree. It's free and does everything you need, as far as I know.

I can't guarantee it's the prettiest app you've ever seen, but it's functional.

My favorite quality of it, though, honestly, is that it makes archived email more accessible and very searchable. I know that's not among your requirements, but you can archive everything to your local hard drive, and the text remains searchable and accessible in common format, rather than balled up in something proprietary like Outlook's PST files, which can cause you to lose the whole thing should the file get corrupted. I stopped permanently deleting email a decade ago.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:39 AM on January 6, 2021

Response by poster: Mail is one that I'm considering, for sure, but I'd also like to know about any other options.
I'll also admit that, though I'm a Mac user, I don't much care for Apple's proprietary apps (Safari, Mail, Facetime, iTunes, etc.) and would even delete them if I could.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:40 AM on January 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Apple Mail meets all your criteria.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:59 AM on January 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Postbox for Mac is a paid product and very actively developed I have been using it for years. I believe it is based on Thunderbird code but it feels like it’s own thing. If you like powerful client-side storing email clients of old, you will like it.

Looks like it is on sale today for $39 for lifetime license.

It does color coding by account
posted by sol at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

If these are Office email accounts (i.e. not ones, but like an Office365 sub you're paying for or getting thru work/school/etc), do you not have Outlook-the-actual-program available to you? It supports Gmail accounts, amongst others, and the Mac version has the nice unified inbox thing (that for whatever reason the Windows version lacks). Office for Mac is not the ridiculous pile of garbage it used to be, in general, in my experience; the last few versions have been pretty nice.

I've also used AirMail pretty successfully; I liked it OK but multiple accounts requires stepping up to the paid Pro version (I had a trial of some sort that ran out) and it doesn't do calendaring, which I personally needed. It does everything else on your list, though, I think. One drawback is that it is a subscription service, but it's not terribly priced at $10/yr, though the Business version does have a flat-rate $50 option.
posted by mrg at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2021

Apple Mail will meet your criteria. If you use the unified inbox (I don't), you'll need to set up rules to color-code incoming mail by account.

There is a power-user mail app called Mailmate. I've demoed it, but never quite clicked with it. I've also tried out Airmail, but again, didn't click with it (but it's been a while). I do use Mail with a set of plugins called Mailsuite: I especially like its badge feature, which is counterintuitive to set up, but which I find very useful.
posted by adamrice at 11:24 AM on January 6, 2021

Note that for many users search is broken in Apple Mail running on Big Sur. If you regularly rely on things like "show me all the email messages from" you will be unhappy until this bug is fixed.

There are workarounds, but they involve rebooting your computer and they don't last.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 12:16 PM on January 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've been using Spark on iOS and Mac for quite a while now and been very happy with it. It's fairly configurable, and seems like it would meet all your requirements. It has a lot of additional features I don't find useful, but most of them can be turned off. You can use a combined inbox, or inbox per account, and there's colored badges on each message for the associated accounts. It works with Gmail labels, which not a lot of desktop clients do, and has been generally easy to use and reliable.
posted by duien at 12:51 PM on January 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, reading this question I wasn’t sure why you weren’t using Apple Mail already. It does everything you want. I am using it for 5 accounts (3 personal and 2 for work; 3 Gmail, 1 iCloud, and 1 Comcast POP), and it works great. As a bonus, it works seamlessly with your iPhone, if you have one.
posted by ejs at 5:34 PM on January 6, 2021

apple mail - latest version 12.4 (3445.104.17) - refuses to authenticate my gmail accounts on mojave 10.14.6 without tuning off 2fa

after using it for more than a decade for precisely this purpose.... it's broken.
posted by lalochezia at 7:33 PM on January 6, 2021

Another vote for Mail from someone who's been using that since changing over from Pine. I get your distaste for Safari etc but Mail is much better IMO.

Actually Alpine may fit the bill, I recently set it up with gmail for a lark and it worked fine.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:57 PM on January 6, 2021

I purchased and used Airmail for a few years until they changed to a subscription model (no thank you). I switched to Apple Mail, and have been relatively happy. I miss the level of customization that I had with Airmail, though.

I also have all of my accounts setup with mutt, because at one point I thought it was cool.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:53 AM on January 7, 2021

Seconding Thunderbird. Has the major advantage of being cross-platform, so once you get used to it on your Mac you'll never have to get used to anything else on something else.

Defaults to presenting you with one inbox per account with a folder-tree side pane, but you can turn on a unified view under the View menu and then add colour coding with an add-on.

There are lots of Thunderbird add-ons. If TB doesn't immediately do something you'd like it to, there's a good chance you can make it happen with an add-on.
posted by flabdablet at 6:57 AM on January 7, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. I plan to give Thunderbird and Spark a look-see.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:52 AM on January 7, 2021

I had (and have) a very similar set of requirements. I also am not a huge fan of the built-in Apple software - it tends to be very well-designed for people who are happy to learn how to do things The Apple Way and not so great for people like me who are particular about customizing things the way they want or who are used to working across multiple OSes.

Thunderbird mostly worked, and between being a Firefox user, someone who is generally pro-FOSS, and someone who works on both Windows and Mac systems, I was hoping it'd be a good cross-platform solution. But Outlook support isn't as good as gMail support, and given that my work account is Outlook, the unreliability eventually sent me looking for an alternative. I also found it a bit less stable than I'd like in general - sorta like using Firefox 5+ years ago, I had something I never quite tracked down causing a memory leak, and using calendar functions for my accounts increased the instability. But there may well have been some specific combination of accounts, add-ons, ridiculous numbers of calendars (one for each lab instrument), etc. that was causing my issues, and I would still recommend giving it a try first.

That said, if you run into the sorts of Thunderbird problems I did, I'm currently using Airmail. It's not free (though you can try it free), but it's priced affordably, with a $10 annual subscription or a larger one-time fee for a business account. It's had very solid behavior with regards to dealing with signatures and proper send-from and respond-to functions across accounts, there is account color-coding, etc. It's not perfect (one needs some other program for calendars, and it is not cross-platform), but so far I've otherwise been pretty satisfied.

I can also confirm that for text-only stuff, I did get Alpine up and running recently, and while great on other fronts, it rather unsurprisingly doesn't really shine when it comes to native PDF display and probably would not satisfy you.
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 2:15 PM on January 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

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