When it comes to web-based mail, despite valiant efforts from Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) and others, Google’s Gmail remains at the top of the mountain. As powerful and as popular as Gmail may be, it is still not a complete package and that’s where Gmail Labs features can be of great assistance.
Several of the Gmail labs features we wrote about a few years back still apply today, but you can always use some more functionality to improve your productivity and to improve your overal email experience. Of course, you also have to remember that all the Gmail labs features are essentially in beta. Since Gmail Labs is a “testing ground for experimental features,” you may encounter the odd issue or bug.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s have a look at some great features you might want to have. They can all be accessed by clicking on the “gear” icon in the top-right corner of Gmail, selecting Settings from the pull-down menu, and clicking over to the Labs tab.
Your screen real estate is incredibly precious, regardless of the actual size of your computer monitor. Just as you’ll find that websites and blogs make good use of sidebars, the same can be said about the main Gmail interface. However, everything tends to be aligned to that single sidebar on the left. With this suitably named Labs feature, the Gmail chat interface — you can call it GTalk, Google Talk, Google Chat, or GChat, if you prefer — is pushed to a new sidebar on the right. This is very helpful, as you’re then able to see more information without having to scroll up and down the page, especially when used in tandem with the Google Calendar gadget on the left sidebar.
With Undo Send, you have a window of a few seconds to retract that message before it’s irreversibly delivered to your chosen recipient. With Background Send, you have a complimentary, but almost opposite functionality. This is especially true when you have a message with larger attachments, but you’ve likely had the experience where you click on the “send” button and then you have to wait for those attachments to finish uploading. Meanwhile, you’re watching precious seconds of your productivity time melt away. With Background Send, Gmail can send your mail and you can go do other things.
Those of you in any kind of support or customer service role will surely appreciate what could be one of the most valuable Gmail Labs features. Do you find that you are sending out the same response over and over again to the same questions? This feature lets you pre-write some of these “canned responses,” simply selecting them from a list when you want to give that all too common reply. You can even use it in tandem with filters to have your canned reply go out automatically.
Google Maps Previews in Mail
So, you’ve received the address for where the conference or meeting is going to take place. If you’re like most of us, you then copy and paste that address into Google Maps, so that you can actually see where this venue is located. You can skip that second step if you have this Labs feature enabled. A small preview of the associated Google Map is displayed for all of the addresses mentioned in any given email message. If you need more information, like directions, then you can proceed as you would normally.
Gmail recently rolled out an update that could then filter your inbox into other tabs like “Social” and “Promotions,” but what if you want more control than that? What if you, like me, manage multiple e-mail addresses from the unified Gmail interface? This Labs feature lets you do that, because you can effectively make multiple inboxes split out based on labels, stars, drafts, or whatever other search function you want to use. This maximizes your multitasking space on your computer screen too, in case you’re the type of person who loves information overload.
Image credit: Cairo / Flickr