Part one of a two-part focus on Gmail.
Google has quietly introduced an updated interface for their Gmail service. In their paradigmatic try-out-before-roll-out procedure, the new interface is currently available as an optional upgrade, but will become the standard for all Gmail accounts at some point in the near future.
An immediately noticeable aspect of the upgrade is conservation and improved management of screen real estate. Elements of the interface have been changed to either free up space on the screen or make better use of the space you’ve got—a sure benefit for those who aren’t yet surfing on 23-inch LCDs.
The toolbar above the inbox is now dynamic. For example, if you don’t have any mail selected, you won’t have the Delete option (among others). The end result is an interface that looks a lot cleaner and less cluttered.
In the same space-saving vein, there are three new options available that affect the structure of the Gmail screen as a whole. The options have been trendily named Comfortable, Cozy, and Compact. As you can probably guess from the names, they give users a choice as to how much spacing is provided between elements on the screen, almost like a predefined zoom value. Comfortable is the most spacious of the three, while Compact keeps everything small and tightly knit, leaving Cozy as the happy medium. The spacing, in turn, affects how many emails you can see at one time in your inbox. I prefer the Compact option, myself, because with a service like email, I like being able to see a lot of information at once without having to scroll. Switching between the three options is effortless, so it’s easy to decide which one works for you.
A feature that I was happy to finally have is the movable separator between the labels area and the chat module (which has been merged with the gadgets module). I never chat while logged into my Gmail account, so I always found it annoying that the chat module took up space that could have been devoted to my rather extensive list of labels. I was frequently clicking the “More” option to view the rest of my labels in a little pop-up menu. Blech. Now, there’s no problem. I can simply drag the chat module to where it belongs: neglected, in the bottom corner of the screen.
My one real gripe is Google’s removal of “create your own theme”. There are still plenty of premade themes to choose from, many of them sleek and attractive, but I’m the type of person who always likes to modify layouts and colors, especially for a service that I use often. I tweak layouts wherever I’ve got them, from my operating systems to my blog, and, until recently, my Gmail account. Although the choice of colors (or lack thereof) doesn’t really detract from Gmail’s usability, it was still a nice option to have. As I stated in a feedback response to Google, the inability to customize the theme isn’t a deal-breaker for me—I’ll still continue to use the service. But boy, does it bug me.
Overall, the interface has changed for the better. It’s more polished, and the usability has become further streamlined. Unless you’re intent on keeping your customized theme for as long as humanly possible, I recommend giving the new look a go. Just click the little floating label in the bottom right corner of your Gmail screen.
If you don’t like it, you can revert to the old one—at least until Google decides to make the change final. For more information and a full list of details regarding the changes to the interface, check out Google’s About page for the new look.
Coming up soon: part two of my focus on Gmail. I’ll be talking about simple ways to keep your email organized, and why a clean inbox is pleasant to use.