Mail app tile on the Start screen

Windows 8.1 Guide: The Mail app, overview and improvements

In Windows 8.1 is when the Mail app finally gets interesting with its new streamlined design, automatic filtering for Newsletters and Social updates, new features like Sweep, simplified view for All Folders, multiple windows, drag & drop support, email styling, and a few others. There are many changes to this version of the app so let’s get started:

New streamlined design

No doubt that Mail is getting better, you’ll first notice after installing the new version of the operating system and looking at the new improved user interface (UI) that many will agree it’s a lot easier to use.

In the new version of the app, Microsoft still delivering emails on a three-column view (account, message, and reading). The account column (the first one on left) is where you will see the most changes. It’s slimmer, compact, has new icons, and features a fly out menu for each section.

Outlook.com on Windows 8.1 Mail

Now if you configured an Outlook.com account, you’ll have access to additional sections like Favorites (star), Flag, and Newsletter and Social updates, which are new filtering features to decluttler your inbox from email newsletters you might have subscribed and social notifications such as Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. But if you’re using, let say, Gmail, you will only be able to access to Inbox and All Folders.

Gmail on the Mail app for Windows 8.1

One thing you’ll see is that the old folder structure is gone, in the new version of Mail “All Folders” is located at the bottom when clicking the folder icon. If you want to have quick access to specific folders, you have to pin them by tapping or clicking the star icon. ( Not to get confused here, the star you see under Inbox is only a list for your favorite contacts, it is totally separate from staring a folder.)

Mail All Folders section for Windows 8.1

Mail for Windows 8.1 also brings a new UI change that you’ll start seeing in many apps, that is the “More” button represented by a very slim bar with three dots (…) at the bottom. This is a new way that Microsoft is trying to help users discover more commands they can use in the app. In the first version of Windows 8, the “app commands” bar was hidden and hard to find, you either have to swipe from the bottom or right-click on an empty space to make options visible, which didn’t make much sense to many users.

Mail app options

One functionality that I’m really happy to see is how the new version Mail can automatically adapt and resize to full screen when opening a link from an email. As you know starting Windows 8.1 the Mail app does a 50-50 split to make room for Internet Explorer 11 to open an email link. This is a great addition because you aren’t taken away from the app just to see a web page. The problem, though, is that when you close IE, you have to manually resize Mail to full screen and this action is expected, so now in the new update, the app will automatically full screen after closing the web browser (small but really useful functionality).

Mail split screen with IE

Drag and drop

Microsoft is also adding drag & drop support. This new feature works with touch-enabled devices and mouse. Just click, hold, drag the message to any of the sections and drop. This allows you to perform things like deleting or flagging one or many emails a lot easier.

Drag & Drop email feature

Multiple windows

There is also a new option in the app commands that lets you open multiple emails in new windows by doing a 50-50 split, making it easier to compare information from several messages or to reply an important email without missing anything.

Multiple windows support in Mail for Windows 8.1

New color scheme and fonts

I don’t know about you, but I always found the green color scheme in Mail a little bit boring. But this is finally changing, in a new Windows 8.1 leak shows that Microsoft is going away from green and a nice blue color will be the replacement. I still want to see an option to choose from various colors, but for now this will have to do.

Mail options: Fonts and colors

Quick Tip: You’ll find the Sync button in the More menu and the Pin to Start option now is located in the folder menu options. To quickly bring the app commands you can use the Windows 8 Key +Z keyboard shortcut.

Finally users will be able to change message fonts and color from the Options menu (Windows 8 Key +i). Microsoft is letting users choose from eight different fonts and fourteen colors.

Wrapping up

In conclusion, the Mail app for Windows 8.1 shows that Microsoft is improving the software and listening to user feedbacks. But we can’t ignore that there are many areas that need improvement. For example, depending which company you use for email, features can be limited. Only using Outlook.com (including Live and Hotmail) will get you all the app’s benefits and this can make it a bit difficult and confusing for some users to navigate and have a unified experience. Now I’m just looking forward to see if users will start leaving their webmail and use more the new version of Mail.

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