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The Best Alternative Android Apps to Manage All Your Email

By Ryan Whitwam

Google's Gmail app for its mail service is nice, but what about those other accounts?

Android users don’t need to worry about getting a busted Gmail client pushed to them. Every Android device you buy has a great Gmail app that is improving all the time. But maybe the Gmail app doesn’t strike your fancy, or you need to integrate non-Gmail email accounts with your phone. Well, in that case, it’s off to the Android Market.

There are a number of apps available, and not all of them are the best at everything. Let’s take a look at alternative email clients and see how they stack up.

K-9 Mail

K-9 is one of the most popular non-Gmail email clients on Android, and with good reason. This is a community-driven, open source project that is constantly being improved. While this is not a Gmail client, it is designed with Gmail in mind. That means that non-Gmail accounts you add will gain a few interesting features.

When you open the app, your existing mail accounts will be listed down toward the bottom, but up top is the Unified Inbox, as well as a folder that holds all your messages, read or not. We like the unified inbox, especially when working with non-Gmail accounts. The all messages folder also makes this app perfect for searching.

K-9 uses IMAP on supported accounts, so you get very Gmail-like push notifications. Any non-Gmail accounts that are added can make use of stars, just like Google’s system. This is handy for use in the app, but they won’t sync anywhere if the account doesn’t support it. Like the Gmail app, K-9 has multiple message management with check marks next to each message. These are only shown when a message is selected to save space. A swipe from left ot right selects messages, which is a nice touch.

There is support for Exchange 2003 and 2007, but it lacks many of the features IT deportments require. K-9 makes plenty of allowances for non-Gmail accounts, but still keeps some features of Gmail around. Searching is very good here, but the app won’t do any sort of message queueing for offline use. Still, K-9 Mail is free and manages email well.

Touchdown (Exchange) for Android

If you need a full-featured Exchange solution for Android, then Touchdown is what you need. It has full support for Microsoft Activesync and Exchange Web Services. That means that not only can you get your email pushed down, but your calendar, contacts, and tasks as well.

Many IT departments requite certain features to allow a device on its network. More than likely Touchdown has them. It supports PIN lock, device wipe, encryption, and remote administration. Interestingly, if your employer has to remote wipe the enterprise data, it won’t affect the rest of the phone.

The user interface in Touchdown is a little dated, particularly in the calendar app. There are a lot of gradients and scrunched views with too many buttons. When it comes down to it, this app isn’t really about looking good, it’s designed to support enterprise features that are missing from the OS. There is a 30 day free trial, but after that, a Touchdown license will run you $20. Definitely worth it if you can expense it.

MailDroid

This app is written from the ground up to be a complete replacement mail app that can handle Gmail and other email accounts very well. Before even getting to the features of MailDroid, we should mention that it looks much nicer than it used to. The font is small, but not too small. It makes good use of date headers, and there is a useful menu bar up top.This client also supports IMAP, so mail push should be no problem. We actually found this a bit more responsive than K-9.

Rather than bring Gmail-style features in, MailDroid approximates the important ones, and then emphasizes general email features and a solid interface. The main screen in MailDroid lists your accounts, and has a unified inbox as well. There is also a Bookmarks section that links to Drafts, Outbox, and Sent folders.

Search is handled in a more robust way in this app. When you receive mail, MailDroid will cache the headers on the SD card. After a time, it will cycle the older ones out, but it helps with offline mail search. Similarly, if you want to compose mail with a sketchy data connection, or even no connection, MailDroid won’t freak out. Mail that can’t be sent lives in the outbox, and you can send it out once you have data again.

Exchange users can pick up this app, but it won’t offer the full experience like Touchdown does. It only supports Exchange 2003 and 2007 with WebDav or EWS. There is a free ad-supported version of this app if you want to try it out. The full version is a whopping $17.99, though. If you have a few non-Gmail accounts, and maybe need to use Exchange just a bit, this might be worth it.

Enhanced Email

An app that just came to our attention recently is Enhanced Email. This is a light-weight custom email client that supports POP/IMAP as well as some features of exchange. The first thing users will notice is that the interface in Enhanced Email is clean, and efficient. The top of the accounts screen has a Combined Inbox for all your accounts, and the individual ones are below.

Next to the individual accounts is a folder link that pulls up the labels for Gmail accounts, and folders for non-Gmail/Exchange. There is a star system that will sync to Gmail, but other mail accounts can use it locally. The interface for reading mail has a slim menu bar at the top with buttons for paging through emails, which we quite like. Mail sync was as fast as any of the other apps.

If you’re using Exchange, you get most of the features supported by Activesync on Exchange 2003-2010 SP1. There is push for mail, contacts, and calendar. While there is PIN lock support, we don’t believe Enhanced Email supports remote wipe.

Search is fast in Enhanced Email, and there are soft keys for it throughout the UI. You will only be able to search mail on the device, unless you have server search through Exchange. You will be able to manage mail offline with Enhanced Email rather easily. All your messages will queue up in an outbox accessible via link below the combined inbox. When you have data, just pop that open and tap the Send All button to sync up.

So the UI for Enhanced Email is very nice, and it has a ton of features, but it isn't free. Enhanced Email for Android costs $10 in the Market. This app is great if you have a lot of accounts to manage, and you need some Exchange features. The developer has a 7-day trial on his site, but if you were considering spending $17.99 on MailDroid, check this out first.

Do you use a third-party email application on Android? Let us know which one, and how you like it.