Spark vs Apple Mail on the Mac (back with Apple Mail for now)

Spark is a viable alternative to the standard Apple Mail app on the Mac, and also for the iPhone and iPad. I’ve previously written about Spark on iOS/iPadOS (https://lerner.net/spark-an-email-app-for-your-iphone-and-ipad/) and it was my main email app there until recently. 

After a problem with Spark,  I’m back with Apple Mail on the Mac. And until that issue gets settled, I’m using Outlook on my iPhone and iPad.

Spark remains intriguing though. And I hope things get fixed up enough to move back to it at some point.

All the things I mentioned in my previous article apply to the Mac app as well: Spark has better mail filing, better searching, useful FAQs, HTML signatures, and more. Spark, importantly, also lets you resend a message, as does standard Mail. There are a surprisingly large number of email clients without that basic feature.

On the downside, Spark has severe limitations in handling inline images, so that is something to consider, and what has always kept me from using Spark exclusively.

Why I Initially Started Using Spark on my Mac

I initially started looking at Spark as a replacement for standard Mac Mail because of some problems with the standard Mail app.  Spark seemed more responsive than Apple Mail, which often got bogged down with “loading” for the content of messages. And Apple Mail  was often out of synch with the Gmail server. Spark seemed to stay in synch much better for some reason. But, as I said, there are important feature limitations with image handling (see below).

I have 6 main email accounts: three are Gmail (with custom domains), two are standard IMAP accounts on a hosted server, and one is my iCloud email. Spark works well regardless of the account type, and it’s easy to set up new accounts.

Labels and Filing Messages

For Gmail, Spark goes the extra mile. Unlike standard Mac Mail, Spark handles Gmail multi-labeling naturally and easily. That’s definitely a big plus. 

Filing messages in folders, which I do to keep things organized, is by far easiest in Spark. The ability to file in folders is a top priority for me when choosing an email client. Even the standard Gmail app in iOS doesn’t have a way to do that with shortcuts, as you can do in Gmail via a web browser. 

The standard Apple Mail app is very weak in how it occasionally might recommend a folder for filing, but that’s it (unless you buy third party add-ons for that). When I do use Apple Mail on my Mac, I also use the MsgFiler plugin for shortcut filing into different mailboxes, and also to open different mailboxes. 

Note on Filing and Shortcuts

With Mac standard Mail and the MsgFiler plugin you can use keyboard shortcuts to file messages, and also to open mail folders. Spark doesn’t have a feature to open a mailbox folder with a shortcut. Another issue with Spark message filing is that you are presented choices from all accounts. MsgFiler gives you an option to see all accounts or limit selections to just the current account. It would be nice to have the same option in Spark to limit mailbox destination choices to the current account.

Search

Search in Spark is more is more comprehensive. Usually. Mostly I find things more easily in Spark. I can search, for example, “in mailbox-name from sender-name keywords” and things pop up quickly.  However, there is one drawback – there is no easy way to “open” (jump to) a folder you’ve created. That sometimes make the searches a bit cumbersome, with varied results. I hope Spark adds a shortcut to jump to a folder.

Spark’s Main Downside – Images (inline image handling, images in replies, and no annotation)

Spark still doesn’t handle inline images nearly as well as regular Mail. For that reason I have always needed to use Apple Mail when I need to share images – especially if they need annotating or resizing.

In Spark, you can paste or drag images into a mail draft to see them inline, but that’s about it. 

Spark doesn’t let you annotate images directly like you can with Apple Mail (add arrows, explanatory text, etc.). You also can’t resize them in the draft. 

If you’re happy with just the image and how it appears when you paste it in or drag it in then it works fine though. Note that when pasting screenshots sometimes they look overly large in the draft for some reason, even though they look the correct size in the sent email. Images really should look the same in the draft so you know what the recipient will see.

Also, Spark doesn’t have an option, like regular Mail does, to include a sent attachment in a reply. What that means is you can’t easily comment on images people send you. They simply don’t appear in replies.

So if I’m adding images and then want to annotate them or resize them, or if I need to talk about images somebody sent me, I would still do that in regular Mail, even while using Spark. I hope Spark deals with these deficiencies.

Also in one case I sent an embedded video from my WordPress blog. The video showed up fine in standard Mail but doesn’t show up in Spark. Readdle examined the message data for that one, confirmed a bug, and put it on their list to fix. So Readdle is responsive.

Anyway, the bottom line is there are numerous issues related to images in Spark. 

But Spark is Quite Interesting 

All the other features kept drawing me back to Spark to test and try things. And Readdle’s support is always very responsive, helpful, and friendly. You get the feeling that they really do listen. So I hope they do better with inline images in a future version. They seem a bit overwhelmed right now though.

Anyway, I had been using it as my main Mac mail client since August for the positive reasons mentioned above. But I also needed to use Mail as well. This complicated my daily use.

There are lots more features in Spark too, which I don’t make use of (at least yet), such as Smart Mailboxes, quick replies, queuing emails to send later (including scheduling resends as reminders), and much more under the hood. There are different features which appeal to different people. I’m sure I’m overlooking some important ones here that others will love. I look forward in trying more as time goes by.

Update –  12/4/2020

Back with Apple Mail on my Mac.

  1. A bad problem with Spark occurred, where it started resending the same large message over and over again until I got blocked at a site. I’m afraid to open Spark on my Mac right now. I sent email to support, but haven’t heard back yet.
  2. The issues with images were getting to me.
  3. It’s quite difficult to create new folders. You have to do it via Settings and navigate through your current folder system to add a new one.
  4. Other bugs have crept in lately: slowness in updating mailbox badges, some formatting issue after entering a link and then hitting return to continue editing on the next line, when replying to multiple people the first person listed is often not the sender, some search issues.
  5. Also, when replying inline and you hit return, an empty space doesn’t open up. You continue entering quoted/indented.

So I’m using Mail on my Mac again, along with the MsgFiler plugin for filing. MsgFiler also makes it easy to open a folder with a shortcut, which is not a feature in Spark yet. I’m not sure what to do on my iPhone and iPad at the moment. I’m a bit afraid to use Spark in case the resending issue happens there, so I’m using Outlook for iOS/iPadOS, even though it doesn’t have a message resend feature. At least it provides a means to easily file incoming messages in my folder hierarchy (which standard Apple Mail does not), and the messages look very nice. 

On my Mac, with standard Apple Mail,  I’m feeling that message filing is quicker and easier with MsgFiler than it was with Spark. In fact, I’m feeling more at-ease with my email since coming back.

In an ideal situation, Apple Mail on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad would offer an easy way to file messages. Spark is great at this.  On the Mac, at least, there are plugins to help with that. And ideally Spark will upgrade its image handling ability (and solve the issue with resending I experienced) so I can try it again. It has so many other interesting features I look forward to trying it again some day.

I’m interested in hearing from people who (1) deal with images in mails and (2) do lots of message filing in their mailbox folder hierarchies, not just in Gmail, but with other accounts as well, about what their favorite Mac, iPhone, and iPad mail clients are.


Comments

Spark vs Apple Mail on the Mac (back with Apple Mail for now) — 4 Comments

  1. Doug:

    I got a new IPhone and it messed up my Facebook account really bad. I can’t friend you again. But you can friend me on my new account which is Nancy A VdV Cryder.
    I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

    Nancy

    PS: did you have that fire in your apartment??

  2. Nancy,

    Sorry to hear about your problems. You should have been able to get help getting back into your old account. No fire here! That post was a joke about Pao. 🙂

    doug

  3. Nancy,

    Don’t worry. There was no fire! It was meant as a joke about how destructive Pao is! Sorry to scare you!

    doug

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *