Android Intelligence Advice

7 handy hidden features in the Gmail Android app

Make the most of Google's Gmail Android app with these out-of-the-way advanced options.

Android Intelligence Advice

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Let's face it: Email is inherently a bit of a pain. And while Google's Gmail service is generally pretty pleasant to use, it certainly has some room for improvement — especially on the mobile front.

But as is so often the case with Google products, what you see isn't entirely what you get. The Gmail Android app has some super-useful hidden touches you've probably never noticed lurking beneath its surface — easily overlooked features that can make your mobile email experience more powerful, efficient, and effective.

Here are seven such options worth uncovering — or maybe just remembering.

1. Advanced email formatting commands

The Gmail Android app's email composing screen seems like a pretty bare-bones affair, but long-press on any open space whilst writing a new email — and by golly, goodness goshness, look what you'll find:

Gmail Android App: Formatting JR

Tap that "Format" option, and how 'bout that? It's a full slate of advanced text formatting commands for composing your message. You can style any part of your email with bold, italic, or underlined text; you can change your email's font color or background color; and — an occasional life-saver — you can clear out all existing text formatting with a single tap.

Pretty handy, right?!

2. Custom swipe gestures

Ever wish you had an easy way to snooze messages from your inbox — or maybe even to mark them as unread without having to do a complicated finger-tap dance? Prepare to be pleased.

Go open up the Gmail Android app's settings (by tapping the three-line menu icon in the upper-left corner and scrolling down until you see the "Settings" option). Tap "General settings," then select "Swipe actions."

Gmail Android App: Swipes JR

There, you can configure exactly what action is associated with swiping an email to the left and to the right from your inbox or from any other message list view. Set things up the way you want — using, if you're so inclined, the old Inbox-like arrangement of a right swipe for archiving and a left swipe for snoozing — and then swipe away to your heart's content (and with the optional occasional cackle).

3. An end to accidental actions

It's all too easy to tap an icon by mistake when you're managing email on the go, but Gmail actually has a spectacular way to keep yourself from doing something stupid on accident. It's an extra step of confirmation for the worst kind of errant email presses — archiving or deleting a message you weren't done with yet or hitting the Send button before your draft was finished. And it takes only a few quick taps to get it set up and activated.

Mosey your way back to the "General settings" area of the Gmail settings, scroll down to the very bottom of that section, and look for the "Action Confirmations" heading — and there, activate whichever bits of added confirmation will give you extra peace of mind:

Gmail Android App: Confirmations JR

The one thing worth noting is that the archive and delete confirmations don't, vexingly, work with the swipe-based gestures we were just discussing for those commands. That's especially unfortunate, since Gmail's swipe gestures are all too easy to activate by accident when you're trying to use Android 10's awkwardly overlapping system-wide Back motion. But hey, some protection is still better than no protection, don't ya think?

4. A less annoying Promotions tab

The Gmail Android app's Promotions tab is both a blessing and a curse. It gives you a great way to keep less pressing messages out of your main inbox view, but it also throws in some ads and does some funky stuff with the order of your email.

There's not much you can do about the ads, annoyingly, but you can stop the app from reordering messages and putting what it considers to be the "high value" promotions above everything else — as seen here, where my Gmail Android app for some reason decided I should see a week-old message about a subscription audio service over numerous more recent messages (including, slightly lower in the list, a more recent and relevant email from the same freakin' service):

Gmail Android App: Promotions JR

(And yes, the ad in that top section is particularly lovely, too, isn't it? Just a hair too personal of an assumption to make, if you ask me. Cut it out, Google.)

To get back to a fully chronological, normal-style view, jump back into the Gmail app's settings — and this time, tap the address of your Google account, then tap "Inbox categories" on the following screen.

Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the screen that shows up next. See that option labeled "Enable Bundling of Top Email"? Uncheck it.

Gmail Android App: Promotions setting JR

Back your way out of there and then bask in the delight of having your emails once again presented in proper order, even if you can't completely eliminate those pesky Promotions-tab ads.

5. A less nudgy inbox

While we're on the subject of disabling annoying features, you know how Gmail does that thing now where it "nudges" you to respond or follow up to messages that have been sitting in your inbox for a while? If you find that to be more bothersome than beneficial, head back into the app's settings and once again select your Google account.

Scroll down til you see the option for "Reply and follow up." Tap it, then uncheck both options on the screen that follows — for "Suggest emails to reply to" and "Suggest emails to follow up on."

Gmail Android App: Nudges JR

Nudges no more. Serenity now.

6. A speedy way to set an out-of-office responder

For years, the Gmail mobile app had no way to manage the service's out-of-office vacation auto-responder. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who sometimes signs out ahead of a planned break and then realizes half an hour later I forgot to set my away message.

Well, fret no more, for at some point in the not-too-distant past, the Gmail Android app gained the ability to control the out-of-office responder. Yes, indeedly: You can just open up the app's settings, tap the name of the account you want to modify, and then look for the "Vacation responder" option midway down the list of choices.

From there, it'll take you a mere matter of moments to enable, configure, and edit your out-of-office auto-response to suit any situation imaginable.

Gmail Android App: Out of office JR

7. More selective notifications

Email notifications can occasionally be helpful, but let's be honest: They can more often be hellish. Give yourself a break from the noise by trying out the Gmail Android app's high-priority notification option, which uses artificial intelligence and other impressive-sounding buzzwords to figure out which incoming messages are actually important to you — and then to notify you only about those emails.

To give it a whirl, venture once more into the Gmail app's settings, select your Google account, tap the line labeled "Notifications," and select "High priority only." Give it a day and see what you think.

If you know exactly what types of emails you need to be notified about — say, those from a particular person or domain name, those with a specific word in their subjects or bodies, or those that are sent to a particular address of yours — you can skip the A.I. and just set up your own custom Gmail notifications. That's what I do, and as long as you can figure out a consistent formula for what sorts of emails are notification-worthy to you, it works incredibly well.

Either way, you'll have a lot less noise — and a lot more energy to deal with what really matters. Even if, y'know, "what really matters" is simply finding a few free minutes to eat a midmorning hoagie.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

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