Review: ProfiMail v3
Ewan looks at the brand new version 3 of this popular third party email client...
Version Reviewed: 3.01
If you already have an email client in S60, why should you consider spending £25 on Lonely Cat Games email client, ProfiMail? And with the new Ovi Mail services coming soon all the functionality should be taken care of early next year, surely?
All valid questions, and of course for the occasional email user, the high price of ProfiMail compared to how often you'd use it does put it in the 'pricey' bracket. But since we first reviewed ProfiMail back in early 2005, messaging on the move has exploded as one of the main uses for our smartphones.
I suspect that the majority of business users with Eseries devices already have either Blackberry or MS Exchange support running on the Nokia Mail client, but support on other S60 devices (even other Nokia devices) has been patchy at best. And the Ovi Mail roll out is not going to be worldwide, just twelve countries will participate in the first wave.
So there is a demand for a more advanced email client, and I think that Lonely Cat Games are justified in continuing to update their application and charging the price they do. What they have here is a comprehensive email client that has the functionality of a desktop counterpart and provides the end user with a heap of functionality. It means all you need is your own mailbox and your phone (no need for an Ovi Mail server in the middle). Of course, I fully expect it to talk to those Ovi mailboxes in Q1 2009 and beyond, but for now this is as good as it gets for independent mail.
On opening ProfiMail for the first time, you are taken through a simple configuration system, asking for details such as your email address, and then presenting you with a pre-populated 'edit account' screen. I added my GMail address and ProfiMail spotted the domain and added in all the correct details and settings. That's slick, and very much appreciated.
Of course, in the case of GMail you do need to have IMAP access enabled in your account, but this is a single setting and one that everyone should have on by default in any case.
Version 3 of ProfiMail adds a lot of features, but probably the main one is IMAP IDLE. Alongside POP3, IMAP is a way to access your email accounts that are online - directly. Where POP3 is much more a snapshot copy of an email inbox, IMAP allows you to work with folders and messages in the mailbox directly. If you use multiple devices and have an organised email system (such as GMail and its tags) then IMAP is for you. Changes made (such as dragging a file from the Inbox to 'Family' folder) happen immediately on the server, not just on your device. So when you log in from another device (or a web interface) the changes are still there.
IMAP IDLE is a form of push email, so if you connect using this (as opposed to just regular IMAP) then, whenever the server receives an update to the mail box (be it the inbox or other folders), the changes are passed to the connected IMAP client, with no interaction required from the user. In other words it's very much what you'd expect of a "push email" system, although you do need to be connected to get the updates.
If you've looked at the screenshots then you'll be able to guess why I love ProfiMail. Yes, that's right, they're using a nice tiny font which allows me to see seven email headers, and the first few lines of an email in the text box below. One click, and you're taken through to a full screen view of the email.
The font is not pretty, and I'm not sure there's an easy way around that one - you could use a technology similar to ClearType (where shades of grey and some colour pixels are used to help the illusion of round corners), or work with a font designer to get something that looks nice - but personally I can live with an old fashioned terminal-like ugly font if it gets me another line of text. I'll readily admit that view may not be prevalent in the marketplace, and certainly looking at the slick and GUI rich experiences on other devices I wonder just how long ProfiMail can sell itself as a service without the frilly lace edges.
ProfiMail accesses the contacts detail on the phone, but from inside the UI. Given that ProfiMail has thrown the style guide for S60 out the window to ensure the maximum amount of information can be presented, this integration is good. Having to jump back to the S60 style would be a little bit jarring.
This choice, to change the UI, gives ProfiMail much more flexibility to do what a good email client needs to do, and because this is clearly going to be used by power users, they get away with the changes. There's still enough residual knowledge (i.e. the right key is usually back/close/exit and the left soft key calls up a cascading menu), that it's not that difficult to work out what's going on.
Not surprisingly, for an application that delivers almost desktop-like features, there are a lot of options and settings. The first hurdle, setting up your account, is largely taken care of by the aforementioned wizard, while other settings are kept in a 'Tools' branch off the menu under the left soft key, where you'll find options for the onscreen data/bandwidth counters, email rules, and check for updates to the program itself.
Where ProfiMail wins over the built in messaging client, even if the user has Blackberry or similar support installed, is in the rules. You can use these to decide which emails to download (for example always download email where the address starts with 'rafe' or 'steve', never download mail to my mobile from Digg, stop any mail that's over 100K, etc.)
Congratulations are also in order for ProfiMail's support of attachments and files that come along with any email. It has a built in image viewer for most popular image formats (including JPG and PNG) with a built in viewer (see above). it also handles HTML formatted email inside the application, rather than pass out the code to an instance of the web browser. It's not perfect (the above HTML mail should have the word ProfiMail in the text a lot larger), but it does present readable messages - which is key in my mind. Information over presentation, remember. Finally, to help with attachments there is a built in file browser that lets you save and load files from the phone's memory.
While there are other third party email clients, the direct comparison for Profimail will be with the built-in client on S60 devices, and in functionality it surpasses that. If you need corporate support (MS Exchange, Blackberry, Lotus Domino, etc.) you will need to stick with Nokia Messaging, so that limits the potential somewhat, as those users may well be the people that need an advanced email client. Power users, especially those with active online lives, will appreciate ProfiMail, but as the competition catch up, and new ways of using email and IM to communicate appear (let alone services like Twitter and Friendfiend), Lonely Cat Games are going to need to do a lot of work to keep the application ahead of the game.
Right now, ProfiMail is recommended. Interestingly, the score is up slightly on the previous version, and that's mostly down to the IMAP IDLE support, and the small font on the QVGA screen cramming in even more text and mail on the screen. That does come with a note of caution, because the arrival of Ovi Mail to the general public could dull the lustre of this application in 2009.
-- Ewan Spence, Dec 2008
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at