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Sparrow for iPhone Review: Nearly Perfect Email Experience



Sparrow for the iPhone has finally arrived, and with it the ability to use the iPhone to read email; something I haven’t been able to do since I purchased the iPhone 4S in October.

Sparrow replaces the Mail app that you are probably using to read email on your iPhone now.

Mail offers the most basics of email functionality. Sparrow makes Mail look foolish, old and broken.

Sparrow – iTunes – $2.99

You can see Sparrow for iPhone in action below. Pay attention to the navigation. You won’t see fingers in action, but when switching between threads and opening up options, the action is all swipe.

I had a brief stint of email use on the iPhone when I discovered Sent, but a number of issues caused me to abandon the app after a week.

Sparrow still comes up short when you compare it to the Gmail app for Android, but if you spend any amount of time reading email on your iPhone, you need to buy Sparrow right now.

Sparrow for the iPhone brings my most requested feature to the iPhone – Priority Inbox support.

You won’t see this when you log in, but you can turn this on in settings and enjoy smart filtered emails. With hundreds of emails hitting my personal and work in idea daily, this feature is the only way I can hope to approach Inbox Zero.

I wish you could choose one inbox to show you both important and unread, instead of separate inboxes. I’m beginning to think this is a restriction in third-party access to Gmail on the iPhone, because I haven’t seen it on a third-party Gmail app.

Sparrow supports multiple accounts with ease and even offers a usable Unified Inbox that supports Priority.

Sparrow for iPhone supports most IMAP accounts from services like Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo, iCloud, Mobile Me and custom IMAP accounts. There is no POP mail support or Exchange support.

Sparrow delivers a number of views, that are accessible by tapping on the inbox title bar.

Jump between inbox, unread, starred and priority with ease. You can see the navigation in action, and give it a test drive at Sparrow’s website.

To switch between accounts or to use tags, tap on the menu icon in the upper right. This takes you to a Facebook-like menu option that works really well.

On the lower right you can tap to compose a new email from any inbox view. You’ll have to choose your recipients before you start your message, but it is a slick shortcut.

The app includes Facebook connectivity to add photos to your inbox. In addition to looking nice it helps identify people you know or are friends with in a crowded inbox.

The user interface puts a lot of information at your fingertips, but does it without overwhelming or confusing. You can select multiple emails to mark as read, move or delete.

On any single email, swipe from right to left and you will see a set of options to reply, star, tag, archive or delete. No need to open up the message. The use of gestures and attention to the details of how users will interact reminds me of Clear, my favorite to do app.

For all the good things Sparrow does, it isn’t perfect for every user.

My biggest complaint is that I cannot force only unread and important emails to show up in the Priority Inbox mode.

Your biggest complaint will be that there are no push notifications. I loath push notifications for email, but if you need to know when new email comes in, you’ll need to also use the Mail app. If you want push notifications in Sparrow, you can find out why there are no notifications in Sparrow, and sign up to be notified when Sparrow has notifications.

One other issue is that you cannot set it as your default email application. So when you send an email from a web page or another app, it will still go through Mail.

Sadly, there are no plans for Sparrow for the iPad yet, according to the developer.




  1. Jeff Holthus

    03/15/2012 at 6:34 am

    Purchased the app a few minutes ago.  Can’t validate a single mail address.  Get error that connection can’t be established.  Have strong wifi signal and everything else is working.  Emailed developer and need to hear back very soon or this will be the first refund I’ve requested.  Rarely do I spend $3 on an app.

    • Bilbobaggins

      03/15/2012 at 8:48 am

      It’s working for me with three different GMail accounts. Are you saying that $3 is expensive for an application that a team of people put months of work into? 

  2. Uncle Mikey

    03/15/2012 at 7:34 am

    “and with it the ability to use the iPhone to read email; ”

    Um…what? Last time I looked, a pretty adequate mail program was included with the operating system…

    • Josh Smith

      03/15/2012 at 9:14 am

      Mail? adequate? Not even close. 

      As I said, I deal with hundreds of emails, and without Priority Inbox I may as well not even read email. 

      Mail is a pain for me to use. I just stopped using it. I know I’m not alone here, but if it works for you that’s great. 

      • Jcarpent

        03/22/2012 at 8:35 pm

        I like what I see so far, but has any been able to get it to work with “hosted” gmail accounts?

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