Superhuman Email – A refreshing new way to deal with email. Part II

I’ve been using Superhuman email for almost two months now and it’s a refreshing new take on managing email, especially if you spend an hour or more each day with it.  When I first wrote about Superhuman here, I found it intriguing, but needed more time to flesh it out.

I’ve now gone through a number of phases, first learning how it works, remembering the keystroke-shortcuts, setting up preferences to separate my mail into three categories, and, lastly, getting used to cleaning out my inbox each day. I’m now using Superhuman throughout the day and find it easy to use and less overwhelming than other alternatives.  I find that I’m able to systematically review, answer and delete emails efficiently and use email in some new ways.

How does it differ from ordinary email software?

First, with ordinary email you face a screen with many windows and centers of attention. Lots of menu items, a long list of folders at the far left, a narrow list of emails with a few words summarizing each message, and a large reading pane to the right, all crammed onto one screen.

Superhuman provides a much simpler view. Actually two views. The first is the list view. No folders, no menus, simply a list of emails in a wide, wide column, each message with a long line showing part of the email message.  A narrow panel on the right provides some information about the sender and previous correspondence of the email highlighted.

Click on any message line and a new view emerges, displaying the full message clearly formatted, stripped of header information, and looking more like a typed business letter. You can either move to the next message, set it aside, or reply, each done with the press of a specific letter key.

The result of this design is it’s easier to get through your emails because you read it much like a sequence of pages. You can decide to use the emails to remind you later, instructing them to disappear and reappear when you want to see it again. As an example, I had an email referring to an upcoming meeting and set the email to return just before ithe meeting was to begin. I got a Fedex notice about a delivery a few days ahead and with a couple of keys arranged for it to reappear at 4pm on the day of delivery as a reminder.

To make it easier to get through your email, Superhuman suggest you partition your inbox into three groups: Important, News, and Other. The Important section now brings me the personal and vital stuff and weeds out the spam and marketing messages.  As a result I can clear my Important and News folders multiple times a day, as I go through each message. I sometimes also do that for the Other folder, but it’s usually easier to mass delete because it’s so large.

Superhuman is based on Gmail and you need to have a Gmail account to use it, or direct your non-Gmail account to Gmail. It relies on many of the capabilities built into Gmail.  While you can access many of these same capabilities from  Gmail, they’re often more difficult to use and the Gmail interface is much more cluttered. Superhuman’s benefit is creating an entire new veneer and command structure, while harnessing the power of Gmail.

While the product is very good, there are a few weaknesses that I hope will be improved. Occasionally, I revert to using  Apple Mail or Spark Mail to compose a detailed email with bullets and tables. The clean look of Superhuman also simplifies composing and doesn’t provide as accurate a preview, nor allow such things as tabs. Also, there’s no easy way to add an email address that appears in your email to your contacts, much as you can do with Apple Mail. Superhuman displays email in conversation view only, which I hadn’t used previously, but got used to it.

Lastly, on occasion when composing an email, I got the spinning beachball that prevents me from typing. It doesn’t occur often, but when it does it’s annoying, requiring me to wait 5 or 10 seconds. The company has been responsive to my error reporting and is working to identify the problem.

That bug aside, it should also be noted that Superhuman does everything quickly, almost instantaneously. Searching, sending, creating, all occur, according to the company, in 100ms or faster.  And it has elements that you’ll discover as you use it, such as the ability to cancel an email within 10 seconds of sending (another Gmail setting) and the ability to see if and when your email was read. It’s also much simpler to find attachments from a particular sender.

There’s also an accompanying app that offers many of the same features, although it’s not yet quite as refined.

The product costs $30 per month, a level that would make me hesitate to recommend it to those whose business do not cover it. But the company has other unpublished subscription options that can lower the cost to $10 if you are associated with a non-profit company.

In summary, Superhuman is a well thought out product that’s a pleasure to use and unique among a world of me-too products.


by Phil Baker