Google's navigation rail for Gmail is finally reaching Android tablets

Gmail app on Pixel Tablet
(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • A new update to the Gmail app for Android tablets brings the side-oriented navigation rail to users.
  • Previously, the feature was available on Android foldable when the main screen was opened.
  • The navigation rail frees up vertical space in the Gmail app, replacing the bottom navigation bar.

A server-side update to the Gmail app has brought Google's new navigation rail to Android tablets. The feature was first spotted by 9to5Google, starting with version 2023.11.12.x of the Gmail app. Thanks to the server-side update, the navigation rail is now available on most Android tablets. 

Google uses a bottom bar for UI navigation in many of its mobile apps, like most mobile app developers. This is typically an intuitive way to switch views, access different features, and navigate pages. However, it's a UI element that works much better on smartphones with less horizontal space available than on widescreen tablets. 

For a while, Google's apps for Android tablets were mostly scaled-up versions of the native Android app. But over the last few years — in the lead-up to the release of Google's Pixel Fold and Pixel Tablet — a greater emphasis was placed on developing apps specifically for larger-screened Android devices. 

Last year, Google introduced a new navigation rail on foldable phones, including the Pixel Fold. This move shifted the traditional bottom bar over to the left-hand side of the screen. Now, the same change is occurring on Android tablets. 

The navigation rail in Gmail.

The navigation rail in a Gmail app on a Google Pixel Fold. (Image credit: Brady Snyder / Android Central)

In the above example, you can see the new sidebar slightly decreases the amount of space in your inbox list. This will be a non-issue on tablets with large displays, as it's barely a concern on folding phones. The old Gmail app design arguably wasted too much space on the inbox list, taking up nearly half of the available screen space. 

The navigation rail can hold up to four icons and will reflect the icons that used to live in the bottom navigation bar. These are Gmail, Chat, Spaces, and Meet. The toggles are right around the center of your screen, to the left. It's right where your thumb should be when holding an Android tablet, so it should be fairly intuitive and ergonomically sound to press. 

It might depend on your device's screen size, but generally, the navigation rail will only appear in a horizontal orientation. When you shift your device vertically, the bottom navigation bar returns. 

The number of icons in your navigation menus — and which ones are there — could depend on whether you've gotten the Google Chat redesign yet. Most devices should have the UI overhaul by now, but some users will still see the old layout. 

To see if you've gotten the new navigation bar, make sure your Gmail app is up-to-date and use your Android tablet in a horizontal orientation.

Brady Snyder

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John's University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. When he isn't experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.