Slide, tap, and tab: A look at Gmail's new interface

New mail categories make their way over from the web; updated design sheds an action bar for a cleaner look

Google is currently in the process of rolling out a newly redesigned Gmail app -- version 4.5 if you're counting -- that is the first major redesign in some time, bringing with it a few new features to improve your mobile email experience. It's a necessary update in many ways, bringing the design up to speed with the latest UI elements introduced at Google I/O as well as falling in-line with the latest features being added to the Gmail web interface. And let's face it, the previous Gmail app has had the same basic design for far too long.

While it was extremely functional, there wasn't a whole lot to be excited about with Gmail until this week. Things are changing though, so let's take a look at some of these new features and try to make sense of it all. Stick around with us after the break and see what's new.

The new interface and features

When opening the new Gmail app for the first time, the differences will be subtle rather than striking. You're still greeted by the same inbox, a primarily white and grey color scheme, and an action bar at the top of the app. There are still changes here though, touching many small parts of the interface. In the main email view, you'll notice that contact images have been added to the left side of emails (replacing checkboxes for multi-select) and that the bottom action bar has been removed. You can now tap a contact's image (or a letter representing the first letter of the first name of the person emailing you) to multi-select messages, and all secondary actions once selecting emails will show up as a change in the top action bar, rather than the bottom. There are also subtle tweaks to the way labels, stars and "important" markers are displayed on messages, but that's just cosmetics. The one truly hidden feature of the new redesign is the inclusion of pull-to-refresh, which is seemingly natural in mobile design nowadays and has the added bonus of saving one more spot on the action bar for other icons.

Interface changes continue as you slide in the new navigation panel, which in modern Google design guidelines takes place of the now deprecated slide-in drawer. Swiping in from the left edge reveals a pretty standard-looking navigation area where you can select between your different accounts and switch between different inboxes and labels. Your most recently accessed labels are pulled up underneath your inbox, but a full list can always be accessed from the bottom of the panel. If you choose to enable the new Mail Categories feature for Gmail the tabs will show in the drawer as well, but we'll get into that below.

This update is an overall tightening of the screws and polishing of the previous Gmail interface. Things aren't so far out of place that it will feel unfamiliar, but enough has changed to make it feel as though Google is actively working to improve the app. You'd be hard-pressed to find anything "wrong" with the previous version, so we're not surprised that this update brought a solid collection of subtle but useful changes.

Mail categories

Google seems to have a grand plan to change the way you filter through your email, and following a gradual release of a new "tab" option for the web view of Gmail the Android app is following suit. The most interesting part about this is that you wouldn't know anything about the new tab (aka "Mail Categories") option just by opening the app. At least at this point, unless you explicitly enable the new view from the web first, you won't have the option to set things up from the app.

If you do choose to stick with the Mail Categories option, the tabs you selected will be synced to your device and show up in the slide-in panel underneath the "Inbox" subhead and above the "Recent Labels" section. They will have the same color-coded tabs and order as the web as well, naturally. By default the tabs are set to not sync or notify for any messages -- as is the case with all new labels and folders -- but that can quickly be turned on with a tap to the menu button. Turned on by default instead are small notification reminders that pop up at the top of your main inbox indicating that there are unread emails in the other tabs.

We're not entirely sold on the idea of the new tabbed interface, but at least it can be turned off completely if you aren't thrilled with it. Any settings change you make on the web will be reflected in the app, so just make your selection there and let it sync up on your other devices.

Tweaking and learning

The new version of Gmail has introduced a few new settings, but has also surfaced the importance of others that were added in previous versions. We covered how to turn on and off the new Mail Categories feature, but all of the other new options can be toggled from within the Gmail app's main settings menu. To turn on and off contact images, head to Menu > Settings > General settings and toggle "Sender image". (If you do choose to remove the images, you'll have to long-press on emails to then select multiple images.) Another important pair of settings -- and ones that build on the importance of previous updates -- are those to select what happens when you swipe and delete items in your inbox. Again under the "General settings" menu, you can choose whether Archive, Delete, or Archive & Delete options show in the action bar, as well as whether or not these message actions show in different views of the app. The rest of the settings menu should be a standard layout mostly unchanged from the previous version.

But no matter how many times you go through the settings and think you know where everything is, it's going to take some time to get used to the new layout. If you receive even a fraction of the email we do (and you should be happy about that), you spend a good amount of your day in and out of the Gmail app dealing with it. Once you get everything set up how you like it to fit in with your workflow, we think you'll feel right at home in the new interface. We've given it a few days and it's already growing on us as a worthy update to the headline Google app.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • is anyone NOT getting notifications with the new app?
    i have it syncing all the time
    dont get notifications
    open the app, and have 5 e-mails (always just junk/promotional offers)
    will this only notify me if something comes into my regular inbox? because that would be awesome
  • Same here, I only get notifications for mails in my primary inbox. I don't get them for the other folders (probably configurable, but I like it this way).
  • When you're within a specific label, hit menu and "Label Notifications". Here, you can control how you get notification for that specific label. Only the Primary label is on by default.
  • ahhhhh, excellent. I like this. thanks
  • Wow after finding this I like this feature a LOT! While I would like notifications for my Primary folder and well as my Updates folder (changes in bank accounts, passwords etc.), I don't need to see notifications for every da*n LivingSocial or Groupon deal I receive. This is a game changer for me! Definitely huge!
  • excellent find. thanks!
  • I'm getting no notifications at all. Something has to be broken. Nothing since I "upgraded" the app last night. Gmail works on all my BlackBerry devices so its got to be the app.
    Also on the native email app for Samsung... Edit:
    After reading the above comments apparently I just didn't know what I was doing. It works now, but I still don't like it. Won't be getting used near as much anymore.
  • uh, why don't you just enable notifications for all tabs? or disable tabs altogether. seems like a trivial gripe.
  • Meh, I don't need/want any of the new features or care for the new design. I'll stick with 4.2.1, it still works great for me. /now you kids get off my lawn! ;P P.S. - the ONLY features I want are the ability to empty the trash from the app and not have to use webmail to do it AND to turn off conversation view. Is that so much to ask? Grrr...
  • New version DOES let you empty both spam and trash right from the app....finally!
  • Thanks. But why is that NOT mentioned in this article? :(
  • Because everybody can't anticipate every single little thing somebody might ask about. Or maybe they weren't aware of the feature.
  • While we're on the subject of trash, why does the new 'swipe to archive' feature not allow you to configure it to delete instead? I never use gmail's archive feature. I'm sure there are those who'll say it's great and effectively no different (only better) than deleting, but I'm not convinced. BTW - I love that gmail offers a handy 'undo' widget instead of making you tap 'ok to delete.
  • Actually there is an option to choose between delete and archive. I have been using it ever since the swipe action was first added a few updates ago. I have never found a reason to use the archive function.
  • Know where I can get 4.2.1? I'd really like to not have my entire interface double to triple spaced. I'm getting really really sick of Googles war on information density.
  • I dont feel that I am getting the Notifications fast Its MAILDROID for me for my Gmail... easy to read/no conversation mode /and fast
  • I still haven't gotten the update? I've tried forcing (clearing data method) and nothing... What gives? Slow rollout? Tweet me at iambmurray if ya got anything?
  • sorry, not going to tweet you, but you can just install it from android police
    thats what i did...just DL from one of the mirrors and install over the old one. and yes, google is full blown with their staggered rollouts. I'm not a fan really, but i understand why they are doing this (not wanting to roll out a faulty app to MILLIONS of people) for power users like you and me and anyone else on these forums, its annoying...but for the other 98% out there...its better.
  • Google needs to seriously stop putting controls at the top of the screen the only reason why people complain about not being able to use Android phones with one had is because of those to mounted control bars. All control bars should be located at the BOTTOM of the screen. With 4.3 inch and up phones, this is a necessity! The old Gmail got it right. The control barware much more comfortable to use.
  • Wow. So many spelling errors. That's what I get for using SwiftKey flow without checking!
  • Go home SwiftKey, you're drunk.
  • Lol.
  • Meh. Doesn't bother me in the slightest, and it's more consistent. Personal taste.
  • I completely agree about the controls. I have small hands and on a 4.3" I can't touch the upper left corner. I realize the controls on this are on the right, but what about people like me but are left-handed instead? You should be able to use a phone in one hand. To me that's what separates a phone from a tablet. I just don't understand the thought behind having controls at the top of the screen. There is a reason why soft/hard keys are at the bottom - they are easier to reach there. Now that I have finally seen a walk-though of this, I am sticking with the old app until this changes, or Google forces me to update it.
  • Totally agree. Not only are bottom control bars easier to reach (Galaxy Note 2 user here), bottom controls prevent your hand/thumb/finger from obscuring your view. From a functional design standpoint this seems to be a no brainer yet only a few designers are paying attention to this. Maybe the designer of the new Google camera interface could influence some of the other Google designers.
  • For my tablet it's great. I'm usually leaning it on my belly anyway. But for a phone it sucks. Especially reaching across a 5" screen.
  • Didn't get mine yet either. Just gotta wait unless there's an apk out there you can load. I'm in no rush.
  • There's one on Android Police already. Stickied on the front page. sideload away!
  • Yah no update for me either. I really like the new separate inboxes so i'm really wanting this on my phone.
  • Thanks!
  • It took some getting use to. I've setup 2 tabs - Primary and Promotions. This seem to keep the "Please spend your money on this" type emails in one place and ready for easy deletion.
  • Thank you. I was wondering how to get the filters up and running. :) sweet!
  • It used to be that I could change a label from inbox to something else to move a conversation out of my primary into a secondary. Now the conversation appears in both as I see no way to remove the primary label.
  • OK, got it. Long press select 'move to' from the folder icon that appears on the action bar.
  • Same here. Hoping for a bug fix soon.
  • Is there any logic to the color for the contact boxes or is it completely random? That was the most confusing part until I realized that letter was just the contact's initial. Thought it was the category it was placed in.
  • I still havent gotten the update :|
  • Side load it. A number of sites (including Androidpolice) have links to the APK file should you not want to wait for the Google rollout to hit your device.
  • I thought Google would have added the send money function to the app... I'm pretty bummed about that.
  • no update yet for me.. wtf ?
  • Lots of people haven't yet. This one seems to be going pretty slow compared to a lot of the previous updates. Either sideload or wait it out.
  • Is there any way to customize the slide-to-delete so that it works only right to left? Currently it works both ways but with the new slide-from-left menu I sometimes accidentally delete unless I slide very deliberately from the left edge.
  • Playing with it a bit more - easy enough to bring up the side menu just by clicking on the icon or address at top left of screen...
  • I love the new look. The only thing I hate is the way multiple gmail accounts are listed one below the other. It takes up too much space and everyone can see all your gmail accounts, especially on tablets, where the sidebar does not disappear. Much preferred the Gmail account drop-down box from the previous version
  • Ok i am reverting to the old app because the contact images looks just awful to me since most of my contacts are not displaying pictures so i just have this rainbow colored letter array which is just really cheesy looking and reminds me of touch wiz and i dont want that on my nexus 4 in my gmail app i used to love gmail lol hopefully a future update will let me turn this off. because it is the only feature i dislike
  • How do you revert?
  • You can turn it off. There's an option for contact pictures in the settings.
  • As noted in the article, you can simply turn off contact images in the settings.
  • Where did you find previous to revert? That is among, but not the only issue I have with this version.
  • @Andrew Martonik Thanks for the post. very attractive new look and many awesome features are added on Gmail. Very impressive work from Google. Thanks in Advance
  • They really screwed up when they removed the ability to set unread messages as listed first with the new tabbed categories. I won't use them until that is fixed.
  • My biggest issue with the update is the removal of the trash can icon. I used that all the time. Why remove it?
  • Are you talking about in the notifications? If so thats my main concern. I consistently delete emails from the notifications bar. In the email main list view that shows your inbox messages, I wish you could swipe the message to the left to archive and swipe right to delete a message. I miss how webOS I would swipe and delete emails. This just lets me archive them with a swipe, not delete
  • Go to settings, general settings you can change it with the top setting "ARCHIVE AND DELETE ACTIONS"
  • Dude, you're my hero. Virtual beer on me!
  • Hey so i'm not getting these separate categories on my phone app, but i have it enabled in Does it take a while to sync to my phone?
  • Should show up quickly as long as you have sync turned on and let it refresh once.
  • yeah still not showing up. I tried syncing my gmail account in the settings multiple times, and it still wont show up. Maybe it just takes a while idk. EDIT: I just cleared the cache for the app. It's working fine now.
  • I wish the trash can was on the main bar and not on the dot menu.
  • as jcprunty pointed out, you can put it back by going here: Go to settings, general settings you can change it with the top setting "ARCHIVE AND DELETE ACTIONS"
  • I dont know how the rest of you feel but i would love to be able to empty my trash from the mobile app. If there is a way i have not seen please tell me.
    Thank you
  • Open the sidebar and select the Trash label. Bring down the menu and "Empty Trash"
  • I just got back to this post...Thank you very much!
  • Yea, what he said
  • Having to go to the web to enable a feature to use in the intuitive :-P Why is Google so freaking stuck on making people use conversation view and not giving you the ability to do simple things like sort by date, sender, etc.
  • The unforunate thing is it has to work one way or the other... You can't just enable it on the phone without also enabling it on the web, so you're going to have to initiate it at one side. Google probably assumes its easier to explain and enable on the web first.
  • OK I can understand that. I quite like pic/icon view & the slide out menu is always welcome but the primary email functions (forced conversation view, lack of simple sorting options) remain horribly convoluted.
  • So I don't thing anyone has mentioned this: I move a new email from my primary tab, or other tabs, into a label/folder. The email no longer shows up under my primary tab on my phone. Then I grab my tablet and the email shows up in the primary tab but with the appropriate label. Then I checked gmail on the web and same thing. If I did the movement from my tablet the same thing happens on my phone and the web. I don't understand why it is doing this and how I can fix it. Anyone else experiencing this?
  • Nothing has changed here. What you're experiencing is a confusion between moving email to a new folder and adding a label to an email. When you move folders, it completely removes the email from your inbox and puts it in that folder. If you choose to add labels to an email, it will remain in the inbox and also have those labels. It can be a little confusing, but this update didn't change anything. Think of the Inbox as a label that is applied to every one of your emails as it comes into your account.
  • First off thank you for responding. Second: It was messed up before but appeared to be a glitch on the server or something. On my Droid DNA I selected things this afternoon (right after the update) hit move and put them into the folder I wanted. They moved out of the inbox on the phone, but not on the web or my Nexus 7. After you comment I experimented and tried again. Works. Maybe it was a delay or something. Anyway, thanks for the write up/walk through. Also if I remember correctly there used to only be an option to change labels in the app (you had to change it to the label you wanted and remove the inbox label to essentially due a move to folder option like on the web) now they have the "Move To" option on the app and now that it is working for me I am very happy.
  • I'd like the read and unread emails to have a better contrast. Its hard to tell them apart with a quick look.
  • i liked it. good one.
  • i'm getting 2 notifications for the same email. if i choose 'primary inbox' it happens, if i switch to 'inbox' it happens. aggravating.
  • Same here; try turning notifications off in your 'Primary' inbox settings.
  • Uninstalled. Thanks to AndroidDrawer I was able to bring back previous version back to my all devices. Rubbish update for people using GMAIL as primary work contact.
    I hope MS will finally release Outlook mobile for Android. Then GMAIL app will go 4ever.
  • Honest question here: Doesn't this sound like Google's answer to the BB10 Hub? The idea of a unified inbox for all your incoming communications. Not saying "THEY'RE STEALING IT!". It's actually a nice take on the idea.
  • How to add another Gmail account on this new app?