Feb
10
2011

10 GMail labs projects you really should use – and one that’s just for fun :)

One of the cool things about Gmail is that it is incredibly extensible. This is especially true if you turn on support for Labs features. GMail Labs is a huge set of experimental features you can enable to add new functionality to your regular online email service. For example, you can easily translate emails, you can optimize Gmail for the wide-screen, get a preview of what’s in your box before it even loads, and much more!

Here’s a couple of GMail Labs projects that I personally use, which I feel deserve a wider look from every user of GMail or Google Mail. Since some GMail Labs projects are specific to certain countries, I have tried to go only for ones I believe are both available and serve a useful role to global GMail users.

1. Undo Send

Have you ever sent an email to someone, that you instantly regretted? Save yourself the pain and undo the send! Although it won’t actually delete already-sent emails off other people’s accounts, Undo Send will keep every email you send un-sent for up to half a minute – allowing you enough of a grace period to cancel it if you instantly regret it.

After enabling the feature and sending an email, you’ll be told that the message has been sent–and that you can cancel it. Note that by default, the grace period is only five seconds, but you can increase it to a maximum of thirty in the usual Settings page after enabling the feature.

Message: "Your Message has been sent. Undo - View Message"

2. Insert Images

Here’s something I never realised until someone told me recently: Gmail is the last major webmail provide to have no official, non-experimental way to insert images into your emails. Try it for yourself – write an email, and try to insert an image in the middle of it. Yep, there’s no option, is there?

If you think this is pretty stupid of Google, then go into the labs, and look for and enable the “Insert Images” feature. After enabling this, you’ll be good to go and on your way to success!

3. Refresh POP accounts

If you set up lots of POP3 accounts in Gmail, then you probably know that the only way to check these is to either wait or to go to Settings>Accounts>Refresh. That’s too much work, isn’t it?! Enable this to have a single refresh button on the top of the page for all your accounts.

4. Inbox preview

It’s often said that GMail only takes a second to load, but I often find this to be somewhat optimistic. Sometimes, I end up looking at that loading bar for quite a few seconds – and then, when it finally loads, I wonder why I wasted those precious seconds only to see an empty inbox (yeah, it’s rare, but it does happen). If I only knew just what was waiting in my box RIGHT now, I could save myself the time I’d lose waiting for GMail to actually load.

That’s why I find Inbox Preview to be such a useful feature. If you’d also like to make better use of your time, enable this lab to get an instant preview of what’s in your main inbox as it loads, instead of just a plain, boring old loading screen.

5. Unread Message icon

Here’s another way to save yourself time if you’re the obsessive-compulsive type who’s always checking your email every thirty seconds. With this Lab, a number appears on top of the icon for GMail, letting you know instantly how many unread emails you have. It only currently works with Chrome (version 6 and above), Firefox (version 2 and above) and Opera – but to be honest, if you aren’t already using one of these browsers for most of your internet needs, you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s a way to make using this even more useful. In Firefox 2 and 3, you can download a “PermaTab” add-on, which let you keep a tab on the screen all the time, but doesn’t load the tab until you actually click on it. So download it, then go to Google Mail, and “Permatab” it. Then, you can see the Google Mail icon on-screen all the time, and have the icon show you when you have new mail – at which point, you can just click on the tab to go to your inbox instantly. The upcoming Firefox 4, as well as most versions of Google Chrome, makes it even easier, as this feature is already built-in to them – just pin GMail as an “App Tab”!

6. Message Translation

What you would do if you received an email in a foreign language you didn’t know? Would you bother reading it? Would you just send it to spam? What if it was an email from someone important and you just threw it out? Enable Message Translation to get one-click translations of most languages.

7. Send & Archive

Gmail’s Archive feature is a brilliant way of hiding email conversations that have gone quiet, allowing you to reduce the clutter in your inbox. If you’re one of the people who uses it often, or would but find clicking “Archive” all the time a pain, then you’ll love Send & Archive. With a simple click of a button, you can both send a reply and archive the thread. And don’t worry about missing a response now that it’s Archived, because the clever thing about Google’s Archive feature is that, once your recipient responds, the email will automatically pop back into your inbox. Clever!

Send & Archive adds a button of the same name to the left of the traditional "Send" button, allowing you to do two things at once.

(Image Credit: Google)

8. Authentication icon for verified senders

This one’s currently only useful for those who use PayPal or eBay frequently, but it is definitely a must-have if you’re in that group. You see, many criminals these days send fake emails that appear to be from PayPal or eBay, often requesting account details or suggesting you visit a website to address a problem with your account or a transaction you made, in an attempt to steal your account details – and, in succession, your money! But with this Lab enabled, official email that actually comes from PayPal or eBay is given a key icon at the start of the name, while fake ones are not. So now, you can be sure if an email that claims to come from these sites, actually does. What better protection can you get?

9. Extra Emoji

What says 😀 better than ? Easily add almost a dozen pages of emoticons, from fruits to pets to just plain random stuff–with the Extra Emoji lab project, and never be lost for an appropriate icon to use whenever you need it.

10. Sender Time Zone

“Should I reply to this mail or just call the guy? Oops… it’s 1 am. Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb…” This scenario sound familiar? Well, with “Sender Time Zone” enabled, when you read an email from anyone who comes from a different time-zone to you, you can see what the time is for them at that moment at the top of the email when you read it. It also adds a “phone” icon next to their name, which goes red when it’s late for them, and green when it’s not.

Bonus: Old Snakey

Let’s finish the list with one more GMail lab, but this one is just for fun. After enabling Old Snakey, just type & (Shift+7) to start a fun, mind-dulling game of Snake, with the level designed like the GMail logo:

What simple fun! Incidentally, I actually set my highest score to date when making that screenshot – 230 Points if you can’t read it. Now that I’ve said that, let’s see how many people start posting comments bragging they can or have beat me… 😛

Conclusion

Gmail labs is a great place to go mucking around. There’s all sorts of things you can find in there, and all sorts of things left to be made. The labs are a great testing ground for cool new features that one day–let’s hope–will be part of Gmail. If I may make a request to any Google staff who may be reading (as if!), how about 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8 get the official treatment over the next few years?

Visit the Labs (under Settings>Labs)!

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