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Sparrow 1.2 first look: A lot to like and a few minor gripes

As a convert from Mail.app to Sparrow (US$9.99), I naturally got a bit overexcited when I heard that version 1.2 of the Mac email app was going to be unveiled at TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday. After downloading and installing the latest version from the Mac App Store, I've got to say that I like some of the changes, while a few of the updates aren't making me as ecstatic.

The developers of Sparrow refer to Sparrow 1.2 as "the world's first social email client" and proudly display the Facebook icon in their marketing materials, but the integration with Facebook (below) is actually quite limited. First, you can add Facebook friends directly from Sparrow, eliminating the need to make a separate trip to Facebook to do that. The update also provides an option for users to link Sparrow to their Facebook account so that emails from friends display their Facebook avatars. Sparrow 1.2 also grabs images from Address Book and has support for Gravatar, providing a way to quickly identify incoming emails by sight. In his announcement at TechCrunch Disrupt, Sparrow co-founder Dom Leca noted that the company is working on integration with Twitter, LinkedIn and and Tumblr as well.

In theory, this is pretty cool. Seeing TUAW Editor-in-chief Victor Agreda, Jr. peering at me from my inbox is enough to get my attention. In practice, some of us get a ton of emails from individuals and corporations that we don't follow on Facebook and don't have Address Book entries for. That means that the inbox is cluttered with the default avatar image, which is a boring gray head on an even more boring light gray background. Fortunately, there's a preference setting for hiding those pictures.

Sparrow 1.2 also adds a unified inbox (below), something that had me dancing on my desk yesterday. If there was one thing that I disliked intensely about the early Sparrow, it was the lack of a unified inbox. Where I previously had to click on each of my seven inbox icons to see what had come in lately, I can now keep the unified inbox highlighted and view all incoming messages as they arrive. +1 for the unified inbox! By the way, if you don't like the concept of a unified inbox, Sparrow gives you the option to turn it off.

Another feature I was happy to see was the addition of Rich Text signatures. This means that just about any image or link can be added to a signature, so I'll have to spend part of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend designing witty, colorful and otherwise thoroughly annoying signatures.

The app is now localized in nine languages -- French, simplified Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, German, Japanese and (of course) English. Some of the other UI changes must be rather subtle, as (with apologies to Sparrow UI designer Loren Brichter Jean-Marc Denis) I wasn't really aware of much of the "new interface design" touted in the update. You can now compose a new message by right-clicking on the Dock icon, the message list can be freely resized to just about any width, and it's possible to toggle the use of the Delete key to move emails to the trash or archive in preferences.

There's finally a way to specify where you want to save attachments to, and you can right-click any attachment to specify an alternative location to save it. The inbox selection bar, which toggles the capability to view all messages or just unread messages, can now be hidden by setting a preference.

As with all updates, there are some bug fixes that made it to the party. Sparrow 1.1.2's Dock icon didn't bounce properly when the app needed attention, and that has been fixed. Some users had also experienced issues with calendar invitations and multiple copies of sent mail appearing; those bugs have been nailed as well.

All in all, the update adds some functionality that is reinforcing my decision to abandon Mail.app and switch to Sparrow. Whether the changes to Mail expected in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will bring me back to the Mail.app fold is unknown, but I think that the progress made by the Sparrow team since the first release of the app in February 2011 is an indication that it's going to continually evolve and improve.

AppSumo has a special on Sparrow that is active until Midnight EDT today, and you can buy the app at a 40% discount ($6). Keep an eye on the TUAW Facebook page for some other Sparrow-related specials.



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Software Mac

As a convert from Mail.app to Sparrow (US$9.99), I naturally got a bit overexcited when I heard that version 1.2 of the Mac email app...