Last Updated: August 10th, 2012

For many people, Gmail is Android's killer app. It's the best email app on any platform, and one of the biggest draws to Android. So anytime there is a change, it's pretty big news. With Ice Cream Sandwich, Gmail got a huge revamp. Every inch of the app has changed. Today we're going to find out just what is so different.

I'm sure you've read other articles on the new ICS apps, but those are just rehashing what was shown in the Hong Kong demo. With the recent system apps dump and some SDK shenanigans, we can sit down with a real, working version of Gmail 4.0 and uncover its secrets. Email fanatics, this article is for you.

A few notes before we get started: These Ice Cream Sandwich shots are from the emulator. The emulator's rendering is not 100% accurate, so if something looks wrong, it probably is. Gingerbread is on the left, and Ice Cream Sandwich is on the right (you can also tell by the blue/green status icons). All screenshots are 960x540, so any information density discrepancies (number of messages, text size, etc) are accurate.

wm_screenshot-1319052982301  wm__0020_2011-10-19-16h34_15

We might as well start with the version numbers. We're moving from all the way to 4.0. We also get our first look at the new "Roboto" font that's supposed to be so amazing. I wouldn't judge it until you see it on actual hardware.


Here's my AP inbox on both versions of Gmail. The messages are exactly the same.

wm_screenshot-1319063655666  wm__0019_2011-10-19-16h28_29

The most obvious change is the switch from to a 1 line preview to a 2 line preview. They've also shrunk the preview font size. You see 2 less messages overall, but more of each message. A good example is the Kindle Fire email (6th from the top). In Gingerbread (left) we have no idea what the message is about, but in ICS (right) we have enough information to take action.

Another change is the swapping of sender and subject. In ICS the sender is now the most prominent information. It's also easier to see the "important" mark (the double chevrons) from priority inbox, and the checkboxes are much easier to understand without the ghosted check mark in unchecked items.

A new UI style in ICS is an almost constant row of buttons along the bottom of an app. Google is out to kill it's own Menu button with Ice Cream Sandwich, so you'll see a general theme of more options being exposed instead of being buried in the menu. Here the buttons are "Compose", "Search", "Labels", and "Refresh". Refresh also changes to a spinning throbber to let you know when a sync is happening. It syncs just about any time your finger hits the screen.

wm_screenshot-1319058015800  wm__0004_2011-10-19-17h00_22

Checkbox usage is much better in ICS. Checking an item helpfully highlights the whole message, and you get a "number of checked messages" counter at the top, which will let you know if a checked item is off-screen. Pressing on the "# Selected" check at the top will clear your entire selection.

You also get more readily available options along the bottom: Archive, Delete, Labels, Mark as Read/Unread (the envelope opens and closes), Star, and Menu. In the menu there is Mark as Important/Not Important, Mute, and Report Spam. You might not have guessed the envelope icon was "Mark as read" at first glance, but Google's got that covered. Long pressing on the button will bring up a tooltip, just like a mouse hover would on a desktop. It's very slick.

The Menu button (the 3 vertical dots) will appear and disappear in these screenshots as needed for options overflow, but on the Galaxy Nexus (which has no system level menu button) it is a permanent fixture in every screen.

wm_screenshot-1319207890747  wm_1

How is this for strange? In landscape, the buttons are displayed at the top. It's actually very space efficient. Gingerbread has the normal header at the top and buttons on the bottom, which limits the amount of space for messages and feels a little claustrophobic. With the new design, ICS manages to have the same amount of messages yet it shows you more of each message.

One oddity though. Horizontal gives you more space for buttons, but here ICS is displaying 1 fewer option than portrait - design or bug?

wm_screenshot-1319052993043  wm__0017_2011-10-19-16h34_43

The "Inbox" header at the top is actually a button. Touching it lets you quickly switch between accounts, it shows you how many unread messages you have in each account, and it lists your most recent labels. The drop down menu is way cooler than Gingerbread's full screen (yet empty) implementation.

wm_screenshot-1319058106950  2011-10-19-17h02_23

The toast messages in ICS look much better, and it is much more obvious that "undo" is a button. The toast messages in Gingerbread hang around forever, or you can tap to dismiss. In ICS the message goes away as soon as you touch the screen. I'm not really sure if this is a good thing, It would be nice if the undo option could be accessed from the menu.

Reading Mail

wm_screenshot-1319216051304  wm_5

Wow. Look at those sexy, sexy margins. I could read that all night long.

I must say, I really prefer Gingerbread's stacked subject/label layout over ICS's side by side version. If you have long or nested labels the name wraps and looks terrible. Plus the Stacked layout just seems to use space more efficiently - you don't need the huge amount of whitespace between the subject and labels in a stacked configuration. I'm also not entirely sure what the point is of the partial subject in the header, followed by the full subject right below it.

"Show details" was another one of those buttons-that-don't-look-like-buttons, so it was moved next to the date as a down arrow. That section expanded anyway, so a down arrow makes much more sense.

The "Newer - 3 of 3" line towards the bottom is telling you to can swipe left or right move to a newer message, similarly to how Google Talk works. If I had an older message than this in my inbox, "Older" would be displayed on the right side as well. The left and right buttons from Gingerbread get the axe because gestures are more fun, which makes room for more options and less menu digging.

wm_6  wm_7

There is a lot more "float" UI going on in the new Gmail. Here the subject header and the sender header stick around while you scroll. between that and the whitespace you are going to see slightly less of your message. Horizontal isn't as bad as you would think, the bottom buttons merge with the subject header like I showed earlier. You actually get a little more text with ICS's horizontal view. If you this is too much floaty stuff for you, the blue part is optional. You can make it scroll with the rest of the message in the options.

The Gmail icon in the top left is the combination logo/back button from Honeycomb. It's an app-level back button, as opposed to the regular, system-level back button. If you jump to this screen from a notification, the regular back button will take you back to whatever you were previously doing, but the Gmail icon will take you the previous screen in this app, which in this case is the inbox.

9  8

Can I just take a moment here to thank Google for getting rid Gingerbread's 'more options' style? The new menu has a drop shadow, which makes it look like it is above the message and not permanent. Gingerbread's "style" just looks like a layout error. The 3 vertical dots always bring up a menu like this, so if i haven't screenshotted every instance of it, just use your imagination.

wm_12  wm_11

Here you can see the new threaded view and what happens when you expand "Show details". The new layout allows for a denser display of information yet it is actually easier to read. Good job, Googlers.

Some fields still display the email address in the intensely stupid "[email protected], <[email protected]>" format - even when that person is in your contacts. I've never seen it be anything other than redundant.


wm_screenshot-1319211590489  wm__0008_2011-10-19-16h44_37

Gingerbread's compose screen really looks like crap compared to the new one, doesn't it? ICS borrows heavily from the Honeycomb version of Gmail, ditching the boxy design for a more "open" feel. The send button (which, for some reason, I could never really associate with "send") is redesigned to an arrow... thing. Which I don't think is any more clear. Every other email client in the world, including desktop Gmail, has the word "Send" in a box. That's normal. This isn't.

The "Save" button got the axe, because saving happens automatically. The compose field might look a little restricted, but it expands with your message.

wm_screenshot-1319212248937  wm_2011-10-21-11h52_22

The instant contact search list is much nicer looking (and, somehow, more thorough, those are all different AP addresses). Just about everywhere there is a name ICS will try to tack a G+ picture next to it. On one hand it encourages everyone to sign up, but it's also just more helpful for identifying contacts - and prettier. Ignore the differences in keyboard sizes, that's not the stock GB keyboard.

wm_screenshot-1319057862047 wm_2 wm_3 wm_4

Now Gingerbread is really getting outclassed. The first picture shows Gingerbread's all-text version of a contact. Touching it brings up the keyboard, even though it matches what is listed in contacts. In ICS, if it recognizes a contact, you get a very nice looking name and picture tag that is also a button. Touching the tag (picture 3) shows you the email address, and gives you the option to remove it (the "x" in the tag). Picture 4 shows what an unrecognized contact looks like ([email protected]), touching it brings up the keyboard so you can edit it.

Oh, and if you were wondering what the deal was with all the red underlines, that's ICS's spell checker. Touching a word brings up the list of suggestions. "Get" is most definitely a word, but the dictionary in this build is messed up. It's not released yet for a reason, folks.


wm_screenshot-1319221318360  wm_10

Try not to giggle. The current version of Gmail really does look like this. It's embarrassing next to the new version, isn't it? The whitespace gives us a more readable list and a little vertical compacting cranks the viewable labels from 9 all the way to 11.

What is up with the old label color box? What is this, baby's first smartphone?



You can't say I'm not thorough. Pay attention to the heading on each screenshot (general vs per account). It seems like most of the behavior options (confirmations, auto advance, batch operations) have been moved from per account settings to general settings. That will force consistent behavior across your accounts, the question is, do you want consistent behavior across accounts? I can easily see wanting a confirmation on an important account, and not wanting a confirmation on an unimportant account.

The ICS list is longer, so again we see the theme of exposing more options instead of hiding them behind popups or menus.

Also check out the last option, Auto-Download Attachments!


So who's excited? Gmail looks like it has been designed rather than just assembled. The demotion of the menu button means functions are easier to find and faster to activate. Things that are buttons are designed to look like buttons. They've managed to make the app more information dense, yet cleaner looking and easier to read. And don't forget the new widgets. Overall it's a huge improvement.

So, Gmail Junkies, what do you think of the new design? Are there any features you feel are missing? Do you have any questions about Gmail 4.0? Let me know in the comments.

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • Tommy

    It has a much cleaner, polished look. looks great!

  • Bill

    and where's the apk link?

  • Tom

    Exceptional article here. New Gmail looks phenominal and just makes me that much more excited to handle ICS on my soon to be Nexus :)

  • WormDoes

    Great article. This new gmail looks much more polished and sleek. Love the new labels screen. Just another reason to be excited about ICS.

  • mark l

    Great article. But I think the web browser is androids most important app.

    • Fabulas

      I agree with you 100%

  • Tyler Brainerd

    It looks to me like the send button is like a paper airplane, as in fold it up send it away.

    • Ron Amadeo

      huh... That's a interesting way to look at it. I think that'll help, actually, thanks!

    • Spydie

      just like apple mail! hmmmm

  • caliber

    Does the Gmail app have the ability to zoom, maybe with pinch-to-zoom, on HTML emails it receives yet?

    • Ron Amadeo

      I don't think you can do pinch zoom on the emulator, so you'll have to wait and see when it hits actual hardware.

      There definitely isn't a button to zoom in.

    • http://benswoodruff.blogspot.com Benjamin Woodruff

      I'd agree that this is an issue with the current Gmail. Doesn't stop me from using it, but how come we can't have the html fit-to-screen, and then if images are too small we can zoom in? As it is now, you can't even zoom out, just pan around to view images in html. This is just one of those things that previous iPhone users notice because of the way the iPhone's email app handles html email. It's the only feature I miss from it.

  • mkln

    Is there a night version with overall dark layout? Is there a way to change the color scheme to something different than that light blue?
    I really dont like ICS's new color scheme. I didnt like gingerbread's.. why cant we just have a black and white one :(

    • Ron Amadeo

      Nope, no themes.

    • Ravi Shah

      I got a very alpha custom rom based on the sdk and it had a burnt orange theme. so there are different themes but i don't know how many.

      • blunden

        No, it's NOT a theme. It's just because the drivers are either missing for incompatible with that build. You can confirm this but looking at the earlier CM on HP TouchPad videos before they fixed it.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/codemonkey85 codemonkey85

    Could you maybe write up a bit about the Gmail widget? I'd really like to see that!

    • Ron Amadeo

      We leaked pictures of the Gmail widget last week. There isn't much new to say about it. It scrolls, it's resizable. It's a widget.

  • JLishere

    The new Gmail looks like a huge improvement indeed! Though I would argue Google Maps is Android's killer app. Does anyone know if ICS brings any update for Maps? It's been a while since they've done anything new with it (last major update was transit navigation in July).

    • Ron Amadeo

      Maps is redesigned, there isn't any new functionality though. It also crashes a lot. It's on the list.

  • http://ihuile.free.fr elendol

    it seems great !

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    If someone can write a comprehensive app analysis, it's Ron. Ron for president of Android!

    • Ron Amadeo

      Thanks, boss. <3

  • Jeff

    I'm excited...a wonderful work in progress.thx for the info.

  • Devon

    One question, Pinch to Zoom???

    • Ron Amadeo

      I have no way to try pinch zoom with a mouse and keyboard. =(

  • TareX

    Fact: When you appreciate Android Police, Android Police appreciates you :) Thanks guys!

    • Ron Amadeo

      My screen shot victim! I was hoping you would show up. Glad you liked it. =)

  • manmythlegend

    Great write up. I like some gb elements (big colored labels) but all in all I agree with your thought.
    I wish they'd allow for full setting instead if web only.
    Can you finally empty trash?
    Superstar labeling was my favorite lab it won't make it to the app but I just wanted to say that.

  • Barton

    "Every other email client in the world, including desktop Gmail, has the word "Send" in a box." - Actually The Bat! has a similar send icon as the Gingerbread one, but it shows the other side of the envelope with the arrow pointing up, not right.

  • Bas

    I love the new UI, but I hope the current Honeycomb UI on my tablet stays though.

  • Richard

    How about the regular mail app for all the non gmail users? Does it have all the features the gmail app has or is it less good?

  • taylordd

    hee hee, I am excited.

  • risvi

    can i run apk on my gingerbread?

    • http://ericcamil.com Eric

      No if you want to run what you read about above you can check on the emulator or buy a phone with ICS on it (when they come out.)

      If the framework was the same, I am pretty sure it would have been hinted at or even linked to in the article about installing the .apk

      Also consider that the author if he could have installed the .apk for the ICS gmail he would most likely have tested it that way instead of using the emulator.

  • rltobetino

    A font...? Really a drugging font. That's what google is trying sell us. Really? ???im done with android period

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii


    • TeeGee

      Bye bye (thank God he left). See,this proves how hysterical people can't handle Android *giggles*

  • Phil

    Thanks for this article. Great job. I look forward to see more on the other apps.

    ICS is looking really good right about now. When I watched the conf I saw that they were aiming to bring more power to the power user. I use my phone for business as well as fun as if its a mini computer. So the changes are welcome and so are these articles. Can't wait to get my hands on the Galaxy Nexus.

  • Appelflap

    Thanks! Interesting comparison. Hope you guys do more comparisons. Interesting stuff to read.

    Btw, although I can do it myself, I wonder how the mail app will look on the Galaxy Prime resolution. Like the qHD res gives much more info on the screen than the standard wvga resolution, it will probably be a lot better with the Prime resolution.

  • Tyraenor

    It is really sad that there is still no option to deactivate the conversation view...
    I hoped so much that this would be possible finally.

  • kilis

    The apk doesnt work for me form the dump

    • blunden

      First of all, it needs to be deodexed if it's from a rom and someone hasn't done so already. Secondly, you would need to decompile the app with apktool to change the minimum allowed Android version in AndroidManifext.xml and repackage it again to even have a chance of installing it. The baksmali (dex decompiler) version used in apktool doesn't yet support ICS-built apps so you can't do the above.

  • Mirco

    Finally a "New E-Mail"-Button on inbox view. That was the most annoying thing in gmail so far, that I have to go to the menu to compose a new E-Mail.

  • Sam

    how would i go about installing the apps in the emulator, i tried pushing them to system/app but apparently there isnt enough space.

    • blunden

      Use the adb install command like the below example.

      'adb install Gmail.apk'

  • Freak4Dell

    The new GMail looks great!

    I completely agree with you about the send button being confusing. It took me a while to stop hitting "Respond Inline" when trying to send a reply to somebody's email. I think the combination of no word on the button plus the fact that it's at the top just made me completely ignore it, thinking that the button that had the word "Respond" on it must be the send button.

  • Brian

    Anything different in Messaging.apk? Any theme/color changes?

    Haven't seen any screenshots of it.

  • http://electrojelly.wordpress.com Emmanuel

    I actually l prefer white on black anyday over black on white. And wtf is up with the grey font which makes things harder to read?

  • Tim Sheppard

    And am I going to be able to send an email to a 'Group' of contacts yet, or do I need to jump on to a PC to do that? I run a number of emails for schools and companies and need to send emails to groups of people, but no native app on Android allows me to do that! Even on a tablet with Browser of Dolphin in Desktop mode I cannot do it!

    • Ron Amadeo

      Just tried. No. =/

    • TeddyvN

      On my Gingerbread phone I use the app "Contacts GroupU" to solve this flaw.

      But I agree that this feature should be native in GMail App!

  • Benny

    looks great, thanks for that Ron,
    i think that Gmail app should enable pinch-to-zoom with email that have images embedded on it.

  • Vitto

    The best ICS gmail focos so far. Thanks.

    Does this version support the nested label feature, like on the web, for moving conversations and or going to a different label?


  • Tee

    Actually, there was only one big flaw in the 'old' app. Forwarding an email, that is. What is an email app that hasn't a forward-button? I really hope the new one has it...

  • vlad

    i think snappii.com apps are worth mentioning.The service is very flexible and useful even for those who are not experienced programmers.

  • http://onesheet.com/ryanmbrewer @ryanmbrewer

    it definitely is much cleaner. it'll take a little getting used to. but much more aesthetically pleasing.

  • TeddyvN

    Is it possible in ICS GMail App to send an email to a group of contacts?
    A big flaw in the Gmail apps so far is that groups are not recognised ...

    • Ron Amadeo


  • Lee

    Hi Ron, great article, thanks. I can't determine whether the non-GMail app in ICS will allow the user to change the font size. Would you please clarify that? Thanks much.

  • Spydie

    Ok Ron, but tell us what you REALLY think!! Stop sugar-coating it! LOL

    I actually like some of the old "looks" better.

  • Reggie

    I'd like to know the function of the little android icon, on the top-right of the display when you have selected one or more email messages. http://ScrnSht.com/ucunmo is a screen shot.

    The icon appears only when you have selected an email in the folder.

  • Orin

    I stumbled across this today trying to learn the ins and outs of Gmail on my Galaxy Nexus. I've been using Gmail for years, but I'm new to Android. This has been very informative. Thanks Ron!

  • Starbuk

    I preferred readibg my emails on my old iphone compared to the nexus. The inability for html emails to auto resize is a big pain... as such i tend to stay away from using gmail on my phone and use laptop instead... is it really so hard for google to get this right?

  • Magic

    Just returned a Galaxy Nexus because I couldn't save images attached to the e-mails. It took 15 minutes for me to hate that phone. Back to the iPhone (again).

  • Magic

    Try saving an embedded image. Nobody at Verizon could do it, because it can't do it.

    • Magic

      Ahhhh...unless it's the Gmail app which your picture demonstrates. K9 Mail, Droid Mail and Enhanced Email for those not using Gmail all failed to allow for the download.

  • George Hilton

    How do you empty the trash? I can't find any way other than to get on my PC.

  • allison

    I would love to stop getting notifications from the standard e-mail. It's really annoying getting one notification from e-mail and one from Gmail for the same e-mail. I keep trying to turn off notifications, but they keep on reverting to "notify". Help!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SNKRAROVRUXKGBN7XXTTLP3ICQ Brom

    No "Empty trash" option, no "Select all" option (that's just me being totally controlfreaky in the spam folder). Just a minor rant here, you know. Still it works like a dream and looks good. Thumbs up.

    • Naterz

      Well, seriously what 1st party email client fails to allow you to "Delete Forever" without loading a website on your phone. Imagine if people couldn't delete iCloud mail without loading a website. They'd be in an uproar but apparently it's okay for Google to not put that in, when there is more than enough room to put that button as you're looking in the trash folder. At the moment they mind as well just make the label hidden when you're in teh Gmail app. What is the ******* point of the app, if I have to use the Website to do fairly elementary email tasks?

      I've already switched everything over to Hotmail, though, and simply use that. The GMail app is terrible. My phone has ICS so I'm not talking about the GB version, either.

      Oh, and no Pinch to zoom making some HTML emails a complete and utter PITA to read because half hte email is off the screen.

      And then they call it the best mail client ever, when it's basically "just enough" since GMail is a PITA to use in 3rd party clients that don't support the "GMail way" of doing things. It's terrible to use in an IMAP client if you have lots of labels, and it's useless in a POP3 client because those certainly don't support Labels.

      Gmail on Android is just good enough. There are third party clients are better and some stock clients allow you to do things that the Gmail app completely lacks support for.

  • simonlanaosoccato

    You still can hide labels. Very insecure for messages you don't want others to see.

  • NoPinchToZoom

    I stopped reading at "
    It's the best email app on any platform" 
    Its not, it doesn't even do the basics like rendering HTML emails properly and lacks pinch to zoom. Totally shite application and unusable till they fix this.

  • RAZR User

    Great article. In Gingerbread I was able to include the full sending info from the original email (Sender, ccs, date, time, subject) but cannot find a way to do this in ICS. Is there an option for this? Thanks!

  • Kate

    Hi Ron,

    Any way to format the font for email messages???

  • Jack Pommer

    Hate to buzzkill, but I would trade the eyecandy for two things: being able to see inline embedded images and having the delete button back. Not fancy, but useful.