The best thing about Google is that its employees have all the time in the world - or at least a Google-bestowed chunk of hours - to devote to various side projects. You might recognise some of these. Like, say, Gmail.
Other Google side projects might fly under your radar for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that these services are stuck in the Google Laboratory. This self-proclaimed "testing ground" is where useful add-ons to existing Google products boil and bubble. But here's the problem: There are a ton of ingredients in Google's soup.
How will you know which of the more than 50 Gmail add-ons are best without first installing them? Easy: You'll read this guide. We're counting down the 20 most useful Gmail Labs features that you can apply to your account with the mere click of a button. As a bonus, check out the end of the list for our five picks for worst Google Labs.
Former Maximum PC Editor David Murphy publicly apologises to Magali Ferare for forcing her to appear in screenshots for the articles he writes. She's a champ.
Gmail Labs Gallery
20. Extra Emoji
The most important part of email is being able to express your raw, inner turmoil through the use of colourful icons. That's the beauty of Extra Emoji Labs project, which takes your normal list of around 140 Gmail emoticons and super-sizes it to a list of hundreds of different icons. This makes us :D
19. Mail Goggles
Google wins two points for funny and one point for creativity with its inventive use of common arithmetic problems to prevent one from sending unfortunate emails at an unfortunate hour of the night under an unfortunate level of sobriety. To summarise: Set this Labs project to intervene on a given day and time period, and Gmail will force your drunk self to solve maths before it lets you send email.
18. Add any gadget by URL
It's not flawless, but this eloquently titled Labs project allows you to add custom gadgets (like, say, those from your iGoogle home page) right into your Gmail screen via your Gmail settings window. It doesn't work with all gadgets, nor do all gadgets look good on the Gmail sidebar. Nevertheless, the power is now yours: Use it for good.
17. Mark as Read Button
For the lazy Gmail enthusiast, the Mark as Read Labs project allows you to select emails within one of your main Inbox windows (that includes elements like All Mail, or Trash, etc) and instantly transform them into "read messages". This process would normally require you to press the mouse button twice. Now, Gmail warrior, you can do it on one!
16. Pictures in chat
The name says it all. This helpful little Labs project throws your (and your contact's) buddy icons into Google Chat boxes whenever you strike up a chat within Gmail. This might not be a world-changing application, but it's a nice little graphical extra for an otherwise dry, text-filled conversation. Almost makes Gmail feel like an instant messenger, it does.
15. Create a Document
The "Create a Document" Labs project is almost self-sustaining. By that, I mean that the project adds a link–"Create a Document" – to the right side of your main Gmail display whenever you have a message opened up. Click on this link, and the add-on will automatically take the contents of the message you're reading and spit it out into a brand-new Google Document.
14. Google Docs previews in mail
If you and your friends or co-workers are huge Google Docs buffs, then you'll love the simple functionality offered by Google Docs previews in mail. Spoiler: It does just that. Whenever someone shares a Google Docs file with you, you now have the option to preview the file-all thanks to a brand new "preview" link appended to the bottom of the email.
13. Google Voice player in mail
I tip my hat to you, power-user. For if you are one of the converts who now uses Google Voice as his or her primary voicemail service, you have accomplished a great feat. Now take it one step further and install the Google Voice player in mail. Those friendly "you have a voicemail" transcriptions you receive will now come with a preview box at the bottom of the email, which you can use to listen to your message instead of moving to Google Voice itself.
12. Inbox preview
This might not be the best extension in the world for those of you sporting a cable connection to the Internet (high-five!) But if you can't stand the loading screen that pops up every time you type Gmail-dot-com into your browser and hit enter, then check out Inbox preview. Instead of just a blank screen with a loading bar, you'll get a snapshot of your Inbox with your ten most recent messages listed.
11. Send & Archive
If you're like me, you're the master of the last word. And once you've sent the last word in a conversation, that's it. Game over. You've won the thread, and it's now time to banish it back to your Gmail archives where it belongs. The Labs plugin Send & Archive adds a new button to your email replies that allows you to both send your message and archive the conversation at once. You just saved some extra mouse-clicks.
10. Navbar drag and drop
Now that you're probably adding program, after gadget, after widget to your Gmail screen, it sure would be nice to have some kind of method for organising your left-most sidebar's contents, no? Navbar drag and drop allows you to shuffle around the contents of the things you've added to Gmail quickly and easily. It's kind of fun, too.
9. Custom keyboard shortcuts
Did you know that you can control most of Gmail using just your fingers? Specifically, the combination of your fingers and your keyboard-Google has a swath of hotkey shortcuts build right into the web app, and you need only toggle a single option within Gmail's settings to turn them on. Then grab the Labs add-on Custom keyboard shortcuts to do just that, lest you be stuck with Google's hotkey selections forevermore.
8. Google Calendar gadget
It's not very scientific, nor flashy, but the Google Calendar gadget within Google Labs is extremely useful for busybodies. This helpful little tool slaps a tiny list of upcoming activities and events directly on the left side of your Gmail window. It's not that great if your calendar is packed with items, but at least you'll be able to steal a quick glance at the many activities that await you in the coming weeks/days/minutes.
7. Filter import/export
I can't explain why you'd ever want to get rid of your Gmail filters. But if you do-or are paranoid about losing them in some capacity-then Filter import/export is the Google Labs trick for you. Install it, and you'll be able to both save and restore your precious Gmail filters at a whim. You can also share them with friends, assuming your buddies are jealous over your perfectly routed incoming email. I would be.
6. Undo Send
A kingdom for whoever designed this Google labs project. The premise is simple. To prevent you from accidentally sending messages you either didn't mean to, or soon wish you hadn't, Undo Send builds a small delay between clicking on the "send" button and Google's actual delivery of an email. If you don't click "undo" after about five seconds or so, your email shoots off into the digital world.
5. Signature tweaks
High on my list of email annoyances is when people reply to an email thread and expand it like a digital accordion: pithy replies go on top, lengthy email signatures stretch out the bottom. The Google Labs project Signature tweaks solves the madness by placing one's automatic signature directly on top of the message he or she is replying to. Simple. Easy. Rage-reducing.
4. Mouse gestures
It's basic, but it's there. I'm speaking about Gmail's mouse gestures, which you can enable using the aptly titled Google Labs program Mouse gestures. You get three gestures to pick from within Gmail-hey, it's something, right? Hold the right mouse button and move the cursor left to go back a conversation, left to go forward a conversation, and up to go back to your main Inbox view. Take that, Nintendo Wii.
3. Video chat enhancements
What's better than video chat within Gmail? Bigger video chat within Gmail. And provided that both you and your friend on the other end have the Video chat enhancements program installed, you'll reap the benefits of higher quality video in addition to being able to see each other's faces in a larger, in-Gmail window. That sounds like a double-win to me!
2. Nested Labels
A lot of people take Gmail to task for its lack of a folder-based organisational system. Nested Labels doesn't help with that, but it does allow you to use labels in a hierarchical fashion similar to how you might stash subfolders within a primary folder. Nested labels are as easy to set up as they are to use and pull up. And they even display in an outline style on the left side of your Gmail window.
When is important not truly important? When is important really more of a "to-do" than a "need-to-know?" The normal Gmail interface only gives you one way to mark messages as important: A star. Superstars adds a number of other icons that you can use to both organise your hierarchy of important items and perform custom searches based on how you've used these new graphics.
-1. Back to Beta
Just what everybody wanted – encouraging Google to keep its products in beta status for even long. This add-on isn't even cute, so much as it is depressing. Slapping an unnecessary "beta" tag back into Gmail's logo reminds is just that; completely and wholly unnecessary. I hope an engineer didn't use too much 20 per cent time on this one.
-2. Default 'Reply to all'
I spend most of my workday making sure that I'm not accidentally sending a Reply to All instead of a standard Reply. And here comes an add-on to ensure that each and every witty retort I write gets sent along to every single person within an email chain. Can you say, "No thank you?" Can you say it to 60 people at once?
-3. Green Robot!
Cool. So, if I'm talking to someone on an Android phone, they'll have a little green robot next to their name in Gmail's sidebar chat feature. And once I have that information, I can… tell them to stop talking to me and just give me a ring instead?
-4. Old Snakey
Poor Old Snakey is just that: Old and busted. If we're going to play a game within Gmail just for the heck of it, how about we find a way to replicate Google's Pac-Man logo-game from the dot-muncher's 30th anniversary? Why settle for Old Snakey when you can have Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde?
-5. Default Text Styling
This Google Labs app allows one to change the default text style for every reply you send from your Gmail address. Because that's just what the world needs as well: Giving people the power of going from a standard, pleasant, 12-point font (or thereabouts) to a huge-ass, italicised, pink, Times New Roman text over a pretty yellow box. Yuck.
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