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Fluent review: An innovative new interface for Gmail

June 8, 2012 01:00 PM ET

The right side of the screen is taken up by Fluent's to-do panel. (I told you we'd get back to that soon.) To-do lists are actually a native feature of Gmail, but they've always remained curiously buried in Google's interface; if you didn't happen to know they existed, you'd probably never find them. Fluent brings the feature front and center, and once again, the execution makes you wonder why Google hasn't done the same.

Fluent for Gmail
With Fluent, every message you view has a single-click option to turn the conversation into a to-do list item.

With Fluent, every message you view has a single-click option to turn the conversation into a to-do list item. Clicking the option instantly adds the item onto your to-do list; you can also long-click to add an item and simultaneously set a reminder.

By default, Fluent provides an infinite inbox scroll -- meaning that new messages continue to load and show up as you move downward, without your having to click forward to a new page. The need for page-to-page clicking has always been a pet peeve of mine in Gmail, so I found this functionality to be a much-welcomed addition.

Fluent has intelligent handling of multiple Gmail accounts, too: Once you add a second account into the program, an icon appears for it on the left-hand navigation bar. The icon allows you to see at a glance if the account has any new messages and, with one click, flip over to its inbox without having to sign out or load a new page.

Fluent has an impressive-looking mobile/tablet interface under development as well, but it's not yet available for public testing.

Fluent's flipside

For all its positives, using Fluent isn't all roses. For example, while Fluent offers a series of keyboard shortcuts that mimic Gmail's, some of the more advanced shortcuts -- such as the "G-I" sequence to return to your inbox from any screen -- are not currently available. As a frequent shortcut user, the absence of those commands was a frustration for me while navigating through the system.

Another speedbump: Fluent, in its current beta form, handles only a limited amount of mail. Right now, Fluent loads your most recent six months of messages. The company says it'll eventually offer a "premium" subscription that will provide complete mail access along with other extra features; it's not yet clear how much that subscription will cost or how the basic free service might change once paid plans are introduced.

Finally, you can't discuss Fluent without discussing privacy. While Fluent doesn't have direct access to your Google password -- you authorize the program using Google's OAuth service -- the system does require access to all of your Gmail data.

According to Fluent's privacy policy, user data is indexed and stored on Amazon Web Services servers, with all transfers taking place via encrypted SSL connections. Fluent says it has "strict internal policies" preventing anyone from viewing your data; the company also promises to permanently delete your data within three days if you choose to close your account. Ultimately, only you can decide whether you're comfortable with those terms and the level of access Fluent requires.

You can try a live demo of Fluent at the company's website; you can also get on the waiting list for a free beta account while you're there.

Fluent has an impressive-looking mobile/tablet interface under development as well, but it's not yet available for public testing.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

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