This new third-party email client, Astro, can help you check your Gmail or Office 365 email just through listening and talking—thanks to a combination of AI and voice support.
Generally, I'm not a fan of third-party email clients. In most cases, I recommend that people use the email app made by their email provider. If you use G Suite, stick with Gmail or the Inbox by Gmail app. If you use Office 365, stick with Outlook.
Unless, you want to experience the future and process your email with your voice. In that case, try Astro. It's the first third-party app that's made me excited about email in years. As of September 2017, you'll need a Gmail or Office 365 email account to use Astro. You'll also need to install the app on an Android, iOS, or Mac device. (A Windows version is in the works.) The app is free, although the company plans to add a paid version in the future
Priority Email with AI
With Astro, you don't need to look at most of your email, thanks to a combination of Astro's AI and voice. The AI separates your email into 'Priority' and 'Other' messages: things you need to deal with, and things you don't, respectively. Somewhat like Google's Priority Inbox feature, the app learns over time which emails are important to you — and which aren't. You can move email to the correct category, and specify VIP contacts to make sure their emails are a "Priority."
Voice on Android, iOS, and Alexa
What I like most about Astro is the support for basic voice commands. You can triage email with your voice — without looking at a keyboard, while you're doing other things. On mobile, tap the robot Astro icon in the app, then tap the microphone. Astro will start speaking. You'll hear how many priority message you have, and how many other messages, too.
Then, email triage begins. Astro reads the subject and sender of the message. To have Astro read the message say "read"— or "archive," "delete," or "snooze." On mobile, you can also say "reply," dictate a short response, then Astro will read your message back to you. To move on, say "send," then say "next message."
You can connect Astro to Alexa, too. To access the skill, say "Alexa, open Astrobot." Most of the same voice commands work with Alexa as they do on mobile. However, you can't dictate freeform replies with Alexa. Instead, you'll need to stick with a smaller list of quick replies.
Other email options
The app and Astrobot offer features beyond just voice. You can use it to schedule reminders, get additional details about contacts, clear old emails, or unsubscribe from email lists. You can also connect it to Slack. And you can add a custom email signature — with formatting and proper hyperlinks — from your mobile device. (Which allowed me link to my Twitter account in my signature, without having to type out the full link.) Standard reply, forward, star, and mute features are all there, too, as is search.
Astro also offers a few useful send options. You can schedule an email to send at a specific date and time, and track whether or not an email has been opened. More helpfully, if you truly need a response, set the "Track reply by" option, and Astro will let you know if you haven't received a reply by that date and time.
Email + voice = new way to work
Astro's support for voice lets me process email without a screen. I find that helpful, and very freeing. I use Astro to do an initial pass through email in the morning. Then, when I sit down to work, the only emails that remain are ones that require additional action, research, or writing. The ability to process email with spoken words and my voice — while I do something else — fundamentally changes how I interact with email.
Update: On September 24, 2018, Slack announced the acquisition of Astro and the end of support for Astro apps as of October 10, 2018.
If you've used Astro to process your email with your voice, what was your experience? And if you use other voice systems for email, which ones have worked well for you? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter (@awolber).
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