How to find the best email client for your Chromebook

If you're looking for a solid email client for your Chromebook, Jack Wallen has just the recommendation for you, by way of Linux.

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Image: iStockphoto/Savusia Konstantin

Chromebooks were made for the cloud. Instead of including the usual array of standard, client-based software, everything is done via the web browser. For the most part, it all works quite well, but there are people like me who prefer to use a standard email client, as opposed to viewing my communications through a web browser. This is especially so, considering I have several email addresses I check throughout the day. Viewing those accounts through webmail would add more tabs to an already full tab stack. Ergo, I much prefer a standard email client.

To get a traditional email client installed on a Chromebook, one must first add Linux support. For the how-to on this matter, check out my article: How to install Linux apps on your Chromebook. Once you have the Linux subsystem installed on Chrome OS, you are then able to install any number of Linux apps on your Chromebook.

One such app you should immediately consider is the Geary email client. This is a client I've tried on my regular desktop and found it to be lacking in the features I generally require. Until such date that it adds those features (such as PGP support, non-threaded views and HTML signature support), I'll be sticking with the email client I've used for longer than I can remember: Thunderbird.

On a Chromebook, Geary has a minimal amount of features and the speed required to make it the best standard email client for Chrome OS. Said feature list includes:

  • Straightforward interface
  • Easy account setup (with support for Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Outlook.com, POP/IMAP servers)
  • Conversation view
  • HTML mail composer
  • Keyword search

Let's install Geary on your Chromebook.

SEE: Electronic communication policy  (TechRepublic Premium)

What you'll need

First and foremost, you'll need a Chromebook that supports the installation of Linux apps. Most modern Chromebooks support this feature, so go back to the how-to article above and see if you can get the Linux subsystem working. If so, you've got everything you need.

How to install Geary on Chrome OS

Open the Linux terminal window on your Chromebook. Once the terminal is ready, issue the command:

sudo apt-get update

With apt updated, you can install Geary with the command:

sudo apt-get install geary -y

The command will install all necessary dependencies, along with the client. With Geary installed, you'll find it in the Chrome OS menu. Click the desktop menu button and then type gear in the search bar. Click the Geary icon to open the client, where you can configure your email account(s). 

You can select from Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Outlook.com or Other. If you have a POP or IMAP email account, select Other and then configure your account as needed (Figure A).

Figure A

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Adding your first email account in Geary.

Upon finishing up the account configuration, Geary will open and sync your email. You'll find the Geary interface incredibly intuitive and without much in the way of reading and writing email (Figure B).

Figure B

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The Geary UI is simple and clean.

What makes Geary the best client for ChromeOS?

Everything of this nature is subjective and all things are certainly not equal. Given the nature of Chromebooks, finding an email client that not only gets the job done, but doesn't add too much in the way of complexity or performance loss, can be a bit tricky. I found using Thunderbird on Chrome OS to be less than reliable and a bit of a resource hog. Geary, on the other hand, is surprisingly stable and doesn't gobble up CPU cycles or memory like the Mozilla offering.

This combination of simplicity and reliability makes Geary the ideal email client for your Chromebook. It's not perfect, but it certainly adds a much-needed tool to your Chromebook—one that you can count on to make it considerably easier to view your email accounts, without having to waste precious web browser tabs.

The caveat

Even the best of software doesn't duck the dreaded caveat. In the case of Geary, if you go to add your Gmail account, know that you'll have to use an app password. To do that, head over to the Google app password generator and create an app password for Geary—you'll use this in place of the regular Gmail password.

As I said, Geary isn't perfect. If you're accustomed to an app like Thunderbird or Apple Mail, you'll find this app to be pretty bare-bones. However, since you're using this on a Chromebook, bare-bones is probably exactly what you're looking for.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....