The most often asked question I get is how to prevent email from disappearing on Android devices. This question can be tricky, depending on the type of email service is involved. I’ll cut to the chase and say that POP accounts are not the best route. Why, you ask? Without getting too deeply involved in the differences between POP and IMAP, there are only two things you need to understand (with regards to mobile devices and POP/IMAP):

  • POP: Has to be configured to NOT delete mail from a server
  • IMAP: Automatically leaves mail on a server until you delete it

I’ll explain further:

With a POP account, when your device downloads an email to read it, that email is removed from the server. This is the default behavior and must be configured to actually leave a copy on the server. IMAP, on the other hand, automatically leaves a copy on the server, so there’s no extra configuration needed. IMAP also has the added benefit of being able to work with folders and subfolders — whereas POP cannot.

So, the ideal answer to the question is to always set up email accounts on all of your devices (and your desktop) as IMAP. If you do that, you’ll never lose an email just because it was read.

What happens when you have no choice? If you’re using a provider that requires you setup your email account as a POP account, you must go through a bit of extra configuration. The type of phone you have will determine how this is done. I’ll show you how to set this up with the Samsung Galaxy S4. With that knowledge, you should know what to look for when configuring any type of Android device for POP.

Make sure that you’re doing a manual setup of your POP email account. During the process, you’ll get to the Incoming Server setup. On that window, you should see an option for Delete email from server ( Figure A). You must set it for Never so that email is saved on all devices (until you manually delete the email). If you want, you can configure your desktop email client to delete the email from the server… but only when you delete the email (otherwise the email will never show up on your Android device, so long as your desktop email client is running). As for your Android devices, set them all up to Never delete an email from the server (leave that for your desktop).

Figure A

Configuring a POP account on a Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S4.

If you’ve already set up that email account, you can still enable this option from within the settings of that account (you won’t bring back email you’ve already lost, however). To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Open up the Email app
  2. Tap the menu button, and click Settings
  3. Tap Account settings
  4. Tap the account you want to configure
  5. Tap More Settings
  6. Tap Incoming settings
  7. Scroll to the bottom and look for Delete email from server
  8. Tap the drop-down and select When I delete from Inbox (the same way you would if you were initially setting up the account)

That’s it.

Once you’ve set this up, it’s imperative that you configure all of your devices in the same fashion. Also, remember to set up your desktop client to be able to delete email from the server (only when you delete it) to keep your account from filling up.

In the end, the best option is to go with IMAP. But if your provider doesn’t allow IMAP (they should), you can get around losing those emails with a bit of extra configuration. What do you think? Is IMAP the best bet for email on your Android device, or are you wholly and completely dependent on another system (such as Exchange)? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.