First thoughts on Alto from AOL

Alto has accepted invites for testing and, of course, I had to sign up.  I am glad to see they didn’t go the initial route they had planned for Alto, which was a full overhaul of AOL Mail.  It’s going to be hard to do something magical in that space which will usurp Gmail from it’s throne.  They decided, wisely, to give it the function of making email accounts you already have a pain in the arse keeping tabs on just a little bit easier to sift through.  As a disclaimer, I already have Gmail set up to move Living Social and Groupon deals straight to their own labels and bypass the Inbox, but Stacks is an interesting way to give it seperation in a more visual way.  This is their system where it can keep daily deals in one place, attachments in another etc.

Oh, and they have a pretty logo:

Ooh, so pretty

So, I tried Alto out after reading about it last week and it’s pretty slick so far.  Having given only 5 minutes of my time to it, I haven’t really got to grips with the Stacks system yet, but a few things I can note I am pretty pleased about:

  • Multiple accounts in one place is the genius behind it
  • Linking to Google Drive if you have a Gmail account – makes sense because it’s such a popular and useful service!
  • Press ‘E’ to Archive.  Yes, they’ve done it there too.  Makes life easier for those who live by Gmail, and updates on your Gmail account so no stress for those who wish to archive from Alto and move swiftly on
  • My contacts are there, this is good.  It also imports folders/labels from email accounts which helps organise very well
  • They also link to Google Calendar, with a note that their own calendar system is coming.  If this integrates with my Google Calendar then that will be brilliant
  • Stacks seems to do what it says on the tin, but I have yet to explore this more

Things to note which I didn’t like or are symptomatic of it being a beta:

  • Search didn’t work (Beta issue probably)
  • Automatically opens the clean, but rather simplistic, pop up compose function. Would rather an option to choose if you want to automatically go into full compose mode every time (unless I missed this option somewhere)
  • Gmail itself may be messier, but altogether more versatile
  • Pressing ‘C’ does not compose a new message, nor does the ‘Ctrl+W’ in normal AOL mail.

Altogether Alto was an interesting look at my mail and I may use it from time to time, I can’t see it being a replacement (at least not yet) for Gmail’s regular web interface.

As I side note, I used AOL mail for the first time since the 90s with my account and it’s really changed!  A friend of mine had AOL a few years ago and it still looked like the 90s; for shame… Now it’s similar to Yahoo! Mail, but still much cleaner and nicer.  Good work AOL, but it’s still no GMail in functionality.

Back to Alto though, it’s just the beginning and whilst not revolutionary, it certainly could be useful.  I’d keep an eye on the progress of this one.  There have been other inbox aggregators, but not many have been so well thought out.  Will Stacks be the differentiator? With a little work it could be useful, but not sure how much that means at this point.

Digital Trends has a more in-depth look here: Hands on with AOL’s Alto: A webmail client that’s big on beauty, and has decent brains to boot