New Gmail: What you need to know

Google rolled out a new Gmail interface this week, bringing it in line with other recent redesigns. Here's your guide to getting around in the new Gmail.

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    The new Gmail look has arrived.
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Gmail is sporting a slick new look, and a few new moves to boot.

The mail makeover that Google teased back in July started rolling out on Tuesday, and most Gmail users (including those with Google Apps accounts) will notice an invitation to “try the new look” over the next few days. The changes are mostly cosmetic, but some of Gmail’s underlying behavior has also been tweaked – and the new look-and-feel extends to some other Google services, too.

The first thing you’ll notice when you look at your updated inbox is that the navigation panels on the left side – including labels and chat – now stay with you as you scroll. You can adjust the amount of space given to the list of chat contacts, or, if chat’s not your thing, hide it entirely by clicking the icon in the lower-left corner.

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In the upper-right corner, you’ll also notice a gear icon that lets you adjust the density of these lists (as well as the rest of the layout) to “comfortable” (generous spacing), “cozy” (medium), or “compact” (very little space between lines of text). This is welcome news for anyone who needs to check Gmail from more than one platform, since you can adjust to fit a computer, browser, or smart phone.

Conversation view, which is arguably one of Gmail’s strongest features, also has a cleaner look to match the rest of the layout. Profile pictures appear to the left of contacts’ messages, a feature which Google says in a blog post will make it “easier to keep track of who said what” in a conversation (this will probably be most useful for long conversations with multiple participants). Many of the elements that used to appear along the sides or top of a conversation thread are now represented by small grey icons, or rolled into dropdown menus – for example, replying to or forwarding a message is now done by typing directly under a response or clicking the appropriate option from a menu next to the date stamp. You might have to expend an extra click to access some features, but everything’s still there – and the upshot is that you get more screen real estate for the messages themselves.

Search is central to everything Google does, so it’s no surprise that Gmail search has been revamped, too. Type into the search box at the top, and everything will work just as it did before – but clicking the grey dropdown arrow brings up more robust options including the ability to search by date, keyword (or lack thereof – for when a message doesn’t have certain words), attachment, or date. Gmail also lets you make a filter from your search terms without a hassle.

Google Reader, the company’s popular RSS application, got a similar facelift this week – as well as closer integration with the Google Plus social network. And we can probably expect that other Google products will gradually adopt the new look, especially as the company continues to focus on developing Google Plus.

What do you think of Gmail’s new look? Do you like the layout, or do you have some suggestions for improvement? Or is all this irrelevant, since you’re rocking a desktop mail program? Whatever your take, let us know in the comments – we’re listening.

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