Hey Email Review: Is a Tidier Inbox Worth $99?

The new email service from Basecamp founders David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried is pricey — but for good reasons

Photo illustration. Screenshot: HEY Email

What words come to mind when you think of email? The first two words I think of are “overwhelming” and “unending.” I’ve tried many different email clients, like Apple Mail, Gmail, and Spark, but I have always been disappointed by how little control I felt I had over my mailbox. No matter how much auto-sorting the client did, I still felt it was hard to find the emails when I needed them and I was constantly getting messages I didn’t want. No email software has ever improved my relationship with email. That is, until Hey, a new email platform developed by Basecamp founders David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried.

Originally announced back in February, Hey started rolling out on an invite-only basis this week — it’s available on web, desktop, and in native iOS and Android apps. I got an invite and secured kaya@hey.com, the first time I’ve had a first-name-only email address. The trial period lasts for two weeks, after which you have to pay $99/year.

One of the most frustrating things about email is that it is an open doorway. Anyone who has your email address can send you an email, and there’s no way to prevent it. Hey has tackled this by allowing you to screen anyone who sends you an email. You have the choice of whether or not you will allow the sender’s emails to get to you and where you want to receive them.

This means you have complete control, which is a blessing and a curse. You have to do more work upfront because Hey does not make any presumptions for you about where you want emails to go. Most email services have a “smart” or “auto-sort” feature that will automatically group your emails into a category, like Gmail’s Promotions section. For me, Hey’s lack of “smart” sorting is a blessing, but for others who want their emails auto-sorted, it may seem like a pain. Once you screen someone, you don’t have to do it again, but you can always go back and screen them out if you never want to receive anything from them again.

A theme I noticed using Hey is that you don’t have dig and dig like you normally do with email clients. As Jason Fried said in his demo, “Hey is really about surfacing things, and email is typically about digging.” I agree completely. How many times have you wanted to find a PDF but couldn’t remember the email subject or when it was sent, forcing you to spend several frustrating minutes just looking? I’ve been there, but with Hey you can view all your attachments at once and filter by type or sender.

Another feature that easily surfaces information is Contacts. Anyone who sends you an email gets their own contact page where you can view all the emails you’ve ever exchanged with them and any attachments sent. You can also determine whether you want to get notifications from that contact. (By default, notifications are turned off for contacts.) You can also turn on notifications for specific email threads or stop receiving updates from an email thread completely so you don’t get trapped in a never-ending Reply All cycle.

One of the most frustrating things about email is that it is an open doorway.

Hey also offers three distinct inbox types: the Imbox (“Im for Important”), The Feed, and Paper Trail. The Imbox is where all your important conversations go, with only two sections: New and Previously Seen. And the best part of it all: There is no unread count. No red badge or circled number taunting you, serving as a reminder that you will never reach that glorious “Inbox Zero.”

If you don’t want to reply to an email immediately, you can set it to Reply Later, which will pin the email to the bottom of the screen. One of my favorite features of Hey is the Focus & Reply screen. Once you set emails to Reply Later, you can go to Focus & Reply to reply to all of them at once. Traditionally when you want to save emails to reply to later, you have to add them to a label or folder and then open each of them individually over and over in order to respond. Sometimes just the thought of doing all that makes me not want to respond to any emails. With Hey, all the emails you need to respond to are easy to find, and with minimal work you can respond to them all.

The other two “inboxes” (The Feed and Paper Trail) don’t use the concept of new/unread. They are both for browsing without any expectation that you need to read them if you don’t want to. The Feed is like a newsletter stream, and Paper Trail is for receipt emails or anything you might need to come back later to find.

Another feature that helps you easily find information you might need later is Clips. If you’ve ever received a confirmation email you knew you would need later — but then when you need it, it’s buried deep in your inbox and you have to do another painful regex search — you’ll like Clips. You can highlight any text in an email and save it as a clip, and it will go to your Clips list. Hey makes it incredibly simple to surface the information you need whenever you need it without causing extra stress or wasting your time.

There are several other features I found pretty neat, like the ability to change the subject of any email thread, merging email threads, automatic blocking of email spies, and more. If you like to be in control of your emails, then I believe you’ll love Hey, but if you’re looking for a service that heavily uses A.I. to sort your emails for you and manage your inbox, then it may not be the product for you. I believe Hey is going to save me a lot of time and frustration, so for me the annual fee of $99 is worth it, and it’s more affordable (and safer) than Superhuman, the popular email client that’s been in private beta for six years at $30/month. Either way, I recommend signing up for an invite code and giving the trial a try (although it may be a long wait!). In my opinion, the delay will be worth it.

iOS Engineer at Calm

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