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Free Chrome extensions power up Gmail

Erez Zukerman | May 23, 2013
From keyboard shortcuts to inbox managers, these handy Chrome extensions make a good email program even better.

Checker Plus lives as a small button on the Chrome toolbar, showing a tiny unread message counter. Click the button, and a complete, working mini-Gmail interface pops up over the current window. You can view your inbox, archive messages, directly open them, and more.

Checker Plus also shows a pop-up window whenever a new email comes in. The pop-up includes the basic details of the email so you can decide whether to respond now or later. It can also chime an alert and read aloud some information about the email, so you know what its about even if you arent looking at your Web browser. By default, the read-aloud option is enabled only if your keyboard is inactive for a short period of time (you can adjust the interval).

Checker Pluss rich customization options let you choose how you wish to be alerted (or interrupted). You can enable or disable chimes, text-to-speech, and pop-up notifications. You can set alerts for specific email labels, select a color scheme for the pop-up notifications, and even tweak the appearance of the toolbar icons in minute detail. Its one of the most configurable Chrome extensions Ive seen yet. Nevertheless, its still an email notifier, which can be as distracting as it is helpful.

All the extensions discussed so far sit on top of Gmails regular Web interfacesome invisibly (like Markdown Here), and some subtly (like Right Inbox). If you were looking over someones shoulder while they used Gmail, you could easily miss them. This next one, however, might cause a few double-takes: Gmail Offline, an extension by Google, puts a completely different face on Gmailone that resembles the Android tablet version.

To me, Gmail Offline is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, the extension lets you use Gmail without an Internet connection: When youre offline, you can read your mail and write replies in an Outbox, where the messages are saved and then sent as soon as youre connected. But thats not the most noticeable thing about the extension.

Gmail Offline looks nothing like Gmail. It features a dual-pane interface, where you can toggle the left pane to show either messages or labels, while the right side shows the current thread, so you can move quickly between email conversations. This split view is now available on Gmails regular Web interface, but the aesthetic is completely different. Whereas the regular Gmail is flat and minimalistic, the Offline version is much more colorful, with subtle gradients and large, chunky buttons.

The regular version of Gmail supports far more shortcuts than Gmail Offline, but many of the essentials are here: You can compose a new message, reply, forward, archive, and moreall using the keyboard. Most of the shortcuts that are missing are for functions that Gmail Offline doesnt have, such as chat.

Overall, Gmail Offline is an excellent addition to the regular Gmail client, and a new way to use a tool you probably depend on every day.


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