A closer look at the 12 best Chrome extensions for Gmail

Ah, 1 April – the day Google loves to prank us. But 10 years ago, it was no joke: Google entered the webmail business, taking on Microsoft's Hotmail. Since then, Gmail, the advertising-supported email service that is also the backbone of communication inside Google Apps, has come a long, long way.

In 2008, Google expanded its line-up of web-based services with the Chrome browser, which is now up to version 33 and is a perennial favourite of ours for its speed and features, as well as extension support.

So it stands to reason that using Gmail in the Chrome browser would be like bringing together chocolate and peanut butter, right? Well, actually, Gmail works fine with other browsers, since it's web-based – but many Chrome extensions add amazing new features and abilities to the everyday Gmail experience. Here's a collection of our 12 favourites, many of them free, and all worth a try if you're a serious Gmail-er using Chrome on almost any platform, be it Windows, Mac, Linux, or even a Chromebook.

No Gmail extension collection is complete without this one, so let's get right to it: Gmail Offline lets you work with Gmail... when you're offline. No Internet connection? Who cares? You can read, respond, even search your messages. You just won't get or send any new mail until you reconnect.

There are links on the Internet that do nothing except open an empty email for you to send to someone. But the way most browsers react to them is to open up an external email client. If you're a Gmail user, this extension will make sure all those mailto: links open a new message window where they should – in Gmail.

The best extension for users of multiple Gmail accounts – I've got three! – is Checker Plus. It gives you fast access via a drop-down menu in Chrome, desktop notifications, colour coding, even voice input for writing messages. Users of the Awesome New Tab Page app get full integration. A donation of any amount unlocks even more features.

Click the mxHero button instead of "Send" on a message and you'll get five optional tools that could change how you work. It lets you: Track when a message is opened or if attachments are clicked on; include a self-destruct so the recipient loses the mail five minutes after it's read; select private delivery beyond what BCC can do; schedule message sending; and get a message when someone doesn't answer. How are these mxHero Toolbox tools not built into Gmail? (This will cost you to use with a Google Apps domain).

Google thinks it knows exactly what users want, so sometimes it makes interface changes to Gmail, which can be infuriating. Gmelius (pronounced 'Gmail'-'ius') gives you back some control, restoring old interface elements like the original compose window or clicking the Gmail logo to return to the inbox. It can also hide features no one likes to see – like the ads. It's only free now while still in beta – and it's also available on Firefox and Opera.

Also known as SecureGmail, this free extension promises to prevent anyone snooping on your messages, by building in encryption/decryption tools. You'll be able to append a password to messages you send – the recipient won't be able to open it unless they are also on Gmail, also have the extension loaded, and get the password from you.

You get a lot of email messages. Too many. They must be dealt with eventually, but you can hit the snooze button on those that can wait. Snooze Your Email provides a drop-down menu that puts the pause on your message for five minutes or entire days. Once the time is up, you'll get a reminder to follow up.

Turn your inbox into a massive "Getting Things Done" workshop with ActiveInbox. It'll cost you but could be invaluable if you're leaving things undone. It'll turn your messages into tasks, tracking and prioritising, even turning groups of tasks into projects. Everything will get done, even if it's just because you don't want to waste the money.

Wondering who just emailed you? Rapportive loads a sidebar next to every message giving you the full lowdown on contacts, from their social networking haunts to recent status updates, and more. You can even make notes about them to access later. It's "relationship management" in your email, and is also available for Firefox and Safari users.

Want to learn all the keyboard shortcuts that exist in Gmail? There's a lot of them, and they're super useful, but who has the time, right? KeyRocket tracks every move you make in the Gmail interface and will pop up suggestions when you click and could have typed. You'll learn the shortcuts in no time.

Love storing everything you find online in note storage apps like Evernote? Or tossing attachments on your messages into Dropbox? Of course you do, but it's not that easy from Gmail – until you install Powerbot. It works with all your Gmail accounts so you can clip and store messages and attachments to your heart's (and hard drive's) delight. It also works on Firefox and Safari, and integrates with Google Calendar (at $2.49 or £1.50 per month). Try it for 30 days first. There are also versions for Yahoo Mail and Outlook on the desktop.

Gmail's ability to leave a signature – that bit of pre-written text that signs all your emails – isn't exactly robust. WiseStamp's is, though (and it works with Yahoo, Outlook.com, and AOL webmail, too.) Go to the WiseStamp website and create one with all sorts of extras (like your latest tweet, company logo, etc), then it'll import into the extension. There is a premium version that lets you have five or more signatures to rotate as needed.

Also, while you're here, check out our article on how to better organise your Gmail inbox.