SaneBox review

Pros

  • Simple but effective email management
  • Highly customisable

Cons

  • Complicated pricing structure

SaneBox, an email management assistant, struck me as unusual when I found out that it doesn't offer a free "lite" version of its product; there's only a 14 day free trial for the curious. But then I tried it, and I realised within the first day why many (many) people would be willing to pay for this service (which starts at £4 per month). SaneBox is the first email management program that has actually worked for me.

SaneBox safeguarded my inbox from messages that I don't need to read, but I do need to scan. Put short and sweet, SaneBox is a bouncer on the door of your email inbox. The app only admits entry to emails from people with whom you've swapped messages before, while pushing mail from everyone else into a different folder.

In my history of testing and tinkering with email productivity assistants, few have felt like solutions I would actually use, even though I liked what they did and thought they did it well. The Mailbox app for iOS, for instance, helps people triage email while on the go, but I found it required too much of my time to use in practice. Smartr Inbox for Gmail added value to my inbox by delivering information about people that I didn't have at my fingertips before, but it wasn't necessarily a tool I felt I needed day in and day out. SaneBox just makes email simpler, not more complicated, and now I find it hard to imagine living without it for business email.

My work relies on unsolicited messages from people I don't know, but I rarely if ever need to see those messages right when they arrive. SaneBox puts all those messages into one folder (or more than one if you start adding on more features from SaneBox's settings). On the other hand, messages from contacts with whom I have a history tend to be of higher importance. I need to read those messages relatively quickly.

Let me fully admit that I'm generally not a fan of filtering messages into another folder because it just creates the need to adopt yet another new habit – the act of checking that new folder – but with SaneBox, the system just works. I know there are emails worth scanning in that new folder, so I will check it when I can. Whether it will work for you largely depends on your current email needs and your personal preferences for how you weed your inbox. But it works very well in my estimation, and is highly customisable if you purchase the right subscription plan.

Simple setup

To use SaneBox, all you have to do is enter your email and email password into the web interface on the signup page. SaneBox works for webmail (such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook.com, etc.) as well as accounts hosted on IMAP and Exchange servers. There's nothing to download or install. The free trial doesn't require a credit card.

A short time after signing up, you'll receive an email explaining what changes SaneBox has made to your email, which amounts to creating a new folder called @SaneLater where it will automatically sort any incoming messages from email addresses to whom you have never written or replied to before. All your other mail continues to flow into your inbox like normal.

I set up a SaneBox account with my corporate email, which is hosted through Gmail, but which I typically access using Microsoft Outlook running on my desktop PC. I was up and running with SaneBox in a couple of minutes. The new folder appeared on my local Outlook program, as well as in my Gmail webmail.

The email from SaneBox (and info on the website) explains that you can re-train SaneBox to sort mail differently by simply dragging messages from the @SaneLater folder into the inbox, or vice versa, depending on where you'd like messages from that address to go in the future.

For the free account, that's pretty much it. You get some additional insight into your SaneBox account and controls via the web interface. For example, SaneBox processes the 5,000 most recent messages, and once you pass that limit, the program starts moving messages to another folder called @SaneArchive (which isn't a problem if you dump your trash from time to time).

If you disable this new archive folder, SaneBox will instead push your emails back to the inbox again. There's also an option to turn on more specialist auto-sorting folders for bulk messages and email newsletters. And paid accounts get even more features, folders, and tools, which I’ll explain in the next section.

I chose not to deploy the additional folders because they seemed to defeat the simplicity of the program that I so appreciated. Part of what made SaneBox so effective for me was that I only had one new folder to check – not two or three or seven. And now that I'm several days into using SaneBox, I can safely say that it has very appropriately sorted messages that I typically scan and delete.

Sure, I'll have to continue to be diligent in my scanning, but I find myself spending a lot less time popping into my inbox to sweep out messages that I don't want piling up. I'm much less concerned with the pile that's building in the @SaneLater folder. As long as I thoroughly check it once every day or every other day, I feel pretty confident that the system works... for me, that is. I can see how this system might not be ideal for someone who receives potentially pressing emails from unsolicited sources.

As I mentioned, there are a lot more ways to customise SaneBox. You can set the system to save attachments to Dropbox or Box, for example. If you give SaneBox your login for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it will scour your networks for email addresses and make sure none of your friends or business acquaintances get knocked into the @SaneLater folder. You can get a digest of all the messages SaneBox has sorted for you via email, and so on. There's a lot to explore.

SaneBox pricing

The options for buying a SaneBox account are pretty complex.

"Snack" is the first option. It supports one email account, five reminders per month, five attachments per month, and one additional folder. This ground level costs $6 (£4) per month or $39 (£25) per year, with a few other billing options that I won't list here because they only complicate the purchasing decision.

"Lunch" is the next level, and it includes support for two email accounts, 250 reminders and 250 attachments per month, and five additional folders. This second tier costs $15 (£10) per month or $89 (£58) per year.

"Dinner" is the top level option for individuals. It supports three email accounts with unlimited reminders and attachments, plus nine additional folders. This option costs $50 (£33) per month or $299 (£196) per year.

If you think that's a lot of options, just wait until you hear what businesses can buy. The "JV" level costs $5.99 (£4) per month per seat, with a minimum of five seats, and provides 250 reminders, 250 attachments, five additional folders, and a bunch of other features that you can peruse on the SaneBox site, along with everything that's included in the "Varsity" account, should the JV team not cut it for you.

Considering SaneBox is supposed to make email more sane, the price breakdowns seem particularly insane. I wish this side of SaneBox could be simpler, perhaps offering a standard base subscription price with à la carte add-ons.

Verdict

SaneBox works effectively without creating confusion about what it's doing to your inbox, but provides a long list of controls, settings, and features should you choose to complicate the matter. SaneBox simplifies email, and I can highly recommend Sanebox to anyone who feels stressed about their inbox.