Hotmail on the iPhone – Review of mBox Mail


Using Hotmail with an iPhone is a bit tricky. Understandably, Apple and Microsoft don’t go out of their way to be compatible when it comes to Hotmail. Hotmail is unusual among web-based e-mail services in that it works via the httpmail protocol. This has some similarities to IMAP when you use it on clients like Outlook Express, in that it keeps things synchronized – if you delete something on your e-mail client, it will be deleted from the Hotmail server and vice versa. Folders are also kept synchronized. I have grown fond of these features, since you don’t need to worry about what you’ve downloaded where and what has been left on the server. For those of us who use several different computers, but don’t necessarily like checking their e-mail on the web, it’s a decent solution.

Unfortunately, the iPhone’s built-in Mail client doesn’t support httpmail, so there was no way of getting Hotmail on the iPhone (aside from the decidedly inelegant solution of going through the Safari browser). Hotmail recently opened itself up to allow POP access even to those with free, non-premium accounts. That change allows Hotmail to be used with the iPhone’s built-in e-mail client by POP access, which is a big step. Unfortunately, the POP mail format has a lot of negatives. The biggest being that when your e-mail is downloaded from the server, it’s not available on the server anymore. If you select to leave it on the server, it then is a hassle to delete the mail you’re done with. And forget folder synchronization.

The solution I found that has been working well for me is an app called mBox Mail. The price has varied on the App Store, but was recently decreased to $4.99. I think I paid almost twice that, and I thought it was worth it. mBox Mail is a separate mail app, so it doesn’t work through the native iPhone app, but it does let you keep all of your Hotmail synchronized, and supports all of your folders. It allows typing in landscape, which is a bonus, and in a recent revision included an in-line web browser to view links from your e-mail. It supports using your Windows Live contacts or your contacts from the iPhone Address Book itself. It also now supports multiple Hotmail accounts, for those of us who just can’t get enough Hotmail.

The one feature that is lacking is support of push e-mail. There is a workaround using text messaging that I haven’t wanted to get involved with. I am hoping that will be remedied in the near future when iPhone 3.0 comes out. That would make this app just about perfect for me. I wish they would release a similar app for Mac OS X, because it could offer a viable alternative to Entourage for Hotmail users.

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