James Cridland

HEY.com email: I came, I bought, I’m not using it any more

I loathe and hate email. I often say to people, as I battle with my inbox, that if I was ever going to retrain, I’d be an email trainer: because email is a horrible time-sink for all of us. It’s broken, it’s horrible, and it pains me. It fills me with dread each time I open my email box: that sinking feeling of horror at another four hundred million people who all want my attention.

I watched the video above, and so much resonated with me. This might be the email service that I need. So, I badgered a few folk on my social media, and finally, one excellent person managed to get me an invite code.

I’ve forwarded all my incoming mail to HEY. I’ve paid the US$99 for the service. I’m all in. I’ve used it for 24 hours straight. And here are my initial impressions, after a little notice…

CAUTION: This isn’t a review that tells you the features of the product

Chances are, you’re reading this because you already know about the product and you want to know what it’s actually like. This isn’t going to be a pointless re-hash of their features page, which most lazy reviewers think is what people want. I really hate that. If you want that, you’re in the wrong place.

Right, now that’s out in the open…

It’s really very opinionated

And this is the point of it. If HEY wasn’t so angry it wouldn’t work as a brand new email client. It’s the first time you’ll see an email client have a manifesto. It won’t even let you make a signature.

I don’t disagree, by the way, though it makes me feel a little nervous. “But what if people want my phone number?” I wonder to myself, before remembering that almost all my work is done to a very different timezone to most of my contacts, and the only time someone’s actually called me as a direct result of my telephone number being in my email signature has been at 4.35am which was slightly less than ideal.

The opinions keep coming. The first thing that happens once you buy a year’s subscription to the product is… it takes you through setting up two-factor-authentication. It’s not an option: it’s a requirement. The UX is good at holding your hand through the process, but you’re going through the process whether you want to or not. If you’re interested: the default is a QR code type thing for Google Authenticator; you can also add a hardware key if you want too). And this is good, by the way. A bold choice.

The UX, which is big and bright and friendly and rounded, is keen to help you: with a lot of on-boarding. It’s needed here, because this is a very different style of email client. (Watching the video above was, it turns out, quite a good investment).

All this is good. It’s impossible to make an email client that’s good for everyone.

The big drawback: HEY sorts all email by email address

The platform has an “imbox” — for important and immediate things — and two additional views: “The Feed” (for newsletters), and “Paper Trail”, for receipts and confirmations. However, unlike Gmail, this isn’t some algorithmic choice: instead, when you first get an email from someone, you tell it where emails from this email address ought to live.

HEY treats the email address as a kind of unique ID for this sender, and assumes that everything that comes from that email address should be treated the same way. That’s not, entirely, the way emails work, though.

A PR person that sends me thirty press releases (which I don’t much want in my “imbox”) also disappears into The Feed if I ask them a clarifying question.

Utilities might send me a receipt every month (which goes into the “Paper Trail”) but they might also send me an email saying “Your credit card isn’t working” and I’ll not see that.

I send out an email every day to about 15,000 people. Some of them have auto-reply on. I have a clever rule to remove all those: but HEY doesn’t let me. I’m left with no choice here: say I don’t want to hear from these people, or delete their auto-replies every day. (Or don’t accept inbound email from that address, but that’s anti-user). What do I do here?

You can get round all the above with rules in any normal email app, but HEY has no concept of email rules.

HEY is keen, throughout its onboarding process, to point out how friendly they are. “You can reply to any email we send you and someone from our team will get right back to you.” So I asked them what I should do in terms of these auto-replies.

I sent that at the equivalent of 5am local time. It’s now 6.30pm in Chicago, and no response. I’m a paying customer, and it’s as if this email went into the void.

It’s not just the “email as ID” problem; there are other issues.

The Feed doesn’t mark things as read

I can shove all the marketing emails I get into “The Feed”, which is a kind of RSS river of email. This is a good idea: but I don’t appear to be able to mark these as ‘read’. As it is, I’ve no idea what I’ve read and what I haven’t. I don’t know if there’s new stuff in there. For some reason I need to keep tabs on whether I’ve seen this stuff. And that’s no good.

Here’s how to fix it: just mark them as ‘read’ as soon as I scroll them off the top of the screen, like most RSS readers do. That would be brilliant. The concept is good. The execution simply isn’t.

It’s not for tidy people

Look, I’m not a tidy person. But the main screen looks less tidy than I’d want. There’s no “archive” to get rid of an email from view (though there is a ‘delete’). “Previously seen”, below your incoming “imbox”, is a big list of all the emails you’ve ever had, sitting there, like an untidy smell.

Not sure I like the hey.com email address

There’s an issue with hearing it as “hay”, for a start; but I would quite like to use the real domain names I use. I understand this is coming (I hope not as an additional fee), but for many this might be the main reason why they don’t want to make the switch.

Anti-tracking is good and bad

HEY has an opinion on tracking – it hates it. The means that any email with an open-tracker is marked as such, and highlighted as being very bad and naughty. I can both see that point of view, but also would like to report to my advertisers the kind of open rate that my newsletter has. The only way of working out an open rate (“42% opened this email”) is to put a tracking bug in the email, which gives an imperfect result. HEY’s automatic’s blocking will, of course, just lower my stats.

I don’t know what the answer is here. However, interestingly, HEY failed to spot the open-tracker in my own newsletter; so it’s not even infallible.

In conclusion: It’s good: but it’s not right.

After twelve hours using it in a typical workday, I found the restrictions a bit hard.

When I got the majority of my email overnight, it was painfully clear that this was not going to work.

I have to do something about my email, for my health and sanity. I increasingly think the answer, frankly, is paying an assistant to sort it for me: but I can’t work out how to do that in a cost-effective way.

But, sadly, I’m out. I really wanted this to work.

I don’t think they do refunds: and I’m actually quite happy to contribute $99 towards a fund to fix email.

I think Basecamp is onto something. But not yet.


While there’s no way to filter out auto-responses from HEY.com’s email, it turns out that HEY.com’s support team… does - and that’s why they didn’t respond to me.