Gmail Labs: 5 Best and 5 Worst Features

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Google's announced a new addition to its list of Gmail Labs offerings: a built-in Google Search feature. The option, once activated, adds a Web search box onto the left side of your inbox, letting you get results without having to do the extra work.

Gmail Labs: Integrated Google Search

The integrated Google Search option could prove to be pretty handy for regular Gmail users: Click on a result, and it opens in a new window. Go back to your inbox, and you can easily click to insert the link into an e-mail or chat session.

The built-in Google Search is just the latest in a growing menu of experimental Gmail Labs features. As is often the case with Google's array of services, some are killer additions worthy of the word "awesome," while others are ill-fated flops that seem to have death sentences from day one. With today's strong addition, we thought we'd take a look back at five of the best and five of the worst other Gmail Labs options introduced over the past months.

The Best of Gmail Labs

1. Gmail Offline

Unveiled in January, Gmail Offline lets you access your account without being online. As its name suggests, the option lets you do almost everything you can normally do on You can even compose and send messages and Gmail will automatically deliver them once you reconnect. It's speedy, too, with the typical server delays no longer in the equation. For anyone using a notebook or other system with an intermittent connection, this Labs feature can become invaluable.

2. Gmail Tasks

Gmail Tasks is a powerful weapon when it comes to standing up to standalone e-mail applications. Its function is simple: It brings a "Tasks" box into your Gmail page. But for anyone sticking with Outlook or another client because Webmail didn't offer all the same options, this could serve as a deal-maker. (Calendar and Docs also became available last fall.)

3. YouTube/Picasa/Flickr/Yelp Previews

If Gmail Tasks matches the standalone clients, this next option one-ups them. Gmail Labs' preview features let you see automatic previews of YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, or Yelp content within an e-mail. Any link to material on any of those sites will be converted into a fully functioning embedded box once you flip this option on.

4. Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

I hate using my mouse. I've set up hotkeys for almost every common task on my computer, using a combination of built-in Windows functionality and custom scripting from AutoHotKey. With Custom Keyboard Shortcuts in Gmail Labs, this same power is built right into the Webmail interface. While Gmail's had a set of predefined keyboard shortcuts for some time, the "Custom" tab lets you remap keys to your own liking, allowing you to build your own hotkeys and make your favorite actions easier than ever.

5. Text Messaging in Chat

The appeal of Gmail's Text Messaging in Chat option is obvious. We all know we're getting ripped off with mobile-based SMS rates. Throw the switch on this puppy, and you can send and receive texts from right inside your Gmail window. Take that, AT&T.

Next: Gmail's Worst Features...

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