Earlier this evening, AOL announced a new beta (codename – Cayman) for AOL Mail, which is an ajaxy-version of its current webmail product. It is a rather slick looking product and works admirably fast. In order to try the beta, I had to sign-up for the beta even though I already have an account with AOL.
After spending a few minutes with the product, you realize that it is a pretty good attempt by AOL to catch up with current AJAX-based mail offerings such as Yahoo Mail (aka Oddpost 2.0.) It is nothing earth shattering but definitely an improvement over the current AOL offering. It has many of the basic features we have come to expect from most modern webmail programs. It lets you read messages inline, for example. It works on Mac and Windows machine quite well. AOL Mail Beta worked quite nicely on Safari as well.
The new improvements aside, there are some issues with the product, and none of them have to do with the fact that calendar doesn’t work, and the to-do-list is non functional. The biggest problem with the offering is the advertisements.
Having used Zimbra (work) and Google GMail (personal), I am now used to an email experience with less intrusive advertising. AOL’s new beta from advertising perspective breaks all cardinal rules of usability. They are intrusive, too in-your face and take up too much on-screen real estate. That’s the gray in AOL’s pre-Web 2.0 roots showing. Still, if you are an AOL email user, the beta is worth trying out at least once – and then making up your mind.
Bonus Link: Frank Gruber who works for AOL has a review on his blog.