AwayFind (for iPhone) review

The AwayFind iPhone app can help you regain some work-life balance dignity by ensuring you will be alerted to important messages and not letting you get distracted by others. It's a brilliant and reasonably priced service, though one major snag in the iPhone app can wreak havoc on your email.
Photo of AwayFind (for iPhone)

Do you go on vacation and spend half the time checking business email, worried you might miss an important message? Or have you ever longed to delete your mobile email apps because the influx of work-related messages is sucking all the fun out of your life seven days a week, but you “can’t” because the business could literally go under if you miss a crucial message? Subscription service AwayFind (freemium; subscriptions from $4.99 a month) takes care of all those “what-if” scenarios by sending alerts to your iPhone any time an important contact or message tries to reach you, while letting you silence all your other email.

The AwayFind iPhone app (free to download) puts just such notifications onto your phone in whatever badge or alert fashion you choose. It also creates an inbox of sorts that holds only these important messages. Used in conjunction with the full Web version, the iPhone app can help busy professionals—and anyone else at the brink of collapsing under email—get back an ounce of their sanity. But rather disastrously, while testing the app, I hit a major snag that very nearly wreaked havoc on my email accounts, explained in detail later in this review. The problem I encountered could be avoided if you see it coming, but I certainly didn’t.

AwayFind does replicate some of the same functions that the VIP Inbox on iPhone and iPad covers, but it does a lot more, too. It isn’t as unilaterally applicable as SaneBox ($6 per month), which essentially weeds out unsolicited emails from your inbox. But for its more specific purpose, AwayFind does an outstanding job of keeping you up-to-date on only what’s important in your email for a fair price, but I was disheartened to have hit an insurmountable problem with the app—and never see any fine print (or better, very large warning signs) indicating the problem might occur.

What Does the AwayFind iPhone App Do?
If you download the free AwayFind app for iPhone, you’ll first have to sign into an email account to give AwayFind access to your messages. Gmail/Google apps accounts, Exchange accounts, and major free Webmail accounts (such as Yahoo! Mail and so forth) are supported. Custom domains can be, too, if you sign up for a Pro or Unlimited subscription (see Pricing on the next page).

AwayFind recommends you turn off all other email notifications on your iPhone. Likewise, it will remind you that you need to enable its alerts for the app to do its job.

After reading a welcome note that contains additional details about the app, you can dive right into the four alert settings and start customizing them.

The first alert is called “Waiting for *NOW*.” Here, you’ll type in specific email addresses and domain names of people or organizations, and then enable a time frame (up to 23 hours and 59 minutes), which tells AwayFind to alert you if any of those contacts send you an email during the active time. One neat aspect of this feature is you can go into it and adjust it—turn it off, set the time for longer, etc.—at any time, even while the clock is ticking.

The next alert is for important people. Any email address you enter here becomes a VIP of sorts. AwayFind will always alert you of incoming messages from these people. I didn’t see any options for pulling email addresses from my Contacts app, which I would have preferred over typing some hard-to-spell surnames in email addresses.

The third alert is “Topics I’m following,” and there’s little explanation in the app about what this alert does. Thankfully, the full website offers this: “Add a word or exact phrase to watch for in incoming emails (subject only).” In other words, it’s a keyword alert for subject lines. A more descriptive title in the iPhone app would have been useful.

The fourth and final alert in the AwayFind iPhone app is for “People I’m Meeting Today,” a feature that only works if you also connect AwayFind to your calendar. When you enable this setting, AwayFind targets all the email addresses of people with whom you have appointments scheduled and alerts you if they email you on that day.

The Catch
Picture me at my desk, happy as a clam, dancing my fingers across my iPhone’s screen while setting up various alerts. I was loving AwayFind. The app worked and didn’t seem overly complicated. An important message arrived. The phone got my attention and displayed an alert. I dove into the AwayFind app and replied to the message. And back to work I went. Then I got another alert. Someone had replied to the same thread again. Only this time, when I read the message, I saw two instances of Jill Duffy in the To and CC fields. One was my work email address, which I had configured to work with AwayFind (and it was the only email address I gave the app access to use), and the second was my personal Gmail address, which just happens to be the default email account on my iPhone.

I logged into my Gmail account on my computer, looked in the Sent Mail folder, and clutched my pearls because there I found the message I had sent from AwayFind.

I have to imagine that the majority of AwayFind iPhone app users, who tend to rate the app very highly in the App Store, just happen to have set up their iPhones to have the same default email address that they use for AwayFind. If those two email addresses match, you’d never know there was a problem. But I like to keep my work email totally and completely separate from my personal email. Personal email goes into the Mail app, and I get my work email in a different app entirely.

The fact that AwayFind sent mail from my personal account without my permission really raises some questions about whether the app is secure or safe to use. Why and how did it gain access to an email address that I never authenticated? What else does it have access to on my phone?

Additional Features and Settings
Incoming emails from your VIPs go straight into an inbox in AwayFind. You can read them, respond to them, see the full information regarding who else is on the thread and what time it was sent, and delete it, too. Deleting a message from AwayFind does not delete it from your primary email inbox, though. AwayFind appears to keep duplicates of your messages, rather than sync to the account. Likewise, in testing the app, it didn’t save a copy of sent mail to my Sent Mail folder.

Using the settings in iOS, you can change the badge and alert positions, as you can with any other iPhone app that uses alerts, but you can also customize the audio alert from within AwayFind. The list of available tones is quite short, and even shorter once you play them and realize they’re all the same tune—they just truncate at different points. I didn’t care for any of them, unfortunately.

The full website has a few more settings that you can’t reach from the iPhone app. For example, there’s a daily time setting. You can use it, for example, to only receive alerts when you’re off business hours and on the weekend, or configure AwayFind to never alert you during times you’re likely to be asleep.

Pricing
AwayFind is a freemium service. When you first sign up, you can try the Pro version for 30 days. If you don’t buy the next tier of service, the free account limits you to 10 alerts per month for one email account, with a promise that alerts will reach you in 20 minutes or less.

If you just want to use the free service, you can buy credits, which never expire, to the tune of 20 credits for 99 cents or 250 credits for $4.99, wherein one credit equals one alert.

Sign up for the Personal plan ($4.99 per month), and you’ll get 100 alerts per month for one email account, and a promise of 5-minute delivery time for alerts.

The Pro plan ($14.99 per month) is meant more for business users. It includes 1,000 alerts per month delivered “instantly” for up to five email accounts, and that includes Microsoft Exchange accounts and those held on custom domains. It also has a feature that lets you receive your email via a text-to-speech dictated phone call.

A hefty $49.99 per month buys you the Unlimited plan, which includes unlimited alerts, supported for an unlimited number of email accounts, as well as everything else in the Pro plan.

A (Nearly) Brilliant Little Service
AwayFind has long been a brilliant little service, but its iPhone app raised too many questions of security for me to want to use it any longer. If you only use one email account on your phone and it’s the same email account you intend to use for AwayFind, maybe you can see past this hole and appreciate just how well it delivers important message to you only when you want to see them, while keeping the rest of your email at bay. It could be a great app for helping you avoid email overload and all the stress that comes with it, but not until it also quells my security concerns.

Specifications
Tech Support Free
optional credits from 99 cents for 20 available to purchase for special features.
Type Personal
Free Yes

Verdict
The AwayFind iPhone app can help you regain some work-life balance dignity by ensuring you will be alerted to important messages and not letting you get distracted by others. It's a brilliant and reasonably priced service, though one major snag in the iPhone app can wreak havoc on your email.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc