Billed as an “email assistant” service, AwayFind (freemium; subscriptions from $4.99 a month) is like a gatekeeper between you and your never-ending and highly distracting email inbox. Busy business professionals looking to unplug for the weekend or actually enjoy a little R&R on their next holiday would do well to look into the relatively inexpensive service, which alerts you of important messages based on criteria you set. Think of it as a secret email service that you can use when you want to temporarily cut yourself off from your main inbox.
AwayFind works by letting you enable notifications, which can come in the form of phone calls, text messages, instant messages, or alerts on a smartphone through the AwayFind app. With an AwayFind account, you get a Web-based inbox where important messages land—and only important mail goes there, so you aren’t distracted by dozens or even hundreds of less pressing messages. Generally speaking, it isn’t as unilaterally applicable as SaneBox ($6 per month), which essentially weeds out unsolicited emails from your real inbox, whether it’s Gmail or Outlook running locally or some other program. AwayFind creates a new inbox in the cloud with copies of messages you deem important, whereas SaneBox works its magic right in your primary email app. But for AwayFind’s more specific purpose—helping you keep on top of important emails while you’re out of office—it does a great job for a fair price.
What Does AwayFind Do?
To sign up for an AwayFind account, you have to give AwayFind access to at least one email address. You can add more addresses if you pay for a more expensive account (see the Pricing section), but one is supported at the Personal plan level.
You then work through AwayFind’s settings to enable alerts. One series of alerts lets you add a list of specific email addresses, meaning if any of these people email you, AwayFind will let you know right away. Another lets you add an entire domain (such as @pcmag.com), meaning you’ll get an alert if anyone from the PCMag company sends you an email. Another one lets you set keywords from the subject line, body of the email, and so forth.
You can add time and day limits to alerts, too, in case you only want alerts on weekends or never between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. The options are thorough, and the tools for turning them on and off are super simple to use.
There’s a tab on the Web account page for Email Accounts & Notification Methods, and at the bottom is a link to “add a different method.” Clicking the link creates a drop-down menu where you’ll find options for iPhone, Android, SMS, voice phone call, Twitter (which requires following the AwayFind account so it can send you direct messages), Google Talk, AIM, Yahoo messenger, and email, should you want to add another email account for alerts only. All methods of notification require authenticating by entering a code that’s sent to the account in question.
I tried out the text messaging and AIM alerts, which worked without missing a beat. The verification codes came through immediately, although that was not the case in setting up Twitter alerts. I have yet to see a verification code on Twitter, even though I requested a new code four times (and yes, I’m following AwayFind’s account as instructed).
One of my favorite options in this section is the ability to delegate messages to someone else. Say you’re on a retreat and absolutely will not be replying to email. You can divert your very important alerts and messages to someone else, such as a colleague or assistant.
AwayFind does provide one more neat service: A custom Web form that you can ask people to fill out in the even they need to reach you and they’re not on your VIP list. The idea here is you provide a link to the Web form in an automated out-of-office message. Anyone who fills it out will have his or her message delivered to your AwayFind inbox.
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. AwayFind supports email running on Gmail/Google apps, Microsoft Exchange accounts, as well as most other major Webmail programs.
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. 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. Pro and Unlimited accounts aren’t limited to Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, and Webmail. They work on custom domains, too.
AwayFind’s Mobile Issue
I tested AwayFind’s iPhone app and found one major problem that really colored my whole experience with the otherwise very good service, and I think it’s worth noting here.
I set up AwayFind with my work email address—no others. I do not keep work email in my iPhone’s Mail app (I use the standalone Gmail app, which helps me keep work and life emails separate). All was going swimmingly with AwayFind until I replied to a work email and saw that it was sent from my personal email address, which is my default email address in the Mail app. When colleagues replied again to the thread, my personal email account was now CCed on all messages. Disastrous! If only I had known this would happen with a warning, I would never have replied from AwayFind’s app.
On the iPhone, AwayFind replicates some of the same functions of the VIP Inbox on iPhone and iPad (admittedly, AwayFind does more, though), so if you’re concerned as I am about the app but are looking to pare down email, consider using the VIP inbox instead.
A Great Service
AwayFind has long been a great service, despite a few problems, and it’s worth using particularly when you’re traveling. For more permanent email sanity, though, I recommend SaneBox, which a PCMag Editors’ Choice. It’s a better app for helping you avoid email overload and all the stress that comes with it. AwayFind fulfills a slightly different need, though, and is a suitable option in many circumstances. If you do use AwayFind, be vigilant about how you set it up on an iPhone, though, and test the Twitter alerts (which never worked for me) if you intend to use those, too.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc