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Both the build-in mail client (Android 2.1) and K-9 mail, display the most recent n messages received during the last m days, where m and n are configuration items. Messages older than m days are invisible.

It's certainly sensible to hide old mail my by default, but how cannot I lookup an old message in INBOX or another folder? Even if the INBOX folder is huge, retrieving all headers should be an option.

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When using both features i.e. n messages in the last m days I have always found it to be buggy.

If you want to pick up loads of old messages would suggest going into the account settings for that account, removing the m days option and changing the fetching option from xKB to just headings. Would also suggest changing n messages to a higher value, one that is likely to pick up however many you want. Then refresh your account - you should get exactly what you need now.

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In K-9 Mail, if you scroll down in your inbox, it shows the option "Load up to n more", and by repeating this you can go back further and further.

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No. This only loads some subsets of the mails (I suspect recent) –  Jan Oct 21 '11 at 19:14
    
Weird, on my phone it goes 100 mails back chronologically with each load (I've set my mailbox to show 100 latest). –  onik Oct 21 '11 at 19:34
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