Is there a way to get the native email app to load images by default?
Yes, open the email app and press capacitive menu button (lower left of phone), select "settings", select "account settings" on the next screen, select the email account you want to edit (if you have multiple accounts), on the next screen select "more settings" at the bottom, then on the next screen put a check in the "show images" box.
Yes there are lots of settings and many are hard to find. You can also set the emails to "auto fit content". That setting is in the same area but under "general settings">display. I hate having to scroll around the screen to see an email.