Although paid email services exist, most people use a free one, or one that's free in the sense that it doesn't cost any money to use.
It's a well-known fact that you're not paying for a service then the cost to provide it has to be paid in other ways, such as selling your data or showing you ads. Either that or the storage is very limited, meaning you end up paying for more or choosing a different service.
None of this means you shouldn't use a free email service of course, as these trade-offs are perfectly acceptable to millions of people who use Gmail, Yahoo and others on a daily basis.
Features do vary between the different email providers, and each service has pros and cons depending on the hardware and software you generally use.
Here, we've put together a helpful guide that compares some of the most popular free email options. And because hey're all free, so you can try them all out before deciding which one you prefer.
Best free email services
- Best overall: Gmail
- Best for Windows users: Outlook
- Best for Apple users: iCloud
- Best for security: Tutanota
- Best for small business: Zoho & Outlook
- Hugely versatile and available on everything
- Regular new features and updates
- Sentence autocomplete
- Un-send emails
Gmail is easily one of the best free email services. The clean and uncluttered interface is regularly refined, with useful new features added.
These include the ability to recall an email if you accidentally hit the send (or reply-all) button, the option to snooze messages so they return at a later time, scheduled emails for when you're away, and a Confidential mode that prevents messages being forwarded, copied or downloaded by recipients, while also adding time-limits so that they delete themselves after a specified period.
Most recently Google has added an advanced auto-complete feature which predicts phrases you might type in a sentence, not just words. This can save a lot of time, and it's surprisingly accurate and therefore useful.
Gmail can automatically filter emails into Primary, Social, Promotions and Forums, and we love this approach, but folders for organising messages aren’t supported in the traditional sense. Instead you attach labels, such as work, personal and family. Clicking a label effectively filters your inbox to show just the messages tagged with it.
Some people don’t like the way Google matches ads with email contents, but it's top notch at filtering out spam, and offers useful extras such as links to track deliveries, reminders to chase up emails you haven't had a reply to, the ability to amend reservations - all without opening the emails in question.
Email from other accounts can be collected and contacts imported, so switching to Gmail is painless. Plus, the integration with Google Drive means you get 15GB of free storage for email (and other Google services) but there's a 25MB limit on attachments, which is more restrictive than some rivals. To get around this Gmail automatically creates a Google Drive link for files attachments larger than 25MB, which does help.
Bottom Line: Gmail is powerful and easy to use, making it an ideal choice for most people, especially if you use an Android device.
- Clean design
- Supports multiple email accounts
- Plenty of useful features
Microsoft’s Outlook.com email service is the one that replaced Hotmail a few years back. While it shares the name with the desktop software that’s long been a part of Office, the web and mobile versions are a stripped back experience in comparison. For some (possibly most) people this is actually a good thing, as the free service still comes with lots of useful features and tools.
There’s the general stuff like the ability for emails to be organised into folders, with the option of setting rules to automate any future arrivals. Multiple email accounts can also be used, meaning you can have your Gmail addressed message arrive in Outlook. Plus, there’s a comprehensive junk mail filter in operation and automated messages for when you’re away.
Add to this the Focused inbox (a bit like Gmail's Priority / Primary) which can be enabled to prioritise messages from people or companies you choose, the Sweep feature which moves or deletes all messages from a sender or all messages older than a certain date.
There's also tight calendar integration so that invites and travel arrangement emails appear in your schedule, plus temporary email aliases and several other clever tools, and you may find it's just as good as Gmail.
Bottom Line: A well designed and capable service that works particularly well with Windows.
- 1TB of storage space
- Shortcuts to images, documents, and attachments
- Integrated GIFs, emojis, and graphics for emails
Yahoo has a modern look and feel, with quite a few useful features.
The layout itself is standard fare with navigation on the left and the main pane in the centre, but you can change the latter to either show preview images to the side or below an email. When composing email, you can drag and drop images directly into the message, or make use of the integrated GIFs, emoji, and greeting card-style graphics features.
Search has been enhanced so it returns emails, images, files and contacts, all easily accessible from shortcuts in the navigation column, and if you search for a person, you'll see your whole conversation history. Event and package delivery reminders will also appear at the top of your inbox (along with adverts which look like emails) making it harder to miss them.
Other email accounts (Gmail, Outlook, etc.) can be added so you can see all your messages in one place, holiday responses are available, and disposable addresses can be created so you can preserve your privacy when needed.
There are ads in Yahoo Mail, as mentionedm, and they can feel more intrusive than on some other services, but you do get a whopping 1TB (1000GB) of free storage to soften the blow.
Bottom Line: A solid email service with some creative touches for livening up messages, and one that's great if you need masses of storage space.
- Streams feature adds team commenting to email
- Integrate with Zoho’s office suite
Zoho has its focus mainly on teams and small businesses where you collaborate with other users, as you can see from some of its features.
One of the most obvious is Streams, which brings social media style comments and likes into standard email. By tagging other members of your team, or family and friends, they can respond to the original email without having to send a separate reply. There are several other apps and plug-ins that expand the team-ethos, with Zoho supporting up to 25 linked user accounts.
Of course, there’s the standard multi-layer folders, labels, flags and filters that allow you to organise your email, you can share an entire folder with a colleague, plus a recall email facility. Free accounts get 5GB of storage for a mailbox, with 5GB for documents. The latter links to Zoho’s web-based office software, which are decent hold their own against the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple’s online suites.
Zoho is ad-free, but this version doesn’t support Google Calendar and limits the size of emails to 25MB. There are paid tiers that beef up the capabilities, but if these few restrictions don’t bother you then Zoho mail is an excellent service with plenty of features, solid security, and a thoughtfully designed interface.
Bottom Line: An excellent choice for teams and small businesses.
- Tightly integrated with iOS
- VIP inbox
- Mobile apps support multiple accounts
If you have an Apple device, such as an iPhone or iPad, you will have an iCloud account and email is a component of that service. On those mobile devices, the Mail app can be set up to house all your email accounts, such as Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo!, but at the website you only have access to your iCloud inbox.
Both variants have straightforward, easy to understand interfaces that looks very nice, although there are no real options for customisation. iOS can define what actions swipes trigger, but that’s about it.
Folders can be created for emails to be dragged and dropped into. Rules can also be set up to automatically sort messages into folders too. Making a sender a VIP adds their messages to the VIP mailbox, which is useful for ensuring you don’t miss important emails (it's iCloud's best feature in our view), but it doesn’t have the custom views that Gmail and Outlook have.
iCloud is a simple email service and non-technical people will love the attractive and easy-to-use interface. Advanced users may find it too limiting. Also, bear in mind that emails and attachments count against your free 5GB of iCloud storage - it soon fills up.
Bottom Line: It’s fine for Apple users, but less useful if you have lots of email to deal with across different devices.
- 1GB mail storage
- End-to-end encryption
- Access passwords allow secure emails with non-Tutanota users
Privacy is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to ensure online. To counter this, there are a number of secure mail services, a few of which offer free accounts. ProtonMail is possibly the most famous, but open-source Tutanota is a strong alternative.
This German company offers 1GB of mail storage for free (double that of ProtonMail), with all emails protected by end-to-end encryption and now searchable within the apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android. To avoid the eyes of Google, Android users can download the app on F-Droid rather than the Play store, and push notifications are not sent through Google’s service, yet still arrive instantly.
Tutanota users can exchange fully encrypted messages directly, but thanks to the use of access passwords non-Tutanota users can still share send and receive emails with little impact on your security or convenience. The free tier is basic but perfectly usable, restricting users to one account and limited searches, but there is €12 (approx £10.65/US$14) per month Premium option that offers aliases, mailbox rules, unlimited searches, and custom domains.
Bottom Line: If you just want a secure way to talk with friends or colleagues then Tutanota does the job.
- End-to-end encryption
- Switzerland-based servers
- Open source
Another security focused service in ProtonMail. With its servers based in Switzerland, there's solid protection from the nosier governments around the world, and the end-to-end encryption used by Proton should keep any hackers at bay too.
The layout is a bit dull, if we're honest, with a palette of grey and white hardly setting the pulses racing, but it's a solid and safe solution.
The free tier does have quite a few limitations, with your storage space a rather constricted 500MB, only 150 messages allowed each day, and a maximum of three folders into which they can be placed. That being said, it's still a good option if your email needs are mainly text-based and place privacy ahead of style.
There are higher tiers that expand these horizons, with £3.50 / $4.50 / 4€ per month Plus option adding 5GB of storage, 1000 messages a day, alongside a custom domain, auto-responder, and other features.
Bottom Line: A highly secure way to exchange messages, but limited features make it too restricting for everyday users
- 65GB of free email storage
- Supports multiple email accounts
- Send attachments twice the size of Gmail’s limit
GMX Mail is popular in Germany. It offers free storage for half a million emails, which works out to be 65GB. And that should be plenty for most people.
It can be configured to fetch email from other accounts, including Outlook, Gmail, and general POP3 accounts. This means that it is fairly easy to switch from your current email, with support for importing contacts from Facebook, Outlook, CSV files and other sources.
The service has a good interface that can be customised with themes and the positioning of the reading pane. There are adverts, but they aren’t too distracting. Messages can be dragged from the inbox and dropped into folders to manually organise them, and filters can be created that automatically sort incoming mail. Large attachments can be sent (up to 50MB) which is twice that of Gmail.
Bottom Line: GMX Mail is fun, has some good features, and is certainly worth trying out.