Deciding which email service you should use can be tricky. Their features vary, and there are pros and cons of each. Here, we've put together a helpful guide that compares the most popular and the news is they're all free.
Which is the best email service for you comes down to a number of factors. If you use Windows, Microsoft Office, and a Windows phone then Outlook makes sense because everything works well together. In a similar way people with an Android phone or tablet using Google services like Docs, Calendar, Music and others, are better off with Gmail.
Zoho offers similar functionality, with apps for both iOS and Android, and the team focused design could be very useful if you work in a small business. Although Yahoo and GMX offer good email, they aren’t part of a broader range of internet services in the same way.
The two least attractive are iCloud and AOL Mail because of their limited range of features (and you can only get an iCloud email address if you have an Apple device). Tutanota is also somewhat limited, but its heavy emphasis on privacy should appeal to those who want to keep their correspondence secure from prying eyes.
For us, though, Outlook and Gmail are the joint winners here. Both are mature products with excellent features and an extended set of software that bring advantages to productivity. At a push we'd go for Gmail simply because we've never experienced any problems in the years of using it, but many would say the same of Outlook too.
Read on to find out more about each of the services we tested, to help you make sure that you choose the service that will suit you best.
Gmail has a lightweight, minimalist design (on a laptop or PC) and most of the screen is taken up by the inbox. At one time you couldn’t view the inbox and an email at the same time, but a ‘labs’ feature splits the view horizontally or vertically with the inbox in one half and the current email in the other.
Folders for organising messages aren’t supported but instead you attach labels, such as work, personal and family. Clicking a label lists all the messages tagged with it. It’s merely a different way of viewing email and is arguably more effective.
There are many different ways to view email and the default shows messages in date order. Gmail can automatically filter emails into Primary, Social, Promotions and Forums, and we love this approach.
There are interface themes for web browsers, and an option to use any image you like for the background. The interface on Android and iOS is slightly different, but well designed and easy to use.
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 quick links to track deliveries, amend reservations and more without opening the email and looking for a link.
Email from other accounts can be collected and contacts imported, so switching to Gmail is painless. There are more configuration options than most services and overall, it’s an excellent service which we highly recommend.
We're also written a guide on how to search Gmail like a pro.
On the web, Outlook's interface is similar to traditional email clients with a folder list on the left, including inbox, drafts, and sent. Most of the screen lists the contents of the current folder, such as inbox, with the option to show a vertical or horizontal reading pane, enabling you to browse the inbox and read emails at the same time.
Like most email services, folders are used to organise emails and adding new folders is straightforward. Messages can be dragged to folders and rules created to automatically sort incoming mail.
A Quick views section automatically categorises messages to a degree, like Gmail’s tabs, but there are more categories. You can also create rules to assign incoming messages to categories too.
Click a Quick view category and you can see all unread emails, ones with picture or document attachments, flagged messages, bills, social networking updates and so on.
Messages can be archived, which moves them to a folder, or flagged so they appear in quick views rather than the inbox. Sweep moves or deletes all messages from a sender, or all messages older than a certain date. If you get junk mail, Outlook can try to unsubscribe you from the sender.
You can add other mail accounts, import contacts from Facebook and elsewhere, access it in a browser, Outlook, Windows Live Mail and Windows 8 or Windows 10’s Mail + Calendar app. There are lots of clever features if you dig around, and for many people, it's just as good as Gmail.
Yahoo has a modern look and feel, and has quite a few useful features. Some depend on whether you're using the website or the iOS or Android app.
The web version is intuitively laid out with the inbox, sent, spam, trash and other system folders, and a list of email on the right from whatever folder is selected. A preview pane can be added to enable you to browse folders, such as the inbox, and read messages at the same time.
Clicking Folders on the left enables you to create extra folders to organise messages. They can be dragged and dropped into folders and there are facilities for creating filters that automatically sort incoming mail into the right folders. Messages can be starred and filters created from them to deal with similar ones.
Search has been enhanced so it returns emails, images, files and contacts from all connected mailboxes, and if you search for a person, you'll see your whole conversation history. Event and package delivery reminders will appear at the top of your inbox, too.
Other email accounts elsewhere can be added so you can see all your messages in one place, holiday responses are available, extra email addresses can be linked to the account and disposable addresses can be created. Contacts with Facebook, Google and other import options, and a calendar is available.
Install the Yahoo Mail app on iOS and you can unsend an email up to three seconds after sending it, which is a handy feature we want to see available in other services too.
Plus, it gives you a whopping 1TB of free storage - it's hard to argue with that.
While you can happily use Zoho as a standalone free email service, it's best suited to teams and small businesses where you collaborate with other users. With this in mind there are several features that make this process easier and cleaner than many of its rivals.
Streams is an interesting addition that 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. Much like Slack, really.
Zoho gives you the features you'd expect: multi-layer folders, labels, flags and filters that allow you to organise your email. You also have the option of sharing an entire folder with a colleague if you so desire.
Free accounts get 5GB of storage for a mailbox, plus 5GB for documents. The latter is linked to the other big selling point of Zoho - its office suite. Just like Outlook, iCloud, and Gmail, Zoho has a web-based collection of software that allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, alongside an integrated calendar. These are all very good and certainly hold their own against the competition.
Zoho doesn’t spy on your email or scan its content. There are no ads placed in the service, and therefore no need to read your mail to discover keywords. But, the free version doesn’t support Google Calendar and is limited to email sizes of 25MB, but if you move up to the £2 a month version you get double the storage, Google Calendar, and 30MB emails.
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.
If you have an Apple device, such as an iPhone or an iPad, you will have an iCloud account and email is a component of that service. The web-based version is a bit disappointing and less functional than the mobile versions.
On the iPhone and iPad, 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 email inbox.
On the web and iPad, you have the commonly used three-pane view with email and folders on the left, the inbox listing all the messages is in the middle and the currently selected email on the right. It’s straightforward, easy to understand and looks very nice, but there are no options to customise it. The reading pane can’t be hidden or displayed below the inbox list as it can with Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo!.
Folders can be created and emails dragged and dropped in them. Rules can also be created 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. It’s fine for undemanding users, but less useful if you have lots of email to deal with.
Also, bear in mind that emails and attachments count against your free 5GB of iCloud storage - it soon fills up.
Privacy is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to ensure online. If it isn’t hackers getting into mail servers than it’s the government itself pushing through the Snoopers Charter so that it can read your data whenever it wants. To fight back against these infringements on civil liberties you could always plump for a mail service dedicated to encryption and personal security.
There are a number of secure mail services around at the moment, a few of which offer free accounts. Protonmail is possibly the most famous, and now there's no waiting list for new users.
Tutanota is an alternative. This German company offers 1GB of mail storage for free, with all emails coming back and forth to your device being encrypted at the server end.
Obviously for the most secure transmissions it would be best for both parties to be using Tutanota accounts, but thanks to the use of access passwords you can still converse with non-Tutanota users with little impact on your security or convenience.
The interface is basic but perfectly usable. You are restricted in a few ways, as the optional €1per month Premium account offers things like aliases and mailbox rules, but if you just want a secure way to talk with friends or colleagues then Tutanota does the job. It might not be pretty, but it could turn out to be quite clever.
GMX Mail is popular in Germany. A nice feature is the way it can be configured to import Facebook contacts. GMX can also import from Outlook, CSV files and other sources.
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 and it’s better than iCloud in this respect.
The service has a good interface that makes using web mail very similar to a traditional email client running on your PC. It can be customised with themes and the positioning of the reading pane. There are adverts, but they aren’t too distracting.
There is a folder panel on the left for the inbox, sent, drafts and so on, and you can create additional folders. 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.
Below the folders list is a Contacts panel. Most of the screen is occupied by an inbox or folder list and a preview pane. You can quickly view emails and messages can be opened in tabs.
GMX Mail has more features than iCloud, and an unusual one is the ability to insert a photo captured live from the webcam and overlay cartoon shapes. It’s fun, and certainly worth a try.
AOL used to be huge. 20 years ago it was the leading internet service provider. That was when everyone used dial-up access and once broadband took off, people’s interest in AOL waned.
It has struggled since, but it’s still around and it still provides a free email service. Unlike other email services, when you log into AOL most of the screen is taken up by a news feed showing the latest headlines. This is a throwback to the days when it was a content provider too.
The news feed is distracting and you’ll find yourself clicking links and reading stories when you should be dealing with your mail. Another distraction is the theme. There are lots to choose from and nearly all contain cartoon-like artwork and there’s only one you would want to use on a work computer. AOL Mail is clearly designed to entertain home users.
You get the usual folder list on the left that includes inbox, drafts, sent and more, and additional folders can be created to enable you to organise and store messages. They can be dragged from the inbox, moved from the menu, or rules can be created to place incoming mail in the appropriate folders.
In terms of features, it’s similar to iCloud Mail. All the basic features are present, like spam settings, a holiday message, and filters, but you can’t collect email from another account. It does have contacts, events and to-dos though and it is best for lightweight use by home users.