Ever since email came onto the scene in the early 1990s, it has been a sensation. People have always loved sending each other letters, but the novelty, not to mention the practicality, of being able to send a message to someone on the other side of the globe and have them receive it instantly has yet to wear off.
With the emergence of instant messaging and social media, many thought email might finally fall out of favor but this has most certainly not been the case. It is still used as a primary means of communication for millions of people and businesses around the world, and in 2019 alone, the world sent more than 290 billion emails per day.
Because of its massive popularity, there are now many different email services you can use to communicate with friends, families, business contacts, and customers. While they all fundamentally do the same thing – they send and receive emails – there are some significant differences between the main services out there.
Which one you will choose will depend heavily on what you use your email for and what you want to see most from your provider. To help you make a choice, we've put together this guide, which discusses the many different features you should look for and also ranks the top options so that you can more easily find what you need.
On the surface, it may seem like all email providers do more or less the same thing, which might lead you to think you don't need to do much research when choosing an email provider, or that you don't need to bother switching from your current one to something different.
A lot is going on behind the scenes when you use email, and it's important you know about all of this so that you can make the right choice.
When comparing email providers and choosing the one for you, consider the following:
The first thing you need to decide is whether or not you want to use webmail or an email client. They both do basically the same thing, but webmail works through an internet browser and an email client operates with a desktop application that you must download.
Webmail services tend to be slightly lighter, meaning they put less strain on your computer, but their main advantage is that they can be accessed from anywhere you have an internet connection.
Email clients, on the other hand, can't be accessed from anywhere – you need to be using the device which has the client installed. But because it uses a desktop application, an email client typically performs better, and one nice thing is that you can access your email without an internet connection. Of course, you can't send or receive anything, but you can view your inbox, type out emails and responses, and then they will go through once you're connected. You don't get this with webmail applications.
Another benefit of email clients is that they allow you to sync multiple accounts and have everything show up in one inbox, a convenient feature for anyone who has more than one email address but wants everything in one place.
For most individual users and small businesses, webmail will do just fine but larger companies tend to go with email clients because they need some of the extra features these programs offer.
Another thing to consider when choosing an email provider is how much storage space you will get. For most providers, the limits are quite high, and a typical user who has email for personal uses won't come close to reaching that limit. However, for businesses, or individuals who send lots of emails, it might be important to have more storage capacity with your email account.
Having lots of storage space is important if you need to save your emails as if often the case for professional accounts. But if you're just using it for personal needs, you might not need to worry too much, as you can always delete stuff if you get close to consuming your storage space.
Another thing to consider is the limits placed on the size of messages. This is relevant for those who may want or need to send emails with large attachments, such as photos and videos. Too small of a limit could become a nuisance.
Some email services place limits on the number of messages you can send per day. Again, in most cases, this number is high enough that it won't be a factor for most general users but if you send lots of emails for work, or use your email address to orchestrate some sort of automated email campaign, you may want to keep an eye out for limits your email provider imposes on you.
Domain Name Use and Number of Accounts
If you're running a business and have your own website, you will want to look for an email provider that allows you to use your own domain name as your email suffix. It looks a lot more professional to send emails from "firstname.lastname@example.org" than from "email@example.com"
Some providers make it easier for you to do this than others and depending on how relevant this is to you, it's something you'll want to keep an eye on.
You'll also want to pay attention to how many accounts your provider lets you make using this email suffix, as you'll want all the people associated with your website to use this format. Usually, the more accounts you have, the more expensive your plan, but some platforms allow you to do this for free.
The internet and email are generally speaking our friends, but we all know there are also risks. Most email providers take security into account by including an automated spam filter as well as other malware detection programs but some services do it better than others.
For example, some email providers encrypt messages so that they can only be read by you and the person with whom you are communicating. Others require you to register lots of personal information about yourself before signing up, which is an invasion of privacy some people aren't comfortable with, but some don't ask for any of this information.
Everyone should have security as a priority when they're on the web, but if you want to go the extra mile to stay safe, then know there are some email providers you should be looking to work with more than others.
No digital service that's worth its salt operates alone. It must integrate with the many other apps you use in your life and the email provider you go with will determine the options you have.
To give you an idea, Google's email service, Gmail, integrates splendidly with other Google programs, but this is not always the case with apps that are not a part of the Google family. However, other programs, such as Mailbird, allow you to integrate your email with WhatsApp and other social media apps, which make it easier for you to keep all your contacts organized and your communication streamlined.
When looking at email providers, consider what apps you frequently use at the same time and then look for a service that helps you connect them in the best and easiest way possible.
Depending on which email provider you're using, there are some special features that you might be able to use. A good example of this is smart sorting. Essentially, this is when your email provider automatically places incoming messages into categories so that your inbox is less cluttered and it's less likely you go insane.
Another good feature of many email providers is instant messaging, something that is especially useful for businesses. Other things to look for include calendars, task lists, address books, predictive text/automated replies, search, etc.
It's also important to take into account the experience you have when using a particular email provider. Email is something most of us use every day and we therefore owe it to ourselves to ensure we're operating in an ecosystem that works for us.
Things to look out for include how easy it is to customize, the functionality of app synchronization, i.e. if you start a draft on your computer, can you finish it on your phone, contact integration, and more.
The best thing you can do in this scenario is to give something a try. You won't know if you like how a particular service works until you've had the chance to see how it operates.
Lastly, you'll want to consider the cost of your email service. There are numerous free options out there, and most of them can do a lot. However, some of the paid services give you access to features you simply won't find with free alternatives. In most cases, email providers that cost money are best for businesses, as free options can cover most of your needs as an individual.
If you decide you need to pay for an email service, know there are a few different cost structures. Some services have you pay monthly based on how many users you have, some have tiers where you pay a flat rate and can have up to a certain number of users, and others charge a flat rate for you to download the program and then you pay nothing ever again.
Which one works best for you will depend entirely on your needs and budget but know there are lots of different options, so be sure to shop around and find the best deal for you.
Now that you know what you should be looking for from an email provider, here's a list of the best ones available in 2020:
Considering Google has become the king of the internet, it shouldn't be much of a surprise to you that its email service, Gmail, rules the world of email providers. Here are some of the things we love about Gmail:
Free to use and comes with 15 GB of storage.
Easy to use interface that looks and works the same on pretty much any device.
Excellent spam filtering and login authentication.
Has an offline mode so that you can use like an email client.
Allows for email forwarding so that you can have all your email accounts land in one inbox.
File size limit of 25 MB, but you can share files larger than that by using Google Drive.
Seamless integration with Google's productivity apps, such as Docs, Sheets, Drive, Calendar, etc.
The use of aliases allows you to run your business email through your Gmail inbox easily and for free.
Some of the things we don't love about Gmail include:
Folder filtering is at times inaccurate, sending important emails to places you don't check as frequently.
Load times are often slow; many users report load times of up to six seconds, especially with full inboxes and special features turned on. This isn't the norm, but it is definitely a problem, as six seconds is too slow for such a popular email platform.
Google uses its services to track almost everything you do. How much of a negative this is depends on how much you care about this and how much you trust Google to handle your data.
Microsoft's free, webmail application, Outlook, has been around for a long time, but it remains one of the best services out there.
It's incredibly easy to use, and it has some nice features such as a quick search option – which allows you to search for emails simply by right-clicking on terms or addresses. Outlook also has lots of add-ons that will help you customize the service specifically to your needs, and it automatically organizes your inbox based on the parameters you use.
Outlook also has a recovery option that will allow you to get messages back that you deleted by accident, and, of course, it integrates really well into other Microsoft products. Addresses end in either \@outlook.com or \@hotmail.com.
However, if you want to use Outlook for your business, then you'll probably need to upgrade to Office 365, which will discuss later.
Once the leader of the email world, Yahoo has fallen behind a bit, but its Yahoo Mail service, which provides email addresses with its signature \@yahoo.com suffix, is still an excellent product.
For starters, it offers 1TB of storage for free, which is more than anyone else offers. It also has some pretty neat integration features, such as allowing you to import contacts from platforms such as Facebook, Google, or even Outlook.
It's also super easy to use and is available as an app through both the App Store and Google Play. On the surface, Yahoo Mail looks a lot like Gmail, but once you get to use it, you'll notice it's quite different.
The biggest downside to Yahoo Mail is that it displays ads in your inbox, and its filters are not nearly as advanced as those of the competition. Yet Yahoo Mail is still a perfectly capable email service that won't cost you a dime to use.
We like Mail.com for a couple of reasons, such as:
It offers unlimited storage space as part of its standard, free service.
You can create a custom domain name from a list of 200 suffixes, which gives you a level of customization usually only seen with paid plans.
Its proprietary "mail collector" feature allows you to compile messages from more than one email address all into one inbox.
Virus protection and Spam Blocker come standard and are quite effective.
Some of the things we don't like include:
No premium plan that would make this a viable option for business use.
The lack of two-factor authentication represents an increased cybersecurity risk we don't like seeing from an email provider.
GMX is a solid email provider for both personal and business use. One of the best things about it is that it allows you to send messages that include up to 50 MB of attachments. All the other services we've reviewed set the limit at 25 MB.
It also has a feature that allows you to attach files from online storage, such as from Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, or OneDrive, among many others, and you can have multiple addresses on the same account as part of the free plan, something most companies charge for.
We're not crazy about the 2 GB storage limit, nor about the lack of two-factor authentication but in general, GMX has some exciting features that help make it a great product.
Most of the email providers we've reviewed up until now are best suited for individual use, although some of them could be adapted for business use.
But, as you might expect, there are services out there that will help you get more out of your email provider and leverage this tool to help you grow your business and be more productive.
Office 365 technically includes the entire Microsoft Office suite – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. – but you can also purchase the professional version of Outlook on its own.
We've already gone over some of the reasons why Outlook is a great email provider, but when you get the pro version, you unlock some great features that have been staples of the business world for years. We're mainly talking about its calendar and task features, which make it easy for you to coordinate a team and be at your productive best.
However, all this functionality does come at a price. Office 365 Personal is \$69.99 per year, Office 365 Home is \$99.99 per year, and the Business Premium version costs \$12.50 per month. If this is in the budget, you won't be disappointed, but it might not be the best option for smaller businesses looking to save some money.
If you're looking for a business email provider that offers some of the same great features as Office 365 but that costs less, then Zoho might be the provider for you. Its free version offers you things that most other providers charge for. For example, you can have up to 25 users – each of whom will have 5 GB of storage – but that are connected to your domain name, something almost everyone else includes in their premium plans.
Zoho also allows you to do things such as track expenses, schedule meetings, filter and organize inboxes, and bulk deleting and archiving. It also connects quite well to other apps, such as Google and Facebook, and it has a neat migration tool that makes the process of switching from one email provider to Zoho very easy.
The free version works only as a webmail application, meaning you need to have an internet connection to access it, and it doesn't support email forwarding that you can use to integrate other accounts. However, if you're willing to spend a bit of money, you can get even more.
The full version of Zoho's subscription plan costs \$3 a month per user, which gives you more storage, more accounts, and the ability to send cloud files to users who don't use Zoho. You can also get Zoho for \$1 per month per user, which will limit storage space and the number of users, or you can get the Professional version for \$6 per month per user.
Overall, there are tons of options and price plans, which means you should be able to find something that works for your business.
ProtonMail is the ideal option for those who have security and privacy as their top priority. This is because ProtonMail uses end-to-end encryption, meaning your messages can be read only by you and the person with whom you're communicating.
ProtonMail also doesn't ask for your phone number, address, or other personal information when you want to make an account, and it doesn't log your IP addresses, making it one of the most private email clients out there.
However, the free plan is pretty limited. It limits you to just one user, and it doesn't give you access to its encryption service or email filters. To unlock all of ProtonMail's features, you need to pay for it, which will cost you between \$5.66 and \$34 per month. Because of this, ProtonMail is an email provider much more suited for businesses than individuals.
For those who want to stay within the Google ecosystem but who need a bit more functionality for their business than what the standard Gmail service offers, there's G Suite, Google's paid email service.
The biggest advantages to paying for G Suite are:
30 GB of storage (up from 15 GB on the free plan)
Emails using your business' web address; no more \@gmail.com.
Additional spam protection.
Delegation and task management tools.
Recovery of lost or deleted emails.
All of these features certainly make G Suite a great email provider, but it comes at a cost. The Basic plan costs \$6 per month per user, the Business Plan costs \$12 per month per user, and the Enterprise Plan costs a whopping \$25 per user.
Spending more money gets you more storage and more features, but this is really only an option for the largest organizations. Most small businesses will struggle to pay this, and they don't have to, as you can get similar functionality from other services for much less.
Nevertheless, if you have the budget and the desire to stick with Google, then G Suite will more than meet your needs and give you what you need from an email provider.
The options we've discussed up until this point have almost all been webmail services, with the exception of Office 365/Outlook and the paid version of Zoho.
These types of services are certainly the trend, especially in email, since you can access them from anywhere, but if you're in the market for a traditional email client, here are four that are excellent.
Outlook has been the standard email client for ages, and there's no reason to take it from its throne. It's expensive, but worth it for those who need its functionality.
Mailbird is a lighter, less expensive email client that works well with older versions of Windows. It has tons of features and integrates well with other apps, most notably with WhatsApp, which you can display right next to your messages for easy instant messaging.
eM Client is an easy-to-use and minimalist email client that you can easily customize to meet your specific needs.
Thunderbird is open-source software (read: free) produced by Mozilla that has lots of the same great features as Outlook without the hefty price tag. One of the best things about it is that it uses end-to-end encryption for extra security.
Clearly, there's a lot more to your email provider than meets the eye. Never again will you think that all email services are the same but hopefully all this information now makes a bit more sense, which means you can now go out and sign up or switch to the mail provider that is going to best meet your needs.