A comparison of the best free email providers

Two billion emails are sent around the world every day – a truly remarkable amount of electronic post. Even in the current era of instant messaging, social media and video calls, it is hard to imagine email not being the go-to mode of communication for everyday business. Given the continuing success of e-mail, it is no real surprise that there are countless numbers of free email providers out there. Sending and receiving emails should not have to cost anything, which is why free email providers are particularly popular among private users.

Our overview gives you tips on where to get the most free storage space, the highest security standards, as well as explaining what other features are offered by these six providers.

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Gmail

When it was launched in 2004, Google’s email service shook up the whole industry: For the first time in history of free email, a provider offered users an inbox size of 1 GB. This marked the beginning of a head-to-head race between free email providers as to who could offer the most storage space; a race that still continues today. In line with this, the launch of Gmail has also seen storage space become a decisive factor in this competition. The result of this is that more free email providers, along with larger inboxes, are also offering cloud services when it comes to file storage. This means that Google can now offer a total storage capacity of 15 GB across all the connected Google services, including Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos. The maximum size of email attachments has also increased in proportion to this growth, and now stands at 25 MB.

In terms of layout and ease of use, Gmail has an interface with a very similar orientation to other email providers like Outlook and Thunderbird. This has been the case since it first came about, despite it being browser-based. Back in 2004, this was seen as quite revolutionary. It is now possible to individualize the interface by designing it with personal photos, for example. In addition to this, tabs can be adjusted as required. Even the size of different elements can be set up as preferred.

A further advantage of Gmail is its perfect integration into the Google universe: along with both Google Drive, Google Hangouts is also very handy. With this you can chat with friends within Gmail and have video conversations with up to ten people – and this across multiple devices as well. Furthermore, this free service is also available as an app for Android and iOS devices. Additionally, it is also possible to access your inbox via the POP3 as well as the IMAP protocol.

One of the main downsides of Gmail is data protection. Google is often criticized when it comes to data protection, due to the alleged blurring or even softening of their own guidelines. It currently scans the contents of emails received and sent via Gmail. Through this it can help them to deliver target advertising to Gmail users. Google claims that this scanning also helps to identify and sort spam mail.

But according to the company, a SSL/TLS encryption will protect emails better in the transfer between a browser and the Gmail servers. However, this does not mean that your emails will be encrypted end-to-end, just as the content of the mails will not be protected – only during its transit to the server. This is fairly normal for the free email providers listed in this comparison.

Pros Cons
15 GB storage space Data protection policies vague
Integration into the Google universe Server locations unclear
Many possibilities re. settings and personalization  
Clear and well-organized user interface  
Apps for Android and iOS  

Yahoo Mail

Just like Gmail, Yahoo Mail is another free email provider with huge amounts of storage space – a record-breaking 1000 GB (i.e. 1 TB). This has meant that deleting emails is very much a thing of the past. The flip side, though, is that there is no cloud storage service offered. Connecting to external services like Dropbox or Google Drive is possible although a separate account is required. In 2017, the provider launched Yahoo Mail Pro, a paid alternative to the basic version, which features an ad-free interface and prioritized customer support.

In addition to this, Yahoo Mail offers many options when it comes to personalization: layout, order, and the mail preview function can all be adjusted, as well as the design of the inbox. Alongside features like a messenger, and apps for both iOS and Android, there are also POP3 and IMAP protocols, as well as an ‘adaptable’ spam filter. According to Yahoo, this filter blocks more than 15 billion spam emails daily. On top of this, this free email option allows you to implement a so-called ‘disposable’ email address. This is basically an anti-spam mail measure, which you can use to register with the likes of online stores, mailing lists, forums, etc. without having to disclose your actual email address. Once this email address is no longer required it can be easily deleted. This feature means that the amount of undesirable emails received is substantially decreased.

In terms of data protection, Yahoo Mail has similar shortcomings to Gmail. According to the privacy policy, all communication (e.g. email and messenger content including IM and SMS messages) will be analyzed, with the aim of creating advertisements that are tailored to individuals. For the transfer of mails between the browser and the Yahoo server, SSL/TLS encryption is used.

Pros Cons
1 TB storage space for e-mails Cloud storage is only available by linking to external services such as Dropbox or Google Drive
Easy implementation of a ‘disposable’ e-mail address Content of e-mails analyzed for advertising purposes
Integrated spam filter Locations of servers unclear
Apps for Android and iOS  

Outlook.com

For a long time, ‘Outlook’ was the name of the Personal Information Manager (PIM) developed by Microsoft. It is part of the whole Microsoft Office package. But since early 2013, the very similar sounding web email service ‘Outlook.com’ has replaced Microsoft’s previous free email software ‘Hotmail’. With Outlook.com, Microsoft now provides serious competition to the free email providers such as Yahoo and Google.

The first and most important advantage is its perfect integration into the Microsoft universe. By simply registering on Outlook.com, you will have access to other services offered by Microsoft. These include the video call and chat service Skype, the cloud storage service OneDrive, Office Online, and OneNote. Thanks to the presence of office interfaces, Outlook.com is also suitable for more complex work environments, and even comes with a similarly intuitive and trustworthy user interface. With regards to storage space, Outlook.com is on a similar level to Google’s Gmail service: With over 15 GB, there is more than enough space for all emails. A further 5 GB is available for files of a different kind with Microsoft’s integrated cloud storage solution OneDrive, which is available for free.

Another handy feature is that Outlook.com – just like Gmail and Yahoo Mail – offers both POP3 and IMAP protocols for the retrieval of emails. This means, for example, that inboxes can be synchronized, even on mobile devices. Apps for all common mobile devices are available.

All of this is free on Outlook.com. However, there is also the possibility of switching to a fee-based premium version. In this version, the advertisements usually seen in the user interface are no longer visible. Also on the topic of advertisements – according to Microsoft’s privacy policy, these advertisements that do appear are not personalized based on the content of mails. Instead, the software uses data like your location or your internet surfing habits based on cookies. In relation to the privacy policy, the Microsoft website states: “Some of Microsoft’s services are supported by advertising. To show ads you’re more likely to be interested in, we use data like your location, Bing web searches, Microsoft or advertiser web pages you view, demographics, and things you’ve favorited. We don’t use what you say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail, or your documents, photos or other personal files to target ads to you.”

Something that is still unknown, however, is the server location. Similar to the previous two free email providers outlined above, Microsoft maintains its server worldwide. This means that the exact location of the files is as unclear as with Google and Yahoo.

Pros Cons
15 GB e-mail storage space Microsoft based mainly in the USA – all data protection subject to American laws
5 GB cloud storage space with OneDrive Server location unknown
Clear and accessible design  
MS Office interface – perfect integration into the Microsoft universe  
Apps for Android and iOS  

GMX

GMX has two domains: GMX.net is the German version, while GMX.com is for English, French, and Spanish speaking users. GMX is not as well-known as the free email providers discussed above, but still conveniently manages to meet all your basic email requirements. One of the biggest selling points for GMX is its unlimited storage space – indeed, the software has come a long way since its offering of only 5 GB. Another major upside of GMX is its integration with Facebook. This feature means that GMX can attain contact data from Facebook, so that all your friends’ emails (provided that they are publicly listed) can be added to your contact list automatically. This has the potential to save quite a bit of time.

The default mailbox memory for GMX provides 1 GB. Using the free activation of “GMX MailCheck” you can expand it: With this free upgrade you can encrypt mails, set up desktop notifications for incoming mails and unlock another 500 MB of mailbox storage. GMX offers a total of up to 1.5 GB free of charge. The attachments can be up to 20 MB in size; in the in-house cloud storage, the so-called MediaCenter, you can currently store files totaling up to 10 2 GB.

GMX offers apps for Android and iOS. Thanks to this wide range of apps, all emails and mailbox folders are available at all times, even when you are on the move. A spam filter is also integrated.

GMX’s default interface is blue. Alternative designs can be selected and saved in the settings. You can navigate around using the menu bars at the top and left. While the upper tab allows a quick change between the standard features such as mailboxes, MediaCenter Cloud, calendar or address book, the left tab contains ads and links to other GMX products that finance the free email service.

Pros Cons
Free upgrade possibility through “GMX MailCheck” Mailbox storage relative small at only 1.5 GB
2 GB included cloud storage Slightly unclear user interface – also features advertisements
Apps for Android and iOS  
Free upgrade possibility through “GMX MailCheck”  

AOL Mail

Many years ago, America Online was one of the biggest email programs, but it has since slipped down the ranks and is no longer one of the most prominent email services. However, this does not mean that it isn’t an adequate free email provider.

A while back, AOL realized the need for it to offer more. This lead to it releasing AIM (American Instant Messaging). AIM offered 2 GB of free storage, which was seen as a huge amount of space at the time. Today, the web portal offers unlimited storage space.

AOL Mail gives you the option of choosing the strictness level of your spam filter: Low, Medium, or High. AOL themselves recommend setting it to ‘Medium’, as they find that that is the right level of security without the risk of losing any important mails to your spam folder.

Another very notable feature of AOL mail is the ‘My Address’ feature, which allows users to choose their own domain name instead of just having your email address as example@aol.com. What this means is that if you have your own domain, you can set it so that your AOL mail is then routed through this address (e.g. example@yourpersonaldomain.com). Additionally, it is possible to add up to 100 people to this domain, meaning that your colleagues, employees, etc. can also all use this domain as their address, too.

Pros Cons
Personalized email addresses – and add up to 100 people to your domain No importing contacts from social media
Unlimited storage space App not specific to e-mail
Apps for Android and iOS  
Choose level of spam filter – Low, Medium, or High  

Zoho

Zoho is an email service aimed at both private users and businesses. The free package is therefore aimed at individual users, and while being quite basic, still manages to cover all the major criteria that you might look for in a free email provider.

Zoho, similarly to Microsoft, offers a whole range of software programs. Alongside email, it also offers instant messaging, a writer, calendar, document sharing, as well as several other features. Together these are known as the ‘Zoho Workplace’. The fee-based packages start at $3 a month. The more money you spend on a package, the more storage space you get and the more MBs your attachments can be. Outside of this, you will also have access to additional features as part of the Zoho Workplace.

One major upside of Zoho is that it is completely ad-free. The software seems to pride itself on this fact, stating in the ‘Features’ section of its website that: “this means total respect for user privacy as your messages are not scanned for keywords to feed you ads. However, freedom from annoying ads is not the stand-out feature in Zoho Mail”. This in turn provides a certain peace of mind when it comes to security and privacy policy.

In terms of storage space it offers 5 GB space and a maximum email attachment of 30 MB. The storage is all cloud-based and there is also the option of Dropbox integration. Security wise, the software requires two-factor authentication. Fundamentally this is a free email provider, but given that it also has a range of fee-based services, the basic, free of charge version will be restricted in certain ways. Unfortunately, none of the packages offer the possibility of automatically integrating contacts from a social media account or accounts. This must be done manually.

Pros Cons
Access to whole Zoho workplace Limited storage space – free version
Two-factor authentication Contact list – no social media integration
No advertisements displayed  
No scanning of e-mail content  
App for Android and iOS  

Professional Email Address & Personal Domain Name

Get an email address as professional and unique as you are including a free matching domain!

Address book
Calendar
Virus protection

E-mail encryption

When comparing these free email providers, it becomes quite obvious that high security standards are pretty high on the list of priorities. At the same time, SSL/TLS encryptions are part and parcel of such providers. Anyone looking to secure their communication even further should also consider installing the email encryption via PGP. This will also protect the content of emails. With the help of browser add-ons (e.g. Mailvelope), it is possible to achieve end-to-end encryption.

Provider

Gmail

Yahoo Mail

Outlook.com

GMX

AOL Mail

ZOHO

Inbox size

15 GB incl. Cloud

1,000 GB

15 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

5 GB (all Cloud)

Cloud storage

15 GB incl. Inbox

Only via Dropbox

Further 15 GB

2 GB

10 GB

See above

Max. size of attachments

25 MB

25 MB

25 MB

20 MB

25 MB

30 MB

POP3

IMAP

Server location

Worldwide

Worldwide

Worldwide

Germany

USA

Worldwide

Apps

Android

iOS

Android

iOS

 

Android

iOS

 

Android

iOS

 

Android

iOS

 

Android

iOS

Professional solutions as an alternative - but for whom?

At first glance, what these free email providers offer seems to be perfect. With their strong functionality and various security mechanisms such as SSL/TLS encryption, DKIM signature, and authenticator log-ins, the free email services are a popular choice in the private sector. However, free services are not always the right choice. This is due in particular to the fact that mailboxes of free email providers are usually linked to the brand-specific domain name, which is rather impractical in the business sector in particular and doesn’t look very professional.

So, if you primarily want to handle business communication using this particular email address, you need a professional solution to create the right impression. This may mean having to forego an address from a free email provider.

The advantages of professional email services compared to free email providers

Even if professionalism is often the reason for a company choosing a professional email provider, the self-employed and the like, there are also other benefits, as the following shows:

  • Free choice of name: The freedom that comes with a professional service has already been highlighted – being able to create your own address for your business is paramount. Free email providers usually have several million customers registered under the same subdomain. The most common first and last names are therefore quickly snapped up, which is why you sometimes have to resort to complicated alternative solutions (e.g. including numbers in the address). Customers using fee-based mail services do not have this problem and can therefore create memorable and precise contact addresses.
  • No advertising or spam: Free email providers usually use advertising to fund the service. Using a professional service, on the other hand, rids you of annoying advertisements and means you can work without distractions. In addition, fee-based options are less susceptible to advertising spam: since free email addresses are relatively similar to one another, it’s easy for spammers to ‘guess’ different addresses and before you know it, your inbox quickly becomes flooded with all kinds of spam messages.
  • Increased protection: Not only are professional mailboxes less likely to be targeted by spam, phishing, etc., but they are also the safer choice in case your computer gets infected with malware. An account that is getting spammed too much is likely to be blocked by the provider. While the chance of getting your account back with a free email provider is practically zero, just describing the problem is usually enough to regain access with a fee-based provider.
  • Planning security: If you use a professional email address, you get a lot of independence from your provider. If the provider makes changes to the product range or terminates the service, the contact address usually remains unaffected – you just need to move to another provider. If a free email provider discontinues its services, the user has no choice but to register a new address.
  • Resistance to typos: Another advantage of having your own email domain instead of a free email subdomain is the catch-all function. This ensures that all incoming messages to a domain are redirected to a main mailbox, even if the local part of the address (before the @ sign) cannot be assigned to a specific mailbox due to a typo. This way, professional email solutions reduce the likelihood of important messages being lost.

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