There are a number of free email choices to choose from if you’re fed up with your current email service, or if you’re looking to make a change from a college account. Of years, Gmail has dominated the market, but rivals such as Yahoo Mail, Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) and AOL Mail have changed their models and functionality to attract new customers. Which is the best experience to offer? To help you make the best choice, we put all four providers through a seven-round face-off.
1: Interface (20 points)
The four mail services use the same basic template, with the middle panel of an email list and the left files. In the upper right corner are the profile preferences and parameters. A search bar is shown dramatically at the top of the page for Gmail and Yahoo Mail, while a narrower bar can be seen in Outlook.com or AOL Mail at the top left corner (AOL Mail has a bigger bar at the bottom, but this scans the Internet, not the email).
Yahoo Mail’s interface is very tidy and clutter-free. The files on the left are clearly labeled –Inbox, Drafts, Mail, Spam or Trash–and other directories can be contained in a drop-down list. The Compose key is just above the files, and replaces the window of the email list with an empty address once pressed. Fax, Contacts, Diary, Notepad and Yahoo Messenger are buttons above that. The icons make it clear what tab you click on, but if you are still unsure, you can swing over them and tips for the device should appear.
The layout for Gmail is somewhat less intuitive. Some email labels (different from directories, see Organization below) such as Inbox, Received Mail and Drafts are shown on the left side of the screen, but other labels such as Spam and Trash are accessible through a drop-down list concealed behind the Hangouts pane, which occupies the same room on the left side of the screen. When clicking over any of the available labels, the Hangouts board moves downwards and removes the remaining labels.
Sadly, no graphical or textual references are included in Google to clarify how this operates, which can render things somewhat frustrating to neophytes. However, although by clicking on a tiny chat icon at the bottom left of the screen, you can delete the Hangouts pane, the icon is easy to miss if you don’t know how to look for it.
Accessing your contacts in Gmail is another source of ambiguity–you need to press a drop-down list just above the “Gmail” Compose icon and pick Contacts. Like the Hangouts table, Gmail lacks any markers to clarify this feature (beyond the Help menu).
Outlook.com has a streamlined gui that varies in several important ways from Yahoo Mail and Gmail. The Compose key (labeled “Fresh” with a plus symbol) is placed above the board of the email list and not above the files, so writing a document allows the folders on the left to completely disappear.
Also frustrating is the idea that explicitly in Outlook.com you can’t change your addresses. Then, in the upper left corner of the screen, you need to click on the arrow next to the “Outlook.com” icon and then pick “Users” from the drop-down menu. In a separate tab, the contact list opens.
Similar to the others, the AOL Mail software looks cluttered. Buttons marked Contact, IM, Text and Review are placed above the contact directory window. This first key is marked quite confusingly as it actually works as the button for writing. The other buttons enable you to send an instant message or text message to the bottom right of the screen via a pop-up display, or refresh your inbox. Below the email directory pane is another set of buttons; these activate different panels for AOL Instant Messenger, Fast Contacts, Events and To Do’s.
Winner: Yahoo Mail (20 points)
The smooth, elegant design of Yahoo Mail allows it a frustration-free process to write messages, update addresses, and display the calendar.
Outlook.com runner-up (18 points)
2: Organization (15 points)
Gmail provides a comprehensive set of tools to manage your inbox. To begin with, you can use tags to categorize your emails that are functionally identical to directories (with a few key differences). Existing labels are Starred, Essential, Sent Mail and Drafts, although you can build as many new labels as you want.
Like directories, several tags can be added to a single email, which is helpful if you have different groups like Shopping or Shipping Reports. Labels can be clustered or color coded as well. Gmail shows the tags in the panel of the email list, helping you to see if there are any emails open in that class.
Gmail also helps you to decompress your mailbox by archiving mail without deleting emails directly. Archived emails are gone from the board of the email list, but stay in your database. Use the search bar at the top of the screen, tap on its tag on the left side of the screen (if a mark has been applied), and press on the All Mail icon to locate stored addresses.
Now, an innovative new function added by a recent update of Gmail, the tabbed inbox. With this allowed, Gmail automatically filters the mail in the top of the email list pane into subject-based groups grouped in tabs. Main, Personal, Promotions, News and Boards are the standard classes, although you can build your own categories.
When you received a new email in a given category, the recipient will be shown in the section above the email list window. The software is remarkably accurate at mail processing and has been immensely helpful in keeping our often unkempt mailbox in tidy shape.
Using a hybrid approach, Outlook.com offers all tags (referred to as Outlook categories) and address directories. The selection of standard tags is quite comprehensive –classes involve, but are not limited to, media news, reports and images–and you can also create new categories. Outlook often offers the ability to store emails; pressing the Store key transfers the collected messages from your mailbox to the Archive directory. Yahoo Mail and AOL Mail provide fairly rudimentary management resources relative to Gmail or Outlook. All apps require you to organize emails into folders like Drafts, Received Email, Spam or Trash instead of using tags. You can also build your own files, or use a flag or star to label the messages. Nonetheless, the downside to directories relative to tags is that transferring a letter to a directory excludes it from the mailbox; messages can be sorted within the inbox itself with labels.
All four platforms allow you to arrange messages by time, recipient, status read / unread and other parameters. Each system also offers a varying degree of difficulty email filter. The browser of Outlook is quite simple, as it only helps you to search via recipient.
Yahoo Mail provides a much more flexible filter that will automatically transfer emails according to the text of the author, receiver, object or email body to a directory of your choice. AOL Mail improves the filter of Yahoo with the option of submitting a warning to your cell phone or AOL Instant Messenger profile.
Gmail offers the most comprehensive filter that helps you to organize emails by recipient, receiver, topic, body text, file length, and if an attachment occurs. The filter can be configured to erase the text, forward it, archive it, mark it as read and star it as well as adding the tag of your choice. You can also configure the filter to never send some messages to spam, or label certain messages as relevant at all times.
Winner: Gmail (15 points).
Organizational resources from Gmail, including tags, inbox tabs and a powerful browser, blast out of the water the rivalry. When you take full advantage of the capabilities of the system, you will never lose track of an address.
Runner-up: Outlook.com (13 points)
3: Advertisements (15 points)
Gmail contains two tiny yet unobtrusive ads right above and below the email list window, based on how you set up the inbox. The advertisements were text-only, making up a single space column. However, if you’re using the latest tabbed inbox from Gmail, which splits your messages into groups like Main, Personal and Promotions, you’re not going to see any advertising at all.
Yahoo Mail has all four email providers ‘ most disruptive commercials. On the right side of the screen there is a large banner ad, as well as a smaller promoted ad below the directories on the bottom. Perhaps annoyingly, at the edge of the email list window there is a paid commercial that appears alarming like an unread message. Yahoo delivers an ad-free experience for $49.99 per year if you want to remove advertisements absolutely.
Outlook.com and AOL Mail have a vertical banner ad on the top, but they’re much less popular than Yahoo Mail’s banner ad. No product shows advertisements above or below the folders in the email list window. Microsoft, like Yahoo, provides an ad-free experience with Outlook.com for $19.95 per year.
Gmail, Yahoo Mail and AOL Mail offer interest-based ads— effectively, services search the emails for keywords and then use that information to display specific advertisements. Should you consider it overly distracting, you can opt out of interest-based advertising from all three providers. Any direct marketing is used by Outlook.com.
Winner: Gmail (13 points).
Text-only advertisements from Gmail are the least distracting of any product, unless you choose to opt for the ad-free experience with Outlook. For Gmail, you’re not going to have to deal for masquerading banner ads and ads as messages in your inbox.
Runner-up: Outlook.com (12 points)
4: Storage (10 points)
Gmail offers free storage of 15 GB, which seems like more than enough room to save all your emails without deleting messages. However, the storage is shared with Google Drive and Google Plus, which ensures that if you save large files to Google Drive and upload lots of pictures and videos to the social network of Google, you can easily run out of space in your inbox. Google sells monthly space packages that range from $100 GB for $2 a month to as much as $300 a month for 30 TB if you need extra capacity.
In contrast, Yahoo Mail provides a colossal 1 TB of free storage. You’ll have to charge $10 a month to get the same storage capacity in Search. Like Gmail, with increased bandwidth, Yahoo Mail does not provide monthly storage packages–but we believe that you would need the extra space.
Microsoft maintains that the storage capacity for Outlook is growing as you need it, offering unlimited data efficiently. By fact, though, when you pay for ad-free Outlook.com, Outlook.com offers up to 5 GB of free storage, or 10 GB. In reality, the initial allowance is below 5 GB and expands as your inbox fills up before you hit the 5 GB mark.
Microsoft allows people to store large attachments in OneDrive; for $2 a month or $4 a month, you can purchase 100 GB or 200 GB of extra storage.
Although AOL Mail still says it has unlimited free memory, limitations actually exist. The inbox will contain 1,000 new messages, 4,000 old messages, or 4,000 messages sent by title of the computer. It ensures that with a folder size limit of 25 MB for attachments, AOL Mail has around 25 GB of storage for new messages, 100 GB for old messages and 100 GB for received messages. You may ask for additional room, but how much extra AOL Mail capacity allots per demand is uncertain.
Winner: Yahoo Mail (10 points).
Yahoo Mail easily surpasses the rivalry in the space race with 1 TB of free storage. Much better, the company is not swapping its enormous storage capacity with other cloud storage services, which ensures you can stick to the essence of your core with old emails.
Runner-up: AOL Mail (9 points).
5: Special Features (15 points)
Gmail offers a range of innovative features. The action buttons in the inbox help you to monitor deliveries, display online orders and RSVP to activities without any emails being opened. The keys appear on the right side of the email list window next to important emails–such as a mailing request from Amazon.com. For example, clicking on an RSVP activates a drop-down list that enables you to attach the meeting to your calendar; a track-package button opens a new tab on Amazon.com.
You can also display attachments directly in the inbox via Gmail. To access the file in Google Docs, save it to Google Drive, print the report, and transfer it to your desktop, clicking on a Word document, for instance, unlocks a read-only window with buttons at the bottom. Hovering over the attachment (without clicking on it) triggers the introduction of two buttons that allow you to access or save the attachment to Google Drive.
Similarly, without leaving your inbox, you could view YouTube videos sent as a link in an email. At the bottom of the text, Gmail shows a preview picture from the film; clicking on the photo activates the clip in a pop-up.
Gmail’s compose window is another unique feature. Gmail opens a pop-up window at the bottom right corner of the screen when reacting to emails and writing a new email. It helps you to search your mailbox when typing a message at the same time, which is a great help and time-saving tool if you need to review previously received messages or preparing your own letter. The composition window in Gmail often enables you to write two emails at once–a function that no other email service has.
Eventually, Gmail shows the members in an email conversation on the right side of the screen, along with recent pictures that they exchanged with you. Buttons are placed below their profile picture for talk, video chat or phone, enabling you to start a new discussion directly from the current email panel with these members.
Unlike Gmail, in the mailbox itself, Yahoo Mail helps you to access attachments. Through tapping on photos or files, they are accessed in a browser. The choice to upload the attachment to either Dropbox or your device is given by a button at the top of the window.
In addition to standard contact information, such as email addresses and phone numbers, Yahoo now provides upgraded connections that show latest emails, shared photos and attachments from your friends. It makes it easy to find the attachments you have got, even if you can not recall which address the attachment contains.
Outlook.com has more extensive compatibility than its rivals for Microsoft Office services. By getting Office downloaded on your device, you can access and modify Word, Excel and PowerPoint files directly from the inbox. The document’s web version preserves all of the original formatting, but not advanced functionality or feedback.
Outlook also provides Sweep with a unique feature. You could press on the Sweep button at the top of the site to access a drop-down list when you have read a message and picked it in your inbox. From here, you can pick acts such as removing all communications from this source, deleting all messages and excluding all possible contacts, holding the new emails at all times and deleting the others, and always deleting emails across 10 days. It is a powerful tool that can eliminate unnecessary emails including promotional offers or changes to the website.
Outlook.com, like Gmail, helps you to stream videos from YouTube right from your inbox. At the bottom of the post, clicking on the sample picture launches the clip in a popup browser.
AOL Mail has a relatively small number of special features. Today is on AOL, a site that appears as you sign in to the network for the first time, showing the current news and local weather. For AOL Instant Messenger, AOL Mail also boasts seamless integration.
Winner: Gmail (15 points).
Gmail’s sheet number of resources and techniques separates it from the others.
Runner-up: Outlook.com (13 points)
6: Mobile Apps (15 points)
The Gmail software, available for Android and iOS, offers Google’s webmail system on your mobile device with almost the full functionality. Like the desktop site, the inbox of the device is split into sections (primary, personal, offers and other groups of your choice), and you can filter your messages by name. A search icon in the top right corner of the screen enables emails to be easily found.
The app provides a push notification if you receive an email; the warning shows the first line of text from the email source as well as the total number of unread messages in addition to the recipient and subject line. In addition, whether you are using an Android mobile or tablet, you can uninstall or respond to messages directly from the screen drawer.
You can also schedule an auto-response holiday with customizable start and end dates with the Gmail app. You may configure the vacation respondent to answer to all posts, or just to people’s emails in your contact list.
The Android or iOS Yahoo Mail app looks very much like the Gmail version. Folders are open from the left by swiping in, or you can use the search bar right above the inbox to check for messages. You can also alter the ambient color, which is absent from Gmail. If you have a new email, push notifications will let you know. Like Gmail, however, from the Android alerts drawer, you cannot uninstall or respond to the email. Most annoyingly, at the bottom of the inbox, Yahoo Mail shows sponsored ads.
On Android devices, but not on iOS, the Oulook.com app is available. It has the same minimalist aesthetic as the webmail system from Outlook.com. The buttons for saving, typing and scanning are at the bottom of the screen. You can toggle between files from the left, change profiles, and modify the settings. Push notifications display the recipient, the topic and the first line of text, but from the updates drawer you can’t delete or respond to the message.
The features of the Outlook.com software are much wider than those in the Yahoo Mail and Gmail applications. You may build an auto-response holiday (although not start and end times as in Gmail), schedule a quiet time when synchronization should not happen (e.g. at night or when the computer has low power), or lock the request with a safe pincode. In addition, the Outlook.com software helps you to change nitty-gritty settings such as document length cap (0KB to 100KB), email read type (HTML and plain text) or the directory in which attachments are downloaded.
AOL Mail has no Android or iOS device enabled. Mobile users will need to update their AOL Mail account to synchronize current mail applications such as Mail for iOS.
Winner: Gmail (14 points).
Although the Outlook.com app provides more personalized settings than either Gmail or Yahoo, powerful push alerts from Gmail – particularly the ability to remove or react to emails right from the Android alert drawer – render it the beat of the mobile mail app.
Runners-up: Yahoo Mail and Outlook.com (12 points).
7. Security and Encryption (10 points)
Both email services, with the exception of AOL Mail, provide as an additional security measure beyond a password, two-step confirmation. With this function allowed, you will need to enter a code that you will obtain by text message or voice call after you submit your password. Once you have signed in, you can configure the two-step verification to not request for a password on that device again; nevertheless, if somebody tries to sign in from another Computer, they will still be asked for the authentication key.
In addition to two-step authentication, Gmail helps you to monitor user access (for instance, when you sign in to websites using your Google account) or view security-related events (adding a phone number, modifying your username or switching on two-step verification). Gmail will also submit mobile notifications if you have modified your username and found suspicious activity, such as attempted access from a foreign IP address.
A number of security tools are accessible from Yahoo Mail. Yahoo Mail provides a sign-in seal for phishing security (either a short text message or an image from your computer) that only exists if you are on a legitimate Yahoo-affiliated page like Yahoo Mail. You can also adjust the rate with which you are automatically signed by Yahoo Mail (either every day or every four weeks), show your latest sign-in activities or monitor your account permissions.
Outlook.com also has a two-step verification program that you can use when you lose access to your security information (your phone number and an alternate email address). This recovery software is created once and is never again available inside Outlook.com itself for security reasons. (Microsoft advises that you print it out and safely store it.) You can also monitor the trustworthy computers and passwords for your software.
The security features for AOL Mail tend to be minimal relative to the protection levels provided by Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook.com. Apart from a code, only a security query is given by AOL Mail. The system does not provide double-stage authentication, defense against phishing, or warning of suspicious activity.
Safe Socket Layer (SSL) authentication is enabled by default for all four services. Gmail also provides Transport Layer Security (TLS), which is closely linked to— but more sophisticated than— SSL.
Winner: Gmail (10 points).
Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Outlook.com also provide two-step verification as well as a range of other security measures such as password management, account management and suspicious activity warnings. Nevertheless, just Gmail provides authentication of both SSL and TLS. AOL Mail should be stopped for security-conscious consumers.
Runners-Up: Yahoo Mail and Outlook.com (9 points)
Overall Winner: Gmail
While in terms of features and accessibility, Yahoo Mail has steadily closed the gap between itself and Gmail, Gmail remains the best free email service available. The tags, tabbed inbox and powerful search make it easy to manage the emails, and its special features–including the separate window and intervention inbox buttons–demonstrate Google’s continuing progress in out-innovating the market. In fact, the mobile app tends to set the industry standard.
With its smooth and elegant design and massive storage space, Yahoo Mail inspired us, but we would like the advertising to be less distracting. (It is especially unforgivable when ads appear in the inbox itself.) Outlook.com is also very appealing, notably its smooth compatibility with Microsoft Office and OneDrive, but it lags behind Gmail in terms of features and usefulness in almost every category. In this series, AOL Mail came dead last, not winning a single point.