Inbox & Folder Settings
Security Tools & Filters
Help & Support
Best Free Email Services
How to Choose a Free Email
We created 16 different free email accounts and tested each one, looking at how long it takes to upload attachments, send and receive lag time, pop-up ads and spam filters. We also evaluated the mobile apps and whether they were intuitive and simple to use. Using this information, we narrowed our list down to the best free email services, and Gmail is our top pick because it is the easiest to use.
Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Outlook are by far the most popular email providers, so they round out our top three in our rankings. They are also the best email services because of their security tools, composition features and easy usability. All three have convenient features beyond email, too, such as task calendars and online chat tools. Below are specifics about each of these three services, along with any hiccups we may have encountered during the testing process.
Gmail is the easiest email service to use with tasks and functions clearly marked and placed where you can quickly find them. It recognizes spam messages and automatically redirects them to the spam folder, and after 30 days, it will delete them permanently. It also has a separate Junk folder for email messages that are not clearly tagged as spam. One of Gmail’s most unique features is its message translator. It uses Google Translate (with dozens of languages to choose from) to translate messages into a language you can read, so you can keep in touch with people from all around the world. Our biggest complaint with Gmail is the time it takes to attach files. While other services attached a 640KB file in under five seconds, we waited three times longer for Gmail to upload the same file.
Yahoo Mail has one of the best spam filters compared to other free email address services, in part because these filters are automatically enabled so you don’t have to turn them on yourself. It’s especially good at sifting out spam, and if you move a message to the spam folder, Yahoo will send any future messages from that sender there, too. Plus, you can block senders completely so you won’t be able to see their messages at all. This is a feature most email providers don’t include with their free services. Be aware that the composition tools (font sizes, colors, indentions, trash can and the attachment link) are all located at the bottom of the new message screen rather than on top like most other email services we reviewed. We found the placement confusing at first, and it took some getting used to.
In addition to being relatively easy to use, Outlook has made our list for its large attachment limit. While most free email services limit the attachment size to 25MB, Outlook doubles it to 50MB. During our testing, this equated to about six professional image files. Outlook is also quick to upload files. However, Outlook makes it a little complicated to upload attachments because you have to choose whether to physically attach the file to the email or upload it to a cloud folder and send your recipient a link. This does save you valuable storage space and lets you send access to larger files, but the extra steps it adds are somewhat inconvenient when you need to quickly send a small document or image.
OTHER TOP EMAIL SERVICE PROVIDERS
While services that take the top spots on our ranking of the best free email accounts are great, the others we included in our lineup are also fine choices, depending on your specific needs. Here are some of the unique features we discovered during our testing.
AOL is well known for its fun message alert, “You’ve Got Mail,” that sounds when you first log in and have unopened email messages. One of the best features of AOL is that it’s fast at uploading attachments, regardless of how large or how many files. In our tests, AOL had all images and documents uploaded in under a second, even when we chose to upload multiple files at once. The program is user friendly and easy to figure out. AOL free email doesn’t have the same number of features as our top picks – it doesn’t have a message translator, nor does it let you directly import social media contacts – but it is secure and includes a couple convenience features, such as online chat and a task calendar.
GMX is one of the few free email services that give you unlimited inbox storage space. This means you don’t have to worry about deleting any messages, or having the service delete them, as you get close to having a full mailbox. Having this much space makes it easy to set up specific message folders so you can keep track of communications and conversations that are important. GMX does have some disadvantages, and the biggest is the that view window is cluttered with a lot of in-program ads. This makes it hard to find the tools you are looking for, and it is distracting.
Zoho is a great option if you have a small business, especially where you are the only employee, because the company also has tools to track projects, expenses and business contacts such as clients and vendors. They all interconnect with each other, making it easy for you to keep track of communications, tasks, appointments and accounts payable. The mail collection feature lets you view messages from all your email accounts in on place. When you reply to a message, the email address it was sent to automatically shows up as the sender rather than the Zoho address. Be aware, however, that Zoho requires a lot of personal information to verify and activate your email account.
iCloud is the free email service provided by Mac, and it is especially designed for Apple users. However, you can access the online email service from Windows computers, too. And it doesn’t have any inbox ads to clutter the interface. In our tests, iCloud was the most difficult free email account to set up since it required over double the information and steps compared the other services we reviewed. Its mobile app is also very basic compared to others, and only lets you upload one file or image attachment at a time.
ProtonMail is a newer email service provider that has been offering free email address services since 2013. It is a great source for sending sensitive documents because it encrypts every message that is sent and received. It doesn’t have a lot of the features that come standard with other free email accounts, such as IMAP support and mail collection. Our biggest concern with ProtonMail is its account recovery process. While you can reset your password if you forget it, ProtonMail will not let you access any emails that you received before the password change. A couple of good work arounds include using a password manager or using a different email service and investing in encryption software. Both Top Ten Reviews and our sister site, Tom’s Guide, have researched and evaluated these tools.
Choosing a Free Email Service: Who Made the Cut and Why
We looked at 16 different email services, but only half made our final cut after over 120 hours of directly testing them. Some services didn’t make our final recommendation list because they only allow you to send free email from their websites, but don’t give you your own email account to receive email or save messages. Some currently offer a free email account, but are in the process of phasing out this service. We didn’t want to recommend a free email service that won’t be around very long.
Some free email services didn’t make our final cut because of the vast amount of negative customer feedback, both in terms of the email functions themselves and poor customer support. The free email services we recommend here are dependable and have a good support system behind them.
How We Tested & What We Found
Inbox & Folder Settings
As part of our testing, we evaluated how easy it was to figure out tasks like composing a new message, changing the spam filter settings and creating custom folders. We noted the number of inbox ads and popup ads. Some free email services inundated the accounts with daily messages about the program, while others let us choose if and how often we received these types of emails. We counted each step of the account set-up process and made note when we were asked for personal information or a cell phone number to verify and activate the free email account. All of these, and any unique quirks we noticed about each program, factored into the overall ease of use score.
It’s important to note the storage size of the inbox – that is, how many emails can it hold – because once your inbox becomes full, you’ll have to delete messages before you can receive more. Both iCloud and Gmail have a lot less inbox storage available because they also offer free cloud storage where you can save messages, as well as files and image attachments, without using up the inbox storage. However, even the few gigabytes of storage these free email providers give you are enough to hold between 100,000 and 300,000 messages before you need to delete or move them.
Most services let you set up mail collectors to pool messages from multiple email accounts into in a single inbox. With some, you can also create aliases and filter them all into the primary inbox. Most services let you create a direct link to any social media accounts and import your contacts into the email address book; however, the process can be tricky since you have to save the social media contacts into a specialty file format then upload that file into your email contacts folder.
One question we had was how big of a file we could attach to each message. To test this, we attempted to upload several large images at once using the multiple attachment feature on each free email account. Most of the programs we tested allowed us to attached up to 25MB of files. The one exception was Outlook, which let us attach files twice the average size.
If you tend to send or receive a lot of attachments, you’ll want to choose a service that shows your attachments as thumbnail images before you open them. This feature makes it convenient to see if the file you attached is the correct one, and if you can view attachments without downloading them, it helps you save space on your device and may help you avoid dangerous attachments.
Security Tools & Filters
While free email services don’t typically have as many security features as paid services, the eight services we chose to recommend here all have a secured sign in so your account can’t be accessed without a password. They also all have some level of virus scanning to ensure incoming messages, or files attached to them, don’t have a virus or other internet threats hidden in them.
Our testing included looking closely at the spam filters, which are included in all the programs on our list. However, only a handful automatically tag messages as spam and redirect them to the spam or junk folder. Most programs required you to set up this feature manually. Most free email accounts let you add specific contact information into the spam filter. To test the efficacy, we tagged a few email addresses as spam, then sent messages from that blocked account. We made sure any senders we tagged were correctly redirected to a junk folder and didn’t show up in the primary inbox.
Also look for suspicious activity alerts. This function lets you know if someone has attempted to log into your account, or if someone accesses your email account from a device other than your mobile phone or home computer. When we accessed accounts from an unknown computer, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and AOL Mail all sent a quick email letting us know that our account was accessed from a new device, along with steps to take to secure our account if necessary.
Our Final Thoughts
Free email services are a great way to supplement your email account from your employer or to simply send and receive personal emails. Because email accounts are so heavy intertwined with your online activity, we looked at important features that make online communication easier. These include any daily email limits, the maximum inbox storage amount and how quickly you can attach and send an image or document. Security features are also important, since email can be a gateway for viruses, worms, hackers and phishing schemes to sneak through to your computer. After evaluating 16 services, we recommend the eight listed here.