PROS / Gmail offers integrated video chat.
CONS / It has inbox ads.
VERDICT / Gmail is the most secure and user-friendly email service in our lineup, and it includes many extras to make your email experience superb.
One of the earliest ways that Google attempted to take over the internet was by releasing Gmail to the public in 2007. Since then, Gmail has become the new standard as the best free email program. This service provides a free email account that is always upgrading to stay ahead of its competition. It includes spam filtering, free cloud storage, POP3 and IMAP support. Gmail's incredible service combines video chat, social media and account protection. These characteristics make Gmail the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner for free email services.
Google has seen the issues that bog down the experience of using email. You may have had an email account before where you delete a dozen spam emails for every email you actually care to read. In response to this, Gmail's inbox separates your emails into five distinct categories: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. Gmail also learns which of your contacts you communicate with regularly and marks their emails as important over others, helping you sift through emails quickly.
The Primary category is meant for email from those people you consider priorities. The Social tab provides social media notifications and, if you have a YouTube channel, incoming comments. The Promotions tab is where you receive email marketing and advertisements. This is different from a spam folder because it's meant for deals from sites and retailers that you personally signed up for. You can also add tabs for Updates, which is primarily meant for billing and receipt notifications, and Forums, which keeps you in the loop for online discussions you were a part of.
Gmail is at the head of the class when it comes to features and services. One of the best, unique features of Gmail is the integrated video chat application called Hangouts. With Hangouts, you can chat with up to 10 people at once, share videos while chatting, and use fun video overlays such as pirate hats, halos and crowns.
You can also use Hangouts just as a chat application for anyone with a Gmail account. This can be helpful when you quickly need to ask a friend, family member or co-worker something that doesn't warrant an email. You can set up the Hangouts chat feature on your mobile device. The Hangouts video chat is available with anyone in your contact list, as long as it is set up on their computer and they have a webcam. Other great social applications are available on Google Plus – Gmail's social network where you can share articles, pictures, videos and more with anyone who follows you or is in your Circles.
You can also make phone calls and send instant messages right from your inbox. Gmail is one of the few free email accounts that does not require an additional download to use its instant messenger. You can use Gmail on any internet-enabled mobile device or computer. An app is available for iOS and Android phones so you can navigate your Gmail account easily while you are on the go. You can download an app for your computer. This app lets you know when a new message has arrived, which is useful if you need to be away from your computer for a while. You can also enable desktop notifications so you don't have to keep a browser with your email account open up at all times.
Thanks to Gmail's expansion of themes, you can customize your inbox homepage with your favorite picture or choose from many high-definition themes. You can customize folders, backgrounds, colors, labels and more to suit your individual tastes and needs. Unfortunately, Gmail no longer supports Google Reader, so if you enjoy having an RSS feed, you'll need to use a different or additional service.
Google also lets you create alias email addresses that link directly to your personal address. You can have a Gmail account you give out to people that automatically forwards all incoming emails to a different, personal address that you don't want to give out. Your personal email address does not appear when you send emails from your alias address.
Gmail does have inbox ads. The ads appear on the right-hand sidebar of your inbox and are often based on your search activity. Some other free email services never litter your inbox with ads.
Gmail gives you up to 15GB of inbox storage. While that's not the highest amount of storage in our rankings, you also have access to cloud storage using Google Drive. Google Docs is still present, but it has merged with Google Drive. When you upload a text-based document or spreadsheet to Google Drive, you can access and edit it in Google Docs. This feature is great for group projects at school or work, as all members of the team can access the same material via a shared file on the drive.
This service provides some of the best email organization on the internet. One of its crowning features is the conversation interface. Instead of showing a list of back-and-forth emails between you and a friend or co-worker, it filters all replies and sent messages into one line in your inbox with the number of messages in that conversation. If you or your contact has a picture uploaded as a headshot, it displays in the conversation, letting you easily identify who is saying what.
Additionally, you can create custom filters and sort all your messages by sender, recipient, subject, words they contain or words they don't. You can place messages into folders, give them color-coded labels, and star, delete or forward them.
Gmail's security includes spam, virus and phishing protection. All spam you receive is filtered into a folder that allows you to separate the good from the bad, and you can mark any message you receive as spam or not. All incoming and outgoing messages are scanned for known viruses, and suspicious messages that look like phishing scams are flagged with a big red banner across the top of the message. You can report both spam and phishing attempts to Google to prevent future messages.
It also restricts downloads from automatically starting, just in case you open an infected email, and blocks images until you allow them to be seen. Although Gmail's spam protection is top-notch, you cannot adjust the strength of the spam filters to low, medium or exclusive. This would allow you to decide whether you want the filters to distinguish between emails that are more and less likely to be spam.
Gmail uses HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) to keep your online accounts safe from prying eyes with authenticated and encrypted communication. HTTPS is the same technology banks and credit card companies use to keep their transactions secure. By using HTTPS, Gmail ensures your mail is safe and secure as it transfers between its servers and your browser.
Help & Support
Google's mail service offers multiple support options, including user forums and FAQs. In the unlikely event that you can't unearth an answer for your particular question, you can submit an email to the Gmail support team. We would like to see a way to contact a service representative by phone or live chat, but the forums and FAQs answer most questions.
Gmail is a strong leader in the web-based email arena and is the best free email service. It's a secure, easy-to-use program that places the world at your fingertips. Gmail is one of the few free email services we reviewed with exceptionally strong antiphishing protection and intuitive sorting and spam blocking. It also has the social benefits of Google Plus connectivity and the Google Drive feature.