Once you’ve got set up with one of the best free email services, you’re ready to do almost anything. From banking to shopping, posting on an online forum or accessing social media, everything you do on the internet requires an account tied to an email address.
And unless you want one that’s linked to a domain you own, there’s no reason you should ever pay for email accounts. The best free email services offer everything you could possibly need - in the case of Google’s offering, Gmail, it’s an entry point into a whole ecosystem of free web apps that includes a complete office suite and cloud storage. There are associated chat apps, video conferencing, calendar management, contact databases and more besides.
You don't have to go with Google, of course. Offerings from Microsoft, Yahoo, and Apple all offer their own spin on the formula, so you can decide for yourself which one works best for you. Many of these services come with their own dedicated mobile apps, or can be accessed using a generic mail app. They offer advanced security features such as two-factor authentication, and most have built-in spam blocking services to keep the junk out of your inbox. You can split your emails up into folders, set up rules about what happens to incoming mail from various sources, and set out of office messages for when you go on vacation.
1. Gmail: Best Free Email Service overall
The joy of Gmail is in the way it’s embedded into the rest of Google’s vast ecosystem of services. If you’re using a YouTube account, Google Docs, or Google Drive, you can hop straight in and start sending and receiving mail. Of course, if you don’t use those services, then that might not mean anything to you.
With the ability to import social media contacts and built-in translation features, it’s an ideal way to keep in touch with friends and long-distance contacts alike, as well as excellent instant-messaging options via Google Hangouts (with a video chat option, too).
There’s also no inbox adverts, great virus scanning, and a 25MB attachment limit. The only real issue is how Google uses your data – when you get rid of spam emails, search your inbox, or even just open your emails, your data is sent anonymously to Google which they use for targeted ads. Something to consider, for sure.
- Read our full Gmail review
2. Outlook: Best for Windows and Office users
Microsoft’s web-based version of Outlook is excellent, offering an easy to navigate inbox, great folder support, and integration with the likes of Trello, Dropbox and more.
The calendar is one of the best around, and OneDrive is a great cloud storage solution. There’s also integration with Skype and Microsoft Teams for messaging and video chat, and if you’ve used a Hotmail, Xbox, or MSN Messenger account in the past, you’ll find setup almost instant.
You can also have Outlook read an email out loud for you via the ‘Immersive Reading Mode’, which also makes it easier to, well, read.
There is one major blemish to Outlook, though. Inbox advertisements tend to clash with the rest of its sleek aesthetic, sticking out like a sore thumb. There’s a premium version on offer that removes these, but they’re distracting enough for users to consider looking elsewhere.
Outlook also offers one of the best mobile apps you can find, and it works with other email providers.
- Read our full Outlook review
3. Proton: Best for anonymity
Proton’s email service is a little different to many providers. It’s barebones for the most part, with a very small (500MB) inbox limit – that’s only around 1200 messages. That said, they’re all encrypted. In fact, your sent emails are encrypted too, and will only be decrypted once they reach the recipient.
That encryption is a double-edged sword – while it means your ProtonMail account is protected by a secure password recovery process (preventing others from accessing your account), if you reset your password your entire account will be cleared. That means your inbox, outgoing mail, and even anything you were saving for later will be gone.
As a result of this, it’s ideal as a backup account to one of the larger, more fully-featured (but arguably less secure) email providers on this list for when you need to send secure mail.
- Read our full ProtonMail review
4. Yahoo Mail: Great for spam filter options
In case you thought that bullet point about storage was a typo, we can confirm that Yahoo Mail does in fact offer a whopping 1 TB of storage – that could be more than your home computer. The company reckons that’s enough for 6,000 years of emails.
There’s also a great folder system that allows you to find a pot for every email to go in, and one of the best spam filters we tested.
Unfortunately, as with Outlook there are adverts that take up a chunk of your inbox screen, while a few even crop up as ‘emails’ themselves. Those that like to book appointments will also struggle, since the calendar seems full of error codes and glitches.
That’s a shame, because for the most part, it’s a great looking email client with eye-catching themes and integration with Google Drive and Dropbox that allows for 2GB file sending. The spam filter is excellent too, and in our tests it caught and correctly identified all emails from sources of known misinformation as spam.
- Read our full Yahoo Mail review
5. iCloud: Best for Apple users
If you use an iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer, you’ll likely have some experience with some version of Apple’s Mail app. As far as the underlying email system goes, Apple’s is fairly robust.
The company is serious about privacy, while the app itself can handle plenty of other email accounts (if you can deal with a slightly obtuse setup process). If you are using one of Apple’s own accounts, you can opt for an @icloud or @me address, and send up to 5GB attachments using Mail Drop.
Outside of the app, using iCloud Mail on the web can be finicky, and we’d argue that even the stock iOS and MacOS apps look dated compared to their contemporaries.
Finally, if you use Apple’s suite of Microsoft Office-alikes, like Pages, Keynote, or Numbers, you’ll find all are integrated into the same account – ideal for collaborating on pieces of work, but of no real benefit if you’re already using Office365 (in which case, Outlook is the one for you).
- Read our full iCloud review
Do you need a VPN to protect your email?
Your email account contains a lot of personal information, from details about your work to where you live, who your friends and family are, where you shop and more. If it's hacked, it can quickly lead to serious problems like identity theft, which could have huge financial implications.
The easiest and most secure way to keep your email safe is with a virtual private network service (VPN). These encrypt your emails and help you stay anonymous online – and they're becoming increasingly popular. They’re a particularly good idea if you’re using public Wi-Fi to send emails (at a hotel or cafe, for example) where anybody could read what you're writing if it isn't encrypted.
We think the best VPN service is ExpressVPN. It's fast, offers superb security, and it's very easy to use. But if you're not sure which one is right for you, take a look at our best VPN service guide, where you'll find plenty of advice.
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How We Tested
To test free email services, we performed common tasks with each service and took note of the ease or difficulty. For example, we noted how many steps it took to set up a new account, the amount of personal information required and whether we needed to provide a cellphone number to verify and officially activate the account.
We followed a similar process to test the tools for attaching files and images to outgoing emails. We recorded the number of steps it took to attach a file, whether we could attach multiple files at once, and how long the program took to upload attachments to our message.
Since each of the free email services we tested has a mobile app, we tested how easy it was to set up and access email accounts this way, too. Again, we tracked the steps and made note of any challenges in attaching images and files to messages via the app. We also determined whether any functions from the desktop version were missing in the app.
Can I Have 2 Gmail Accounts?
Yes you can! Many people have multiple Gmail accounts, each with its own email address. Each free Gmail account comes with 15GB of inbox storage space, enough to hold around 300,000 messages before you have to start deleting some to make room for incoming email. You can always choose to convert to a paid email account and get unlimited storage.
Gmail lets you log into multiple email accounts at once and simply toggle between them without having to log out and re-enter your credentials each time. We found this to be a very helpful perk especially if you have a personal Gmail account and another dedicated to your work or home business. This multi-account feature works on mobile, too, so you’re always connected and can quickly access important email while on the go. It’s hard to attach files to outgoing messages using the Gmail app, though, since it only allows you to upload one file at a time.
How Much Can I Expect to Pay for a Premium Email Account?
Email services typically charge between $2 and $10 per month for their paid services, depending on how much mail you need to send and receive. The biggest differences between free and paid email services is the size of the files you’re allowed to attach to outgoing mail, how many emails you can send per day, how much backup and inbox space you’re given, and the level of customer support you can access. Most free email services give you enough inbox and online backup space combined to hold hundreds of thousands of emails, but they typically limit the number of email messages you can send in a day to about 100. This is plenty for most people using an email account for personal use. But if you have a home business or know a lot of people you need to email every day, then it may be worth purchasing an email account with unlimited outbound messaging.
What to Look For When Choosing a Free Email Service
Inbox and Folders
Nearly all free email services have inbox ads, so there’s that most services include. Since they’re all but unavoidable, look for services that make them less obtrusive. Some place ads to the side, so they don’t create too much distraction. However, some services place ads all around the inbox, making it difficult to navigate the program. Some free email services even allow pop-up ads that cover your inbox and require you to click out of them to access your messages.
Pay attention to the amount of inbox storage available, because once you reach the cap, you’ll have to start deleting messages in order to receive more. Many free email services offer a terabyte or even unlimited storage, which is helpful if you tend to receive messages with large attachments, like image and video files. However, even a few gigabytes of storage gives you enough space to hold between 100,000 and 300,000 messages.
Free email services do cap the number of email messages you can send out per day. This is to cut down on spam messages sent with their services. The cap is generally around 100 messages per day, which is sufficient for keeping in touch with family or other personal email uses. But if you need an email service for business purposes, it may be better to purchase an email service that permits unlimited messages each day.
It’s easy to write and send email messages with any service once you figure out where the New Message and Send buttons are. It’s more important to examine the attachment features, including the maximum file size you can send and whether you can preview files once they are attached.
During testing, we looked at the maximum size allowed for attached files. Most of the accounts we tested can handle between 20MB and 25MB, which is about six professional images or 10 snapshots taken with a point-and-shoot camera. It was also important for us to see a thumbnail of the file once we uploaded it, so that we could confirm we had attached the correct one.
Securing Your Email
According to Mitch Stephens, a security consultant for Emagined Security, email attacks are the most common internet threat. “An attacker can send a link that looks similar to another link you are familiar with,” Stephens told us, and when you open it, you’ll see a site that looks legitimate and asks for your login information. Once you enter it, the attacker then has your credentials to log into the real site and gather even more personal information. These are known as phishing schemes, or phishing attacks.
“The best way to protect yourself from phishing attacks is by only opening email from trusted or known sources,” said Stephens.
You can also install internet security programs to your computer that include antiphishing tools to help block these schemes from getting into your inbox to begin with. We’ve tested many internet security programs and recommend Bitdefender Internet Security and McAfee LiveSafe, which both come with antiphishing tools.
Email Safety Practices: How to Spot a Scam Email
If you have a landline, cell phone, or email, you’ve undoubtedly received shady phone calls or messages. Scammers use shock and fear tactics to try to get you to quickly send money or give up personal information. In one of the most common scams, someone contacts you pretending to be from the IRS. In response, the IRS has released an article identifying the five tell-tale signs of an IRS scam. You should never give your personal information over the phone or through email.
If you receive an email or call from someone claiming your computer is out of date, be very wary. If they further ask you for your personal information, Wi-Fi information or IP address, you’ll know for certain it’s a scam. They’re simply trying to steal your identity or hack your computer. If you’re uncertain, contact the actual company they claim to represent to see if there is anything wrong with your accounts.
Further Ways to Spot a Scam Email:
- If they try to pressure you into giving personal or credit card info, it’s a scam.
- Look at the sender’s email address. If the name is a near misspelling of an established company, it’s a scam. (i.e. “Chase Bnk” instead of “Chase Bank”)
- If there are a lot of grammatical errors and fractured sentences, the email most likely wasn’t sent from an official company.
- Prize winner emails are always scams unless you specifically remember signing up for something. Even then, it could still be a scam.
- If they sidestep your questions and pummel you with threats and fears, it’s a scam.
To better protect yourself, consider purchasing eScan, an anti-virus software that recognizes spam messages that are specifically tailored to you.
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