Editor's Note: This review has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it no longer ranks as a top 10 product. The original review is below, but check out our current top 10 about internet service providers here.
AOL has experienced numerous evolutions since its inception in the mid-80s as a dial-up service for the Commodore 64. It emerged with the familiar name America Online in 1989 and at that time was truly a revolutionary product that made it easy for everyone to get online and communicate with others. Since then AOL has evolved into more of what could be called a content distribution company that also offers free email accounts. AOL does still provide dial-up services, but does not provide high-speed internet autonomously and is not really an internet provider.
AOL can provide dial-up access numbers in many areas but cannot match the speed of cable or fiber optic connections. In fact, the service plans are meant to bundle with your existing high-speed internet connection. AOL’s dial-up services are supposed to act as an alternative if your high-speed connection were to fail. For a monthly fee, you receive benefits such as internet security, tech support, online backup services, cellphone discounts, legal advice and a predetermined amount of hours of dial-up service should you need it. You also gain access to AOL media tools.
If you subscribe to one of AOL's service plans, you can benefit from McAfee security. The most inexpensive plan comes with basic McAfee security, and the high-speed packages have premium McAfee security. The premium security offering is a special edition of McAfee Internet Security Suite, which includes antivirus, antispyware, network protection tools and parental controls. AOL also offers hardware and identity theft insurance.
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In terms of dial-up, we found few access numbers with our test addresses. Even the urban areas only include a handful of access numbers, and the rural test addresses only came up with a few access numbers – or none at all. This means that you may have a harder time connecting to the internet when you need to. For example, we only found six access numbers for Miami, which is a low number for such a highly populated area. AOL provides an easy-to-use free internet email account that allows you to hold seven separate email addresses with 2GB of storage each. If you don't order an internet service plan, you can still create an AOL account with limited functionality. The AOL homepage includes links to news articles, local weather, market quotes, business news and AOL brands such as LifeStore and Noise Creep.
Currently, AOL is focusing its attention on trying to capture an audience with what it's calling "world-class tools and platforms" and niche content sites. Since the company is focusing more on advertising and the subscription services than internet services, AOL has dropped from the upper portion of our comparison. AOL is still a viable company, but providing internet services is no longer its main business.