The best free email providers: a comparison

Three hundred billion emails are sent around the world every day – a truly remarkable amount of electronic post. Even in the current era of instant messaging, social media and video calls, it is hard to imagine email not being the go-to mode of communication for everyday business. Given the continuing success of email, it is no real surprise that there are countless numbers of free email providers out there. Sending and receiving emails should not have to cost anything, which is why free email providers are particularly popular among private users.

Our overview gives you tips on where to get the most storage space, the highest security standards, as well as explaining what other features are offered by these six free mail providers.

All information is current as of May 2021.

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Comparison overview: the best free mail providers

Provider

Mail.com

Gmail

Yahoo Mail

Outlook.com

GMX

AOL Mail

ZOHO

ProtonMail

Inbox size

65 GB

15 GB incl. Cloud

1 TB

1 GB

65 GB

250 GB

5 GB
(all Cloud)

500MB

Cloud storage

2 GB

15 GB incl. Inbox

Only via external service

Further 5 GB

2 GB

?

See above

-

Max. size of attachments

30 MB/100 MB

25 MB

25 MB

34 MB

50 MB

25 MB

25 MB

25 MB

POP3

IMAP

Server location

USA

Worldwide

Worldwide

Worldwide

Germany

USA

Worldwide/
Europe

Switzerland

Apps

Android

iOS

Android

iOS

Android

iOS

Android

iOS

Android

iOS

Android

iOS

Android

iOS

Android

iOS

Mail.com

The big advantage of Mail.com is the many domains you can choose from. Instead of only using the brand name as the second part of the email address, as is the case with most free mail providers, Mail.com lets you choose from over 200 different domains. For example, in addition to ‘example@mail.com’, you can also choose ‘example@myself.com’ or ‘example@planetmail.com’. In addition to these rather generic examples, there are also some domains that refer to specific industries. Thus, free mail addresses from Mail.com are sometimes even suitable for professional communication.

With Mail.com, you have up to 65 GB of free storage space in your mailbox. In addition, you can send attachments with a size of up to 30 MB. If needed, you can store larger files in the cloud and then just send a link via email. Here you have 2 GB of storage space included. What’s also interesting is that you can connect up to 10 email addresses under one account. Mail.com also offers the possibility to create a professional account - also for free. Here you have the same features, but the maximum size for file attachments is 100 MB.

Mail.com uses a variety of techniques to ensure the best security. On the one hand, your mailbox is protected against threats by an antivirus scan. On the other hand, an effective spam filter ensures a clean mailbox. To prevent unauthorised third parties from gaining access to your account, access is secured with two-factor authentication.

Advantages

Disadvantages

65 GB storage space

Slightly unclear user interface – also features advertisements

2 GB included cloud storage

 

over 200 available domains to choose from

 

Apps for Android and iOS

 

Gmail

When it was launched in 2004, Google’s email service shook up the whole industry: For the first time in history of free email, a provider offered users an inbox size of 1 GB. This marked the beginning of a head-to-head race between free email providers as to who could offer the most storage space; a race that continues today. In line with this, the launch of Gmail has also seen storage space become a decisive factor in this competition. The result of this is that more free email providers, along with larger inboxes, are also offering cloud services when it comes to file storage. This means that Google can now offer a total storage capacity of 15 GB across all the connected Google services, including Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos. The maximum size of email attachments has also increased in proportion to this growth, and now stands at 25 MB. Alternatively, the provider lets users send large files via Google Drive.

In terms of layout and ease of use, Gmail has an interface with a very similar orientation to other email providers like Outlook and Thunderbird. This has been the case since it first came about, despite it being browser-based. Back in 2004, this was quite revolutionary. It is now possible to individualise the interface by designing it with personal photos, for example. In addition to this, tabs can be adjusted as required. Even the size of different elements can be set up as preferred.

A further advantage of Gmail is its perfect integration into the Google universe: along with both Google Drive, Google Meet is also very handy. With this you can chat with friends within Gmail and have video conversations with up to ten people – and this across multiple devices as well. Furthermore, this free service is also available as an app for Android and iOS devices. Additionally, it is also possible to access your inbox via the POP3 as well as the IMAP protocol.

One of the main downsides of Gmail is data protection. Google is often criticised when it comes to data protection, due to the alleged blurring or even softening of their own guidelines. It currently scans the contents of emails received and sent via Gmail. Through this it can help them to deliver target advertising to Gmail users. Google claims that this scanning also helps to identify and sort spam mail.

But according to the company, a SSL/TLS encryption will protect emails better in the transfer between a browser and the Gmail servers. However, this does not mean that your emails will be encrypted end-to-end, just as the content of the mails will not be protected – only during its transit to the server. This is fairly normal for the free email providers listed in this comparison.

Advantages

Disadvantages

15 GB storage space

Data protection policies vague

Integration into the Google universe

Server locations unclear

Many possibilities re. settings and personalisation

 

Clear and well-organised user interface

 

Apps for Android and iOS

 

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Yahoo Mail

Just like Gmail, Yahoo Mail is another free email provider with huge amounts of storage space – a record-breaking 1,000 GB (i.e. 1 TB). This has meant that deleting emails is very much a thing of the past. The flip side, though, is that there is no cloud storage service offered. Connecting to external services like Dropbox or Google Drive is possible although a separate account is required. In 2017, the provider launched Yahoo Mail Pro, a paid alternative to the basic version, which features an ad-free interface and prioritised customer support.

In addition to this, Yahoo Mail offers many options when it comes to personalisation: layout, order, and the mail preview function can all be adjusted, as well as the design of the inbox. Alongside features like a messenger, and apps for both iOS and Android, there are also POP3 and IMAP protocols, as well as an ‘adaptable’ spam filter. According to Yahoo, this filter blocks more than 15 billion spam emails daily. On top of this, this free email option allows you to implement a so-called disposable’ email address. This is basically an anti-spam mail measure, which you can use to register with the likes of online stores, mailing lists, forums, etc. without having to disclose your actual email address. Once this email address is no longer required it can be easily deleted. This feature means that the number of undesirable emails received is substantially decreased.

In terms of data protection, Yahoo Mail has similar shortcomings to Gmail. For the transfer of mails between the browser and the Yahoo server, SSL/TLS encryption is used.

Advantages

Disadvantages

1 TB storage space for emails

Cloud storage is only available by linking to external services such as Dropbox or Google Drive

Easy implementation of a ‘disposable’ email address

Content of emails analysed for advertising purposes

Integrated spam filter

Locations of servers unclear

Apps for Android and iOS

 

Outlook.com

For a long time, ‘Outlook’ was the name of the Personal Information Manager (PIM) developed by Microsoft. It is part of the whole Microsoft 365 package. But since early 2013, the very similar sounding web email service “Outlook.com” has replaced Microsoft’s previous free email software “Hotmail”. With ’Outlook.com’, Microsoft now provides serious competition to the free email providers such as Yahoo and Google.

The first and most important advantage is its perfect integration into the Microsoft universe. By simply registering on Outlook.com, you will have access to other services offered by Microsoft. These include the video call and chat service Skype, the cloud storage service OneDrive, Office Online, and OneNote. Thanks to the presence of office interfaces, Outlook.com is also suitable for more complex work environments, and even comes with a similarly intuitive and trustworthy user interface. With regards to storage space, Outlook.com is on a similar level to Google’s Gmail service: With over 15 GB, there is more than enough space for all emails. Additional storage is available for files of a different kind with Microsoft’s integrated cloud storage solution OneDrive, which is available for free. Attachments can be up to 34 MB in size.

Another handy feature is that Outlook.com – just like Gmail and Yahoo Mail – offers both POP3 and IMAP protocols for the retrieval of emails. This means, for example, that inboxes can be synchronised, even on mobile devices. Apps for all common mobile devices are available.

All of this is free on Outlook.com. However, there is also the possibility of switching to a fee-based premium version. In this version, the advertisements usually seen in the user interface are no longer visible. Also, on the topic of advertisements – according to Microsoft’s privacy policy, these advertisements that do appear are not personalised based on the content of mails. Instead, the software uses data like your location, or your internet surfing habits based on cookies. In relation to the privacy policy, the Microsoft website states: ‘Some of Microsoft’s services are supported by advertising. To show ads you’re more likely to be interested in, we use data like your location, Bing web searches, Microsoft or advertiser web pages you view, demographics, and things you’ve favourited. We don’t use what you say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail, or your documents, photos or other personal files to target ads to you.’

Something that is still unknown, however, is the server location. Similar to the previous two free email providers outlined above, Microsoft maintains its server worldwide. This means that the exact location of the files is as unclear as with Google and Yahoo.

Advantages

Disadvantages

15 GB email storage space

Server location unknown

5 GB cloud storage space with OneDrive

 

Clear and accessible design

 

MS Office interface – perfect integration into the Microsoft universe

 

Apps for Android and iOS

 

GMX

GMX is not as well-known as the free email providers discussed above, but still conveniently manages to meet all your basic email requirements. One of the biggest selling points for GMX is its 65 GB of storage space. Your attachments can be up to 50 MB in size. If you need to send larger files, you can turn to the in-house cloud. Here you have 2 GB of storage space at your disposal.

Another major upside of GMX is its Online Office feature. Without installing additional software, you can easily edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations in the browser. GMX offers apps for Android and iOS. Thanks to this wide range of apps, all emails and mailbox folders are always available, even when you are on the move. Additionally, GMX offers MailCheck, a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that helps you to never miss an incoming email again.

In terms of security, GMX impresses with modern encryption, antivirus technology and intelligent spam filters that you can influence yourself. In addition, this provider gives you the option to set up two-factor authentication. This makes it very difficult for attackers to access your account.

GMX’s default interface is blue. Alternative designs can be selected and saved in the settings. You can navigate around using the menu bars at the top and left. While the upper tab allows a quick change between the standard features such as mailboxes, cloud, calendar or address book, the left tab contains your different mail folders.

Advantages

Disadvantages

65 GB storage space

Slightly unclear user interface – also features advertisements

2 GB included cloud storage

 

up to 50 MB attachment size

 

Apps for Android and iOS

 

AOL Mail

Many years ago, America Online was one of the biggest email programs, but it has since slipped down the ranks and is no longer one of the most prominent email services. However, this does not mean that it isn’t an adequate free email provider. A while back, AOL realised the need for it to offer more. Today, the web portal offers 250 GB storage space and up to 25 MB attachment size.

AOL Mail gives you the option of choosing the strictness level of your spam filter: Low, Medium, or High. AOL themselves recommend setting it to ‘Medium‘ , as they find that that is the right level of security without the risk of losing any important mails to your spam folder.

Advantages

Disadvantages

Choose level of spam filter – Low, Medium, or High

No importing contacts from social media

250 GB storage space

App not specific to email

Apps for Android and iOS

 

Zoho

Zoho is an email service aimed at both private users and businesses. The free package is therefore aimed at individual users, and while being quite basic, still manages to cover all the major criteria that you might look for in a free email provider.

Zoho, similarly to Microsoft, offers a whole range of software programs. Alongside email, it also offers instant messaging, a writer, calendar, document sharing, as well as several other features. Together these are known as the ‘Zoho Workplace’. In addition to the free account, there are also paid packages. The more money you spend on a package, the more storage space you get and the more MBs your attachments can be. Outside of this, you will also have access to additional features as part of the Zoho Workplace.

One major upside of Zoho is that it is completely ad-free. The software seems to pride itself on this fact, stating in the ‘Features’ section of its website that: ‘this means total respect for user privacy as your messages are not scanned for keywords to feed you ads. However, freedom from annoying ads is not the stand-out feature in Zoho Mail’. This in turn provides a certain peace of mind when it comes to security and privacy policy.

In terms of storage space, it offers 5 GB space and a maximum email attachment of 25 MB. The storage is all cloud-based and there is also the option of Dropbox integration. Security wise, the software requires two-factor authentication. Fundamentally this is a free email provider but given that it also has a range of fee-based services, the basic, free of charge version will be restricted in certain ways. Unfortunately, none of the packages offer the possibility of automatically integrating contacts from a social media account or accounts. This must be done manually.

Advantages

Disadvantages

Access to whole Zoho workplace

Limited storage space – free version

Two-factor authentication

Contact list – no social media integration

No advertisements displayed

 

No scanning of email content

 

App for Android and iOS

 

ProtonMail

ProtonMail is a great email option for the security-conscious user. It’s an open-source, encrypted provider based in Switzerland. It boasts end-to-end encryption. Its PGP encryption standards are said to be fairly robust.

A free plan includes on email address but has a limit of up to 150 messages a day to avoid spam. Users do not need to provide much personal information when they sign up for an account.

With a free plan, users get 500 MB of storage, which isn’t a lot compared to other providers like Gmail. But users can upgrade to a paid plan if they require more storage space.

Different paid packages are available. The Professional package provides 5 GB of storage and priority customer support. The Visionary package boasts up to 20 GB in storage and up to six email accounts. ProtonMail also has options for businesses.

Advantages

Disadvantages

End-to-end encryption

Limited storage space – free version

App for Android and iOS

Number of daily emails limited

No advertisements displayed

Does not support POP3 or IMAP – free version

Professional Email Address & Personal Domain Name

Give the right first impression with a custom email address and a free matching domain name!

Address book
Calendar
Virus protection

E-mail encryption

When comparing these free email providers, it becomes obvious that high security standards are high on the list of priorities. At the same time, SSL/TLS encryptions are part and parcel of such providers. Anyone looking to secure their communication even further should also consider installing the email encryption via PGP. This will also protect the content of emails. With the help of browser add-ons (e.g., Mailvelope), it is possible to achieve end-to-end encryption.

Professional solutions as an alternative - but for whom?

At first glance, what these free email providers offer seems to be perfect. With their strong functionality and various security mechanisms such as SSL/TLS encryption, DKIM signature, and authenticator logins, the free email services are a popular choice in the private sector. However, free services are not always the right choice. This is since mailboxes of free email providers are usually linked to the brand-specific domain name, which is rather impractical in the business sector and doesn’t look very professional.

So, if you primarily want to handle business communication using this email address, you need a professional solution to create the right impression. This may mean having to forego an address from a free email provider.

The advantages of professional email services compared to free email providers

Even if professionalism is often the reason for a company choosing a professional email provider, the self-employed and the like, there are also other benefits, as the following shows:

  • Free choice of name: The freedom that comes with a professional service has already been highlighted – being able to create your own address for your business is paramount. Free email providers usually have several million customers registered under the same subdomain. The most common first and last names are therefore quickly snapped up, which is why you sometimes have to resort to complicated alternative solutions ( (e.g., including numbers in the address). Customers using fee-based mail services do not have this problem and can therefore create memorable and precise contact addresses.
     
  • No advertising or spam: Free email providers usually use advertising to fund the service. Using a professional service, on the other hand, rids you of annoying advertisements and means you can work without distractions. In addition, fee-based options are less susceptible to advertising spam: since free email addresses are relatively similar to one another, it’s easy for spammers to 'guess' different addresses and before you know it, your inbox quickly becomes flooded with all kinds of spam messages.
     
  • Increased protection: Not only are professional mailboxes less likely to be targeted by spam, phishing, etc., but they are also the safer choice in case your computer gets infected with malware. An account that is getting spammed too much is likely to be blocked by the provider. While the chance of getting your account back with a free email provider is practically zero, just describing the problem is usually enough to regain access with a fee-based provider.
     
  • Planning security: If you use a professional email address, you get a lot of independence from your provider. If the provider makes changes to the product range or terminates the service, the contact address usually remains unaffected – you just need to move to another provider. If a free email provider discontinues its services, the user has no choice but to register a new address.
     
  • Resistance to typos: Another advantage of having your own email domain instead of a free email subdomain is the catch-all function. This ensures that all incoming messages to a domain are redirected to a main mailbox, even if the local part of the address (before the @ sign) cannot be assigned to a specific mailbox due to a typo. This way, professional email solutions reduce the likelihood of important messages being lost.

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