Email is far more than just a communication tool. We use it to network, download resources, recruit and search for jobs, transfer files and set reminders. Office platforms are becoming more popular, but we do still rely on email. So naturally, there are plenty of options to choose from.
You don’t need to pay to get an email service that prioritizes comprehensive features and usability – there are a number of good, free options. And for businesses, there are additional tools and services you can use to help you with your email marketing, like Hubspot’s Email Marketing Planning Template. But before we get into that, let’s go over the highlights of 10 of the best free email service providers you can host your account on.
First: the types of email accounts
There are two main types of email service providers: email clients and webmail.
Email clients are applications that you install onto a computer, which save all incoming emails to the computer. This allows users to manage their email even without an internet connection. To access this email, the client – such as Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, or Mozilla Thunderbird – interacts with a remote email server.
You can still access this type of email from the web, instead of the computer application. The email client just uses one of the email protocols listed below. In other words, while you might usually access your email through Outlook which is installed on your computer, you can still log in to your email account through outlook.com using an email protocol.
With webmail on the other hand, users access email through a web browser, so an internet connection is always needed. This email exists primarily on the cloud, not on your computer. Rather than an installed application managing your email, you manage it right from an internet browser. Some of the most well known (and free) webmail providers are Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and AOL (all included in our list below).
You can still access your email from a mail app on a mobile device, instead of having to go through a web browser. Your email provided can use one of the email protocols – we’ll go over these next.
Three Major Email Protocols
Email protocols are the systems that retrieve your mail for you, either retrieving email client accounts on the web, or retrieving webmail accounts on a mobile app.
You can use your provider to access your email from a different device or location online by using one of the three major email protocols: POP3, IMAP, or Exchange.
POP3 is an abbreviation for Post Office Protocol 3 – it’s the third version of this method of receiving email. It was originally created as a simple way to download copies of email for offline reading. This is how it works: Your app connects to an email server, downloads all the messages to your computer that have not already been downloaded, and then deletes the original emails from the server. This allows you to access email while offline, requiring less internet bandwidth.
You can set up your app and server to not delete emails for a set amount of time, or to not delete emails from the server at all, even when they’ve been downloaded by your client.
If the emails are deleted from the server, then the only copies left are in your client. You won’t be able to log on from another device or client to see these emails. Also, when you delete emails in a client, it’s only deleted in that client, not from other clients that have downloaded the message. Each client downloads all messages from the server, so you end up with multiple copies of messages on different devices,
Because of this, while POP3 is a fast and robust protocol, it’s really best for people with just one email account and email client.
IMAP stands for “internet mail access protocol”. Unlike POP3, you do not download your email to your offline email client. All your email stays online while you’re using it.
IMAP only downloads a message when you click on it, and it doesn’t automatically download attachments. Because of this you’re able to check your messages much faster than with POP3.
This protocol is recommended for people who have more than one email account, and/or if you need to access your email from multiple devices or locations.
Microsoft’s email protocol, Exchange, offers all the same email syncing function as IMAP, with the added ability to sync tasks, contacts and calendars. Like IMAP, with Exchange your email can be accesssed from multiple devices. This accessibility and additional functionality makes Exchange a good choice for organizations whose employees share information and work remotely.
Now let’s get into our list of the ten best free email service providers you can use today. We’ll go over unique features for each service provider, to help you find the best one for you.
The Best Free Email Accounts
1. Gmail (webmail)
Best for: people who already use Google’s products (Sign up here)
Gmail is an obvious top pick for most of us. With the second-highest email provider market share, (after Apple iPhone’s native email app), it’s maintained its popularity by offering a number of communication options that don’t involve email.
When you register for a Google account, you don’t just get email. Gmail is built into Google Suite, which is made up of free apps you can use to chat, video-conference, and share files with anyone on your contact list.
With Google Hangouts (available from your inbox’s sidebar), you can text and video chat with other Gmail users, and with Google’s intuitive calendar you can set and share meetings and reminders. A Google account also allows you to collaborate on shared documents and spreadsheets from the cloud-based Google Drive. You can even use your Gmail address to log into and manage your YouTube account (a feature exclusive to Google’s email service).
Pro tip: You can also use a free product like HubSpot Meetings to easily schedule meetings without back-and-forth emails.
With a Gmail account you get 15 GB of free email storage, and access to advanced filters to automatically push emails into designated folders.
2. AOL (webmail)
Best for: people who communicate mostly through email (unlimited storage!) (Sign up here)
AOL (America Online) might sound like the dinosaur of email services, but it has steadily kept up with current standards for a high-quality user experience. It continues to earn its place amongst the other best free email accounts available.
AOL delivers your email from it’s news-driven homepage, and includes a texting and instant message option within your inbox.
The advantage that AOL has over GMAIl is unlimited storage. Also, it allows you to import email contacts from a CSV, TXT, or LDIF file, making it easier to create a contact list.
3. Outlook (email client)
Best for: people who use multiple platforms to connect with contacts. (Sign up here)
After reinventing its email service, Microsoft’s Outlook.com email is a feature-rich option that integrates a number of popular communication apps. Skype, PayPal, Facebook, PowerPoint, and task-management software like Trello, can all be connected to your Outlook account, making it an excellent choice if you need to reach non-Outlook users from within your inbox.
Some of the features included in Outlook’s service are:
- ‘Rules’ – automatically manages emails as they come in
- Customizable email templates
- A ‘Clean Up’ button that automatically deletes duplicate messages in an email thread
- An ‘Archive’ folder for emails you’d like to keep but want out of your main inbox. With Gmail, archived emails are moved to a folder called ‘All Mail’ instead of one specifically labeled “Archive”, which can be confusing.
Outlook offers 15 GB of free storage for each user, along with a super-clean interface.
4. Zoho (webmail)
Best for: startups and small businesses (Sign up here)
Zoho Mail is a good email solution for businesses looking for a low-cost, customizable hosted mail service that works well with a large number of apps. It includes an impressive range of security features and customizable tools that are well-suited for work emails.
Zoho makes it very easy to organize your emails. With its different modules, you can break down your work and create manageable task schedules, add color-coded virtual sticky notes, keep track of meetings and events, and organize contacts in an address book. These aren’t groundbreaking features, but Zoho has clearly focused on making their versions extremely easy to use.
It also offers a very easy, straightforward migration process. With its “one-click migration”, Zoho mail will migrate everything across from the most popular email providers, including your emails, contacts, and calendar.
But what really makes Zoho stand out from the above email options is the ability to customize the domain name for 25 connected email addresses. This makes it ideal for businesses, who can replace @zoho.com with the name of a business’s website.
5. Mail.com (webmail)
Best for: small business, freelancers, the self-employed (Sign up here)
What really sets Mail.com apart from the rest of the options is it includes 200 free custom domain names. Like with Zoho’s email service, you can replace @mail.com with anything that describes you or your business, like musician.org or accountant.com.
This might appeal to many people, but only if you don’t need more than 2 GB of storage space, which is the limit with Mail.com. It does, although, include a calendar you can use to create and track events.
6. Yahoo! Mail (webmail)
Best for: Anyone sending and receiving attachments frequently through email (Sign up here)
First off, Yahoo! Mail offers an impressive 1 TB (terabyte) of storage space for free. If storage is a concern for you, this is a good option. It also includes useful social media integrations, custom background themes, and an easy way to find every photo, video, and document attachment you’ve ever sent or received. This makes it appealing to anyone who frequently shares documents, and for users who’d like an album easily made of all photos they’ve shared via email. Yahoo! Mail is also known for its efficient spam-blocking capabilities.
7. ProtonMail (webmail)
Best for: people who share sensitive information via email (Sign up here)
If privacy and security are your primary concern when it comes to email, ProtonMail is a good option for you. While not designed for high-volume sending (it offers just 500 MB of free space), it allows for encrypted email — you can send messages that nobody else can see, and that disappear after a month.
ProtonMail has many other useful features, like the option to set an auto responder, create custom spam filters, and manage multiple email addresses with the same account.
It is easy to use on any device, with a user-friendly inbox interface with a modern design (you can swap between column and row layouts, use conversation grouping, and switch between custom themes).
8. iCloud Mail (webmail)
Best for: Mac users who want everything on the same system (Sign up here)
Some people choose to use iCloud Mail because for Mac users, it simplifies integration. While Apple’s mail apps are built with all users in mind, it does offer an experience that most caters to iCloud users. It also features an easy-to-use search function, straight-forward rules, and the option to label contacts as VIPs — in this case, emails from these designated contacts will automatically filter to a separate tab.
While this free email account comes with 5GB of storage to sync photos, files, and email, this storage is shared between all of your apps and devices — something to take into account if you take lots of photos on your iPhone. If this is the case you can always upgrade to a paid iCloud Mail account, spending anywhere from $0.99/month to $9.99/month.
9. GMX Mail (webmail)
Best for: people with multiple email addresses who want one inbox (Sign up here)
The feature that really sets the GMX Mail option apart is the ability to set up to 10 alias email addresses within one account. Whether you want to keep marketing emails separate from your personal emails by using one alias for all online purchases or logins, or if you want separate addresses for different roles within your business (like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org), there are multiple reasons this might be appealing.
Additionally, if you share a large volume of photos, presentations, or any large files via email, GMX Mail offers the ability to send large attachments (up to 50GB!). With 65GB of storage, it’s also a good option if storage space is a concern.
10. Mozilla Thunderbird (email client)
Best for: people who prioritize a simple, customizable inbox (Sign up here)
Mozilla’s Thunderbird has a simple, easy-to-use interface, with customizable theme settings and app extensions. It lets you open multiple emails with tabs, similar to when you have multiple pages open in a web browser.
With Thunderbird, you can manage an unlimited number of email accounts from one convenient location. It also supports multiple calendars, and includes an RSS reader so you can see headlines at a glance — this means you can check your schedule, organize your inboxes, and get news headlines without having to open a bunch of tabs.
Installing extensions in Thunderbird is as easy as it is in Firefox: simply select ‘Add-ons’ from the main menu and you’ll access a store where you can download and install extras to improve your email experience.
Get the Most Out of Your Email
With this information, you should be able to identify which email service would be best for your needs. These are all great options, and chances are a number of them would work for you. But it’s worth digging in a little to take advantage of the features and benefits unique to each service.
For businesses interested in a successful email marketing strategy, it’s also a good idea to leverage apps, outside software, and APIS. One example of a service you can use to support your business is HubSpot’s Free Email tool, which allows you to link your email address to the HubSpot CRM, build email templates, and send messages directly from HubSpot’s software. It also provides you with basic analytics, the option to collect email subscriber contacts in your CRM, and you can upgrade your email signature by using their free Email Signature Generator.
Taking advantage of a powerful email tool like HubSpot’s is helpful because it streamlines and simplifies a lot of the work for you. After you choose which email service is right for you, consider using a service like theirs to get the most out of your email.
You can learn more about HubSpot’s free tool here.