Aren’t all email services free, you might be wondering? Most are, yes, but paid email services do exist. Even so, that’s not the same as saying all free email services are the same. Far from it. Some are a lot better than others, both in terms of usability as well as the features they offer, and the amount of storage space: email takes up space!
It’s a well-known fact that if you’re not paying for a service then “you are the product being sold”. That’s not always true, but it is the case with some email services.
The cost to provide the service has to be paid for somehow, and two ways are to sell your data and show you adverts. Either that or the storage is very limited, meaning you end up paying for more or choosing a different service.
None of this means you shouldn’t use a free email service of course, as these trade-offs are perfectly acceptable to millions of people who use Gmail, Yahoo and others on a daily basis.
Each service you’ll find here has pros and cons depending on the hardware and software you generally use.
Here, we’ve put together a helpful guide that compares some of the most popular free email options. And because they’re all free, so you can try them all out before deciding which one you prefer.
Best overall email service: Gmail
Best email for Windows users: Outlook
Best email for Apple users: iCloud
Best email for security: Tutanota
Best email for small business: Zoho & Outlook
Best free email services 2021
Hugely versatile and available on (almost) every device
Regular new features and updates
Gmail is easily one of the best free email services. The clean and uncluttered interface is regularly refined, with useful new features added.
These include the ability to recall an email if you accidentally hit the send (or reply-all) button, the option to snooze messages so they return at a later time, scheduled emails for when you’re away, and a Confidential mode that prevents messages being forwarded, copied or downloaded by recipients, while also adding time-limits so that they delete themselves after a specified period.
Most recently Google has added an advanced auto-complete feature which predicts phrases you might type in a sentence, not just words. This can save a lot of time, and it’s surprisingly accurate and therefore useful.
Gmail can automatically filter emails into Primary, Social, Promotions and Forums, and we love this approach, but folders for organising messages aren’t supported in the traditional sense. Instead you attach labels, such as work, personal and family. Clicking a label effectively filters your inbox to show just the messages tagged with it.
Some people don’t like the way Google matches ads with email contents, but it’s top notch (but not perfect) at filtering out spam, and offers useful extras such as links to track deliveries, reminders to chase up emails you haven’t had a reply to, the ability to amend reservations – all without opening the emails in question.
Email from other accounts can be collected and contacts imported, so switching to Gmail is painless. Plus, the integration with Google Drive means you get 15GB of free storage for email (and other Google services).
There’s a 25MB limit on attachments, which is more restrictive than some rivals. To get around this Gmail automatically creates a Google Drive link for files attachments larger than 25MB, which does help.
Bottom Line: Gmail is powerful and easy to use, making it an ideal choice for most people.
Supports multiple email accounts
Plenty of useful features
Microsoft’s Outlook.com email service is the one that replaced Hotmail a few years back, though hotmail addresses still exist and work.
While it shares the name with the desktop software that’s long been a part of Office, the web and mobile versions are a stripped-back experience in comparison. For some (possibly most) people this is actually a good thing, as the free service still comes with lots of useful features and tools.
There’s the general stuff like the ability to organise email into folders, with the option of setting rules to automate any future arrivals. Multiple email accounts can also be used, meaning you can have your Gmail-addressed messages arrive in Outlook. Plus, there’s a comprehensive junk mail filter in operation and automated messages for when you’re away.
Add to this the Focused inbox (a bit like Gmail’s Priority / Primary) which can be enabled to prioritise messages from people or companies you choose, the Sweep feature which moves or deletes all messages from a sender or all messages older than a certain date.
There’s also tight calendar integration so that invites and travel arrangement emails appear in your schedule, plus temporary email aliases and several other clever tools.
It’s a shame that Outlook won’t automatically offer to upload large files to OneDrive: it just places a combined limit of 20MB on your attachments.
Bottom Line: A well-designed and capable service that works particularly well with Windows.
1TB of storage space
Shortcuts to images, documents, and attachments
Integrated GIFs, emojis, and graphics for emails
Yahoo’s massive amount of free storage is a draw for many people, but the email service itself has quite a few useful features.
The layout itself is pretty standard with navigation on the left and the main pane in the centre, but you can change the latter to either show preview images to the side or below an email. When composing email, you can drag and drop images directly into the message, or make use of the integrated GIFs, emoji, and greeting card-style graphics features.
Search has been enhanced so it returns emails, images, files and contacts, all easily accessible from shortcuts in the navigation column, and if you search for a person, you’ll see your whole conversation history. Event and package delivery reminders will also appear at the top of your inbox making it harder to miss them.
Other email accounts (Gmail, Outlook, etc.) can be added so you can see all your messages in one place, holiday responses are available, and disposable addresses can be created so you can preserve your privacy when needed.
One thing you may not like is the adverts in Yahoo Mail. Some appear like new emails at the top of your inbox, and they often promote Yahoo products such as its identity protection service. They can feel more intrusive than on some other services, but that whopping 1TB (1000GB) of free storage certainly softens the blow if you regularly send and receive attachments. For everyone else, that space is overkill: most people manage just fine with Gmail’s 15GB.
Bottom Line: A solid email service with some creative touches for livening up messages, and one that’s great if you need masses of storage space.
Integrate with Zoho’s office suite
Zoho has its focus mainly on teams and small businesses where you collaborate with other users, as you can see from some of its features.
One of the most obvious is Streams, which brings social media-style comments and likes into standard email. By tagging other members of your team, or family and friends, they can respond to the original email without having to send a separate reply. There are several other apps and plug-ins that expand the team-ethos, with Zoho supporting up to 25 linked user accounts.
Of course, there’s the standard multi-layer folders, labels, flags and filters that allow you to organise your email, you can share an entire folder with a colleague, plus a recall email facility. Free accounts get 5GB of storage for a mailbox, with 5GB for documents. The latter links to Zoho’s web-based office software, which are decent hold their own against the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple’s online suites.
Zoho is ad-free, but this version doesn’t support Google Calendar and limits the size of emails to 25MB. There are paid tiers that beef up the capabilities, but if these few restrictions don’t bother you then Zoho mail is an excellent service with plenty of features, solid security, and a thoughtfully designed interface.
Bottom Line: An excellent choice for teams and small businesses.
Tightly integrated with iOS
Mobile apps support multiple accounts
If you have an Apple device, such as an iPhone or iPad, you will have an iCloud account and email is a component of that service. On those mobile devices, the Mail app can be set up to handle all your email, such as Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo!, but if you access it via the iCloud website you only see your iCloud inbox.
Both variants have straightforward, easy-to-understand interfaces that look very nice, although it’s all quite basic and there’s no customisation. iPhone users can define what actions swipes trigger, but that’s about it. There are no custom views that you get with Gmail and Outlook.
Folders can be created for emails to be dragged and dropped into. Rules can also be set up to automatically sort messages into folders too.
The best feature is VIP. You choose your most important contacts and their email lands in the VIP mailbox, which makes it easy to see messages from important people.
iCloud is a simple email service and non-technical people will love the attractive and easy-to-use interface. Advanced users may find it too limiting. Also, bear in mind that emails and attachments count against your free 5GB of iCloud storage – it soon fills up.
Bottom Line: It’s really only for Apple users, and it’s less useful if you have lots of email to deal with across different devices. You can, however, access your iCloud email on Android if you need to.
1GB mail storage
Access passwords allow secure emails with non-Tutanota users
Privacy is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to ensure online. To counter this, there are a number of secure mail services, a few of which offer free accounts. ProtonMail is possibly the most famous, but open-source Tutanota is a strong alternative.
This German company offers 1GB of mail storage for free (double that of ProtonMail), with all emails protected by end-to-end encryption and now searchable within the apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android. To avoid the eyes of Google, Android users can download the app on F-Droid rather than the Play store, and push notifications are not sent through Google’s service, yet still arrive instantly.
Tutanota users can exchange fully encrypted messages directly, but thanks to the use of access passwords non-Tutanota users can still share send and receive emails with little impact on your security or convenience. The free tier is basic but perfectly usable, restricting users to one account and limited searches, but there is €12 (approx £10.65/US$14) per month Premium option that offers aliases, mailbox rules, unlimited searches, and custom domains.
Bottom Line: If you just want a secure way to talk with friends or colleagues then Tutanota does the job.
Another security-focused service is ProtonMail. With its servers based in Switzerland, there’s protection from the nosier governments around the world, and the end-to-end encryption used by Proton should keep any hackers at bay too. (Note that this applies only if you’re sending and receiving from other ProtonMail users, though.)
The layout is a bit dull, if we’re honest, with a palette of grey and white hardly setting the pulses racing, but it’s a solid and safe solution.
The free tier does have quite a few limitations, with your storage space a rather constricted 500MB, only 150 messages allowed each day, and a maximum of three folders into which they can be placed. That being said, it’s still a good option if your email needs are mainly text-based and place privacy ahead of style.
There are higher tiers that expand these horizons, with £3.50 / $4.50 / 4€ per month Plus option adding 5GB of storage, 1000 messages a day, alongside a custom domain, auto-responder, and other features.
Bottom Line: A secure way to exchange messages, but limited features make it too restricting for most people.
65GB of free email storage
Supports multiple email accounts
Send attachments twice the size of Gmail’s limit
GMX Mail is popular in Germany. It offers free storage for half a million emails, which works out to be 65GB. And that should be more than enough for most people.
It can be configured to fetch email from other accounts, including Outlook, Gmail, and general POP3 accounts. This means that it is fairly easy to switch from your current email, with support for importing contacts from Facebook, Outlook, CSV files and other sources.
The service has a good interface that can be customised with themes and the positioning of the reading pane. There are adverts, but they aren’t too distracting. Messages can be dragged from the inbox and dropped into folders to manually organise them, and filters can be created that automatically sort incoming mail. Large attachments can be sent (up to 50MB) which is twice that of Gmail.
Bottom Line: GMX Mail is fun, has some good features, and is certainly worth trying out.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Learn more.