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Best email provider 2021

worker in meeting with others checking emails
(Image credit: Image Credit: Raw Pixel / Pixabay)

Though it’s 40 years old now, email remains the most important messaging protocol for businesses. No matter how engaging your website is or how many social media channels you’re active on, customers expect to be able to get prompt responses to their queries via email, and it’s still a common tool for team communication.

Getting an email account is simple. You may get one free with your internet service provider (ISP). Sign up with industry giants like Google and Microsoft and you’ll be given free email accounts to use - and your website hosting more than likely comes with a bunch of email addresses. Many website hosting plans allow for unlimited email addresses.

But there’s a difference between the cheapest email providers and the best email providers for your needs. What features are available for organizing your inboxes and filtering mail, for example? Does the email provider offer robust spam protection? Does the service offer privacy, security, and advanced authentication features that patch email protocol security weaknesses?

Consider these concerns before choosing an email provider for your business. Below, we list five of the best email providers we’ve tested and why you might choose them over all others.

ProtonMail - strong on security and privacy

ProtonMail - strong on security and privacy

ProtonMail is a Swiss-based email service with a focus on fixing security and privacy issues with emails, offering end-to-end encryption alongside other security elements across free and paid plans. Best used alongside a more standard email provider, ProtonMail is one of the best secure email providers available, offering extra features including using your own domain name.

Gmail - still a leading contender 17 years in

Gmail - still a leading contender 17 years in

Google's Gmail revolutionized email in 2004 with its free, web-based service with a stripped-down, simple interface that devotes most of the screen space to your inbox. Gmail has one of the best spam filtering systems available, as well as dynamic mail features and POP3, IMAP, and SMTP compatibility across a free plan and Google Workspace paid plans offering more features and support.

Outlook - clean and simple with extra features available

Outlook - clean and simple with extra features available

Microsoft's clean, simple design and style is mirrored online and on apps, with the service providing common features around organization, appearance, attachments, and email management. The paid plans via Microsoft 365 offer OneDrive integration and more storage, without adverts, and with the latest versions of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint among other added extras.

ProtonMail's homepage

ProtonMail is one of the best-known providers of secure email (Image credit: ProtonMail)

Best email provider for privacy and security

Specifications
Free storage: 500MB
Paid plan: $5/month
Reasons to buy
+Excellent privacy features+Encrypted end-to-end email communication
Reasons to avoid
-Limited free storage-Less user-friendly interface than most competitors

When email was first envisioned, little thought was put into security. Emails were sent across the network in plain text, and it was trivially easy for hackers to read the contents of emails by listening in on the network. Though some of these security issues have been addressed, email remains a surprisingly insecure mode of communication in its basic form.

Similarly, signing up with an email provider usually has privacy compromises. Most providers will ask for personal details when you sign up, and many even scan the contents of your emails to serve you ads, and automatically add events to your calendar.

For users who value security and privacy, these are big concerns. ProtonMail is a Swiss-based email service with a focus on fixing these issues with their email service. 

With ProtonMail, your emails are encrypted from end-to-end, so without the correct password, no one can read their contents - not even ProtonMail. This works best if both parties are using ProtonMail, but you can also send messages back and forth to non-ProtonMail users. The user will instead be sent an email with a unique link to open the encrypted message on the ProtonMail website.

You can use PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption and address verification, which essentially means you can confirm the person you're communicating with is who they say they are.

ProtonMail doesn’t log your IP address, meaning it wouldn’t be possible for authorities to link your email address with your real-world location even if they were given access to ProtonMail’s servers.

A free plan is available so you can try it out, but it’s limited to 500MB of storage space and 150 emails per day. The most basic paid plan costs $5 a month, and bumps your storage to a more useful 5GB. You also get support for some essentials like folders, filters, and contact groups. 

With the basic plan, you can also use your own domain name. The Professional plan adds multi-user support, more storage, and a catch-all email address, but it’s a relatively pricey $8 a month per user.

ProtonMail works best as a specialist tool you use alongside a more standard email service like Gmail or Outlook. If you have customers who require the utmost privacy in their communication, or if you want your team email communication to be highly secure at all times, ProtonMail is one of the best secure email providers available today.

Gmail's homepage

You get 15GB of storage for free on all Gmail accounts (Image credit: Google)

Best email provider with an office suite

Specifications
Free storage: 15GB
Paid plan: from $6/month
Reasons to buy
+Streamlined webmail interface+Works well with other Google products
Reasons to avoid
-Upgrading requires the relatively pricey Google Workspace product-Locks your company into using Google products

Gmail from Google is perhaps the most well-known email service on this list. Gmail revolutionized email in 2004 by offering a free, web-based email service with a stripped-down, simple interface.

Before Gmail, it was common to use a local email client on your computer, downloading all your emails offline. Gmail, though not the first web-based email service, popularized the move to browser-based email with its easy-to-understand interface that devotes most of the screen space to your inbox. 

Not that Gmail lacks powerful features. Another reason Gmail became so popular was its excellent spam filters. To this day, Gmail has one of the best spam filtering systems available, and it’s rare that a spam email ever makes it through to your inbox.

Then there’s the dynamic mail feature where you can fill out questionnaires or respond to Google Docs comments without having to leave the interface. Despite being best known as webmail, Gmail can also be used more traditionally through the use of POP3, IMAP, and SMTP, and you can use Gmail to manage other email accounts.

You get a generous 15GB of storage on the free plan, but if you want business-level features, you’ll probably want the Google Workspace product. Google Workspace is essentially Google’s alternative to Microsoft 365, so you get expanded versions of applications for spreadsheets, word processing, and presentations.

As it starts at $6 per user a month, if you weren’t interested in an entire office suite, then upgrading Gmail is more expensive than many other email providers.

You do get a lot for your money with a Google Workspace plan, though. With the included shared calendars and the Google Meet video conferencing app, team collaboration is made easier. Instead of using generic yourcompany@gmail.com email addresses, you can use your own domain name for your email addresses. 

Migration tools are available for moving all your emails from Outlook, Lotus, or Exchange, and you get unlimited group email addresses and 30GB of storage space even on the basic plan.

This is all backed up by a 99.9% uptime guarantee and 24/7 support. Gmail is therefore a compelling first choice for any business looking for a full-featured email service.

Outlook's homepage

Outlook is one of the longest-running email services available today (Image credit: Microsoft)

Best email provider for Microsoft users

Specifications
Free storage: 15GB
Paid plan: $7/month
Reasons to buy
+Lots of integrations with third-party software+Free with an Office 365 plan
Reasons to avoid
-Prominent ads on interface of the free version-Desktop app requires a paid subscription

Outlook from Microsoft has a web-based interface with a clean, simple design akin to Gmail’s, and a style that mirrors the Outlook desktop app. A top toolbar contains common features, while an organization tool to the left of the interface can be used to sort your emails into folders. Right-clicking on emails and folders reveals additional functionality.

If you don’t like how something works, there are a healthy number of settings you can tweak in the Settings menu. You can change how your inbox looks, how messages are handled, and how attachments work. For example, you can directly share OneDrive files as copies or links, and you can even attach files from other cloud storage solutions like Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive.

Free accounts get 15GB of space, the same as offered by Gmail. Upgrading to the Microsoft 365 plan boosts this to 50GB and includes a whopping 1TB of OneDrive storage to boot. Paid accounts no longer have ads in the interface. 

The cheapest Microsoft 365 plan will set you back $7 a month, but the inclusion of the latest versions of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, and other Microsoft apps sweetens the deal. You also get professional message formatting tools, phone support, offline support, and file recovery.

Although Outlook is one of the oldest email services around, Microsoft has done much to innovate the product. You have the option to use a focused inbox, which automatically detects important emails and places them front and center, eliminating distractions. 

If you receive emails about flights or dinner reservations, Outlook can automatically add these to your calendar. You can share these calendars with other people, so it's easy to see how you could create a collaborative calendar for your team or your family.

Outlook is also notable for the number of third-party app integrations it works with. There’s support for Skype, PayPal, Evernote, Yelp, and Uber, for example, so your email inbox could be used to automate many of your daily tasks.

If you use many Microsoft products, Outlook as your email client will be the perfect fit. As it’s included as part of Microsoft 365, if you need that office suite, then using Outlook as your email client is an easy decision. But if you’re just looking for email and nothing else, the relatively high price of the Microsoft 365 subscription might put you off.

Zoho Mail's homepage

Zoho Mail is part of the Zoho Cloud Software Suite (Image credit: Zoho Mail)

Best alternative office ecosystem

Specifications
Free storage: 5GB
Paid plan: from $1/user/month
Reasons to buy
+Wide range of office applications on paid plans+Relatively inexpensive
Reasons to avoid
-Separate apps don’t always integrate together seamlessly-Convoluted price plans

Zoho Mail is an app in the huge Zoho suite of software tools. There are over 40 integrated applications in the Zoho ecosystem, from sales and marketing tools to help desk software. You can get them all in the Zoho One package ($30 per user a month), choose more specific bundles, or use the free email plan. 

The free plan allows for up to five users with 5GB of storage space per user, but you don’t get offline access, and there’s a 25MB attachment limit. You also can’t use POP3 and IMAP on free accounts. Overall, the free plan is too limiting for daily use, so only consider it a way to trial the paid service.

The Zoho Workplace bundle starts at $3 per user a month. It gets you 30GB of mail storage per user, 10GB of shared file storage space per user, and support for attachments up to 500MB in size. Besides the email features, you also get Zoho WorkDrive (a cloud storage solution), Zoho Cliq (a one-to-one video conferencing tool), and Zoho Office Suite, which has word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tools.

If you pay $6 per user a month, you get 100GB of mail storage, 100GB of WorkDrive shared storage per user, Zoho Meeting (a video conferencing tool for up to 100 participants), Zoho Connect (team collaboration software), and Zoho ShowTime (an online training platform).

Zoho Mail provides a decent set of features for organizing emails, such as tags, filters, smart searches, and folders. You can create custom hotkeys that replace abbreviations of words you type with longer versions, and there’s an offline mode for reading and responding to emails when an internet connection isn’t available. 

Most people will get Zoho Mail as part of the Zoho Workplace or Zoho One bundle. If you’re willing to move your organization to the Zoho ecosystem, you get a load of tools to work with, and the price is very competitive. If you’re not interested in all the other apps Zoho offers, then Zoho Mail is much less appealing.

Yahoo Mail's homepage

Yahoo Mail was completely redesigned in 2017 (Image credit: Yahoo)

Best email provider for managing multiple accounts

Specifications
Free storage: 1TB
Paid plan: from $1.19/month
Reasons to buy
+Massive 1TB of email storage+Nice inbox personalization options
Reasons to avoid
-Occasional on-site errors-Has suffered multiple security breaches in the past

Yahoo Mail was one of the earliest webmail applications to gain widespread popularity, but it fell behind the competition in features and ease of use. In 2017, Yahoo Mail received a major redesign, and its latest interface is slick, polished, and professional.

The clean interface, like most modern email apps, reserves most space for your inbox, but there’s also an organization panel to the left of the screen splitting your emails into inbox, unread, starred, drafts, sent, archive, spam, and deleted items. You also have the option to create your own additional folders to organize your emails as you see fit.

Dive into the settings menu, and there’s an impressive range of options for customizing your email experience. You can choose to turn on a tabbed interface so you can work with multiple emails at once. You can connect your Gmail, Outlook, and Hotmail addresses so that all of your emails can be accessed in one place. 

Up to 50 mailboxes can be administered under one account, even on the free plan, and there’s the option to organize your inbox into conversations automatically. Disposable email addresses are an interesting addition you can use to protect your privacy.

If you need more from your email, there’s Yahoo Mail Pro. At $3.49 a month, it removes all ads, your emails are never purged, and you can auto-forward emails to another address.

Hidden away on the Yahoo Small Business website, you’ll also find Business Mail, a similar product where you can use your own domain name and administer multiple employees’ email addresses. It’s possible to get a free .com or .net domain through Yahoo when you sign up or use a domain you’ve already purchased elsewhere. 

Prices work on a sliding scale, so one mailbox costs $3.19 a month, five mailboxes cost the equivalent of $1.59 per mailbox a month, and 10 mailboxes cost the equivalent of $1.19 per mailbox a month.

Business Mail will therefore be most interesting if you need a bunch of email addresses with a lot of storage space, as each mailbox comes with 1TB of storage for emails. You can also import contacts from Gmail, Outlook, and Facebook, and there are productivity tools like calendars and document viewers in the interface. 

Richard Sutherland

Richard brings over 20 years of website development, SEO, and marketing to the table. A graduate in Computer Science, Richard has lectured in Java programming, and has built software for companies including Samsung and ASDA. Now, he writes for TechRadar, Tom's Guide, PC Gamer, and Creative Bloq.