Gmail vs. ProtonMail: Which Email Client Is Best for You?
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Of all the best free email services The Best Free Email Accounts You Need to Consider The Best Free Email Accounts You Need to Consider Everyone knows about Gmail. If you think that's the best free email account out there, you're underestimating all the other services. You have options and we have the details. Read More out there, Gmail and ProtonMail sit at the top: one for convenience, one for privacy. ProtonMail is the most secure free email service The 3 Most Secure & Encrypted Email Providers Online The 3 Most Secure & Encrypted Email Providers Online Fed up with government surveillance? Concerned your emails might be read by third parties? If so, it's worth looking at an encrypted email solution to protect your messages. Read More right now, and we recommend it for anyone fearful of data breaches Affected by the Yahoo! Breach? Why Not Try ProtonMail? Affected by the Yahoo! Breach? Why Not Try ProtonMail? ProtonMail is a free, open source email service that focuses on security and privacy by allowing users to easily send and receive encrypted emails. But can ProtonMail be a secure replacement for Yahoo! Mail? Read More .

But is ProtonMail right for you? The answer isn’t easy.

As awesome as ProtonMail is on paper, it does have a few drawbacks that may make it unusable for your specific needs. Here’s our full comparison of Gmail vs. ProtonMail to help you decide if switching over is the right move.

Interface

Gmail

Gmail has had the same general interface since its debut in 2004, although obviously with tweaks here and there. Your email navigation is done in the sidebar, your inbox is filtered into tabs (which you can customize), and emails are managed through a toolbar along the top.

Gmail vs. ProtonMail: Which Email Client Is Best for You? email interface gmail

Unlike most modern email clients, Gmail’s interface uses a two-page design. You have the full inbox view (first page), then you click into individual emails (second page), then return to the inbox view. To me, this isn’t the most efficient way to browse through many emails.

But overall, the Gmail interface is great. The simplicity and minimalism are non-distracting, and it’s both fast and responsive.

ProtonMail

ProtonMail’s interface is more like what you’d expect from modern email clients: a three-pane approach with main navigation on the left, an inbox view in the middle, and currently-selected email view on the right.

Gmail vs. ProtonMail: Which Email Client Is Best for You? email interface protonmail

Like Gmail, ProtonMail adheres to a clean and minimal approach in its design. Every interface element has a purpose, and no space is wasted. But unlike Gmail, ProtonMail isn’t afraid to use boxes to separate different areas, and this makes it feel more organized and easier to navigate.

Either way, you can’t go wrong: Gmail and ProtonMail both have the upper hand against pretty much all other free email services.

Privacy

Gmail

Gmail supports a kind of encryption called point-to-point encryption (P2Pe). With point-to-point encryption, your emails can be read by you and by Google but nobody else.

Here’s an analogy: Google provides you with a lockable pneumatic container. You write a letter, stick the letter inside the container, lock the container, then send it through a pneumatic tube directly to Google. Google can then unlock the container, pull out your letter, and do whatever it wants with it.

Gmail vs. ProtonMail: Which Email Client Is Best for You? email gmail security

P2Pe is good because it prevents third parties from snooping — even if somebody intercepts your letter, they wouldn’t be able to unlock it. But Google can still read your emails.

There are benefits to this. Google needs access to emails to determine if it’s spam, to let you to quickly search emails, and to make sure your emails are never lost (which can happen if the email is encrypted and you lose your key). But as far as privacy goes? Google does read your emails.

ProtonMail

In addition to P2Pe, ProtonMail supports a deeper kind of encryption called end-to-end encryption (E2Ee). With end-to-end encryption, your emails can’t be read by anyone except yourself.

Here’s a modified analogy: ProtonMail provides you with a lockable pneumatic container. But after you write your letter, you encode it with a cipher before locking it in the container, then send it off. ProtonMail can unlock the container just like Google, but it can’t read the letter without your cipher.

Gmail vs. ProtonMail: Which Email Client Is Best for You? email security protonmail

This is why ProtonMail provides a “Login Password” (for P2Pe) and a “Mailbox Password” (E2Ee). ProtonMail stores your login password but NOT your mailbox password. If you lose your mailbox password, you will lose ALL of your emails.

In short, ProtonMail is infinitely more private than Gmail, but also a great deal riskier. If you’re prone to lose passwords, or if you have emails that you absolutely cannot lose, then ProtonMail may not be worth the risk.

This also means that ProtonMail does NOT support IMAP, POP3, or SMTP. As of this writing, the mailbox password feature requires web browser technology, so you can only access ProtonMail on the web The Top 6 Popular Free Email Providers Online Other Than Gmail & Yahoo The Top 6 Popular Free Email Providers Online Other Than Gmail & Yahoo If you don't want a Gmail account, what choices do you have? There are some other good alternative email services you can consider even though Google has the biggest share of the inbox. Read More .

Pricing

Gmail

Gmail’s pricing scheme: FREE with all features and 15GB of space.

  • In order to curb spammers, Gmail limits you to 500 recipients per email and a maximum of 500 outgoing emails per day. If you reach this limit, it will reset within the next 24 hours.

If you regularly send emails in bulk to the same addresses, one workaround is to create a Google Group with those contacts, then send your emails to the Group’s address. This will count as one outgoing email.

ProtonMail

ProtonMail’s pricing scheme is a bit more complicated.

  • Free accounts get 1 email address, 500MB of storage, up to 150 outgoing messages per day, up to 3 folders/labels for organization, and none of the advanced features: email filters, autoresponder, catch-all email, or multi-user support.
  • Plus accounts are €5/mo ($6/mo) and get 5 email addresses, 5GB of storage, up to 1,000 outgoing messages per day, up to 200 folders/labels for organization, and two of the advanced features: email filters and autoresponder. Most users probably need this tier for personal email.

If you can get by with the free tier, then great! But if you have an extremely tight budget with no room for paid email, then ProtonMail may not be a viable option.

Migrating From Gmail to ProtonMail

As expected, the main difference between Gmail and ProtonMail is privacy — and privacy does come at a cost. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to make such a choice. But we do.

If you decide that ProtonMail is right for you, note that the migration pipeline is NOT yet complete. As of this writing, you can import contacts but not messages.

Export Gmail Contacts

  1. At the top left, switch from Mail view to Contacts view.
  2. In the top toolbar, click More > Export…
  3. Choose All contacts and Outlook CSV format, then click Export.
  4. If necessary, pick a location for the CSV file download.

Import Contacts to ProtonMail

  1. In the top toolbar, click Contacts.
  2. At the top right, click Upload.
  3. Click in the area labeled “Drop Here,” navigate and select your CSV or VCF contacts file, then click Upload.

Note that ProtonMail can only import CSV or VCF files that are formatted in UTF-8. This means you may have trouble importing contacts recorded in other languages, including Arabic, Asian, and Cyrillic.

Export Gmail Messages

  1. Go to Google’s Data Download page.
  2. Click Select None, scroll down and enable Mail, then click Next.
  3. Choose ZIP as the file type, 2GB as the archive size, and Send download link via email as the delivery method.
  4. Click Create archive.

ProtonMail’s Import Messages feature is still being developed, but it’s still a good idea to back up your messages now so you can have them on hand when the feature is ready. Who knows if Google will disallow this in the future?

Forward Gmail to ProtonMail

Setting up email forwarding is a convenience option. Gmail’s forwarding does NOT use end-to-end encryption, but messages WILL be point-to-point encrypted (so you don’t have to worry about them being intercepted).

  1. In Gmail, click Gear icon > Settings.
  2. Navigate to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab.
  3. Click Add a forwarding address at the top.
  4. Enter your ProtonMail address, then click Next.
  5. Wait for Gmail’s confirmation email to arrive in your ProtonMail inbox, then click the verification link in that email to authorize the forwarding.
  6. Refresh Gmail, navigate back to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab if necessary, then select Forward a copy of incoming mail at the top. Choose your ProtonMail address, as well as “Keep Gmail’s copy in the Inbox.”
  7. Scroll down and click Save Changes.

How Important Is Email Privacy to You?

If you want to cut ties with Gmail and Google altogether, see our article on clearing all your Google data How To Clear Your Data From Google & Attempt To Regain Some Of Your Privacy How To Clear Your Data From Google & Attempt To Regain Some Of Your Privacy Wiping all trace of you from the web is not easy, but after reading Dragnet Nation by Julia Angwin you might just want to try. It's time to stop willingly throwing away your privacy. Read More . If you can’t afford ProtonMail and will reluctantly be using Gmail, see our article on improving your Gmail security 5 Ways to Improve Your Gmail Security in Under 5 Minutes 5 Ways to Improve Your Gmail Security in Under 5 Minutes Email security is always important, but using Gmail can lead us into a false sense of security. If you use Gmail, these vital tips will save you from the inevitable headaches and grief later. Read More .

Regardless of which email service you use, it’s important to always practice good email security habits 7 Important Email Security Tips You Should Know About 7 Important Email Security Tips You Should Know About Internet security is a topic that we all know to be important, but it often sits way back in the recesses of our minds, fooling ourselves into believing that "it won’t happen to me". Whether... Read More .

Are you willing to pay for email privacy? Or does it not bother you that Google (and other email services) can read your emails? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. Chris Doppler
    October 6, 2017 at 12:44 am

    I’m paying to use the email service FastMail. They claim complete privacy and I’ve been very happy with it for the last year or so.

  2. dragonmouth
    October 5, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    "Gmail has had the same general interface since its debut in 2004"
    In computer years, that is ARCHAIC. If it were any other application from any other developer, you and everybody else would be all over it for being Stone Age. How come GMail and Google get a pass? I had features with ATT WorldNet 20 years ago that Google still hasn't thought of. They are more interested in eye candy, glitz and cutesy garbage than they are interested in usable features. And then, of course, is Google's data harvesting.

    Proton Mail all the way!

  3. Philip Owens
    October 5, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    "As of this writing, the mailbox password feature requires web browser technology, so you can only access ProtonMail on the web." Actually, you can use their app. I use it on my phone, and it works great! If you use a password manager, then there is no reason to worry about forgetting your password to ProtonMail. IMHO, it does everything I need it to do, and it does so very securely.

    • Chris Doppler
      October 6, 2017 at 12:46 am

      I completely agree. The app is great and my LastPass keeps my complicated secure passwords at my fingertips.

    • KwaK
      October 6, 2017 at 7:00 am

      I use the app too but I think it's in "Beta" state (as in - don't blame us if something breaks unexpectedly) for Android. And I believe there is no way to have an e-mail client on your Windows or Linux-based OS PC. Sure, you can use the website ... but, for example, I have a mixture of multiple work and personal e-mails that I use and access from the Mail app on Windows 10.

      On a side note - Proton mail offers creation of e-mail "aliases" so you don't have to create multiple, different, personal or work related emails.

  4. Briggs
    October 5, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    ProtonMail for Privacy for sure, no question.

  5. Redowan Nafi
    October 5, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Protonmail is cool and I can pay for the service but it's not worth it. Because

    1. End-to-end encryption only works when both the sender and the recipient are using protonmail. Otherwise, the protocols are just like Gmail. All of the people I communicate with have gmail addresses.

    2. No IMAP and PoP3 means you can't use a desktop client. I know they are building protonbridge but that is a paid only options and adds an extra layer of hassle

    3. Their spam detection is junk. Often my important mails take place in the spam folder.

    4. Protonmail.com extension is too big as well as a mundane domain name. Gmail, outlook are much simpler. They are bringing out pm.me but that's not going to happen anytime soon.

    5. 90% people don't know about snooping or don't care. Google's free 15gb is quite a generous offer. Microsoft offers unlimited email space. 500 mb in the free plan is a bit low and most people I know won't be interested in shelling out $6 for the plus account that also has only 5gb mail space.

    6. A lot of filters flag protonmail as spam because hackers and scamners are using protonmail now like hell.