In 2012, Gmail overtook Hotmail to become the most popular email provider in the world. Since claiming the crown, it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Today, the service boasts more than one billion users.
The other go-to free email provider is Yahoo Mail. Sure, its user numbers pale into insignificance compared with Gmail (it had around 255 million at the start of 2018), but it’s still one of the most recognizable global email brands.
But what other free email providers are out there? If you don’t want a Gmail or Yahoo account, here is a list of the best email services you can choose from.
Outlook terminology is confusing. Microsoft has done a poor job of differentiating between its free email accounts, its free modern Windows app, and its Office 365 app. Luckily, if you just want a free email account, you don’t need to get bogged down in the details; just head to outlook.com and sign up for an @outlook.com email address.
The service has surpassed Yahoo to become the second most popular free email provider in the world. In mid-2016, Microsoft reported it had more than 450 million active users.
Using an Outlook account comes with significant benefits. Because it’s operated by Microsoft, it’s heavily integrated into the Windows 10 operating system. It also works seamlessly with the Outlook Office 365 app.
If you decide to use either the web client or the desktop client, you’re in good company. 16 percent of all email sent is opened on one of the two apps.
2. GMX Mail
GMX Mail is a subsidiary of United Internet, one of Germany’s largest internet service providers. The free mail service has been gaining in popularity over the last few years, but it’s been around since 1997.
Feature-wise, you can expect 1 GB of file storage, a 50 MB attachment limit, and support for both IMAP and POP. Most interestingly, it offers 65 GB of email storage which is enough to never run out of space again. Unfortunately, it lacks an RSS reader and a conversation view.
3. Zoho Mail
Zoho Mail is one of the newest providers on the list. It’s only been in existence since October 2008.
In its short life, the service has quickly developed into one of the best free email providers outside the Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook troika. Driven by an ad-free web client (even for free users), it’s grown to more than 10 million active users in just nine years.
The app offers everything you’d expect from a free email provider, including multi-level folders, conversation views, drag-and-drop inbox organizing, and filters. Zoho Mail also lets you set up email at your domain for free! One omission is an integrated video chat tool.
Zoho Mail is part of a larger office productivity suite. The service is tightly integrated with Zoho Docs—a Microsoft Office alternative that lets you create, edit, and collaborate on text, presentation, and spreadsheet documents.
iCloud represents Apple’s venture into free email. Most Mac, iPad, and iPhone users have an account. iCloud itself is a holistic cloud service. It underpins other Apple services such as Find My iPhone, Photo Stream, Keychain, and iCloud Drive. Mail is just one facet of the app.
The app boasts 720 million users, but it’s not clear how many of them are using an @iCloud.com email address.
Like Outlook.com and Microsoft, iCloud integrates seamlessly with the default Apple mail client on both Mac and iOS. On mobile, you can add any number of email providers to the app. On the web client, you can only access your @icloud.com address.
All iCloud users get 5 GB of storage for free. In addition to documents, photos, and other data, any emails you receive count against the limit. As such, you might need to pay for more storage if iCloud is your provider of choice.
Note: There are plenty of other great cloud services for Apple users.
5. AOL Mail
AOL Mail is the granddad of free email services. It went live in March 1993, making it three years older than Hotmail, four years older than Yahoo Mail, and almost ten years older than Gmail.
Because of its age, it has a huge user base. Nevertheless, the numbers have been decreasing in recent years. In 2006, it had 50 million active monthly users, and as recently as 2010 it was the third-largest email provider in the world. Today, the number of active users is down to 25 million.
Just because AOL Mail is a recognizable brand name with millions of users, you shouldn’t necessarily rush to sign up. In recent years, several pieces of research have hinted at “email bias”. Potential employers are less likely to hire you if you have an AOL or Hotmail address; it suggests you’re stuck in 1996.
Although ProtonMail is still a relative newcomer to the world of email, it has quickly grown to become a popular provider thanks to its strong focus on confidentiality. The company was founded at CERN in Switzerland in 2014 and is still incorporated in the country. As such, it benefits from Switerzland’s Federal Data Protection Act and Federal Data Protection Ordinance—both of which provide some of the strongest privacy protections in the world.
More importantly, however, ProtonMail uses client-side encryption to protect the contents of a message before it hits the company’s own servers. Indeed, the way ProtonMail has designed its systems means the company does not have the technical capability to access your messages. That removes the risk that it’ll be forced to hand over the contents of an email to a third-party. It’s a very different approach to the one taken by more mainstream providers like Gmail and Outlook.
Other features include minimal information required at sign-up, no tracking or logging of your sessions, and self-destructing messages.
Which Email Provider Do You Prefer?
We’ve introduced you to six of the most popular email providers other than Gmail and Yahoo. Each has different benefits, but they all have the common theme of being highly popular among certain subsets of users.