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The Pros and Cons of 5 Popular Free Email Services

Logging in from anywhere is just one plus of Gmail, iCloud, Outlook, ProtonMail, Yahoo!

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While electronic mail became a mainstream mode of communication in the late ’80s — AOL’s iconic “You've got mail!” was heard for the first time in 1989 — email is still used heavily today, both personally and professionally.

How heavily? Nearly 320 billion emails were sent worldwide in 2021, according to a study from the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, California–based technology market research firm.

Though your internet service provider will give you a free email address, a free webmail account remains popular. You can log in from virtually any device, anywhere in the world, and access all your messages. You also can keep the same address if you move out of a coverage area or decide to switch carriers.

And did we say free? OK, so revenue from advertising aimed at you and these companies’ other income sources pay for the services. But you won’t have to put your hand in your pocket to sign up for and use webmail such as Gmail, iCloud, Outlook, ProtonMail, Yahoo! Mail and several others.

But therein lies the rub: Since so many many webmail options are available, it can be tough to know which one to use. Here is a look at some popular webmail services and what makes them stand out from others.

Gmail: The biggest has some neat free features

The world’s largest webmail provider, Google’s Gmail has about 1.5 billion active users and is available in 105 languages. Like Yahoo! and Outlook, Gmail has a dedicated app for mobile devices as well as a website to log into from anywhere.

What sets it apart: Unique features include powerful and accurate voice typing, nudges that remind you to follow up and respond to messages, the ability to “snooze” messages and easily schedule them to pop up later, an offline mode so you don’t have to have an internet connection to read your mail, and the ability to open attachments without opening emails.

You can also join a Google Meet chat or video call right from your inbox. And Gmail effectively blocks phishing emails.

Maximum attachment size: 25 megabytes (MB), up from 15MB per message. Like Yahoo! and Outlook, Gmail has a paid version with advanced features that is part of its Google Workspace suite.

Maximum mailbox size: 15 gigabytes (GB) total of free storage, or about 15,000 MB, shared across Gmail, Google Drive and Google Photos with an option to purchase more for a monthly fee.

Privacy: Google says it does not scan or read your Gmail messages to show you ads — it did before 2017 — but personalized advertisements are shown to you based on your online activity while you’re signed into Google.

iCloud Mail: Not for Android users

Free for anyone with an iCloud account, Apple’s iCloud Mail can be accessed on a Mac, PC or on an app for iOS. But Android users don’t have an app for that.

iCloud Mail is easy to use, easy on the eyes and, like many of the other webmail providers, is secure and supports other email services if desired. 

What sets it apart: iCloud Mail is great for flagging and segregating spam and lets you set up filter rules for certain types of messages, such as playing a certain sound, moving it to a folder and responding to messages automatically. It offers a simple Unsubscribe tab if it detects newsletters.

Maximum attachment size: 20MB per message

Maximum mailbox size: 5GB free with an option to purchase more for a monthly fee

Privacy: Apple scans iCloud messages for child sexual abuse material.

Outlook: A staple for business but branching out

Microsoft’s Outlook has been the go-to for companies for decades and is part of the Microsoft 365 suite of productivity applications. But Outlook.com is also a standalone, free website — and mobile application — that is the successor to Microsoft’s once trendy Hotmail.

What sets it apart: With a clean and attractive interface, Outlook is a full-featured email platform with a comprehensive Calendar function as part of the package — and smart integration between the two. Outlook.com also has People, Tasks and other sections as well as access to free web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more.

Outlook.com is also very accessible with optional voice-controlled navigation and support for multiple assistive devices.

Maximum attachment size: 20MB per message

Maximum mailbox size: 15GB, more with a Microsoft 365 subscription

Privacy: Backed by enterprise-grade security, Microsoft says Outlook helps protect your privacy and keep your inbox free of clutter, using the same tools employed for business customers. All sent messages are encrypted for added privacy.

Microsoft email is not scanned for advertising purposes, though messages are scanned to search for viruses and junk mail.

ProtonMail: A less-known secure solution

Billed as one of the most secure solutions, ProtonMail uses end-to-end encryption and zero-access encryption to secure messages, which means no one can read your messages, nor are they shared with third parties.

What sets it apart: Built by engineers and scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and CERN (in English, the European Organization for Nuclear Research), this email service is protected by Swiss privacy law. No personal information is required to create an email account, and it can be accessed on any device without installing any software. ProtonMail apps are available for both iOS and Android devices.

Maximum attachment size: 25MB per message

Maximum mailbox size: 500MB, upgradable to 1GB free with certain actions, more with a paid plan

Additional privacy: Email also is fully integrated with an encrypted calendar, enabling you to keep your events private, too.

Yahoo! Mail: A breeze to use

One of the oldest is still one of the best.

A breeze to use on its website or dedicated Yahoo! Mail app for smartphone and tablets, Yahoo! Mail lets you access mail from your free yahoo.com domain and from other mail providers including Gmail, Outlook, AT&T and more and set up different colors and notifications to keep accounts separate.

What sets it apart: An Attachments view option lets you easily find messages with photos and other attachments, plus People, Travel and Receipts view options are available. Accessibility features include dynamic text resizing, high-contrast themes and optimization for use with VoiceOver screen readers.


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While Yahoo! Mail — sometimes stylized as Y! Mail — lets you easily unsubscribe to newsletters and such, it doesn’t catch spam as well as some other email solutions, like Gmail.

Maximum attachment size: 25MB per message

Maximum mailbox sizes: 1 terabyte, about 1,000GB

Privacy: Be aware that Yahoo! scans its users’ emails for data to sell to advertisers. To opt out, Yahoo! says to click on the “On Yahoo” tab and opt-out to tell Yahoo’s automated systems to not analyze communications content sent and received from your account for such purposes.

This story, originally published, March 21, 2022, was updated to correct the size of attachments allowed in ProtonMail.

Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies.

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