Webmail Smackdown: Which Is Best?
Many people have ditched desktop email clients for the convenience of Web-based mail apps. Google's Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Microsoft's Outlook.com are the biggest players in this arena. Find out which one I like best, and why 'none of the above' might be a good choice for you...
Which Webmail Service is Tops?
Webmail can be accessed from any computer that is equipped with a Web browser. Many Internet service providers (ISPs) offer their own webmail services. The convenience of not being tied to an inbox on one computer desktop is nice, but the biggest downside is lack of portability. If you switch your ISP, you lose access to all your email on their webmail server. Fortunately, there are many third-party webmail services out there. Let’s see how the top brands compare...
Google Mail, commonly called Gmail, is the gold standard in Webmail. In my opinion, nobody does it better, or with greater thought for users’ convenience and protection. More than half a billion other Gmail users agree. For instance, if you use the word “attachment” in an email’s subject line but no file is attached to the message, Gmail will ask you, “Did you forget to attach a file?” Gmail’s spam filter is the best in the business. Its filtering and search features are incomparable.
Gmail Labs, a set of optional and experimental features that can be enabled, include Canned Responses, custom keyboard shortcuts, a Preview Pane, Undo Send, and other nifty features. The most popular Labs tend to get rolled into the Gmail base code. There's also a rich assortment of third-party addons for Gmail, including Rapportive (displays info about people you're emailing), SaneBox (keeps folders organized), and Boomerang (schedule messages to be sent later, and check for replies).
On the downside, Gmail is ad-supported and the targeting of ads is often way off the mark. But it’s free, and you can store up to 15 GB worth of email. I've been using Gmail since 2004, and only recently hit the 15GB mark. I'm sure I could find and delete 5 or 10GB of useless attachments, but instead I opted to pay $5/year for an additional 20GB of storage that can be shared across Gmail, Google Drive and Google Photos.
Yahoo! Mail, or Ymail: Once a totally hopeless mess, Ymail has been improved as a Gmail imitator under its new CEO, Marissa Mayer, who used to work for Google. The service claims about 275 million users worldwide. Unlike Gmail, Ymail gives you the option to get rid of ads (without using an ad-blocker) – for $49 a year. (If you paid for Yahoo's "Mail Plus" feature in the past, you're grandfathered in at $19.99 per year.)
Disposable email addresses, POP email and mail forwarding, which used to be available only in Mail Plus, are now part of the free Yahoo Mail service. One nice feature is the ability to collapse the left-hand side bar, to gain more screen space for reading and composing messages. Yahoo Mail does beat Gmail on free storage. But who actually needs 1 TB of space for email? (Yahoo says that's enough for 6000 years of inboxing.)
Microsoft's Outlook.com, formerly Hotmail: Leave it to Microsoft to confuse everyone by naming its Webmail service after the POP3 email client (and personal organizer) program included with its Office suite of productivity tools. The Hotmail name was a total loss; it became synonymous with spam, security breaches, and user cluelessness. Renaming it after the most widely used business productivity suite is supposed to restore respectability to Microsoft’s Webmail service. About 250 million people actively use Outlook.com.
Storage space is “unlimited” in Outlook.com, the final trump in this ultimately irrelevant game of one-upmanship. Also, email attachments as large as 300 MB are possible using the integrated Sky Drive cloud storage service, whereas Gmail attachments are limited to 25 MB. Skype, Calendar, and the People contact manager are also integrated into Outlook.com, making the Webmail service feel and behave much like the desktop Outlook so familiar to corporate workers and solo professionals.
AOL Mail, also known as Granny’s Mail: Amazingly, AOL Mail is still among the top five most-used Webmail services despite its (perhaps unfair) reputation as something only clueless people use. AOL pretty much ruled the Internet back in the mid to late 1990s, and I suppose there are plenty of people who just don't want to switch, or hassle with changing their email address.
AOL Mail has been modernized from its 1990s look, and spam filtering is pretty good, but it still lacks so many features that it’s just terrible for anyone who has used Gmail, Outlook.com, or even Ymail. For instance, there is no notification that you have received new mail; that’s staggering considering that AOL’s TV commercial tagline used to be “You’ve Got Mail!” They do offer the option to forward all your mail to a new address, which might be the most useful feature of all.
Hushmail is a significantly different Webmail service: ad-free, unlimited email aliases, and that increasingly scarce commodity, privacy. Email is stored in encrypted form and Hushmail does not have the keys, so even a government subpoena will not force the company to produce your private correspondence. Privacy costs money: $49.98 per year gets you 10 GB of storage, Web and POP/IMAP access, unlimited email aliases & dedicated technical support, and no advertising.
What's your preferred email platform? Still chained to your desktop, or do you use one of these webmail services? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 14 Mar 2014
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