With so many clients now in the cloud, rather than on the desktop, email clients have certainly taken a turn over the past few years. So, to differentiate themselves, the desktop clients have become more advanced and offer more and more features to keep customers interested.
For most users finding a good email client can mean the difference between getting on with your work or hitting your head against a desk in frustration.
Here's a list of the best email clients reviewed and compiled to save you from heart/headache. For ease of use I've split the review into two different categories, desktop and web-based.
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Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide
Mozilla Thunderbird is a free, open source POP and IMAP email client developed by Mozilla.org, the same folks who brought you Firefox. Feature-wise it sits somewhere between Outlook Express and Outlook, which means that it offers an upgrade to Express users and a downgrade to those who use the more advanced PIM features of Outlook. Additional features can be added through free extensions. Notable among these is Webmail, an extension that allows POP3 access to webmail services operated by Yahoo, Hotmail, Lycos, MailDotCom, Gmail and Libero. Thunderbird email files can be indexed by the Google, Yahoo! and Copernic desktop search programs.
Outlook Express users should seriously consider switching. You’ll be rewarded with a more advanced product with these features:
- built-in spam filtering and RSS reader
- message color coding
- fast email search
- anti-phishing measures
- spell check as you type
- inbox filters
- Kerberos authentication
- automatic updates
- the ability to view your mail in conversational threads.
On top of that, the product is more secure than Outlook Express and, unlike the latter, is still being actively developed. Switching is made easier by the fact that Thunderbird looks and works similar to Outlook Express. Tools within Thunderbird also allow you to easily import your Outlook Express account settings and stored email. If you need assistance, there is an excellent guide from Mozilla available for download in the Quick Selection Guide section below.
Another good option, that many people are not aware of, comes from the same source as Opera browser. The folks at Opera call it their M2 Mail Client. Although there is no calendar in this program as in Outlook (it wasn't meant to compete with Outlook anyway), it is still quite powerful. This email client is a combined email database, news reader, mailing list organizer and RSS news feed reader, and it supports both POP3 and IMAP protocols. My experience with it was quite pleasant. It was easy to set up, very intuitive to use, and it easily found any contact I had ever had email correspondence with. Overall, it's a very nice product.
Despite the name Foxmail, it is not related to Firefox, but comes out of China. It's an impressive product with features that match or exceed Thunderbird's, and it's also very easy to use. My only real beef is the quality of the help files. Yes, they have been translated to English, but rather poorly; so poorly that they are actually quite amusing. With version 6.5 Beta 3 Foxmail now supports the IMAP protocol, which is a big deal for some. If you are savvy enough to figure out the program yourself, Foxmail is worthy of consideration. It's a top product with eight million users world-wide, and it's a real alternative to Thunderbird. If you need help there's a link in the Quick Selection Guide section.
Incredimail is an email client currently in version 2.0 that supports both IMAP, POP3 and Webmail accounts. The basic version is free to download and use, however additional features like animations, themes and junk filters require you to upgrade to the premium service so that is something to watch out for.
The user interface is well polished with basic animations that pop up when you receive a new email or if you delete one. This is a nice touch but can get in the way, it can however be disabled.
Incredimail supports Webmail accounts for GMail, Yahoo, AOL and Windows Live Hotmail.
The initial setup was fairly painless, the software detected the settings I had for Outlook although it got one of the port numbers wrong, but that was an easy fix in the settings. It also downloaded all the existing emails in my inbox and transferred them.
However, you are required to select the tool-bar integration and have Incredimail as your default search engine before you can proceed.
As a basic email client that can handle all of the main accounts, this is a very easy to set up and capable program, but it's limited by the need to upgrade for other main features.
eM Client is a popular client for Windows (XP - 7) that supports all popular webmails as well as POP3 and IMAP. Upon downloading you get a 30 day free trial, which grants you all the features, but the free license constricts you to only 2 email addresses per user.
The user interface for eM Client is certainly very swish (I haven't said that in a while...), and certainly looks and feels premium when using. There are no ads, or gimmicks, just a clean interface, not dissimilar to Outlook 2003. Initial setup is very easy, allowing you to import your accounts and settings from the clients already installed on your computer; and even manual setup was very easy, a nice interface to guide you through.
eM Client is certainly one of the better looking clients available for Windows however, the free version is held back by the account restriction to only two email addresses.
Let's get this one done first! Gmail, arguably the most popular webmail client at the moment, integrating deeply into the Google ecosystem and offering more features than it ever has before. On that note, features wise, it has a lot that you would expect such as:
- works with both POP and IMAP
- arrange emails into folders by adding 'Labels'
- contacts and tasks can be added and amended.
You'll find you'll get a lot more out of Gmail if you use other Google products. For example, if you use Google+ (which, realistically, you don't, but hypothetically...) you can chat right in the Gmail window, you can also view your circles on the right hand sidebar. Another great feature is Google Labs which is a series of add-ons that you can use to customise your Gmail; it's a very nice feature for more advanced users and it's great to see this amount of customization in a webmail client.
Although Gmail is free, there are ads displayed at the top of the list of emails which is fairly unobtrusive, but can make things look a bit cluttered and at first for me when I tested it, a little confusing as I wasn't expecting it.
You get 10GB of space for free, but if you need more (again, realistically, you won't), Google offer monthly payment plans to get you more space, which can go up to 16TB.
Gmail is at its peak, but there are downsides, the adverts while discrete can annoy some users and the Google+ integration can seem annoying if you don't use it; however, all that put aside, it's certainly a stylistic, elegant email client and offers a great number of features.
Outlook (the new Hotmail), Microsoft's really gone all out with it's Modern UI! It's taking all their products by storm, and Hotmail's next on the list. The new user interface of Outlook is very simple, with the layout of Hotmail remaining largely intact, but with better visuals that newcomers should find more appealing. Setup is fairly simple (or if you have a Microsoft account already, non-existent), like Gmail it provides options to get your old emails forwarded to one email address or access them directly through POP3 or IMAP support.
Some nice features include: being able to delete all emails by a certain sender, or even choosing how many emails from that sender to keep before automatically deleting old ones; automated replies for when you're away from your computer; as well as filters and folder; and all that jazz. Also, being able to import up to 4 POP3 accounts should keep most users satisfied. The built-in contact list 'People' is very modern, as is the calendar, but both put style over functionality as it can sometimes be difficult to access the advanced options.
On the down side, if you're not a fan of the UI, it is everywhere and while for the time being you can swap back to Hotmail view, I wouldn't expect that to stick around.
You might want to check out these articles too:
- Best Free Outlook Add-ins
- Best Free Spam Filter for the Average User
- Best Free Web Mail Accessory
- Best Free Outlook Express Backup
- Best Free Spam Filter for Experienced Users
Opera (M2 Mail Client)