Email is still central to most business applications, regardless of which type of office software suite you use. For some that means using Outlook with Microsoft Office, but for those using alternative office software there are also alternative email clients.
Email remains the primary method of communication between businesses, but there are a number of different ways in which emails can be used and stored.
The first main way is by using an email client, which will often use POP3, SMTP, or IMAP protocols to collect mail directly from a server to your PC or other computing device. This usually means downloading and installing software for an email client to receive your emails, and an server on which to store and collect your email from.
The second main way is using cloud services through a web application, which means that you don't need to download any software or even have a server to collect email from, as everything is store online by the web app provider.
While email clients may require a little more work to run, they also allow for more control over user data. In other words, only you control your emails, and third-parties have no access to them unless you purposefully - or accidentally - allow it.
This can be an important consideration for business purposes, as allowing your email to run through web apps means that although it will be safely backed-up, it also means the provider has control over your data, and some companies openly acknowledge that they will scan private emails at least for marketing purposes. Just remember to ensure you have a backup solution in place so you don't lose your email data.
Therefore while consumers have tended toward the ease of use that web app emails allow, many businesses still prefer to control their own emails through an email server and email clients, in order to protect sensitive business data.
There are a number of email providers on the market, so as we move into 2020 we'll look at the best in email clients, before taking a look at additional options, not least email web apps.
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Best paid email clients
Microsoft’s Outlook is the de facto email client for most businesses and enterprises, and has been around for decades, with its origins dating back to MS-DOS. Obviously it has tight integration with other Microsoft services, and that takes email beyond the simple exchange of messages.
Outlook has the advantage of being fully integrated with the Outlook Calendar, making it a snap to share calendars to coordinate meetings. This integration also extends to Outlook Contacts. Outlook is supported for the Windows platform, but also across the mobile platforms of iOS and Android as well.
Microsoft Outlook is available as part of the Microsoft Office suite, which can be purchased as the standalone Office 2016, or the subscription-based Office 365. A single user subscription to Office 365 Personal can be purchased for $7.99 per month or $79.99 for a full year. Office 365 Business is priced similar, with a slightly more expensive Premium edition that bundles collaborative software.
eM Client has been around for nearly 10 years now, and throughout that long development it's evolved into the best alternative email client for Windows.
It offers a wide array of features, including a calendar, contacts and chat. Support is provided for all the major email services including Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud and Outlook.com. The latest version also offers PGP encryption, live backup, basic image editing capabilities and auto-replies for Gmail.
There is a free tier, but you need the Pro version for commercial use, and that also gives you VIP support and unlimited accounts (the free product is limited to two email accounts). The Pro version has a one-time cost of $49.95.
eM Client makes it easy to migrate your messages from Gmail, Exchange, iCloud and Outlook.com – just enter your email address and the client will adjust the appropriate settings for you. eM Client can also import your contacts and calendar, and it's easy to deselect these options if you'd prefer to manage them separately.
There's an integrated chat app too, with support for common platforms including Jabber and Google Chat, and the search function is far superior to those you'll find in webmail interfaces.
Mailbird Pro is an email client that promises to “save time managing multiple accounts,” and to make your email “easy and beautiful”.
While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, as they say, it’s undeniable that Mailbird Pro offers many free themes to make email a more enjoyable and customizable experience.
Unlike some more Microsoft-centric email clients, Mailbird Pro supports a diverse range of integrated apps, including WhatsApp, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and Slack, all making for a better streamlined workflow. However, one downside to bear in mind here is that there’s no support for filters or rules to organize your inbox.
Mailbird Lite is available for free, with Mailbird Pro costing $7.20 a year. Alternatively, you can buy a lifetime subscription to Mailbird Pro for $23.70.
Inky is an email client that focuses on security, using “sophisticated AI, machine learning and computer vision algorithms” to block all manner of phishing attacks which might otherwise get through.
This client uses an ‘Inky Phish Fence’ that scans both internal and external emails to flag phishing attempts. The proprietary machine learning technology can literally read an email to determine if it has phishing content, and then is able to quarantine the email, or deliver it with the malicious links disabled. It also takes things a step further and offers an analytics dashboard, which allows an administrator to see patterns of attacks based on dates, or targeted users.
The Inky email client does offer a free trial, but sadly, pricing details aren’t made available on the Inky website. However, the site does note that pricing is per mailbox per month on a subscription, with volume discounts available.
Hiri is a paid-for premium email client that is designed primarily with business users in mind (it currently only supports Microsoft email services including Hotmail, Outlook and Exchange), but home users will also appreciate its productivity-boosting features.
If you find yourself spending too long managing, reading and replying to emails, Hiri is the email client for you. It includes a smart dashboard that lets you see how many unread messages you have at a glance and how long you should wait before checking them (after all, how many really need an instant reply?)
The Compose window is designed to save you time too, offering only the essential options (no fancy formatting) and including the subject line at the bottom so you don't have to write it until you know how to summarize the message.
These little touches make Hiri a truly exceptional client. If Microsoft is your email provider of choice, it should be well up your list.
Hiri is available to buy for $39 a year, or you can buy a lifetime license for one-time fee of $119. Both options offer a 7-day free trial.
Best free email clients
First released back in 2004, Google's Gmail has become the market leader in free email services with more than a billion users across the globe.
Gmail's stripped-back web interface is a highlight. Most of the screen is devoted to your inbox, with a minimum of toolbar and other clutter. Messages are neatly organized via conversations for easier viewing, and you can read and reply to emails with ease, even as a first-time user.
There's plenty of power here. Dynamic mail makes Gmail more interactive, with the ability to take action directly from within the email, like filling out a questionnaire or responding to a Google Docs comment. Messages can be automatically filtered into tabbed categories like Primary, Social and Promotions, helping you to focus on the content you need. Leading-edge spam blocking keeps your inbox free of junk, you can manage other accounts from the same interface (Outlook, Yahoo, any other IMAP or POP email), and there's 15GB storage for your inbox, Drive and photos.
You can also access Gmail offline, although you'll need Google Chrome for that to work. Furthermore, there is a neat snooze feature that allows you to, well, snooze an email for a specified amount of time (it also automatically labels that email as important).
Other features are more questionable. Instead of organizing messages into folders, for instance – a simple metaphor which just about every user understands – you must filter them using a custom labelling system. This works, and has some advantages, but isn't popular with all users. Still, Gmail is an excellent service overall, and a good first choice for your email provider.
Google makes a paid business-oriented version of Gmail available in the shape of its G Suite product.
This more professional product drops the ads and allows using a custom email address on your domain (firstname.lastname@example.org). Business-oriented migration tools can import mail from Outlook, Exchange, Lotus and more. Storage space doubles to 30GB on the Basic plan, and you get unlimited group email addresses, 99.9% guaranteed uptime and 24/7 support.
G Suite is Google's answer to Microsoft Office, so of course you also get apps for working with documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Shared calendars keep you better organized, there's video and voice conferencing for online meetings, and again, there’s 24/7 support to keep your system running smoothly.
This more Office-like power makes for a more expensive product than the email-only competition, with prices starting at $6 a user for the simplest plan. You're getting a lot for your money, though, and if you'll use G Suite's features then it could be a smart choice. A 14-day free trial provides an easy way to help you find out.
While Outlook is a stalwart of the business world, Microsoft has long realized that it is overkill for many home users, so there’s a lightweight email client built into Windows. Way back when, this client was Outlook Express, but it has since evolved and in the latest version of Microsoft’s desktop operating system, it’s known as Mail and Calendar.
For any Windows user, the Mail and Calendar client is an obvious choice, as when you log into Windows 10 with a Hotmail, Live, or Outlook.com address, the account is already added to the email client.
It can also work with other popular accounts, including Yahoo, Gmail, and iCloud. Mail and Calendar has a useful feature known as Quick Actions, which, for example, allows the user to easily flag or archive a message. It’s also integrated with the Windows Calendar app.
Mozilla's Thunderbird is an email client worth considering as an alternative to Outlook and paid-for programs. As you'd expect from the people who brough you the Firebox browser, Thunderbird is a well-developed piece of software.
It's free to download and installation is easy. Once running, you'll find it contains all the features you'd expect from an email client. However, what makes Thunderbird different is that there are additional customization options. You can install addons to provide additional features and functionality, and there are some especially neat ones for privacy and security.
Additionally, there are different themes available to download so you can personalize your email experience in a way that you usually can't with Outlook and others.
So if you'd prefer a free but capable email client you can tweak to give what you need, and change the look from the standard vanilla, Thunderbird from Mozilla could be well worth a look.
Spike is a versatile email client, available for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac, with a handy web app for those occasions when you don't have time to spend installing software.
It's billed as the first 'conversational' email app, which essentially means it presents messages and replies in bubbles in real time, in a style that looks very much like WhatsApp. This works particularly well for the type of short emails that you're likely to send to friends and family, making it refreshingly simple to keep track of long email chains that would usually be a mess of nested messages.
Spike is free for personal use, with support for an unlimited number of email accounts and up to 10 'group chat rooms'. If you're sick of trawling through messy lists of replies, it's a breath of fresh air.
For business users there's a nominal fee of $5.99 per email account, and enables both voice and video meetings.
Slack isn't an email client as much as an online communications and collaboration tool that aims to replace the need for email.
It’s an incredibly smart platform, and you can get it on mobile and desktop devices. It allows for the sending of direct messages (DMs) and files to a single person or a group of employees, and there’s the ability to organise conversations into different channels (perhaps for specific projects, one for technical support, general chat, and so forth).
The app also supports video calling. You can use the feature to talk to your colleagues about projects and work in-depth, without having to type everything into a DM. While this isn’t a replacement for cloud storage services, you are able to drag, drop and share files with your colleagues directly within Slack. It’s also compatible with services such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Box.
To round things off, Slack even has a free version, although unsurprisingly it has limitations (in terms of the number of messages stored, overall storage space and so forth).