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.
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 email clients - at a glance
- Microsoft Outlook 2019
- Mail for Windows 10
- eM Client
- Mailbird Pro
Microsoft’s classic email client
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.
The email client that’s good enough to come with Windows
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.
A full-featured alternative email client
This alternative email client is trusted and used by Fortune 500 companies which include Avis, McDonald’s and Toyota.
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 of eM Client (7.2) 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.
The email client that bristles with app integrations
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.
The anti-phishing email client
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.
Visual-oriented email with added features
TouchMail is an email client that simplifies email by making it more visual. This also makes it easier to use on a touch-based mobile device.
The goal of TouchMail is to aggregate multiple email accounts together, in a single visually attractive interface which is user-friendly. It lets you see all of the day’s emails in one place, with messages color-coded by sender for easy identification. Emails from top senders can be easily sorted and managed, too.
This client is available for the Windows 10 platform, but not for iOS or Android, sadly. TouchMail is available from the Microsoft Store, and costs $9.99.
Mozilla's free but capable email client
Last but definitely not least, 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.
Cloud-based email clients to consider
An email client was traditionally a piece of software that was installed or downloaded onto your computer. However, these days an email client can also be a web application (as seen above by our inclusion of Outlook as part of the Microsoft Office 365 software platform). Here's we'll consider some additional email client options, both in the traditional sense of being a piece of additional software, and also in the more recent sense of being cloud-based:
GMail has become one of the most successful web applications for providing email in recent times, not least because it's free to use. Although there have been other popular free email sites, not least from Yahoo and ISP providers, a couple of advantages have made GMail stand out among the competition. The first is that it integrates with all Google services, and even if you're not using the G Suite range of applications cuh as Google Docs, the Google Calendar application works seamlessly with GMail. Additionally, GMail has one of the best anti-spam and anti-phishing filters out there, which helps keep users safe. Added this the fact that having a Google Account to access a range of Google services means having a GMail account at its core has made GMail the popular success for home and business that it is today.
Oulook.com is a free online email service from Microsoft. Despite Microsoft's push on Outlook as part of the Office Suite, you don't need to buy or subscribe to that service to get a free account on Outlook.com. This is certainly handy if you simply need a free email address that you can use online. However, as a free service it's not integrated with Microsoft's other products without a paid Office 365 subscription, so it has to be treated as a standalone account. This puts itself at a disadvantage compared to rival integrated services such as GMail, but Outlook.com does the job if you simply want a free if basic email address to use with no strings attached.
Yahoo Mail is one of the old established online email providers. Rather than software to download and run, it's a web application you log onto when you're online. Yahoo Mail is also free, which has long been the appeal of this service, especially as it's been available for decades and often provided a free alternative to paid-for Microsoft options. However, these days Yahoo Mail may not be seen to have advanced much beyond its original design, with little push on feature development, not least filtering of junk mail. If you desperately need a free email client then Yahoo Mail is an option, but it's difficult to recommend it over more developed applications such as GMail.
Your ISP because normally when you sign-up for a broadband (or even dial-up) account, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will provide you with a free email associated with your account. Some will even provide a basic email client in their customer support platform that you can use. The positive is that you have immediate access to sending and receiving emails. The negative is that any such provision will be more limited than any of the more feature-rich alternatives listed above. Additionally, you're likely to repeatedly switch ISPs through your life, so it's probably best not to rely too much on one of their email addresses if you are simply going to move service later, especially when you could use one of the other options already listed here.