The best email clients are no longer just about sending and managing emails, but now much more about integrating into additional software and apps.
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. Even better is that as online communications widen, some email providers include additional collaboration tools such as video conferencing as part of the service.
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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 we'll look at the best in email clients, before taking a look at additional options, not least email web apps.
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 Microsoft 365.
- Read our full Microsoft Outlook review.
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 license fee.
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.
- Read our full eM Client review.
Mailbird is an email client that promises to “save time managing multiple accounts,” and to make your email “easy and beautiful”. It comes in two main versions: Personal and Business.
While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, as they say, it’s undeniable that Mailbird Business offers many free themes to make email a more enjoyable and customizable experience.
Unlike some more Microsoft-centric email clients, Mailbird Business 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 Personal is available for free, with Mailbird Business available as a subscription or a one-time lifetime license.
- Read our full Mailbird review.
Inky is an email client that focuses on security, using AI and machine learning 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 annually or via a lifetime license for one-time fee. Both options offer a 7-day free trial.
- Read our full Hiri review.
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 labeling 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 also offers a paid business version of Gmail available in the shape of its Google Workspace (formerly 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.
Google Workspace is Google's answer to Microsoft 365, 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.
- Read our full Gmail review.
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.
However, for those used to a cloud-based email system they can use on the go from any device, Thunderbird can seem a little limited.
- Read our full Thunderbird review.
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 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).
- Read our full Slack review.
Also check out these secure email providers
We've recently been testing out the leading secure email providers. Check out reviews below to find out more about each service provider:
What is DMARC?
- By: Peter Goldstein, chief technology officer and co-founder, Valimail.
IT professionals navigating the email security landscape often find themselves quickly immersed in recommendations, best practices and acronyms. When it comes to email authentication though, one name unequivocally stands out above the rest: DMARC.
Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) is an email authentication tool and reporting protocol that protects an organization’s email domains, brands and employees against domain spoofing (aka exact-domain impersonation). DMARC builds on the previously known email authentication standards of SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail). While these standards are considered effective, they both have shortcomings, most notably around aligning the authentication method to the domain used in the “From” field of an email— what most people actually see.
Hackers love to exploit this security gap through impersonation-based email phishing and use it as their weapon of choice.
DMARC at enforcement is considered the gold standard against domain spoofing because it requires alignment for every email, meaning the “From” field of the email is aligned with what has been verified by either SPF or DKIM.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for DMARC’s benefits and power. DMARC also provides critical insights that help to authenticate the email source. With DMARC, domain owners can set a policy that specifies what mail receivers, like Gmail or Yahoo Mail, should do with incoming messages that do not align—meaning messages that appear to come from the domain but fail authentication. DMARC offers three policies:
- None: Tells mail receivers to deliver mail as usual, even when it fails authentication. This provides visibility only. Protection, also known as enforcement, is achieved with a Quarantine or Reject policy.
- Quarantine: Tells mail receivers to put messages that fail authentication into a spam or junk mail folder.
- Reject: Tells mail receivers to reject (and delete) messages that fail authentication.
Finally, DMARC provides a reporting mechanism that enables the mail receivers to provide domain owners with visibility into who uses their domain to send email, where the email originated and its authentication status. This reporting functionality empowers domain owners to fine-tune their email authentication policies to permit only trusted senders to send email on behalf of their organizations.
With phishing attacks on the rise and email as the backbone of many companies' communications, more organizations adopt DMARC enforcement to extend emphasis on confidence and trust to the safety and security of their email.
Remember this: Cybercriminals always look for the easiest way in. If DMARC is in place and enforced for a particular domain, attackers are forced to either use other complicated and time-consuming impersonation techniques or pick a different target.
Peter Goldstein is an MIT and Stanford-trained technologist who has worked in a variety of software verticals, including security, enterprise, email and video. He has built products and teams at a number of large technology companies, such as RSA Security and Perot Systems, as well as at small startups like Tout, Securant and Swapt.
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