It’s not a stretch to assume you probably use Gmail—it seems like most of the world does, these days. That reality has created consternation over some of the recent privacy and security-related changes to Gmail and Google Chrome.
This isn’t a sudden pivot. For years, Gmail and Chrome have been changing from what were once some of the most flexible and open internet tools out there, to something more closed-off—and, in some cases, less secure.
These privacy concerns are part of an era of data security risks that go deeper than just Google, and for some, it’s a question of privacy from various government agencies. However, creepy and concerning as the government having access to our data may be, most people aren’t on the NSA’s radar. And if they are, it won’t matter what email service you use. Instead, the real threats to most people’s privacy are businesses and private entities that want to buy, sell, and mine your data. Let’s throw out a random example: say, maybe Google data mining your inbox so it can better advertise to you, for instance?
We don’t blame you if you want to put a stop to that, so let’s look at the best Gmail alternatives currently available.
Is Gmail really that bad?
To be fair, while this post is “anti-Google” by nature (insofar as we’re trying to swap out its proprietary email service for something else), there’s still plenty of merit to using Gmail and Google’s other services—this post, in fact, was largely drafted in Google Docs. The point here is not necessarily to spell doom and gloom about Google or its privacy practices, but rather to give viable alternatives that can solve a number of shortcomings Gmail has overall. In the following sections, you’ll find both paid and free alternatives that cover everything from enhanced security features to deep customisation tools for private users and businesses alike.
Why pay for an alternative to something that’s free? Well, because these email services do as much, if not more, as Gmail does, but without the ad support and with stronger privacy defences. Plus, you won’t be spending more than an average of $US5 ($7) or $US6 ($8) per month through most of these services. If you’re after an upgraded email solution, sacrificing a cup of coffee each month is probably worth it.
A quick heads up that applies to most of the services here: If the email client you’re interested in doesn’t track your data, it doesn’t save your password, either. Be sure to keep that written down someplace safe, and if necessary, set up redundancy accounts just in case.
This Switzerland-based company has perhaps the most attractive and competitive alternative to Gmail currently available (and the Microsoft Office Suite, for that matter). Users will get access to not just an email service, but a whole package of ad-free online applications like calendars, file editors, and more, which can be synced with all your devices and accessed collaboratively like in Google Docs.
Any privacy concerns you’ve had with Gmail are moot with Kolab Now. Not only does Kolab Now ensure your data and files are safe from the prying eyes of businesses, but the email servers are also hosted in Switzerland, a country with incredibly strict data privacy laws. The service only saves your debug report logs when necessary—otherwise, it’s entirely hands-off. Plus, the whole thing was built on open-source software.
Two packages are available, an Individual plan (about $US4 ($6).56 ($6) per month based on currency conversion) that includes all the aforementioned features, and a Group plan (about $US5 ($7).56 per user, per month) that adds custom domain support, admin tools, and support for up to 100 users on a single plan. You can test either option with a 30-day free trial, too.
Proton Mail is another Swiss company, but it focuses solely on secure email, rather than the software suite that Kolab Now provides. Users can sign up entirely anonymously, all email is fully encrypted end-to-end, and no IP information is tracked by the service—and since it’s hosted in Switzerland, your email server is off-limits.
In addition to the web-based client, there are also Proton Mail apps available for Android on iOS, and all of them are build from open source programs and feature the same iron-clad security and encryption.
Users can sign up for a free account, which provides up to 500MB of storage for a single user, but imposes a 150-message daily limit and truncated tech support. However, the paid options are much more enticing:
Plus: $US5 ($7) per month, or $US48 ($66) per year. Includes single user support, 5 addresses, 5GB storage, up to 1000 messages per day, email filers, and autoresponder features, plus better tech support.
Professional: $US8 ($11) per month, or $US75 ($104) per year. Supports up to 5000 users, 5 addresses per user, 5GB storage per user, unlimited messages and folders, plus priority tech support.
Visionary: $US30 ($41) per month or $US288 ($398) per year. Only supports a max of 6 users, 50 addresses, and 20GB storage total, but adds in ProtonVPN access, plus all the features from the professional tier.
You can also opt for additional storage, addresses, and domains at additional monthly prices.
FastMail is a very popular email service, and likely the first name you’ll see mentioned if you’re looking for a serious paid alternative to Gmail. The service provides full mobile sync for push notifications and contacts, plus live tech support at each of it subscription packages, which are priced as follows:
Basic: $US3 ($4) per month or $US30 ($41) annually, per user
Standard: $US5 ($7) per month or $US50 ($69) annually, per user
Professional: $US9 ($12) per month or $US90 ($124) annually, per user.
A 30-day trial exists, but only for the Standard option, and only covers a maximum of five users.
The Basic package grants you 2GB of storage per user, while Standard and Professional offer 25GB and 100GB, respectively. Professional subscribers will also get unlimited archiving space and data retention.
One thing to keep in mind is that $US5 ($7) and $US9 ($12)-level subscribers can use their own domain addresses, while $US3 ($4) users can only use Freemail addresses. The company recycles @freemail addresses if no longer in use—so if you cancel your freemail account, it’s possible someone else could wind up with it. While unlikely, this does present a potential privacy concern, so if you can use your own domain we recommend doing so. Regardless of what package you opt for, Fast Mail does not track any of your data, nor does it use ads.
While some of the options here include business options, and in some cases are tailored specifically for them, Tutanota is primarily for individuals or smaller groups, and its pricing reflects this. Users start out by creating a free account, which includes 1GB of mailbox storage and a Tutanota domain address. From there, you can upgrade your account to either Premium (about $US1.20 ($2) to $US1.40 ($2) per month) or Pro (about $US5 ($7).88 to $US7.06 ($10) per month) accounts, plus the ability to customise your subscription further with expandable storage and more email aliases.
Aside from the pricing flexibility, the main draw here is the security. Like Proton Mail, Tutanota provides end-to-end encryption on your emails. It hosts your emails in Germany, which benefits from the EU’s tighter data laws than what we have in the US.
Zoho mail is primarily built around business needs, rather than individuals (though free email-only accounts are available for individuals). As such, the $US3 ($4) monthly Standard Zoho Workplace package includes multi-account access to the Zoho Office Suite for all subscribers, which provides editing apps for documents, spreadsheets, and slideshows, password-protected sharing, cloud drive storage, and the Zoho Cliq live messaging app.
The $US8 ($11) per month Professional tier sweetens the deal with three other apps: Zoho Meeting for video conferencing, Zoho Connect for task management (like Trello or Asana), and the Zoho ShowTime remote meeting software.
There are free Email-only accounts available as well, which support up to five users restrict users to a single domain address, a 25MB limit to attachment sizes, 5GB of storage per user, and can only be accessed via the web client.
Yeah, we know — swapping from Gmail to Microsoft isn’t that much of a change, but in terms of software packages, data and analytics, and overall power, Microsoft Server Exchange is a definite competitor. You’ll be shelling out $US12.50 ($17) a month per user, but you’ll be getting the entire Microsoft Office and Services Suite in addition to email services.
Business-class email-only options are available as well—the $US4 ($6) monthly subscription provides 50GB mailbox storage per user, while paying $US8 ($11) monthly will get you 100GB per user.
When it comes to free email options, few can match Gmail in terms of feature breadth, flexibility, and ubiquity. However, instead of jumping ship to something like Yahoo, we’d recommend looking into the free packages available from some of the above companies, specifically Tutanota, Proton Mail, and Zoho Mail.
Otherwise, what’s left are the “other guys” of the email world: AOL, Yahoo, Outlook, AOL, Mail.com, GMX, Yandex, etc.
These options are ad-supported, hosted in the US, Russia, or other countries with more lenient data privacy laws, and most are owned by larger companies with their own potentially skeevy tracking practices. So yes, AOL, Outlook, and Yahoo may technically be viable free alternatives to Gmail in the most basic sense, but it would be disingenuous to say they don’t come with their own major red flags—Yahoo, for example, seems to have a rocky track records when it comes to keeping their users’ data safe from hackers. Still, if you’re over Gmail and just want something new, these will get you that for free.
Hosting your own email server
There is one final option to consider, and that’s hosting your own email server. If you’re considering this option, you’re a brave soul. Hosting an email server can be a complicated and challenging project that requires at least an intermediate familiarity with Linux operating system (specifically Ubuntu), server software, and PC hardware alike.
There is one service, called Mail-in-a-Box, that aims to make the process much easier to set up and alleviate some of the hardware requirements that running your own email server entails.
However, despite Mail-in-a-box streamlining much of the process, the whole project still takes several hours, and that’s not including the time necessary to build the server computer itself.
Furthermore, if you decide to try out Mail-in-a-box, do note the project’s goals, as stated by the creators on the official page:
“Make deploying a good mail server easy.”
“Promote decentralization, innovation, and privacy on the web.”
“Have automated, auditable, and idempotent system configuration.”
“Not make a totally unhackable, NSA-proof server (but see our security practices).”
“Not make something customisable by power users.”
Those last two are important, especially if they conflict with your ultimate goal behind running a private email server. There technically are methods for creating an email server that approximates a digital Fort Knox, but only seriously skilled users should attempt something like that. In fact, unless you came here looking specifically for tips on setting up your own private email server, it’s best to leave this one to the professionals.