Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)
When you sign up for Internet service from a provider like CenturyLink, Charter, Frontier, etc., you usually get at least one free email account from them. Often this address will consist of your name followed by @YourISP.com. This email account can be accessed on the Web or you can use a program such as Outlook to send and receive message. You might be limited in your choices for the address and they generally don’t support certain advanced features. Perhaps the biggest downside is that if you ever change Internet providers, you will either have to pay to keep your email address or lose it.
Most of the free options listed below offer paid accounts with different features than their free counterparts. The average user probably doesn’t need these but business may find them attractive or even necessary. Among these features are things like enhanced spam filtering, a central control panel for multiple accounts, priority technical support and custom domains.
As a go-to source for Internet and email some years ago, Aol (or America Online) is now a multimedia news site similar to MSN.com. Aol’s email is still available for free, supports POP3 and IMAP, offers unlimited mailbox storage and works in all web browsers.
Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail)
Like Aol, Hotmail was one of the most popular email providers. After Hotmail was purchased by Microsoft, it went through several name changes before ending up as Outlook.com in 2013. Featuring some of the broadest feature sets in the free email realm, Outlook.com offers free and paid options, no ads, support for up to 10 email aliases (other email addresses that route to your main address) and unlimited attachment size via OneDrive.
Yahoo is another popular option when it comes to free email. Having stepped up their game since the rise of Gmail, Yahoo Mail is one of the better looking email interfaces available. In spite of many improvements over the years, Yahoo Mail still seems to be stumbling. Its new user interface, though pretty, has been met with criticism from users who say the layout hampers usability. In addition, it is difficult to use a free account with programs like Microsoft Outlook, since access to the proper server is reserved for mobile devices.
With over 425 million active users, Gmail is the most widely-used, web-based email provider in the world. As of May 2014, approximately 60% of mid-sized US companies use Gmail. Gmail has a clean interface and can import email from other email accounts, making the switch to Gmail very easy. Gmail also uses “Labels” to sort messages instead of folders. While it’s simply a different way to organize your messages, many users find it more effective.
If you have an Apple device, you’ll get a free iCloud email account. iCloud is very simple, intuitive to use, and there are no ads, but the price of that simplicity is a lack of advanced features that might be too limiting if you’re a heavy email user. However, the design is attractive and if your needs are simple it gets the job done quite nicely.
The Cost of Free
As usual you don’t get something for nothing. Most free email accounts include ads. These may take the form of banner ads at the top and sides, text based ads at the bottom of your messages or even popups in some cases. Some providers even scan the contents of your messages to customize the ads to you. While most people won’t find this to be a deal breaker, some ad forms are more intrusive than others. Personally, we like the fact that Gmail’s ads are strictly text based, as this makes them far less distracting and obtrusive. If these ads bother you, consider changing providers or upgrading to a paid service.
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