Email is easily one of the most important web apps to most of our work and lives. You need your email to be fast, reliable, and work with all of your native email apps and on the web. If you’re signing up for a personal email account, odds are you’d sign up for Gmail, and if not, would use Outlook.com, iCloud Mail, or Yahoo! mail. For business, email, though, it’s a bit trickier of a question.
Google Apps used to be the simplest option for email on your own domain, but it went from allowing 50 users free per account to just 10, and then recently removed the option for free Apps on your domain without a workaround. Otherwise, it’ll now cost you $5/user/month, and now doesn’t include ActiveSync push. Outlook.com lets you use it with your own domain, but it’s not nearly as powerful for business use, and Microsoft’s more professional Office 365 with Exchange support costs $4/user/month.
Then there’s Atmail Cloud. Atmail has been around as a webmail app for self-hosted email since 1998, and has an interface and feature set that could rival most of the popular consumer-facing email apps. You can run it on your own server, or buy an Atmail appliance, but here we’re going to look at their new hosted service, Atmail Cloud, that gives you online email, calendar, and contacts with Exchange ActiveSync for just $2/user/month.
Getting started with Atmail Cloud is actually a tad less confusing than Google Apps’ setup was, back when I setup my domain with it. You can start out with a free 14 day trial to make sure everything’s up and running perfectly before you pay, and then as mentioned before, Atmail Cloud costs $2/user/month, with 10Gb of storage per user, though it requires a minimum of 5 accounts.
From there, setup is easy, guiding you through everything you need to get started – such as switching your domain’s DNS MX records to Atmail, and adding user accounts manually or via a CSV file import. One odd thing for a business email tool is that there’s no way at the moment to import old emails, contacts, and calendar events into Atmail; you need to start 100% fresh. There are ways to migrate email over IMAP, and a Gmail import option is planned in the near future.
Beyond that, there’s pretty much everything you could think of. You can add custom branding, manage multiple domains and sets of users, and even resell the email to your customers (say, a web designer could setup and manage Atmail Cloud for a client, but with their own design firm’s branding and perhaps a price tag of $3/month/user). You can also add a custom tagline for all emails sent from accounts on your Atmail Cloud, but unless your business requires a legal message, I’d recommend leaving this off and let each of your users add their own email signature, since any tagline you set cannot be changed by individual users.
Once accounts are setup, you can easily setup mail, contacts, and calendar sync with all of your favorite apps, just like you’d expect. Once nice thing is that you can also setup Atmail Cloud on your iPhone or iPad with just a single tap thanks to its profile settings. This isn’t the best way to setup Atmail, though, if you’d like to have push email, as it only sets up IMAP email sync. The good thing is, Atmail works great with native apps, just as fast as you’d expect, so if you’re looking for a great service to use with native apps, there’s not much more you could ask for. It supports IMAP, POP3, CalDAV and CardDAV, so all modern PIM apps should work great with Atmail.
The Atmail Webapp
Then, if you’d prefer to check your email, contacts, and calendar online, the Atmail webapp is easily one of the nicest email web apps, though it’s still lacking in a few frustrating ways. First up, though, it’s very nicely designed, with a 2-column Gmail style interface as well as a 3 column interface that in many ways is reminiscent of iCloud’s web apps. It’s a clean and modern design, and works just as you’d expect. Inline email replies, options to view the email header (and email app used to send the email – a geeky fun-fact), bulk-select, and more are all built-in.
Atmail’s email interface feels fairly fluid, and emails load as quick as you’d expect, though oddly you won’t find conversation view. Atmail is based on folders like most email systems, but unlike Gmail which uses tags. The built-in email filters seem to work pretty much as expected, picking up two newsletters and a purchase receipt automatically, and you can add more email filters from the settings. And one very nice option when you’re writing an email is the Attach from Storage option, which lets you choose attachments from files you’ve already saved in the Atmail Storage section.
The contacts and Calendar also work much as you’d expect, with the calendar feeling even more similar to Apple’s iCloud Calendar web app. It’s easy to use, with iOS-style pop-overs for entering events and more, and supports repeating dates and sharing events with others. What’s frustrating, though, is that it’s not more integrated with the email side. In the demo account, one email message included an iCal file with an event as an attachment. Clicking that attachment only saved it to my Mac, rather than opening it in Atmail Calendar like I would have hoped it would.
The same frustration was felt with the Storage app in Atmail. You can save files to it to quickly add to emails as attachments, and all you’ll need to do that is to drag-and-drop files to the browser from your computer. Frustratingly, though, there’s no way to move attachments to the storage without downloading them to your computer first, then re-uploading them. The storage won’t show all files in your account, but rather only the files you’ve expressly added to the storage app. So, if there’s one thing we’d really like to see, it’d be more integration between Atmail’s web apps.
Atmail Cloud is a great hosted email service for your own domain, with one of the nicest interfaces and ActiveSync, something that’s an increasingly rare option now that Google Apps dropped it. It’s easy to setup, easy to use, and works great with email apps. Its web app isn’t as robust as we’d like, but as an alternate to Google’s $5/user/month Apps, it’s a great alternate for small and medium businesses.
You’ll still need to have at least 5 users to use Atmail, though some web hosts like Media Temple offer Atmail to their users if you’d like the same features for your personal email on your own domain. And, the Atmail team says they’re planning smaller account options in the future.
If you’ve used Atmail – in the cloud or on your own server – we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.