Not too long ago, I had this sudden realization that I really wanted to get out of Google’s products. I never dipped my feet too far into them, unlike some people, but the services I did use every day — Gmail, Reader, and Blogger —were either changing too much for my own liking or simply going extinct. After Reader’s demise, I switched to Feed Wrangler and didn’t look back. I moved my Blogger to Squarespace, and I’m in love.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been taking a much more significant challenge and moving all my email to FastMail. Before upgrading, I considered every other possible option. I read countless blogs and opinion pieces on what mail service to use, and none of them felt as up-to-date as they should be. It’s with that in mind that I wanted to take a closer look at the service.
The Upfront Details
Even if they were written only a year ago, most of what I read about FastMail seemed horribly out of date. For example, people continually suggested Google Apps as a great place to host your own email because it used to be free. Now, Google Apps no longer offers a free account — in fact, the most inexpensive annual subscription is still more costly than FastMail’s $40 fee for enhanced personal emails.
Google Apps also comes with the same problems Gmail had. If you’re like me, that means you don’t like the recent design changes. I’m also not a fan of Google knowing everything about me. I like Google, but it knows more about me than my closest friends and even my family because it’s integrated with my searching habits and email. The way I feel is pretty simple. If knowledge of my private life is dispersed among many friends, but not wholly known by any of them, then that’s how my online life should be as well. FastMail is newly independent, with far less privacy implications than Google’s email options.
The other problem with Gmail is that Google is getting a little cocky with it. Not long ago, there were significant problems for eleven hours. Not one hour or two hours, but eleven. In email terms, that might as well be a year. Not to mention the fact that Gmail is already a very slow service. I didn’t realize how slow until I moved elsewhere, but it’s slow. I have very little reason to stay there.
Other services seemed very user-friendly, but were often too expensive or didn’t have proper IMAP — which I think is a must when you plan on using your tablet or smartphone to access mail. Nobody wants to use POP3 in 2013.
Let’s Do the Math
If you’re comparison shopping, here’s what you need to know right away. The Enhanced Fastmail account, which is what I would recommend investing in, is $40 a year. It offers 10GB of email storage. It has a built-in address book if you plan on using the website to access your mail.
Despite being redesigned only a bit over a year ago, FastMail’s site is what I would describe as traditional. There are no calendar features and no document integration. If you’re looking for all those features, Google is the only that can provide them with any modicum of quality or upkeep, but I’m still not sure I see the benefits in hosting all that information with one provider.
FastMail provides most of the features you could want for email in 2013: spam recognition, archive abilities, and virtual domains and aliases. Just so we’re perfectly clear: you can, in fact, host the email for multiple domains and aliases with a personal Enhanced account. With the Enhanced account, you’re paying for one inbox with hundreds of different email aliases. I have a personal account with three domains set up to receive email there, and I can send email as any of my own aliases. Paying only $40 a year for all those features feels nearly criminal — it’s a great deal.
Setting up isn’t too complicated either. If you’re like me, you have a couple of Apple devices, a few domain names to your name, and are migrating from Gmail. If that’s the case, Hack/Make has a great little guide to help get you started.
Speaking of importing from Gmail, you can import all of your emails from Gmail and then move on from there and start having email forwarded from your account. If Google doesn’t recognize FastMail’s servers and you need to authenticate, after some time with their support team, we were able to find this little bit of help and I was able to import my emails from Gmail into FastMail without any issue whatsoever. (While we’re on that topic, I’ve heard horror stories about FastMail’s support team. For what it’s worth, they’ve been nothing but excellent with me and more than willing to answer any questions and go above and beyond the call of duty.)
Getting Organized and Handling Mail
There’s one catch with the Enhanced account. As I mentioned earlier, you’re paying for only one inbox. Unless you’re using a much-more-expensive business account, you’ll want to get organized properly. When it comes to that, FastMail doesn’t support some of the features Gmail did. There are no tabs on the top that separate emails into Personal, Promotional, or anything like that. For some people, they’ll count that as a loss. I think it’s a good thing, and it allows you far more granular control.
FastMail also doesn’t support tags. I think this is a little problematic. You can still set up IMAP folders. Once that’s done, you might need to change some of your habits — especially if you’re habitually into tags — but again, for some people, this won’t be a problem. I almost exclusively archive my mail and rely on search later.
Speaking of search, FastMail’s search is really snappy. In fact, the whole service lives up to its name. Sending email is nearly instant, even with large attachments. Receiving email happens really quickly, and I never see Mail.app on my Mac slow down when I’m trying to fetch mail from the servers. This was a frequent problem with Gmail.
When it comes to making adjustments and changing the settings, a lot of what I’ve read is again woefully outdated. The standard settings pane is pretty to look at, but lacking in functionality. I have a feeling you’ll end up spending lots of time going through the Advanced menus like I did. The menus are a little confusing, especially coming from Gmail, but the power they provide is fantastic and I think it’s worth the learning curve.
Is It Time to Switch?
Email is one of the most important tools at our disposal. We use it every day, and we rely on it more than we like to admit. I think, with that in mind, FastMail is a much better provider than its competition. Their sole focus is email, and for what it’s worth, they’re exceptionally good at it. FastMail is reliable and consistently up. Their features don’t change. Email is sent and received quickly, and it works very well with every computer, phone, and tablet that I’ve tried it on.
Without a doubt, the most valuable price point is for the Enhanced account. At $40 a year, I don’t think you’ll be spending better money on any of your web services. For anybody that needs a great hosting solution for their email, one that you really can just set and forget and not worry about, FastMail is for you. If you’re still doubting it, I’d recommend their sixty-day trial. You won’t switch away.