Email is the most important online service you use — it’s essentially your online passport, used to login to most apps you use — but it’s often the most neglected. Sure, we check our email all the time — you may even run emailing marketing campaigns for your business — but how much time did you put into finding the best place to keep your email? Have you ever thought about the possibility of needing to switch email services, and how much that would affect your life?
Now’s the time to think about it. Let’s take a look at the best email services out there today, and how you use them to make sure you never lose all of your email. And perhaps, you’ll find an email service that you like even better than you’re using right now.
Wait: Isn’t Gmail Ok?
Perhaps your current email solution is fine. It’s working now, after all. But the question isn’t about today, it’s about the future.
Remember the first email account you had, likely an old Hotmail or AOL account, or a company or school account, or possibly an email account from your ISP? Do you still use it today? Odds are, you don’t. And while Gmail is ubiquitous today, it’s actually only been around since 2004. 10 years from today, who’s to say what the dominant email provider will be.
When you rely on email for as many things as most of us do today, you need to make sure it’ll be around for the long haul. The best way to do that is to use your own domain for email. That way, no matter what service you use, you can get your email — and you can always switch to another service in the future if you want, without having to change your email address.
If you don’t have your own domain name, you should go ahead and invest in one. It’ll only cost around $10/year from most registrars, and you can find a nice one easily with apps like Domainr. Then, you can get email at [email protected], and never worry again about having to switch emails.
Of course, if you have your own domain — or are running the email for your company — then you already know this, and just want to find the best place to host your email today. That’s what’s next.
Now, How Do I Get Email?
Got your own domain? Good. Now you’re ready to pick out the email service to use with your domain. The default choice for email on your own domain used to be Google Apps, as it used to have a free account for up to 10 email accounts per domain. That’s now gone, so it’s best to look around and see what’ll work best for you. The good news is, there’s a lot of great options. Here’s the best:
I know, I know: we just derided Gmail, and said the free option is gone. It is — though there’s a semi-official way to get a single email address on your own domain for free via Google’s App Engine, and that’s one of the best options still if you’re just wanting to use email yourself on your own email address. You’ll need to make an App Engine account, add your domain to the account, and then you’ll get a single Google Apps account with your domain. Not simple, but worth it if you really want the Gmail experience.
Beyond that, Google Apps cost $5/month for each user or email address you use on your domain. For that, you get everything you’d expect from Gmail and Google Drive, but with 30GB of storage and real support. If you’re someone who’s ever said you’d pay for Gmail, here’s your chance — this time, with your own domain, so you’ve still got the freedom to move to another service if you ever want to.
Price: $5/month, single email address accounts free if you jump through some hoops
For email on your own domain, Microsoft’s Office 365 for Business is where the main action is. Here, for $5/month, you can get the full power of Exchange on your own domain, with all the configuration options you’d want. You’ll have full Exchange push email, or IMAP and POP3 sync, and you can use the new Office 2013-styled Outlook Web Access to check your email online. Bump that up to $12.50/month for the Premium package, and you’ll also get access to full, installed Office applications, as well as Office on tablets and phones (up-to 5 tablets and 5 phones). Not such a bad deal, one that’s actually competitive with Google’s pricing.
Price: $5/user/month for email and Office collaboration; $12.50/user/month for that plus Office for your desktop
Zoho is the most forgotten web app company, and you never hear of them in most press. However, they offer an impressive suite of web apps for everything from accounting to CRM, and even offer professional email hosting. You can get started with it for free, or pay just $2.50/user/month for more storage and features. It’s got no ads, a familiar if slightly dated interface, push email and full sync support, and more.
Price: Free for up to 3 users, from $2.50/user/month after that
The nicest looking third-party alternate to Exchange and Google Apps is Atmail Cloud, hands-down. We loved it in our review, even if it did still have a few rough edges, and found its interface to be more on par with Apple’s iCloud even while it offered more of the features you’d expect from Gmail. There’s every sync option you’d think of — Exchange ActiveSync, IMAP, and POP3 — and tools to manage a whole team. And it only costs $2/month for its beautiful web apps and great service. The only problem is, it won’t work so good if you only need one email address on your domain, since it requires a minimum of 5 users. There is one alternate, though: if you host your website with Media Temple, you can get their Atmail powered email for free.
Price: $2/user/month, though a minimum of 5 users
If you follow a number of tech blogs, you’ve likely heard of people switching to FastMail. It’s been the most popular alternate to Google Apps for email on your own domain for years now, and for good reason. It’s cheap, starting at just $40/year for one email address on your own domain. Its web apps might leave something to be desired — though they are improving rapidly — but you can sync with any email app you want via IMAP and POP3. And, there’s family account options and business email options if you need more than just one account. One interesting fact: FastMail is owned by Opera, the browser company that never can quite get much traction in the desktop browser market.
Price: $40+/year for your own domain
Security is a huge issue when choosing a cloud-based email provider, and The Email Laundry prides itself on its secure features, offering a service that filters your email for spam and viruses. It also features a web security service, designed to provide browsing protection for all your users. The Secure Suite business email service offers 25GB mailboxes, along with server-side MAPI, Active Sync functionality, and automatic email backups. The product also supports company contact sharing and resource booking. Pricing is competitive at $4 per mailbox per month.
Price: $4/month per mailbox
You might have never heard of Hushmail, but that might be by design. Hushmail prides itself on offering extra privacy with its email, with HiPPA-compliant privacy, built-in OpenPGP encryption, unlimited email aliases, and more. If you’re fleeing the Google ship because you’re tired of the Gmail Man reading your emails, and want more privacy and security, then this might be the service to check out.
Price: $5.24/user/month, plus a one-time $9.99 setup fee
Microsoft’s Hotmail service holds the honor of being the first free web mail online, and even though it’s now been rebranded with a Windows 8 style interface and the Outlook name, it’s still free — even for your own domain. The new Outlook.com’s interface is nice if spartan, and integrates with the new Office Web Apps. It’s now got 2-step verification, and Skype-powered online video chat. It even supports push email via Exchange ActiveSync to your smartphone or tablet — though sadly, it doesn’t support IMAP sync, which makes it frustrating at best to use in desktop email apps other than Outlook.
To get your own domain on it, you’ll need to head over to the Windows Live Domains site, which oddly looks rather dated as though it hasn’t been updated since Bing was called Windows Live Search. Hopefully that doesn’t mean they’ll be doing away with allowing you to bring your own domain to Outlook.com. At any rate, for now, you can add your domain there, and get up to 500 Outlook.com powered email addresses for your domain for the low, low price of free.
Update: 22 June 2015 – As we feared in the original article, Outlook.com has now ditched support for custom domains, as Microsoft pushes users towards Office 365. If you’re an existing Outlook.com user and have previously used custom domains, you can continue to use these, but admins will no longer manage accounts in the domain.
Price: Free for up to 500 email addresses; $19.95/email account/year to remove ads with Outlook.com Plus
With all of those options, you should surely find a great place to host your email. If you’re still not sure, there are other options — even Yahoo! Mail lets you use your own domain for one email account for $2.91.25/month (seriously). But for the most part, the options above are the best for most uses.
I’m personally still using a grandfathered Google Apps for Domains free account for my primary email, though am considering giving Office 365 Small Business a shot. What are you using to host email for your own domain now? I’d love to hear what you’re using below. And be sure to let us know if you try out any of the options we’ve mentioned above!
Update: This article was originally published on April 30th 2013. It was updated on June 22nd 2015.