Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Outlook.com – How to find the best (free) email service

If you were to look through your personal contact list right now, it’s probably safe to say that the majority of your contacts will have an email address from one of two services: Google’s Gmail (@gmail.com) or Microsoft’s Outlook.com (@outlook.com). This is unsurprising, considering Gmail has 15.8% and Outlook.com has 6.7% of the email client market share.

Both of these free email services are backed by tech giants—Google and Microsoft—and have become the top contenders when choosing what service to use for your personal or small business email needs. But with the two constantly neck and neck in the email race, how do you decide which one is best for you?

Google’s Gmail service is the older and most popular of the two—it has over 1 billion monthly active users as of February 2016. Because it’s been around longer, and it has a bigger audience, Gmail is generally considered the industry leader in free email services. Microsoft, on the other hand, launched the free version of Outlook.com in 2012 and has been refining the service ever since. It now has more than 400 million active users and a robust suite of features that rival the competition.

On the surface, Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Outlook.com seem pretty similar. It’s only when you look at the details that you discover just how much the two differ. And it’s in these details that you’ll find the features that matter most to you to help you choose the right option for your personal or small business. So, let’s uncover some of those differences in the following sections.

Storage

Storage is a big difference between the two services. Gmail allows up to 15 GB, but this includes storage for ALL Google services, such as Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos. When you take into account syncing across all devices, that 15 GBs can fill up fast. However, to expand your storage capacity, you are able to purchase more space.

Outlook.com, on the other hand, allows 5 GB of storage at the start, but will increase this amount to accommodate your needs. It’s unclear how this works exactly, but could be a sticking point for someone who needs to archive a lot of files, attachments, or emails.

The bottom line? Gmail’s storage capacity is much larger than Outlook.com, though this only matters if you plan to store a lot of information.

Ads

Another big difference between the two services is how they treat advertisements in your mailbox. Gmail ads look like emails at the top of your “Promotions” inbox. Though they are labeled with a yellow box that says “Ad,” this can be deceiving. You can easily avoid ads by disabling the “Promotions” tab or disabling the tabbed inbox altogether.

Gmail’s promotion tab

Outlook.com ads are displayed to the right of the page and take up a significant amount of real estate in your browser window—almost ¼ of the page. This can be a nuisance for people who want a streamlined user experience. The only way to remove Outlook.com ads is by paying $20/year for an ad-free experience, although Microsoft states that by purchasing this version, your emails won’t be scanned for ad targeting.

The bottom line? Gmail’s ads take up less space, but aim to trick you into clicking. Outlook’s ads are obvious, but detract from the overall user experience.

Security

Gmail and Outlook.com are well matched on security features. Both include a 2-step verification process (where you’re required to verify your identity on a new device) and automatic spam detection. Gmail pushes spam emails to a junk folder, while Outlook.com puts a red or yellow safety bar at the top of suspected spam emails. Outlook.com will also move possible junk email to a junk folder.

The bottom line? Gmail and Outlook.com are equally secure.

Contact Management

Contact management is hugely important to us at Mailbird. We know it’s crucial to managing your personal and business conversations, so of course we looked at how well Gmail and Outlook.com help you manage your contacts.

When it comes to building your contact list, Gmail allows you to input contacts from Yahoo, Outlook.com, AOL, Google+ and more, as well as import via a CSV or vCard file. Outlook.com also lets you import contacts from Gmail, older version of Outlook.com, Yahoo, or Windows Live Mail.

The bottom line? With added file import capabilities, Gmail is slightly more user-friendly than Outlook.com when it comes to contact management.

Extras/Add Ons

If you’re looking for ways to power up your inbox, Outlook.com is a clear winner in this category. In addition to calendar syncing, tasks, and custom themes, Outlook.com has over 100 add-ins available to really advance your email capabilities. Some examples include the Boomerang add-in, which allows you to add a reminder to come back to your email in a few hours or days. There’s also the Evernote add-in, which allows you to save an email to a notebook. You can even link your email to Uber, Skype for video calls, and more.

Outlook.com Ass-In menu

Gmail isn’t quite as equipped as Outlook.com in the extras category. You do have the basics—linking to Google Calendar, tasks, and custom themes—but the Gmail plugin library is limited in comparison. The one shining difference for Gmail is the automatic filing system and tabbed inbox. This feature pushes certain emails to different inboxes: Priority for the most important emails based on what you open and send, Promotions for newsletters and offers, Social for emails from social media sites, and Updates for bills and other confirmations. You can turn this feature on and off as you like.

The bottom line? Outlook’s add-on capabilities outshine Gmail, but Gmail’s segmented inboxes are an awesome added feature that puts it on par with Outlook.com.

Other Tools

Finally, there are a few other tools worth noting for each email service that could sway your decision on which to use. First, a Gmail account is also a Google account, which gives you access to Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Photos, Forms, Drawings, and Calendar, which all sync across devices. You’ll have access to a full suite of new tools to empower more than just your email communications.

Outlook.com has a similar set of tools through OneDrive, which includes an online version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. You also get access to Sway and Docs.com. Because Microsoft office programs tend to be the industry standard, and you can edit documents right in the web-based version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, this is a hugely beneficial feature of the Outlook.com service.

The bottom line? Both email services have powerful suits of tools that go beyond email.

Managing Emails: Online & Offline

Now that you’ve (hopefully) chosen a free, web-based email service, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to manage your inbox. How will you ensure emails sent to your old email address make it to your new one? And how will you manage these emails? What if you have multiple email addresses? Luckily, we’ve got the answer!

Online: Email Forwarding

If you want to continue using the web-based version of either Gmail or Outlook.com, you can set up email forwarding to automatically send emails from one account to another. For example, if you previously had a Gmail account, you would simply set up email forwarding in your Gmail account to send emails to your new Outlook.com account… or vice versa. This would also work if you were previously using any other account, such as Yahoo or Windows Live Mail.

If you are canceling an old email address, it might also be smart to enable an auto-reply on your old email address, notifying senders of your new email address and indicating a date when that old email will officially be deleted. This will ensure your contacts have your new email address and won’t be thrown off by the change.

Offline: Desktop Email Clients

While email forwarding works well for the web-based versions of email clients, what if you want to access your email offline? Or what if you have multiple email accounts that you’d like to manage from one source? That’s where desktop email clients, such as Mailbird for Windows or Airmail for Mac, come in handy.

Unified Inbox with WhatsApp integration in Mailbird

Mailbird even has a really cool feature called the Unified Inbox, where you can view emails from several different accounts in the same inbox. This feature allows you to consolidate emails into one well-managed inbox with all your folders and contacts synced. You can also reply from different accounts, whereas with email forwarding all replies come from the master account. It’s especially helpful if you’re trying to manage accounts for different purposes, such as work and email.

Mailbird is the best way to combine your Gmail and Outlook.com mail in one inbox.

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Conclusion

Choosing the right free email service can be challenging. You need something that is user friendly, reliable, and provides all the features you need to stay on top of that ever-flowing river of emails. Between Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Outlook.com, you’re in good hands—either option comes packed with great features and will get the job done. The one you choose will depend on your preference in storage capacity, advertisement display, and extra add-ons.

Let us know which one you chose—and why—in the comments below!

  • Randall Wade

    Outlook has become very difficult…with so many changes in organization and new settings, etc. I was tempted to change to the more simple version but that can bring more issues. I’ve moved most of my mail and related products to gmail and their apps. Will not return to Outlook as my “go to” mail service……ever and I’m learning and enjoying Mailbird!

    • Christin Baumgarten

      Thanks so much for your awesome feedback Randall. Please let us know should you have any questions that we can help you with. Have a great start to the new week:-)