Free email sounds nice, but isn't that the crippled deal where you get slow-loading pages and lots of ads?
No and no. Some free email services offer POP or IMAP access, which means you can download your messages to any email program (such as Windows Live Mail, Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, Mac OS X Mail or iOS Mail). And while you're on the road, you can still take advantage of the free web interface — which, I promise, is often fast and slender.
Find the best free POP3 email service and free IMAP email services here.
(Updated November 2012)
Gmail is the Google approach to email and chat. Practically unlimited free online storage allows you to collect all your messages, and Gmail's simple but very smart interface lets you find them precisely and see them in context without effort. POP and powerful IMAP access bring Gmail to any email program or device.
Gmail puts contextual advertising next to the emails you read. Gmail Review
| Gmail Resources
| Gmail Tips
Zoho Mail is a solid email service with ample storage, POP and IMAP access, some integration with instant messaging and online office suites.
Aimed at professional users, Zoho Mail could be even more helpful organizing mail, identifying key messages and contacts, and sending oft-used replies. Zoho Mail Review
| Zoho Mail Tips
AIM Mail, AOL's free web-based email service, shines with unlimited online storage, very good spam protection and a rich, easy to use interface. Unfortunately, AIM Mail lacks a bit in productivity (no labels, smart folders and message threading), but makes up for some of that with very functional IMAP (as well as POP) access. AIM Mail Review
| AIM Mail Tips
iCloud Mail is a free email service from Apple with ample storage, IMAP access and an elegantly functional web application.
That interface at icloud.com does not offer labels or other more advanced tools for productivity and for organizing mail, though, and does not support accessing other email accounts. POP access to iCloud Mail is missing, too. iCloud Mail Review
| iCloud Mail Tips
Lavabit nets you a solid, secure and privacy-conscious email account which you can access in your email program using POP or IMAP and in your browser using a rudimentary web interface.
It's a pity Lavabit restricts statistical spam filtering to paid accounts and lacks a fully fledged web interface. Lavabit Review
Outlook.com serves free email with practically unlimited storage accessible on the web with a rich and helpful interface or using POP and Exchange ActiveSync in email programs on desktop and mobile device.
Unfortunately, IMAP access is not part of the mix, and Outlook.com could offer more help with composing in addition to organizing mail. Outlook.com Review
| Outlook.com Tips
Windows Live Hotmail is a free email service that gives you unlimited storage, fast search, solid security, POP access and an interface easy as a desktop email program.
When it comes to organizing mail, Windows Live Hotmail includes many a helpful shortcut and automation. It's a pity IMAP access to all online folders is missing. Windows Live Hotmail Review
| Windows Live Hotmail Resources
| Windows Live Hotmail Tips
Inbox.com not only gives you 5 GB to store your mail online but also a highly polished, fast and functional way to access it via either the web (including speedy search, free-form labels and reading mail by conversation) or through POP in your email program. Inbox.com Review
| Inbox.com Tips
Shortmail emphasizes easy, fast and effective communication with an email service limited, essentially, to 500 characters per message.
Longer emails can be forwarded, and Shortmail offers simple but effective tools to organize and find mail. Still, hassling senders the way Shortmail does is not without peril, and you may wish for better productivity tools. Shortmail Review
| Shortmail Tips
FreePOPs is a highly flexible tool for accessing all kinds of resources — most prominently free web-based email accounts — in any email program through POP. The individual supported services could support more features, though, and configuring FreePOPs and its modules could be easier. (Windows)
MacFreePOPs makes it easy to run FreePOPs on a Mac and access web-based email services such as Windows Live Hotmail in desktop email programs such as Mac OS X Mail. In addition to running FreePOPs as a service, MacFreePOPs gives you an approachable interface for tweaking settings or even watching log files. It's a pity MacFreePOPs inherits from FreePOPs the inability to send mail. (Mac)
YPOPs! provides reliable, flexible, easy to use and secure access to your Yahoo! Mail account in any email client. If it could also act as an IMAP interface, YPOPs! would be perfect. (Windows)