Friday, May 15, 2009

Which Email Web Service Do You Choose?

Email is part of our everyday life. We use it to communicate. We use it to access other online services. We use it to retrieve information. Many companies are developing free web based email services and many of us have tried many of them but have chosen one and left the rest of them gathering dust. So, lets make a comparison of the top 4 email service giants: Gmail (Google Mail), Yahoo! Mail, Windows Live Hotmail, and AOL/AIM Mail. We will compare the features, both pros and cons, as well as the effectiveness of their spam filter. The following applies to the standard versions and do not apply to those designed for educators and businesses such as Google Apps.

Like browsers, there is also an email war going on. When Gmail was released on April 1, 2004, many thought it was an April Fools Joke as 1 GB of free storage was amazing back then. Following Gmail’s steps and to keep up with competition, other emails quickly moved their storage up and upgraded to an Ajax interface. Slowly rising to the top and most popular service is Gmail also known as Google Mail.

I am not affiliated with any company mentioned here.

Gmail (Google Mail)
Price: Free
Google Inc.


  • Simplicity. Just like all Google products. Faster loading
  • Special Feature: Messages are grouped like conversations. Got a huge chain? They’re all combined into one conversation like archive rather than a bunch of individual emails
  • All Ajax powered. No reloading of the whole page.
  • A collection of nice themes to choose from as well as an option to make your own.
  • Free POP/IMAP
  • Auto forward mail to ANY email address(es).
  • Send mail as other email addresses including other Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL, Hotmail, anything.
  • Download messages from other services and accounts via POP*
  • Gmail Labs. Test out Gmail/Google’s latest ideas.
  • Google Talk/XMPP Chat and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) Integrated. Most advanced and developed version of non-third party Google Talk Clients w/ Voice and Video Chat now available too. Chat logs save in the Chats folder and work just like a normal email.
  • Labels, not folders. Same as folders except each message can have more than one.
  • Unobtrusive contextually related text ads. No, Google does NOT read your mail.
  • Web clips. Read RSS Feeds from sites you select. Comes with some sponsored links however.
  • Unlimited Custom Filters
  • Advanced Attachment Features if you have Flash Player installed. Progress Bar so you can see how much is uploaded.
  • Ever growing storage. Storage meter can be viewed from the Gmail/Google Mail Login Page.
  • 20 MB Attachment Limit
  • Security Boost: No .exe, .bat, or .msi (executables) allowed although .jar (Java Executable) files are allowed
  • Option to always use HTTPS encryption
  • Advanced Email Search Tools
  • Account Activity. Know if your account is open on another session or computer. Button to sign off all other locations and sessions
  • A lot of colorful and modern looking animated emoticons and smiles to put in email and chat
  • No graphical ads. No ads in email!
  • Archive! Want to keep a message but not in your inbox? Archive it! Its still in your account and can be viewed through “All Mail”
  • Free Custom Domain through Google Apps
  • Preview some attachment files in browser including .jpg, .png, .doc, .pdf, .ppt, and more.
  • Message snippet so you can know a part of the message before opening it.
  • July 1, 2009 NEW! Drag and drop messages to labels


  • Does not have a right click context menu where you can set message options
  • Heavy reliance on Javascript occasionally causes browser CPU usage to go slightly high sometimes.
  • No preview pane even if you wanted it. However, reading pane has a few security issues.

*Except Yahoo! Mail. Yahoo! Mail requires a Plus account subscription to be able to download messages via POP. See Yahoo! Mail below.

Yahoo! Mail
Prices: Free with Yahoo! Plus-$19.99/year USD
Yahoo! Inc.


  • Tabbed interface
  • Yahoo! Chat and Windows Live Messenger integrated with the tabs
  • Drag and drop into folders
  • Unlimited Storage
  • Nice stationary to add a background and theme to emails
  • Special right click context menu
  • SMS Text Message integrated with chat
  • 10 MB Attachment Size is free version
  • Receive mail from other accounts*


  • Maximum of 100 (previously 15) filters in free version. Yahoo! Mail Plus gives you 200 (previously 50)
  • In order to receive 20 MB attachment size like Gmail, you need to pay for Plus. 10 MB Limit in Free.
  • No Free POP/IMAP. Yes, that means no Outlook, Thunderbird, iPhone, or any other email client. Send and receive mail from other accounts requires Plus, which also has a restriction of 10 addresses only. Requires Yahoo! Mail Plus.
  • No Forward Mail to other accounts, even other Yahoo!. Must pay for Plus
  • No easy way to view all flagged messages
  • Overloaded and stuffed with ads. All of which take significantly longer to load than the actual mail. Graphical banner ads. Text ads. That’s not all. Ads in the actual outgoing email too. Many of which go to unsafe sites.
  • Doesn’t go directly to Inbox. Goes to a welcome page where news, weather, and more ads are shown.
  • The button to hide the banner sidebar ad is barely useful as when you click on a message, the ads come back.
  • Not as customizable as other emails. Only choose from 7 colors.
  • Yahoo! sends many many ads to you including Yahoo! Shopping by default
  • No HTTPS/SSL Encryption in Mail available
  • Heavy reliance on Javascript occasionally causes browser CPU usage to go slightly high sometimes only.
  • Using your own custom domain costs an additional $35/year USD
  • Custom from: addresses for Plus only.
  • Most features available only to Plus members are available in other services free of charge.

*Except Yahoo! Mail. Yahoo! Mail requires a Plus account subscription to be able to download messages via POP.

Windows Live Hotmail
Price: Free with Hotmail Plus-$19.95/year USD
Microsoft Corporation


  • Many colorful themes to choose from.
  • Choose where to have the preview pane with the option to turn it off.
  • Ever growing storage starting at 5 GB as long as it increases reasonably (Plus: 10 GB)
  • Special Right Click Context Menu
  • Drag and drop emails into folders
  • Link Windows Live ID accounts so you can quickly switch and use one name to sign onto all.
  • Free POP3
  • Windows Live Messenger Web Version integrated. Sign into chat from Mail
  • Custom from: Address (Send as other accounts)
  • Receive mail from other accounts*
  • A Welcome page with news like Yahoo! however can be skipped to go directly to Inbox by changing options
  • 10 MB Attachment Limit
  • Free Custom Domain through Windows Live Custom Domains
  • Unlimited Filters

*Except Yahoo! Mail. Yahoo! Mail requires a Plus account subscription to be able to download messages via POP. See Yahoo! Mail section.


  • No Auto Forwarding to other email services. Restricted to Windows Live. To forward to Gmail, simply use Gmail’s POP feature.
  • Graphical Banner Ads. Ads in the email message on outgoing mail. Take longer to load than actual mail
  • No HTTPS/SSL Encryption
  • No IMAP Access
  • No Star/Flag Emails
  • 20 MB Attachment Limit like Gmail requires Hotmail Plus

Price: Free – Special Boost for paying AOL Subscribers
AOL Corporation


  • Lots of colorful themes to choose from
  • AIM Integrated
  • “You Got Mail” voice
  • Unlimited Filters
  • Unlimited Storage
  • 16 MB Attachment Limit
  • Customizable sidebar panel with plugins and gadgets
  • Right Click Context Menu
  • Drag and drop emails into folders
  • Copy emails and contacts from other emails powered by Trueswitch
  • Free POP3/IMAP
  • Free Custom Domain through AOL My eAddress


  • Text ads. Graphical banner ads. Ads in all outgoing email signatures. AOL Subscribers can remove these outgoing email ads. Ads take longer to load than the actual mail
  • No automatic forwarding.
  • No custom from addresses (send mail as another account)
  • No HTTPS/SSL Encryption
  • Can’t receive mail from other accounts, only copy

Spam Filter Testing

To carry out this test, I created a test email account on each and gave the email away to a site that I have tested to send many spammy emails. Within minutes, spam started rolling in. Here are the results of each. These INCLUDE ads and offers sent by the company themselves. The exact same sites were given each of my 4 test emails. Obviously, these include offers sent by the companies themselves. These emails were not used to sign up for any service therefore, any emails other than the default welcome emails received here are spam. I review the emails to make sure they aren't alerts from the company, which so far, they never are.

Last Updated: June 16, 2009

Services delete spam mail after some time however this should not affect the results as new mail should always be filtered as much as possible.

Received: 82
Spam Filtered: 75
Filtered: 91%

Received: 369
Spam Filtered: 155
Filtered: 42%

Windows Live:
Received: 53
Spam Filtered: 15
Filtered: 28%

Received: 531
Spam Filtered: 25
Filtered: 5%

From the above results, you can see that Gmail scored far higher than all others. Yahoo! received quite a lot of spam and AOL simply received an overload of it. Keep in mind that I entered the 4 emails into the exact same sites. Many of the unfiltered messages in AOL and Yahoo! were clearly spam.

Now my past experiences with existing accounts: Gmail received no spam at all. Google never sends any email except for the default welcome emails, of course, unless you choose to receive email from other services. Windows Live and AOL rarely received anything either, although AOL might send one every so often. Yahoo! however, sent a lot by default, including ads and offers, such as Yahoo! Shopping and to unsubscribe, you need to manually do so.

Feature Comparison Chart

Last but not least, is our comparison chart for the email services on their respective free version. Red is negative. Orange is partial/okay. Green is positive.

Gmail Yahoo! AOL Hotmail
Integrated Chat Yes Yes Yes Yes
POP Access Yes No** Yes Yes
IMAP Access Yes No** Yes Yes
Custom Domain Name Yes No***** Yes Yes
Unlimited Storage No (Ever growing) Yes Yes Partial***
Grouped and Threaded Emails Yes No No No
Themes Yes Colors only Yes Yes
Drag and Drop Email Yes Yes Yes Yes
Option to Turn off Preview Pane No Pane No Yes Yes
Message Snippet Yes No No No
HTTPS Encryption Yes No No No
Auto Forward Yes No** No Partial****
Text Ads Yes Yes Yes No
Graphical Ads No Yes Yes Yes
Email Tagline Ads No Yes Yes Yes
Custom from: Addresses Yes No**+ No Yes
Receive Mail from other accounts* Yes Yes No Yes
Custom Filters Unlimited 100 Unlimited Unlimited

*Except Yahoo! Mail. Requires Yahoo! Mail Plus to use POP3.
**Feature only available in Yahoo! Mail Plus. $19.99 USD per year.
***Ever growing storage as you need it. Will receive warning if increase unreasonably.
****Only to other Windows Live/MSN/Hotmail/Microsoft accounts
*****Costs an additional $35 USD Yearly
+Requires Yahoo! Mail Plus and restricted up to 10 addresses only.

Which webmail service do you use? Make your voice heard by voting. Leave any comments you may have in the comments section of this post.