There are loads of free email providers out there – and finding the most suitable one for all your needs can be daunting. But whatever you need from your email, you're sure to find it in the list below – and best of all, they're all free!
Below, you'll find our pick of the very best free email services – all of which feature web-based interfaces.
That said, if you prefer to access your email through an application on your computer, don't miss our our crucial round-up of the best free alternatives to Microsoft's Outlook. Most of the services listed below will work perfectly well with a desktop client – so it's up to you which way you prefer.
Gmail has now been on the scene for more than a decade – and constant innovation from Google coupled with a generous amount of email storage space means it's my personal favourite.
Among its unique features are it's categorised 'Smart Labels', which automatically sort your inbox into notifications, promotions and personal emails – but the real benefit of a Gmail address is that it also gives you access to all of Google's other useful services.
From YouTube to the Drive cloud storage service, your Google account is a versatile tool for getting the best out of the web. If you've got an Android phone or tablet, you probably already have one – so if you're not using it for email, you should probably give it a try!
That said, some users feel uncomfortable with the way Gmail scans your emails for keywords it can use for marketing – even though Google insists that no human beings other than you can ever read your messages. If that's a concern for you, take a look at our other selections below.
Outlook Mail started life as Hotmail all the way back in 1996. It was accquired by Microsoft the following year, and went on to define the expectations people have for a free web-based email service.
The old name was retired as Microsoft sought to bring it into line with their popular Outlook desktop software – but if you've had a Hotmail.com, Live.com or MSN.com address in the past, you'll still be able to log into Outlook.com with it today.
The interface is designed to be as close as possible to that of the Outlook desktop client, so if you've used that in the past then Outlook.com seems a natural choice. It's also a fantastic choice for international users, supporting a staggering 106 different langauges – comfortably beating Gmail's already-impressive 72!
People don't often think of Apple as an email provider, and when the iCloud accounts first came about, you couldn't sign up for one without first owning an Apple device.
Now you're able to sign up for iCloud even if you've never used an Apple device before, and even sign in and check your emails through the iCloud website.
Once you do so, you'll be greeted with an interface that's very similar to that of the native iOS Mail app. While it lacks the sophisticated, automatic categorisation of Gmail and Outlook.com, you can tag certain senders as 'VIPs', directing all messages from them to a special VIP mailbox to help you keep track of your most important messages.
Beyond that, though, it's just a simple, minimalist interface. If that's what you like, iCloud could be a great choice.
This is certainly a lesser-known service than the others on this list – but Hushmail comes highly recommended for security-conscious users. The main selling point is that it offers secure encryption for all messages – something that's very appealing if you routinely send sensitive or valuable information by email.
All webmail traffic is protected by HTTPS, and messages are encrypted with industry-standard PGP algorithms – so it's about as secure as it gets. Messages sent between Hushmail accounts are encrypted and decrypted automatically with no action required from the users, but when sending to a non-Hushmail account, the recipient will need to know the answer to a 'secret question' you've come up with to access its contents. For your less-sensitive messages, you also have the option to send them without the encryption, making the service a lot more versatile.
It's definitely a niche product, but if you do need particularly secure messages, this is one of the best options – and certainly the best free one. That said, you'll need to log into your free account at least once every three weeks to keep it active, and you'll only get 25 MB of storage. For $34.99 a year you can get 1 GB of storage and unlimited aliases, and there are further plans for users with more advanced needs.
No list of free email services would be complete without a mention of the venerable Yahoo! – like Outlook.com, another survivor from the late 90s.
Like any such long-running service, the interface has seen a number of changes and refinements over the years – but the current version is fairly clean and straightforward, although it's still a little cluttered and old-fashioned compared to the sleeker offerings from Gmail and iCloud. That said, there's a whopping great advert on the side which spoils things slightly. You can pay to remove it – but at that point, it ceases to be a free email service!
The service features all the usual functions you'd expect from a modern email service, including a calendar and the ability to import contacts from a number of other accounts and social networks. There's also at least one unique feature; 'tabs' that let you view multiple messages and other functions. These work much like tabbed browsing in modern web browsers, but without the problems they can sometimes cause with webmail clients. It also offers a stonking terabyte of storage – that's 1,000 GB, far more than you're ever likely to need!
Beyond that, though, there's not a whole lot to recommend it over the other options here – although for some users, that terabyte of data is going to propel this straight to the top of the list.