Best desktop email clients 2018
Email clients make backing up easier, don't impose any storage limits, and are available offline. Here are our favourites
Web-based email has never been so popular yet there are plenty of headaches associated with having to be online to read your messages. Even the best cloud services out there struggle to replicate the ease of use that desktop-based clients bring, whether it be easily backing up emails, accessing attachments offline, or simply offering the same flexibility when it comes to capacity.
We've tested some of the most popular email clients to see which offer the most well-rounded experience for users, including software performance, feature set, and their ease of use.
With a smart-looking, modern interface and plenty of advanced features, eM Client is easily the best email software for Windows PCs.
Calendar, contacts and tasks are all integrated and there's even built-in support for chat (via Facebook, Google or Jabber). Setting up accounts is very straightforward - most popular email services are automatically recognised and configured without you having to faff around with SMTP server settings and suchlike. If you're switching from another email program, eM Client will helpfully offer to import data from your old application, and if you're using an Outlook.com or Gmail account, your calendar and contacts will be automatically synced, too.
eM Client's default interface should feel instantly familiar - it uses the tried-and-tested, three-column (folder list, message list, preview pane) layout. But the program doesn't look old-fashioned and you can customise its layout to suit your tastes by clicking Menu, Tools, Settings, Appearance - we prefer the stylish Dark theme. It's also possible to switch Conversation view off, if you prefer.
Notable features include a super-fast search, advanced filtering tools, templates, signatures, tags and the ability to categorise mail using colour-coding. There's even a built-in translator, which uses Bing's translation engine.
The latest version of eM Client (7.1) adds a number of useful new features, including an improved backup tool that can automatically back up your data in the background, and support for PGP encryption.
How it can be improved
The free version of eM Client only supports two mail accounts. If you need more than that, you'll have to pay for the Pro version, which costs £36 (or £72 if you want lifetime upgrades to future versions). After the 30-day trial, you'll need to apply to eM Client for a free license to keep using it for free, which seems like an unnecessary step. There's currently no integration with Windows 10's Action Centre - instead you're alerted to new mail via eM Client's own Notification area icon pop-up.
Quibbles aside, eM Client easily beats the competition. It offers a great balance of simplicity and adaptability, while its familiarity makes it a great replacement for older tools, such as Outlook Express and Windows Live Mail.
Ease of use: 5
Thunderbird is a resolutely old-school email program that offers support for multiple POP and IMAP accounts, and provides easy set-up for popular services, such as Gmail and Outlook.com.
You can configure it so that it looks and works how you want it to, and there are loads of features, including powerful filtering tools, an RSS reader and instant messaging. Like Mozilla's more famous web browser, Thunderbird's abilities can be expanded further by installing add-ons - anything from alternative themes to mail merge tools, password managers and more - though many 'legacy' extensions are being phased out. The once-optional Lightning add-on is now integrated into the program, meaning that calendar and tasks features are now built in.
How it can be improved:
Thunderbird lacks native Exchange support, meaning some accounts (including Outlook.com ones) don't get the full range of features. There's no support for Windows 10's Action Centre, either - so there are no native Windows 10 notifications.
Mozilla has made no secret of the fact that its struggling to justify Thunderbird's ongoing development. Last year Mozilla found a way to keep Thunderbird alive by separating it from its core business and new features have been promised, but its future is far from guaranteed.
With plenty of built-in features and many more available through add-ons, Thunderbird is highly versatile, though its ageing interface and lack of support for some newer standards are disappointing - and may never be fixed.
Ease of use: 4
Microsoft Mail app
Windows 10's built-in apps tend to come in for a bit of a knocking, but Mail is actually pretty good. It has a nice, clean interface, supports most account types (including POP and IMAP) and is refreshingly simple to set up and use.
Its close integration into the OS has a number of benefits, including a live tile in the Start menu and a cross-app relationship with the People (contacts) and Calendar apps. Microsoft keeps improving the Mail app, too. Last year it added a Focused Inbox feature for Gmail users, for example (click Settings, Reading to toggle this on or off). On touch-screen devices, the app's intuitive Swipe Action controls are an added bonus.
How it can be improved:
Some of Mail's tools are a little too simplistic - there's no filtering, for example, and it only supports plain text signatures (though you can hack it by adding in your own HTML code). Also, since Mail is tied so closely to the OS, its reliability can be affected by Windows 10 updates. We've experienced problems like these first-hand and many user reviews on the app's Windows Store page would suggest that we're not alone.
If simplicity is what you're after, look no further - Mail's already installed on your PC and is a piece of cake to set up. That said, you may find its lack of features frustrating.
Ease of use: 5
Best of the rest
Microsoft Outlook (www.microsoft.com)
If you subscribe to Office 365 (from £5.99 per month or £60 per year), you get Outlook with it, which is an email client, calendar tool, contacts manager and to-do list all in one. Outlook offers a lot of advanced tools, including a powerful Rules function, fast search and built-in archiving tools. But, these days, Outlook feels like overkill - there are simpler tools available for free.
Mailbird Lite (www.getmailbird.com)
Mailbird Lite feels a little like Microsoft's Mail app on steroids. It looks great and has the ability to connect to popular apps and services, including WhatsApp, Slack and Facebook, as well as the usual email accounts. The free version of Mailbird restricts you to a single email account and lacks some of the full program's better tools, such as attachment previewing and email snoozing. Adding these will cost you £19.50.
Postbox's interface is uncluttered and should feel familiar. RSS feeds and newsgroups are supported but, strangely, there's no built-in calendar. Some of the program's more innovative tools include automated responses and placeholders, which can save time if you find yourself frequently sending similar replies. The big drawback is that Postbox isn't free. Beyond the 30-day free trial you'll need to pay - currently it's $40 (£29) for the full version.
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