The short story is: for regular not-too-intense use go for Thunderbird; power users can try The Bat or Claws; if email is mission critical, Outlook. Meaning: we are all doomed!
Let’s start from a new entry. Claws Mail is a Sylpheed spin-off but grew its own personality over time. Despite being lesser know email clients (at least in the Windows realm) and a bit old school, they are both actively developed. Actually they are updated more often than the bigger brother alternatives.
I used Claws Mail extensively on both Windows and Linux, it’s a solid email solution with a lot of plugins. I consider it a hard-core client, configuration is rather complicated especially for gmail accounts, but it’s pretty stable.
The graphics interface is like 1995 all over again but it’s very customizable. You can change layout view, group messages by threads and save sent mail into the same folder of the message you are replying to (ala Gmail).
It is not without fault, though. Apart from the configuration complexity, Gmail integration is not ideal. You have to tinker with your google account and sometimes the drafts are not deleted after you send the message.
Live/Outlook accounts work well but they are pretty slow and sometimes the connection is lost (most likely a Microsoft issue since it happens with the official client too).
It is instead incredibly good at plain ol’ IMAP. All the accounts I have on my servers work like a charm. Fast, smooth and it doesn’t create funky folders/files on the server. So if all you have are standard IMAPS (or POP3 for the matter) accounts, Claws mail really shines.
My vote: 3.4 / 5
An all time favorite. It’s not a free software, but the €20 are hardly an issue.
At Ritlabs they take security very seriously and they made of encryption and malware protection their flagship but the interface is outdated, reminiscent of a Windows XP era that we all love but also trying to forget.
The configuration of common email services (outlook, gmail, yahoo, …) is probably the easiest and fastest I’ve seen so far: just fill email address and password and everything is up and running in seconds. Gmail two-factor-authentication is also taken care of without breaking a sweat.
Same goes for custom IMAP/POP servers but beware that certificate exceptions are not allowed so you better do your self-signed certificates right.
The client features a custom HTML viewer for a better malware protection. It is generally good enough but it certainly doesn’t shine. Looking at HTML emails is a bit like browsing the web on Internet Explorer 5.5 on that PowerMac G4 you have in the attic.
The biggest problem with The Bat! is the complexity of the layout configuration. Changing even the smallest of the details in the user interface becomes a long and tedious endeavor. Options are often named in weird ways and updates to the layout are not shown in real time but you have to go into the preferences, apply the changes, hope that you picked the right check box and start all over again.
If you can get your head around the configuration process, well then, you can hardly beat The Bat! features wise.
My vote: 3.7 / 5
Mozilla abandoned their beloved email client and that’s the best thing that could have happened to Thunderbird.
The community picked it up and not long ago they released the first “community edition”. Mozilla was not clearly able (or interested) to dedicate resources to Thunderbird but the community could save the go-to Outlook alternative.
I installed the latest beta –which is actually due for release today!– to get an idea of what the next version will be. I believe the most welcome addition is the maildir support. You could already enable maildir (compared to mbox), but it has always been an unsupported feature; this time you can select it directly from the advanced options. This means that we can finally save one-file-per-email instead of having one huge file with everything inside. Something that has been requested since the dawn of time but never made it to an official release.
New account configuration is painless, everything worked out of the box including two step verification. IMAP feels less snappy than on Claws or The Bat! and overall Thunderbird is a heavier software, but it is also powered by Firefox and it supports a gazillion plugins.
Gmail integration seems noticeably better than two years ago, and I haven’t encountered major issues in the little time I tested it.
Custom IMAP accounts may need some advanced configuration based on your server setup, but nothing terribly complicated.
I discouraged using Thunderbird in my previous article, but now, in this new incarnation and with the community support I think it is once again the number one email reader choice.
My vote: 3.6 / 5
I’ll try to stay objective here but before I start I need to give you some background story.
When I first reviewed Mailbird almost two years ago (it was version 1-point-something) I discovered that the software was phoning home personal information (email address, name and session ID) to a Mailbird server. Not only that, but they were transferring data in plain text over an unprotected connecting.
I was pretty shocked that all of the reviews at the time failed to mention that and I realized that most of the “best email clients” blog posts on the internet are just click baits.
Anyway, I asked for an explanation to the developers about the curious behavior of their software and I got a reply from their CTO where he says that they are not breaking any law, your email is not considered personal information and their users never complained.
I blogged about my findings and after few months, when my post reached the top of google search results, Mailbird contacted me saying that they solved the issue. They did not. They just obfuscated the same info they were already sending to themselves; there was still no encryption and still no opt-out.
More months passed and with Mailbird v2 they finally introduced the option to opt-out from their stats collection. Will it be true? Time to check it out.
I installed the latest version and fired a packet sniffer. If you don’t disable the usage sharing, Mailbird indeed sends analytics to mixpanel and to one of their server hosted on unoeuro (a cheap 1-euro hosting service).
If you opt-out they don’t send data to mixpanel, but there’s still encrypted communication with 126.96.36.199. Funnily enough that same IP resolves to magicalmailapp.com which was the domain that Mailbird previously used to leak data. I can’t say what they are sharing, but surely the opt-out is not completely opting you out.
UPDATE: I’ve been contacted by Mailbird CTO, he ensures me that the connection to magicalmailapp.com is used exclusively to check and confirm your software license (if you purchased the application).
You’d think that at least they are storing information on a super secure dedicated server, it turned out that the IP is shared with 41 more websites on unoeuro host.
If you are aware of all the above and still willing to use Mailbird, I tested it for you anyway.
The application has an attractive and modern interface, you rarely see such well designed interfaces on Windows but it’s still a bit laggy even on my super powered rig.
Email accounts are easy to setup and everything seems to work out of the box. Development is also very fast and aggressive. Lately I saw a new version coming at least every other week. I find it a bit annoying when an application updates too often, but at least you know that it is a lively email client.
Mailbird also supports plugins. Most of them consist of just a sandboxed browser inside the Mailbird application (such as the Twitter, Lifehacker or The Verge plugins). Why would I want to browse a website inside the mail client is out of my understanding. I guess they have some kind of revenue share with the various sites they host.
Other plugins instead really add new features, such as Contacts and Attachments. Unfortunately there’s no distinction between “fake” and real plugins, so you have to guess from the list.
There’s still no PGP plugin and no intention to implement it, renewing the feeling that Mailbird priority is not security and privacy. Also some basic features are/were missing, but it’s hard to make a list due to their very aggressive update policy; something missing today might be available tomorrow. That is just to say that the core is still young and their strategy seems to prioritize fancy to functionality.
It’s hard to give a vote to Mailbird. If you don’t care about your privacy and ignore the seeming lack of competence of the developers, I would give it 3.5-4 / 5. Otherwise I have to confirm my previous 2 / 5.
Please understand that this a very personal opinion. I encourage you to try Mailbird and contact the developers if you have any doubt about how your personal data is handled.
Two years have passed and eM Client is still at version 6.x. Not much changed since my last review.
eM should grant a better integration with Microsoft products thank to AirSync support and indeed the client presents itself as The Outlook alternative.
They tried to design a modern interface that can also be widely customized, but it’s far from perfect and presents small artifacts and glitches here and there.
I had some issues with a hotmail account, the client didn’t block a malicious script in the spam folder and the database got corrupted.
That being said support is top notch, they offered to help through Teamviewer for free and I wasn’t even a registered/paying customer. So I understand that if you are a company that might be a top priority for you.
My vote: 3 / 5
Windows 10 Mail
Windows 10 comes with a new barebone client which should be good enough for the average user.
It is true that it offers good out of the box support for common email services but it’s really too barebone. I honestly don’t think it is any good even for the most casual of the users.
Not only that but it’s also incredibly slow to connect to the various email accounts, especially IMAP.
This software is so embarrassingly useless that it’s not even worth of a review.
My vote: 1 / 5
There are other options out there but for one reason or another they didn’t make it to my list.
OE Classic is a very much loved email client, easy to use, light and fast but it doesn’t support IMAP, so basically worthless to me.
Inky is more a service than a client, they offer an alternative to the Office 365 + Outlook solution. All your account credentials have to be stored remotely and by the way the client itself is slow and heavy.
Seamonkey is a suite that brings web browser, email and IRC client all under the same roof. I believe it’s more of a nostalgic thing from the Netscape era than an effort to offer something new/different/better. The email client is not bad per-se, but it doesn’t meet my do-one-thing-and-it-right philosophy.
Postbox. Many swear by it but at the end it’s just a customized Thunderbird. I feel that you could better install Mozilla’s client and customize it with a couple of the hundreds plugins available. That being said, there’s nothing wrong about a ready-to-use solution like Postbox, just not my cup of tea.
Opera Mail was promising but it received one security update in years so it’s safe to say that it’s no longer actively developed.
MailPile is also a very interesting project. I personally backed the project on Indiegogo (in 2013 or something), but it’s still beta with major features missing. The blog is constantly updated and development seems to proceed, but it’s still not ready for prime time.
Nowadays 90% of the emails are consumed through the web on Gmail, Yahoo or Live.com. These providers have absolutely no interest in making things easy for external clients. They need you to connect to your browser so they can track your habits and offer more ads.
Then there’s a 9% of business users that historically used Outlook. These are companies and corporations and you just use what you find installed on your workstation.
The remaining 1% is us nerdy dinosaurs.
It has become an incredibly small niche and things will only get worse. I don’t think we will ever see a decent desktop email client, actually they will probably completely die in a not so distant future.
In the meantime, well, install Thunderbird.