Roundup: what’s the best Windows email client?

February 23, 2011 – 06:01 by in Featured, Reviews Print Share 5 Comments

Do you need an email client? These days, many people see the advantage of accessing their email through the web – not only does this enable you to check it on any internet-enabled computer, it saves you having to open a separate program each time you want to check your email.

Having said that, you’ll need to consider a dedicated email client if you want to access your email offline, or your web-based host’s interface leaves something to be desired. You should also consider an upgrade if you’re still using Windows Mail (Vista) or Outlook Express (Windows XP or earlier). In this roundup we’ve sourced five alternative email programs – some free, others not so – and put them through their paces to see which one is best suited for your needs.

Windows Live Mail
Windows Live Mail is the feature-rich successor to Windows Mail, but aside from the similar name, there’s little in common between them. It ships as part of the Windows Live Essentials suite, but can be installed on its own.

Like all the clients featured here, it has an immediate edge over Outlook Express in that it supports web-based mail like Google and Hotmail (in fact, it’s the best choice for Windows Live Hotmail users). The interface is clean and readable, and the spam filters work reasonably well. The downside is a lack of organisational tools such as labels or smart folders.

There are some added extras too: the photo email tool is a quick and effective way of sharing photos without clogging up someone’s inbox, while the ability to read RSS feeds and newsgroups is welcome too. There’s also a calendar component, but this suffers from a lack of integration with the email client.

Thunderbird
Looking for a cross-platform email client that won’t cost you a penny? Thunderbird is the tool for you, working on Mac, Linux and Windows with no problems. It also offers the simplest way to transfer mail from PC to Mac, as we reveal here.

Thunderbird is also more powerful – if less exciting on the eye – than Windows Live Mail. There’s an excellent spam filter, advanced filtering and search tools, plus the ability to create templates.

Getting around your mail is easy, thanks to back and forward buttons, message markers and tabs. And if you think the program lacks a crucial function, just open the Add-ons Manager to see if there’s an extension that can add the tools you need.

If you were put off by the bugs and performance problems that plagued Thunderbird 3.0, now is the time to give the program a second try: version 3.1 doesn’t just iron out these bugs and improve speed (particularly when searching your mail), it also adds useful new features like the Quick Filter tool, plus the ability to open multiple messages in their own tabs, making it easy to switch between them.

Microsoft Outlook 2010
Seeing how expensive Outlook is, it needs a pretty powerful feature set to justify the extra expense. Outlook 2010 now sports the ribbon interface across the entire package, and introduces some useful new features for those with busy inboxes: you can organise, condense and even ignore messages with just a few clicks. Switch to Conversation view to further streamline your inbox.

Multiple accounts can now be combined in a single unified view, and Outlook’s own built-in Calendar tool can now be viewed alongside Windows Live and other shared calendars too.

One interesting feature is the Social Connector, which gives you access to more than just your contacts’ email addresses; now you can also view their recent social networking history too. It’s all very powerful and much better organised than before thanks to Outlook’s belated full embrace of the ribbon interface, but for the average user there’s not enough here to justify the $140 asking price.

PostBox 2.0
Unlike most of the other clients on test, PostBox isn’t free, but it’s much cheaper than Outlook at just $29.95, and is also cross-platform, so worth considering if you’re looking to access your mail quickly and easily over both Mac and PC. It’s based on the Mozilla platform, so will be familiar to Thunderbird users, but adds many exclusive features of its own, such as the Quick Reply option for firing off speedy responses without opening a new window, or the Summarised View, allowing you to review a message conversation without having to re-read the whole piece.

Version 2 fixes many of the gripes people had with the original release: you can now unify multiple mailboxes to read all your email in one place. The Focus Pane allows you to filter your mail into specific categories to allow you to deal with mail based on its urgency. It all adds up to a powerful step up from Thunderbird without breaking the bank.

If you can live with a reduced feature set, check out its little brother, PostBox Express, which is completely free to use. Note PostBox Express is based on version 1 of the software.

The Bat!
If you’re paranoid about security, then The Bat! is well worth checking out. Again, it’s not free, but your $35 (Home) or $45 (Pro) outlay buys you an email client that uses its own HTML viewer to allow you to view emails as they were intended without having to worry about malicious code sneaking on to your PC. It also supports various encryption protocols to allow you to send and receive messages securely. Throw in some useful extras like the Smart Sorting Office for dealing with busy inboxes, and you’ve got an email client that ticks all the boxes for those who worry about email’s inherent insecurities.

Conclusion
If your demands are basic – or you’re a Windows Live aficionado, then Windows Live Mail is a perfectly adequate and fuss-free tool to use. Thunderbird is our free option of choice, however, due to its versatility and superior feature set.

If you’re happy to pay for a solution, then Outlook 2010 will appear to professional users, but it’s overkill for a simple email application, and it’s easy to get confused trying to do even the simplest things.

Those who fear the inherent insecurity of email should look more closely at The Bat!, with its emphasis on increasing security, but if a powerful feature set and cross-platform compatibility are key requirements, the best paid-for email client is without a doubt PostBox. At the very least give it a whirl before settling for a freebie.

Let us know which email client you use, you’d recommend and would regard as your favourite?

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5 Comments »

  • Art says:

    Let’s not forget Pegasus Mail, one of the oldest GUI email clients.
    Like the Bat, it uses own HTML renderer, and is compatible with Unix mailbox format, an added convenience.

  • How many people are there out there who just haven’t managed to find the perfect e-mail client? I think it’s a shame as developers concentrate on churning out one web browser after another but forget about e-mail clients. Maybe they are coming back now with mobile phones, though. People seem to like using e-mail clients that tightly integrate with there phone book and general mobile OS experience. I find myself preferring the e-mail client on my WP7 device to any desktop client I have ever used.

  • Garth Lear says:

    I have use Thunderbird for several years but you need to be aware that there are serious issues with messages disappearing for no reason.

    Sometimes the supposedly fixes such as rebuilding index files work and sometimes they don’t.

    Go to mozilla.org and do a search for messages disapearing and there are 15K+ complaints.

    It has happened twice now to my wife’s business account and it is a serious problem.

  • Gabi says:

    I agree with Gabriel_german. I am still using Eudora Pro (even though it is no longer supported for several years now) and trying to find a better software. Maybe I will give The Bat! a chance…

  • Captain Scarlet says:

    Well I have been using Pocomail for quite some time and like it for its sheer unobtrusive functionality. I have tried others such as Thunderbird, The Bat, Outlook, Pegasus, Zimbra and more but nothing tempts me away from Pocomail. It works just fine with Windows7 64bit. Has not been updated for some time although for my needs it does everything, and I have 2GB of messages and attachments saved. Has an active forum and many devoted users, and there is talk that it may receive an update. Recommended.