The best free email client
With webmail services like Gmail and Outlook offering easy email access and mobile apps for all your devices, does the humble email client still warrant a place on you desktop?
If you use more than one email account - as most of us do - we say yes. This is particularly true if those accounts are with different providers, which would otherwise require you to have several browser tabs open at once. As well as aggregating all your messages in one convenient place, a good email client can add features like encryption and integration with calendars, RSS feeds and VoIP apps.
Desktop clients can also store your mail locally, giving you access to archived messages when you're offline and providing a valuable backup.
Here's our nomination for the best email client of 2016. Have we missed your favorite? What makes it stand out? Let us know in the comments below.
1. eM Client
The best email client, with support for a wide range of email providers and integrated chat
eM Client has been kicking around for nearly 10 years now, and its long development has enabled it to develop into the best email client for Windows.
The free version is limited to non-commercial use and two email accounts, but otherwise it's identical to the paid-for edition.
eM Client includes support for Gmail, Exchange, iCloud and Outlook.com, touch controls, fast searching and integrated calendaring and contacts. There's an integrated chat app too, with support for common standards such as Jabber and Google Chat, and it's a good alternative to heavyweight apps like Outlook.
2. Mailbird Lite
A great-looking email client packed with features to supplement your messages
Mailbird Lite isn't just an email app - it's a whole communication platform to which you can add apps for scheduling, chatting, file syncing and teamworking.
After downloading Mailbird you'll be treated to a 30-day trial of the Pro version, which is downgraded to the more limited Lite edition if you choose not to upgrade at the end of the month. There are no time restrictions on the free client.
Free users miss out on features such as speed reading, email snoozing and quick previews of attachments, but Mailbird Lite is still an excellent choice. It supports up to three email accounts, is optimized for speed, and looks great to boot.
Setup is simple; enter your email details and will find the necessary POP or IMAP settings automatically, then get to work importing your messages. It offers to connect with your Facebook account, so it can liven up your inbox with your contacts' profile photos, and can also link with Whatsapp, Google Calendar, free task manager , and teamworking app .
3. Claws Mail
Claws Mail's simple interface belies a powerful email tool that's well suited to more confident users
Claws Mail isn't hard to use, but is best suited to more experienced users who want to get stuck into its custom mail filtering and support for an unlimited number of email accounts.
Unlike the other clients here, Claws requires users to set up their POP3/IMAP settings manually. If you use Gmail, you may also need to adjust your Google account settings and grant access for potentially less safe applications - something you might well prefer to avoid.
Unusually for a modern email client there's no option to send HTML messages - Claws is plaintext-only - but by omitting potentially unnecessary features, Claws can run at lightning speeds. Its search function is particularly good, and it's expandable via plugins too.
It isn't the prettiest email app, but Claws is a great free choice if you value substance over style. It's also updated regularly, so bugs are stamped out quickly.
A free email client with one-time setup for managing mail across all your devices
Inky's free edition is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Android, and its one-time setup makes it the perfect email client for use across all three platforms.
After downloading and installing the email client, you'll be asked to create an Inky account. This links all your email addresses together, enabling you to access them from any device with Inky installed without the hassle of setting up POP and IMAP settings.
Once you've registered, setup is simple; enter the username and password for each account, and Inky takes care of the rest.
In everyday use, Inky is excellent, with a clever auto-tagging feature, intelligent filtering of message types (personal, subscriptions, social, notes and so on), very fast searching and cloud syncing between devices.
If you're running Windows 7 or later and spend lots of time trying to find particular messages or threads, Inky could save you an enormous amount of time.
5. Opera Mail
A flexible open source email client from the team behind the superb Opera web browser
Its features include message templates - particularly handy for business use - message filtering and sorting, message sorting by type and a wide range of customisation options.
The client also imports RSS feeds, making it a good alternative to web apps like Feedly and the much-missed Google Reader.
Plenty of features, and even more available with free extensions - as you'd expect from Mozilla
Like Firefox, free email client Thunderbird was created by the Mozilla Foundation (though development of the two has since been uncoupled). Like the web browser, its features can be extended and enhanced with a huge range of third-party add-ons.
Some of its excellent built-in features include the ability to link files that are too big to email and the ability to read RSS news feeds alongside your email.
Setup is straightforward; as with most modern email clients, all you need are your usernames and passwords, and Thunderbird takes care of the rest.
7. Windows Live Mail
A venerable email client that's stood the test of time and is still a good choice today
Windows Live Mail was last updated in 2012, having been superseded by the Mail app in Windows 8 and 10. However, despite Live Mail's comparatively old-fashioned appearance, the two programs are largely the same.
Windows Live Mail delivers the three-pane layout that many email users, including us, prefer to more modern but more minimal designs. It supports RSS and cloud-based email as well as POP3, and makes it easy to send attachments and work with multiple accounts.
If you like Microsoft's way of doing things but find ultra-streamlined Windows 10 apps too limiting, the classic Windows Live Mail remains a sensible choice.