You may assume that you have to rely on Google, Apple or Microsoft for fast and free email, but that’s not true. If you want to break away from the big tech giants, there are other options. One of those is ProtonMail.
Many Gizmodo staffers rely on Gmail, but some of us also use ProtonMail, and we think it’s worth highlighting this lesser-known service. ProtonMail may lack the polish of its rivals, but it does have some advantages.
Let’s start with the basics: ProtonMail has a free tier, and you’ll get your messages quickly. Those are two of the most important facets of any email service, and this one checks those boxes. The interface is slick and uncomplicated, even if it is a bit more basic than the apps offered by its big name rivals. It’s simple and clean, and keeps the focus where it should be: on your messages.
ProtonMail makes its money from paying customers. A premium subscription includes more storage (only 500MB is free) and features like multiple email addresses attached to one account. The service is perfectly usable without these extras, though, and unless you want to keep years and years of emails on file at all times, you’ll be fine with the free tier.
There are plenty of free email services around, but they often require you to give up a measure of privacy and control. Some, like Google, have historically served up targeted ads based on the contents of your email (though the company has said it no longer does this). Others, like Apple, want to lock you into their ecosystems so you never buy a device or subscribe to a service offered by another company ever again.
It’s a refreshing change to use a “neutral” service like ProtonMail (bonus: the company is actually based in Switzerland). You’re not being pushed to use a particular browser or smart assistant or chat service while you’re checking your messages. ProtonMail is an option if you think the tech giants have already claimed enough of your digital life.
End-to-end encryption is one of the key features promised by ProtonMail, with a zero-access setup ensuring that not even ProtonMail can see what your messages are about. What’s more, the code and cryptography that ProtonMail is built on open source and available for anyone to see, so there’s no chance of any back doors being hidden away.
On top of the encryption, the service offers other features designed to protect your privacy. You don’t need to provide any personal details when you sign up, for example, and ProtonMail doesn’t keep IP logs of your account access. There’s also the option to set an expiration date for sent email messages, so you can use your email account more like you use Snapchat.
We’ve already mentioned the independence and neutrality of ProtonMail, and it’s also available on any device. You can use the webmail client on desktops and laptops, and on mobile you can use the apps for Android or iOS. For third-party clients, IMAP and SMTP support is available for the desktop, but you need to be a paying customer in order to use it.
There are plenty of useful privacy and security features on mobile. You can protect the app with biometric security, for example, so no one else can read your email even if they get into your phone. If you check out the iOS app, you’ll see that the privacy label only has one entry in it: diagnostics (which aren’t in any way linked to your identity).
ProtonMail is much more than a bare-bones email service. You can view emails in conversations, Gmail-style, and use a combination of both labels and folders to keep your messages organized (though these are limited on the free plan). On the security side, there’s support for two-factor authentication and easy access to your login history.
Upgrade to a paid plan (from $5 a month) and you can set up filters and rules to sort your messages as they arrive, set up an auto-reply message, access smart import and export options, and even configure custom domains for your email addresses. The extra protection of a VPN service is another paid-for extra you can add to your account.