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The 8 best email apps to manage your inbox

By Harry Guinness · May 12, 2023
Hero image with the logos of the best email apps

The past couple of years have shown that email isn't going anywhere, no matter how much your workplace uses Slack, Teams, and other remote work tools. In fact, email apps seem to have gotten better. What were once niche features you had to pay for, like scheduling emails to send later or turning them into reminders in your inbox, are now available in almost every email app, even the default ones and web apps. It's wild—and it makes putting this list together harder and harder.

I've used email since 1995 (my dad set up the account for me because I was five years old), and I've worked fully remotely since 2012. I've spent more time tinkering with email than any person should. I've tried nearly every purported fix, system, or solution available (you should see my Gmail labels), and I've long since concluded the best fix is to take a deep breath and accept that email will never be amazing, but that with an app you like, it won't be a burden.

I spent time with all the top email apps on every device, and here are my picks for the eight best desktop and mobile email apps for all the big platforms.

The 8 best email clients

  • Windows Mail for the best free Windows email app

  • Mailbird for the best Windows email app

  • Apple Mail for the best macOS email app

  • Outlook for an Apple Mail alternative for macOS

  • Apple Mail for the best iOS email app

  • Outlook for an alternative to Apple Mail for iOS

  • Gmail for the best Android email app

  • Edison Mail for a Gmail alternative for Android

What makes a great email client? 

Let me start here: this is an article about the best email clients (a.k.a. email apps), not the best email services. We're looking at the apps that run on your devices and enable you to check your email service. For example, all of the email clients on this list will work with your aol.com email address (AOL is an email service). Some apps on this list, like Outlook and Gmail, are the name of both an email client and an email service, but what I was testing here was the app itself. (Yes, it's still confusing a decade in.)

This list is also focused on the best email apps for the four most popular platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. Think of it as kind of an email all-stars list. If you like what you see here but want more niche options, like the best email apps for security or customization, check out our platform-specific lists. 

This also means I'm not considering any web apps for this list. Really, the web apps for most major email services are, believe it or not, not that bad (the Gmail web app, for example, works well even on mobile web browsers and has a lot of powerful features). This means that if you're going to the effort of setting up a dedicated email app for desktop or mobile—and maybe even paying for one—it had better get a few things right. Here's what I wanted the best apps to be and do:

  • Platform-specific. PCs have different interface and usability conventions than Macs; an iPhone doesn't work the same as an Android phone—and dedicated email apps should respect all that. I was looking for email apps that were explicitly designed to work well with the device they were on, take advantage of platform-specific features, and generally just be nice OS citizens. 

  • Support the big email services. While I can't promise that these email apps will work with every single email service out there (they won't), I made sure they work nicely with the big ones like Gmail and Outlook, and that they enable other accounts through the POP3 or IMAP protocols. In short, if you use a normal email account and not something like HEY or Proton, all these picks should work for you. 

  • Nail the basics. This isn't a list of the eight most interesting email apps. It's more about the eight least interesting ones that completely get out of your way. I didn't want apps that made a song and dance out of checking your inbox or sending emails. All these apps do the basics, and do it well—though they almost all have loads of other nice-to-have features too.

  • Good value. There are a lot of free apps on this list because a lot of free apps do email very well. For a paid app to make this list, it had to offer a solid upgrade over the free apps at a reasonable price. Similarly, there are no ad-supported apps on this list (except Gmail, which hides them away).

  • Modern and usable. App conventions develop and change over time. I wasn't looking for avant-garde apps that were pushing the boundaries of what's possible with software, but I did want up-to-date apps with modern design sensibilities and features. What this has meant has changed in the past few years, and it now sets a pretty high bar for inclusion.

Aside from a few additions for the sake of comprehensiveness, I mostly considered apps that had already made one of our other best email apps lists. From those 30+ apps, I excluded any that obviously didn't meet the criteria above, and then I got to testing. I connected my accounts and, over a couple of days, used them to check and send email. Since I was mostly looking for apps that did the basics well, just using them as part of my regular routine was a much better protocol than trying to stress test every corner and break every menu.

From all the apps I tested, I selected eight—two for each platform—that I feel are the best for most people. Here they are. 

Best free Windows email client

Windows Mail

Windows Mail, our pick for the best free Windows email client

If you haven't tried Windows Mail in the past decade, your expectations are badly out of line with reality. I was absolutely shocked at how nice and easy the built-in Mail app on Windows 10 and 11 is to use.

Mail is one of the best basic email apps you can find. Doing the most common things are simple and follow decades of email conventions. You have an Inbox for new messages, an Outbox for sent messages, and a good composer. It's all most people need. 

But the developers at Windows have also snuck in a few neat features. There's a Focused Inbox that automatically filters out the emails you read most regularly, so messages from friends and family don't get stuck in among all your newsletters. It also comes bundled with a calendar and integrates with Microsoft To Do, so you can use it as part of a more involved productivity system. There are even solid personalization options tucked away in the settings: you can change the theme or colors, configure notifications, and set up auto-responders with a few clicks. 

If you use Windows, Mail should be the first app you try. If you need more powerful filters or deeper integrations with other services, you'll have to look elsewhere. But for most people, it does more than enough to be the best free email client for Windows.

Windows Mail pricing: Free

Best Windows email client


Mailbird, our pick for the best Windows email client

If you live in your email inbox, use Windows, and are prepared to pay to have the best experience possible, look no further than Mailbird. It's the best Windows email app you can get, though it will set you back around $40 per year, depending on which plan you subscribe to. 

Mailbird has a sleek, modern design (although you can customize it plenty if you want to). While it does the basics of sending and receiving email really well, it's the nice quality-of-life features that make it my top Windows pick here. For example, you have the ability to snooze emails or undo sent ones, and there's a unified inbox, which is useful for people handling higher volumes of email or managing multiple accounts.

With that said, I'd be remiss not to mention one of Mailbird's stand-out non-email features: third-party integrations. Depending on your subscription, you can add personal apps (like WhatsApp and Instagram) and productivity apps (like Slack, Dropbox, and Google Calendar) as their own panes in Mailbird, so you can configure your ultimate productivity setup. 

Really, the only other contender for this spot on the list was Outlook, Microsoft's other email app. If you already pay for Microsoft 365, it probably beats Mailbird. But if you don't use Office, want a nicer email experience, and don't mind paying a few dollars per month, Mailbird is the way to go. It would be one of my favorite email apps on any other operating system, too.

Mailbird pricing: Home Standard plan from $39/year; Business Standard and Home Premium plans from $59/year with third-party integrations

Best free email client for Mac

Apple Mail

Apple Mail, our pick for the best free email client for Mac

Apple Mail comes installed with macOS, which is reason enough for most people to try it first. And, to be honest, even if you're an email app connoisseur, you probably don't need to try anything else. macOS used to have a really healthy email app ecosystem, but over the past few years, as Apple has updated the app with a nice modern UI and an increasingly solid feature set, a lot of the third-party apps haven't kept ahead. Most of them are still around, but you end up paying (or worse, paying a subscription fee) for an app that isn't that different from Apple Mail.

The user interface is clean. All your mailboxes, folders, and accounts are available in the left sidebar—either separately or in a unified mailbox combining all your accounts. Emails are automatically grouped into threaded conversations separated by subject.

One feature I love is smart mailboxes, which filter your emails as they arrive based on the rules you set up. It's the kind of thing that's not always included with free apps. To set one up, go to Mailbox > New Smart Mailbox and set a series of rules, like unread messages from a few specific people or emails with attachments that you haven't responded to yet. Apple recently added scheduled send and reminders, which are game-changers. Yes, other clients have had them for years, but they still make Mail a lot more usable.

Apple Mail also integrates nicely with the rest of Apple's ecosystem. You can send large files using Mail Drop, which uploads them to iCloud to make sharing easier. With Handoff, you can start drafting an email on your Mac, then pick up in the exact same place in the Mail app on your iPhone. If you know you aren't looking for some niche feature like support for encryption protocols or a totally different workflow, it's the best email app for most Mac users. 

Apple Mail pricing: Free

Best alternative to Apple Mail for Mac


Outlook, our pick for the best Apple Mail alternative for Mac

In a surprise to pretty much everyone, Outlook is the best Apple Mail alternative for Mac users. Seriously. 

Outlook has been on Zapier's best apps list for a few years now because it's modern, feature-packed, and just works really well—but since it required a pricey Microsoft 365 subscription, it wasn't for everyone. Then, this year, as some of our old favorites like Airmail doubled down on subscription plans, Microsoft went and made it free. You can get it right now in the App Store. 

So, who's Outlook for? Despite lots of improvements, Apple Mail is still a relatively basic email app. If you're looking for deep calendar integrations, custom templates, and even separate personal and work profiles that fully support Mac features like Siri shortcuts and Focus Features, then Outlook is the app for you. 

Of course, Outlook still has some Microsoft-y edges to it, and things like the email composer aren't as nice to use (because you've got a lot more options), but if you're looking for a Mac email client that brings the kitchen sink, this is it. 

Outlook pricing: Free

Best email app for iPhone

Apple Mail

Apple Mail, our pick for the best email app for iPhone

Like with Windows Mail and Apple Mail on the Mac, the best email app for most iPhone users is the one that comes pre-installed: in this case, Apple Mail again. While hardly a radical suggestion, I'd hope that its inclusion here reassures you that you're not missing out on some magic email fix if you just stick with the default app. 

Mail on the iPhone is simple and modern without being too stripped down. It works with all the major email services without any fuss. Really, it's a great app for checking your emails—and replying to the most important ones—when you're out and about. I'd avoid using it to send a long breakup email (with a person or subscription service), but the same is true of any smartphone email app regardless of the platform.

Like the macOS version, Apple has added a lot of once-premium features. You can now schedule emails to send later, set reminders for emails you need to get back to, and if you're a bit too aggressive with your thumbs when replying to someone, there's even an undo send.

One really nice touch is the VIP inbox. This allows you to turn off notifications for most emails on your phone, while setting a list of contacts whose emails will still come through. It's great if you want your boss or partner to be able to email you when you're away from your computer, without constantly being bombarded by newsletters. If you're waiting for a reply to a specific thread, you can also turn on thread-specific notifications. In your inbox, swipe left on the email you want to be notified about replies to, then tap More > Notify Me.

Without doing anything too fancy, Apple Mail comfortably holds its own as one of the best email apps on iOS.

Apple Mail pricing: Free

Deciding between Apple Mail and Gmail? Read our comparison.

Best Apple Mail alternative for iPhone


Outlook, our pick for the best Apple Mail alternative for iPhone

This one was a surprise to me too: not only is Outlook the best Mac email alternative, but it's the best iPhone one too. (In fact, Outlook was in the top three apps for pretty much every category on this list. Fingers crossed Microsoft doesn't pull off a clean sweep next year because I'd be out of a job.)

Outlook's iPhone app hits a really nice balance between usability and power. While the desktop version of Outlook is a powerhouse and can feel a bit overloaded with features, that isn't an issue on iOS. It's a nice, fast, and modern email app with enough extra features to stand out from the crowd. For example, it integrates with OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox, so you can easily manage your files, and there's a built-in calendar for easy scheduling.

By default, Outlook splits your inbox into a Focused Inbox for your most important emails, and an Other Inbox for the rest. It's not perfect out of the gate without a bit of tweaking (tap the three little dots, then Move to Focused Inbox on any message that ends up in the wrong place, and it will get better over time), but it does help you scan your inbox on the go, without getting bogged down. 

All in all, Outlook is a super solid option for anyone who feels Apple Mail is just a bit too barebones. And best of all, like on Mac, it's free.

Outlook pricing: Free

Best email app for Android


Gmail, our pick for the best email app for Android

The email app situation on Android is a bit of a mess. Most phones come with two email apps pre-installed: one called Mail or the like from the phone manufacturer, and then Gmail from Google. The manufacturers' default mail apps tend to be basic but functional, so I wouldn't really recommend them. Gmail, on the other hand, is great—and, despite the name, it also works with other major email services. (Though, of course, it plays nicest with Gmail. See why I called it a mess?)

Anyway, the Gmail app will be pretty familiar to anyone who has ever used the Gmail web app since it looks pretty much identical. If you use Gmail, it has the same three smart categories—Primary, Social, and Promotions—that automatically sort your incoming emails into separate inboxes. If you use a different service (or don't have the smart categories turned on in your Gmail account), it operates as a more traditional email client with a single Primary inbox. It's still great, but Gmail users are definitely getting the best experience. 

Using the Gmail app is fast and easy. Tap an email to open it, or swipe on it to archive it. It's nothing radical, but it's an incredibly functional mobile-focused experience. And, really, that's one of the best things you can say for the Gmail app: it's not a scaled-down web app; rather, it's purpose-built for smartphones. 

Like with the web version, you will see the occasional ad in your secondary inboxes. It's not great, but it's just Google's MO at this point—and it's hard to find a better default option on Android.

So, if you have an Android phone, Gmail should be the first app you check out. (If you use Gmail, it should probably be the app you stick with just for the extra features.) It comes pre-installed, it's fast and modern, and it sets the bar high.

Gmail pricing: Free

Best Gmail alternative for Android

Edison Mail

Edison Mail, our pick for the best Gmail alternative for Android

If you don't use Gmail or want an email app that takes automated inbox management to the next level, Edison Mail is what you're after. It's also available on iOS, macOS, and Windows, but it's topping the Android list because of how much nicer to use it is than most of the other Android alternatives. 

Like all the apps we've looked at here, Edison is fast, modern, and easy to use. Your inbox is split into a Focused Inbox, which has the emails Edison thinks are important, and Other for all the rest. But it's under Assistant in the sidebar (or by tapping the Assistant button on the top-right of the inbox) where you find the real sorting.

By default, Edison pulls out any subscriptions and tells you just how often you open them, as well as just how many emails you receive. You can then unsubscribe from any of them with a single tap, or add them to a daily or weekly summary email, so your inbox stays neat. Edison can also pull out travel confirmations, package tracking emails, bills or receipts, event confirmations, or coupons, so they're easily accessible, at least if you live in the U.S. Edison will also automatically surface them when they're relevant; for example, it will show you your hotel details before you're due to check in or let you know when a bill is about to come due. It saves you from having to star or sort messages you know you'll have to refer back to.

Edison is free to use, although there's a paid premium tier called Edison Mail+ that adds security-focused features, like automated sender verification that can protect you from phishing attempts. It's a nice feature, but at $14.99 per month, I feel it's not really worth the price unless you're inundated with phishing attempts or use Edison on all your devices and want to support the ongoing development of the app.

Edison Mail pricing: Free; from $14.99/month for Edison Mail+, which adds more security-focused features. 

Which is the best email app for you?

If you pick one of the apps on this list, you'll be golden when it comes to managing your inbox. But if you're looking for something more niche, check out those deep dives I linked to above—they'll give you even more options for the best email apps for every device. Or you can take a look at our picks for the best AI email assistants.

This article was originally published in 2018 by Jill Duffy. The most recent update was in May 2023.

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