Gmail is an incredibly popular email service. It has millions of users who daily take advantage of its features and popularity. However, if you are concerned with protecting your online privacy, using Gmail could be a problem. Google has long had a reputation for sucking up a lot of personal data about its users.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see how much personal data Gmail collects. Google’s entire business model revolves around collecting as much private information on users as possible in order to benefit advertisers and other third parties.
If privacy is important to you, you should definitely be looking for an alternative to Gmail.
Things to look for in a Gmail alternative
There isn’t an email service that serves as an exact replacement for Gmail. So we looked for several characteristics that would give most of the benefits of Gmail, but add better privacy. Here are the main things we were looking for.
- The ability to import messages and contacts from Gmail
- A safe jurisdiction that respects privacy
- End-to-end (E2E) encryption for truly private messages
- The non-email features you need such as a calendar, notes, and tasks
The ability to import messages and contacts from Gmail
Assuming you are a Gmail user looking to switch, you probably have messages and contacts that you’ll need. In the mini-reviews that follow, we’ll let you know what it takes to get copies of your messages and contacts out of Gmail and into the Gmail alternative.
A safe jurisdiction that respects privacy
No matter how hardcore pro-privacy an email service is, in the end, they must obey the laws of their location (jurisdiction) or go out of business. Some jurisdictions, such as Switzerland, are far more protective of your privacy than say the United States.
The United States is a founding member of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance. It also has many laws allowing the government to spy on virtually anyone on Earth, and to force companies in this jurisdiction to help the government spy on people. National Security Letters are administrative subpoenas that can force companies to secretly spy on citizens, and don’t even require a judge’s signature.
Demands for information can be accompanied by gag orders that make it a crime for the company to disclose that its customers are being spied upon.
Several years ago, a US-based encrypted email service called Lavabit shut its doors rather than share private data on its users. But most aren’t that committed to their users’ privacy. We know of two other email services that eventually cooperated with the authorities and handed over user data. This has also happened with a few US-based VPN services, as we noted in our IPVanish review.
Cases like this show why it is important to at least know where email providers are based. It will give you some kind of idea about the potential risks of using any particular email service. Choosing an encrypted email service with E2E (end-to-end) encryption will help regardless of the laws in a jurisdiction. That’s because an email service can only be forced to disclose information that it has in its possession. When an email service is E2E encrypted, only the recipient can read it.
Another useful tactic for protecting yourself is to use a good VPN that is also based in a safe jurisdiction. A VPN will substitute its IP address for your IP address. Since your IP address is the main way that you can be identified on the internet, keeping your IP address hidden makes it much harder for spies to connect the data they gather with you.
Note: As of early 2021, the European Parliament is considering a controversial initiative that many believe would bring an end to E2E encryption (see below) in the name of the “fight against child abuse.” Not surprisingly, several European tech companies, including Tutanota, Mailfence, and Mailbox.org have banded together and objected to this latest attempt by politicians to strip away privacy rights and impose more surveillance measures. You can read the letter the companies sent to Parliament here.
End-to-end (E2E) encryption for truly private messages
End-to-end encryption is the best guarantee of email privacy you can get. When an email service uses E2E encryption, your messages are encrypted in the app or web browser before they leave your device. They can only be decrypted by the intended recipient. Even though your messages may pass through the servers of your email service, even the service cannot decrypt them.
Whether the encryption on your messages could be cracked or not depends on which encryption algorithm the email service uses. PGP is an older encryption standard that is still used by some services. It is secure, despite some reports to the contrary years ago. Those reports were related to incorrect implementation of PGP by third parties and to the best of our knowledge none of those problems affected our recommended email providers.
E2E encryption like this is important when even the US government can’t protect itself from massive data breaches.
In recent times, PGP is being superseded by OpenPGP, an open source variant of PGP that can be used freely by any email service. OpenPGP is considered secure against attacks. But it does have some drawbacks.
First, PGP and OpenPGP do not encrypt email subject lines or the sender and recipient email addresses. Information about your email messages is valuable even if a snoop can’t read the content of the messages. Knowing what the Subjects of all your messages are and who you are emailing is still quite valuable for intel gathering. So this facet of PGP and OpenPGP is not ideal.
Second, few people are willing or able to deal with encrypted email messages. Unless both parties are using an email service that handles everything automatically, one or both of you is going to have to deal with PGP key creation and management, as well as encrypting/decrypting messages. In other words, unless you are both using an email service that handles all the PGP-related tasks automatically, dealing with the encryption is too much hassle for most people.
As you will see, some services do not use PGP or OpenPGP to encrypt their messages. These have their own pluses and minuses, as we will discuss in the relevant mini-reviews.
The vulnerability of browser-based email
Many email clients run in your browser. This is great in that you don’t need to install any separate email app, and you’ll know your email client is always up to date since it gets loaded anew whenever you launch it.
However, there are still vulnerability issues to consider, even if you are using a secure browser. The encryption libraries used in web browsers can be vulnerable to attack through various means. On the other hand, the email services know about the vulnerabilities and take steps to protect against them so you will get some protection there.
Where does this leave you? If the email service you are using offers a browser-based client in addition to a standalone email client or a mobile app, avoid using the browser-based client whenever possible.
Standalone email clients and mobile apps tend to be more secure than the browser-based ones.
And regardless of what form the email client takes, consider using a quality VPN with advanced security features such as NordVPN or Surfshark. Both of these services have a VPN ad blocking feature that will filter out ads, trackers, malware, and phishing websites. They could keep many of the worst attacks from even reaching your web browser.
No Gmail alternative is perfect
I was looking for email providers that could tick all the boxes above. This was easier said than done. In the end, I settled for 10 quality email services that, depending on your circumstances and exact needs, could serve as viable alternatives to Gmail.
The non-email features you need such as a calendar, notes, and tasks
While Gmail is of course an email program, it can do much more than send and receive messages and manage contacts. It has a calendar, notes, and tasks features as well. If you are looking to move from Gmail to a new email service, and use one or more of these non-email features, it would make sense to look for a service that duplicates those services.
Some of the email services we are about to talk about have all those capabilities. Some are more bare-bones. Knowing which of those non-email capabilities you want will help you narrow the list to include just your best Gmail alternatives.
Nice to haves
In addition to the above, it is nice to have as many of these features as possible:
- IMAP and POP or SMTP protocol support so you can connect to other encrypted email apps
- Open source code, which we consider to be less likely to have major bugs or hidden backdoors
- Anonymous registration and payment for taking your privacy to the maximum
- Custom email domains for presenting a more professional face to the world
The 10 best Gmail alternatives for 2021
Now that you know what characteristics I looked for when I reviewed alternatives to Gmail, let’s look at the final result. Here are 10 of the best alternatives to Gmail:
1. ProtonMail – A secure Swiss Gmail alternative
ProtonMail is perhaps the best-known of the secure and private email services. But fame doesn’t necessarily equal talent or value. Happily, despite its above-average price, ProtonMail delivers the goods. It is based in Switzerland, a jurisdiction renowned for strong privacy protections. While only paid subscribers get to use the company’s Import-Export app, they also offer a free service which may be all you need.
The result of this cooperation is an easy-to-use, secure, and private email service with users around the world. ProtonMail uses E2E PGP encryption for your messages and their attachments, as well as the built-in calendar and contacts apps. Everything is stored encrypted on Swiss servers in an underground bunker, providing excellent security.
Do remember that its use of PGP leaves ProtonMail subject lines and email addresses unencrypted. A related issue is that the ProtonMail search function only searches the subject lines of messages since the bodies of those messages are securely encrypted.
ProtonMail offers some additional features you could find useful:
- Proton Calendar – a calendar app
- Proton Drive – a way to share stored files by sending secure links
- ProtonVPN – a basic VPN that is included as part of the high-end Visionary plan, but can be added to the other plans. If that feature is of interest to you, check out our ProtonVPN review.
- ProtonMail Bridge, a feature available to paid users that allows ProtonMail to work with third-party email apps
- Quality Android and iOS mobile apps
While it may lack some of the additional features Gmail users are accustomed to, ProtonMail is a quality email provider and a great alternative to Gmail for many people.
For more details, check out our ProtonMail review or the website below.
2. Mailfence – A feature-rich alternative to Gmail
Mailfence is a feature-rich, secure email provider. It offers a calendar, file storage capacity, and groups in addition to the standard email and contact support you expect. This service is based in Belgium. The country is a good privacy jurisdiction and enforces strict data protection laws.
Mailfence has built-in OpenPGP support, which means your email would have strong security and compatibility with other email services, but unencrypted Subject lines and email addresses.
During our testing for the Mailfence review, we found a lot to like about this service. It has an intuitive design, attractive layout, and a large feature set. Two things we were happy to learn was that Mailfence offers email and phone support, and they accept cryptocurrency payment for additional privacy.
Your messages are encrypted in the browser giving them full E2E protection. No nosy third parties, nor even Mailfence’s engineers, can read your messages. Mailfence can import messages and contacts from virtually any other mail service thanks to support for POP, SMTP, IMAP, and Exchange ActiveSync. The service provides its own web app as well as a progressive web app (PWA), which works on Android and iOS devices with certain browsers.
We think Mailfence would make a great replacement for Gmail as well as productivity suites like G Suite and Office 365.
See our full Mailfence review for more info.
3. Tutanota – Private email with AES security
Tutanota is an open source secure and private email service based in Germany, the company has no outside investors or other influences that could pressure them to trade-off user privacy for money. The focus of this company is the highest levels of email security, which they pursue without making Tutanota difficult to use.
One distinguishing feature is their use of a custom encryption standard that uses AES and RSA instead of PGP and S/MIME. Among the benefits of this approach is that Tutanota encrypts the Subject line, and email addresses in the message headers. It also supports perfect forward secrecy (PFS), strips IP addresses from messages, and according to the team can even be updated or hardened against quantum computer attacks if that should become necessary one day.
Tutanota’s standard provides full E2E encryption for messages in your inbox, your contacts, and your calendar. All your data is encrypted at rest on the companies servers in Germany. You have a few options for sending messages with Tutanota, depending on who you are sending them to. If you are:
- Emailing another Tutanota user, the system automatically encrypts and decrypts everything for you as needed. From the user’s perspective, the E2E encryption is totally transparent.
- Emailing a non-Tutanota user, you can send the message unencrypted, or you can send an email with a link to the message. You’ll also need to communicate a password key (preferably via another channel) the recipient can use to open an encrypted mailbox where they can read the message.
Tutanota is one of the most secure alternatives to Gmail you are going to find. But it isn’t perfect. For one thing, not supporting PGP or OpenPGP means that Tutanota can’t send encrypted messages to people using other email services. To explain why Tutanota does not rely on PGP standards, Tutanota cofounder Matthias Pfau wrote this piece for Restore Privacy readers: Let PGP Die: Why We Need a New Standard for Email Encryption.
In addition, Tutanota does not support importing emails from other services (no POP, IMAP, or SMTP support). The company says they are working on a fix for this, and it is on their development roadmap, but it has been on the roadmap since 2018, with no indication when or if it might be implemented.
Tutanota offers a web app, Windows, Mac OS, and Linux desktop apps, along with apps for Android and iOS.
While Tutanota isn’t perfect, it is pretty darn good. If you are looking for a high-security alternative to Gmail run by a team of privacy enthusiasts, you should definitely check out our Tutanota review.
Check out the Tutanota review for more info.
4. Mailbox.org – An email service with more non-email features than Gmail
Here’s another Germany-based secure, open source email provider that’s worth considering. If you get a Mailbox.org account, you get far more than just an email account. You get a full email and productivity suite.
Among other things, Mailbox.org offers the full range of Gmail-like services: Mail, Calendar, Address Book, Drive (cloud storage), Tasks, Portal, Text, Spreadsheet, Presentation, and Webchat. Despite the vast amount of capabilities sandwiched into Mailbox.org, the design of the app still is user-friendly. Going with Mailbox.org, you wouldn’t have to choose between features and security.
Getting back to the email side of things, Mailbox.org provides full PGP support. It also gives you the option to encrypt all your data at rest on the company’s Germany-based servers. And thanks to SMTP, POP, and IMAP support, you can use Mailbox.org with third-party mobile email apps (they don’t have their own apps) and clients.
While Mailbox.org doesn’t have a free plan, you can get a free 30-day trial. And if you do like it, you’ll be happy to know that Mailbox.org is one of the least expensive services, with basic plans starting at only €1 per month. As you would expect, more expensive plans provide more features and additional storage space.
See our Mailbox.org review for more info and test results.
5. Posteo – Lots of features and an emphasis on extreme privacy
Here we have yet another highly secure email service provider based in Germany. Posteo has been around since 2009, making it one of the more mature services. Besides a basic email account, you get 2 GB of storage space, a calendar, a notes app, and a lot more. A recent addition to the service is an attachment browser with photo stream, allowing you to work with all your attachments without finding and opening the messages they are attached to.
In truth, Posteo is a lot like Mailbox.org. They both have full feature sets, encrypt your messages using OpenPGP, and even charge similar prices.
That means you get important features like the ability to import Gmail using IMAP and POP, along with synchronizing your Gmail contacts before you leave that service. But the open source Posteo lacks a few things you would find in Mailbox.org: it has no custom domains, no spam folder, and no free version or even free trial.
Posteo works hard to protect your privacy. They use strong encryption, strip the IP addresses from messages, and keep no logs. They were the first company in the world to implement DANE, DNS-Based Authentication of Named Entities.
Going even further, Posteo supports anonymous payments and registration. You can even send them cash in the mail to avoid leaving a trail. If you do pay with a credit card, PayPal, or something similar, Posteo separates your account details from your payment info.
Posteo does not provide its own desktop or mobile apps, but you can easily use the service with your favorite third party email clients.
Check out the Posteo review for more info.
6. Runbox – A long history of reliable service
While Posteo has been around for 12 years, Runbox is one of the true oldsters in the email world. This Norwegian service has been operating for more than two decades! Norway has turned out to be a good jurisdiction for the company, with its strong legal support for privacy. Not only is the service based in a pro-privacy location, but its servers are all located in secure Norwegian data centers.
The legal and physical security of Runbox is particularly important since this service does not offer E2E encryption. Communication between your device and Runbox is always securely encrypted. But your messages are not encrypted on Runbox servers.
This is similar to the way Gmail is handled, which is not great. However, Runbox is a small email service that makes its money taking care of your messages, while Google is a trillion ($1,000,000,000+) dollar behemoth that makes its money off your personal information. We think you are still better off trusting your email to Runbox instead of Gmail.
Additional features such as a calendar and tasks are going to be included in the open source Runbox 7 project. This project is slowly getting built out. At the time of this article, the Runbox 7 webmail client was available for testing, but the rest of the project was still under development. The Runbox team likes to give users plenty of time to use and comment on the beta, but we’ve been waiting for version 7 to be officially released for years now.
Back to the positives.
Runbox gives you the ability to create up to 100 aliases to use for creating different email addresses. Depending on the pricing plan you choose, you will get as much as 50 GB of email storage space and 5 GB of Secure file storage space. Full SMTP, POP, and IMAP protocol support makes it easy to import your Gmail and work with other email services. Runbox only offers a web browser client, but can easily work with the third-party mobile and desktop apps of your choice.
Runbox offers free trials and a 60 day money-back guarantee on their paid plans.
See our Runbox review for more info.
7. CounterMail – The “most secure” gmail alternative?
CounterMail is an E2E secure Swedish email provider with a 10+ year history, and a simple philosophy:
“to offer the most secure online email service on the Internet, with excellent free support.” While I can’t vouch for them being the most secure email service on the internet, I can tell you that CounterMail makes a serious try at achieving that goal.
CounterMail uses OpenPGP encryption with 4,096-bit encryption keys, keeps no-logs, and runs on diskless servers to protect user privacy. This kind of security is similar to that found on high-end VPNs like NordVPN.
Further boosting your security and privacy, Countermail anonymizes your email headers and strips your IP address out of the message headers. All emails and attachments are stored encrypted at rest using OpenPGP on servers in Sweden. CounterMail also protects you from identity leaks and Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attacks with additional encryption (RSA and AES-CBC) on top of SSL.
Unfortunately, CounterMail doesn’t offer you much beyond the secure core email service. The user interface looks old and you won’t be getting calendars, notes, or any other non-email services. If all you want is to import your Gmail messages into an E2E encrypted service that’ll handle your email securely, CounterMail could be a good choice.
If you need more than just email, one of the other services we cover here will probably be a better option.
8. CTemplar – Private and secure alternative to Gmail
When we last took an in-depth look at CTemplar, we called it a promising email service provider worth trying out. We stand by that recommendation. They are based in Iceland, a country with perhaps the strongest privacy laws in the world. CTemplar offers some interesting security features, such as JS injection prevention, Man-in-the-Middle attack protection, and an anti-phishing mechanism. And they store all your emails, attachments, and contacts on their bare-metal servers in Iceland.
CTemplar is a 100% open source service. They use OpenPGP to encrypt your messages, keep no logs, and strip your IP address from your emails. Like Tutanota, they have the capability to send encrypted messages to people who don’t use CTemplar. Right now, CTemplar doesn’t support POP, SMTP, or IMAP meaning that you can’t import your Gmail messages. According to the support pages, they have been planning to add this feature for more than a year, with no firm schedule yet available.
They also give you the ability to send self-destructing messages and have a dead-man’s timer option that will automatically send a message if you don’t log in to your account before the timer runs out.
CTemplar offers free accounts with up to 1 GB of email storage space, but to get access to all features you’ll need a paid plan. The paid plans are relatively expensive, with the top plan, Champion, costing $50/month. You can sign up for the service anonymously and pay for your subscription using Bitcoin or Monero.
CTemplar’s free plan offers a lot and could be all you need. It also makes a good way to evaluate the service thoroughly before investing in their higher-priced, more feature-rich plans. However, you still need an invitation to try out the free plan. You can get more information on this in our full CTemplar review.
Check out the CTemplar review here.
9. Kolab Now – Full-featured Swiss email service
Kolab Now is a full email suite based in Switzerland, one of the best jurisdictions in the world for a privacy-oriented product like this. A subscription includes email, contacts, calendar, scheduling, collaboration and sharing tools, as well as cloud file storage. An account comes with 5 GB of free storage space, and you can add more as necessary. A Gmail user is unlikely to feel like anything is missing with this service.
Even better, Kolab Now is 100% open source software, and has E2E encryption with Perfect Forward Secrecy. Since Kolab Now also supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP, you can import your Gmail messages and contacts. Your data is stored encrypted on the company’s servers in Switzerland.
If you are looking for a full, secure Gmail alternative hosted in Switzerland, you’ll want to check out Kolab Now.
10. Startmail – Server-side encryption and third-party email support
StartMail is a secure email service from the Netherlands. It was created by the team behind Startpage, a private search engine that we are a bit wary of since Startpage was acquired by System1. However StartMail is a separate entity under the company StartMail B.V. which operates under Dutch law in The Netherlands. Whether that is sufficient separation from System1 is your call.
StartMail has IMAP and SMTP support, allowing you to use it with other email services and import your Gmail messages and contacts. Other useful features include 10 GB of storage space and the ability to use your own domains.
One StartMail feature we really like is the ability to create temporary, disposable email addresses as needed to use with different services. They also have a way for you to send encrypted, password-protected email to anyone (like CTemplar and Tutanota).
Here’s a real difference from the other services we’ve looked at so far. StartMail encrypts your email on the server, rather than in your web browser. Their white paper offers some good arguments for why that is the way to go, despite most services opting to do the encryption in the browser. We’re not convinced, but you should check out the white paper and decide for yourself.
StartMail offers some definite plusses, along with a couple of things that give us pause. If you are interested in this service, you should take advantage of the 30 day limited free trial and give it a good shaking before committing to the $60/year subscription fee.
Gmail alternatives FAQs
Certain questions kept coming up while we researched this article. Here are the questions… and our answers to them.
Can I keep my Gmail messages when I change my email service?
You can. It will take some work to get them imported into your new email service, but you can do it. You’ll want to check out the mini-reviews in the body of this article to see which services can import messages and contacts from Gmail (most of them can) then check out their support pages to see how they do it.
How can I delete my Gmail account?
Deleting your Gmail account isn’t hard. But before doing so, you need to be sure that doing so won’t be a disaster. You probably have a lot of stuff connected with your Gmail account in one way or another.
Think about all the messages you have in your Gmail account. You’ll want to save or transfer at least the most important ones before deleting your Gmail account.
You’ll also want to do things like change the email address on any services that currently use your Gmail account. You really don’t want the headache of getting locked out of your bank account, apps, or social media accounts because you deleted your Gmail account before you changed all the associated accounts.
For a detailed set of instructions on how to delete your Gmail account on various devices, check out this Gmail Help page.
Conclusion on the best Gmail alternatives
Choosing the best Gmail alternative isn’t a straightforward process. None of these competing email service providers offers the exact same features as Gmail. As a result, you need to decide which Gmail features you need, then search for a new service that provides similar features.
This is why we’ve presented you with 10 potential alternatives to Gmail. Each has it pros and cons relative to Gmail. Each of them could serve as a Gmail replacement for you, depending on how you use Gmail and what features, if any, you are looking for from a new service.
While finding your best replacement for Gmail can be complicated, we hope that this article has helped you narrow your search.