iCloud Mail - Free Email Service

iCloud Mail is free but is it any good?

iCloud logo
Apple Inc.

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The Bottom Line

iCloud Mail is a free email service from Apple with ample storage, IMAP access and an elegantly functional web application.

That interface at icloud.com does not offer labels or other more advanced tools for productivity and for organizing mail, though, and does not support accessing other email accounts.

Pros

  • iCloud Mail offers free email accessible via IMAP (easy to set up on Mac, Windows, iOS) as well as on the web
  • The iCloud Mail web interface at icloud.com does not include advertisement
  • Keyboard shortcuts make iCloud Mail on the web efficient to operate

Cons

  • iCloud Mail does not offer labels and search folders; the search options and filters (including the spam filter) could offer more precision
  • You cannot access other email accounts in iCloud Mail on the web; to get iCloud Mail itself, iOS or Mac OS X are required
  • iCloud Mail is not accessible via POP

Description

  • iCloud Mail offers free email accounts with 5 GB of online storage (shared with calendars, documents, backups, etc.); more space can be purchased.
  • Creating a new iCloud Mail account is possible using iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) and OS X.
  • Accessible via IMAP, iCloud Mail is particularly easy to set up in OS X Mail, iPhone and iPad Mail, and in Outlook; iCloud Mail IMAP also works in most other email programs, of course.
  • The iCloud mail web interface at icloud.com mimics a desktop application and is easy to use with the help of dragging and dropping and swift keyboard shortcuts.
  • An "Archive" folder and button help keep your inbox clean without much effort.
  • You can search mail in any folder by sender, subject, recipient and the complete message and header text.
  • Filters are available to automatically sort messages to folders based on simple criteria, delete them or forward to another email address.
  • You can also set up iCloud Mail to forward all incoming mail automatically.
  • For sending files, iCloud Mail supports traditional attachments as well as Mail Drop, which makes documents up to 5 GB in size available for easy download to all recipients.
  • VIP senders (synchronized with OS X Mail) have their messages collected automatically in special views.
  • A spam filter finds most junk email, though its precision is not perfect.
  • For messages from many mailing lists, iCloud Mail on the web offers an easy unsubscription button.
  • Up to three email aliases let you set up alternate identities and addresses for use at icloud.com.
  • While you vacation from email, iCloud Mail's auto-responder answers incoming mail on your behalf.
  • The iCloud address book synchronizes with OS X, Outlook and iOS devices.
  • An iCloud account can be set up using OS X and iOS.

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Expert Review - iCloud Mail

Email is tricky enough absent convoluted interfaces, cryptic configuration options, multiple tags and various circles? Apple's free email service — free with any Apple product that runs OS X or iOS — is, by comparison, an island of sane and simple effectiveness.

Once you've found where to get an iCloud Mail @me.com email address — in the iCloud control panel on your Mac or iOS device —, adding that email account to Outlook, Mac OS X Mail and iPhone or iPad Mail is a single-click snap.

Since iCloud Mail comes with standard IMAP access, setting it up in most other email programs and on most devices is relatively straight-forward as well. POP access is missing from iCloud Mail, though.

iCloud Mail Spam and Archive Folders

iCloud Mail comes with a spam filter, of course, that could be more precise at times but manages to separate out the junk for the most part — no matter the email program you use. Marking messages as spam is a matter of moving it them to the "Junk" folder.

Speaking of folders, iCloud Mail also comes with a sensible "Archive" folder to keep mail you want to retain without pondering a structure and method. Email programs that include a button and keyboard shortcut for archiving make keeping the inbox clean particularly easy.

iCloud Mail on the Web at icloud.com

On the web at icloud.com, iCloud Mail comes with an "Archive" button, of course, and a keyboard shortcut for the action, too.

A simple set of buttons, dragging and dropping of messages and, most of all, a handy set of key commands make operating iCloud Mail's other aspects just as easy.

You can compose emails and replies using rich formatting, send big-file attachments using Mail Drop, mark mail as junk, flag it (which synchronizes with most email programs) and file it to custom folders (in addition to "Archive").

Inside each folder, iCloud Mail offers not the fastest but quite comprehensive search that lets you find messages by sender, subject, recipient or content. Search operators and search across all folders would be welcome, though.

New messages from the most important senders are easy to find if you make those senders VIPs, for which iCloud Mail automatically creates special searches that shows their messages (from the inbox). VIP senders synchronize with OS X Mail.

iCloud Mail Could be Even More Helpful

Speaking of more precision and options, iCloud Mail's rules are immensely helpful, but could be even more so if more criteria were available and could be combined, and if there were more actions for filters to take. Currently, you can have them file, delete or forward mail.

You can also set up iCloud Mail to forward all your incoming messages to another address — and an out-of-office auto-responder to reply on your behalf. While iCloud Mil lets you create (up to three) additional @me.com addresses for the account to use, it cannot download mail from another POP or IMAP account, and you cannot send mail from your old (or other) email addresses using icloud.com either.

While iCloud Mail's focus on folders (and as few as possible) is sensible, free-form labels and search folders could be helpful on occasion.

Message templates would prove helpful, too.

(Updated November 2014)

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