Outlook.com vs. Gmail

Which free email service should you choose?

If you're looking for a new email service, you can't go wrong with Outlook.com or Gmail. The one you choose may come down to your personal preference. We reviewed both services to help you decide.

Overall Findings

  • Send and receive email from Hotmail, Microsoft Live, and Outlook.com addresses.

  • View emails on separate tabs on one Outlook.com page.

  • The immersive reader helps focus on one email.

  • Clean user interface (UI).

  • Easily sort messages using labels and folders.

  • Send and receive messages from gmail.com.

  • Full-page compose window, if desired.

  • UI can look cluttered.

  • Labeling system is counterintuitive.

  • Uses TLS to encrypt emails in transit

  • Works well in the Google ecosystem.

Outlook.com (the free web version of the Microsoft Outlook email client) and Gmail are two widely used email services, and there's a lot to like in each. Both support the core email tasks: sending and receiving messages, attachments, filtering, and cloud storage. These email services also support connected services, such as calendars and contacts lists. Best of all, both are free.

Outlook.com is a free email client that is accessed from a web browser. It's not the same as Outlook, which is part of the Microsoft 365 suite of productivity applications.

User Experience: The Outlook.com UI Is Cleaner

  • Create messages in rich or plain text.

  • View emails on separate tabs on one Outlook.com page.

  • The immersive reader helps focus on one email.

  • Send messages in rich or plain text.

  • Can view one email at a time, if desired.

  • Gmail UI can seem cluttered with fewer customization options.

Both Outlook.com and Gmail can compose email messages in either plain text or rich text. If you choose rich text, you can format messages with bold, italic, and underlined text. You can select font color, insert tables, add hyperlinks, indent text, and make lists. These options appear on a single line in the compose menu.

Outlook.com sets itself apart with its clean UI. Outlook.com supports tabs, which enable you to open email messages in separate tabs within one Outlook.com page. This feature makes it easy to track which emails you need to look at again without marking those messages as unread.

The immersive reader feature in Outlook.com helps you focus on one email and nothing else. Right-click (in Windows) or Control-click (on a Mac) a message, and then select View > Show in immersive reader. The email fills the whole page and blocks everything else to help you concentrate. There's also an option to have Outlook.com read the text to you, describe each word, and more.

In comparison, the Gmail UI can seem cluttered and offers fewer options for customization, though it has been redesigned for a more streamlined look than in its early days.

Attachments: Outlook.com's Photo Viewer Is Unique

  • Integrated photo viewer shows photos in slideshow format.

  • Download and save to OneDrive or other cloud storage.

  • Immersive reader feature helps users concentrate.

  • Download and save attachments to Google Drive.

  • Right-click to save photos sent in the message body.

  • Attachments aren't automatically included with replies.

If you receive email attachments, you'll love the photo viewer integrated into Outlook.com. Photos appear in a slideshow format from which you can view, download, and save photos to OneDrive or another attached cloud storage account.

In Gmail, you can download and save most attachments to Google Drive; however, some attachments can only be viewed and shared. Hover over the attachment's thumbnail, and if you see Add to Drive, you can save it to Google Drive. If photos are sent inside an email message instead of as attachments, right-click and save the photo, or download it to your computer.

Also, in Gmail, attachments aren't automatically included when you reply to a message. To include attachments, select the down arrow and click Include Original Attachments.

Composing Email: Gmail Allows More Space

  • Compose window is small.

  • Even after adjusting the size, embedding pictures can be distracting.

  • Compose window can be as big as you want.

  • You can make the Compose window a separate window.

One failing in Outlook.com is that the compose window, where you write emails, is small. You can adjust the size slightly, but it can be hard to compose emails if you embed pictures or want a distraction-free interface.

The Gmail compose window, in contrast, can be as large as you want it to be. It's small when you select Compose, but you can select Full-screen to make it larger. You can also make it a separate window by holding the Shift key and selecting Compose, limiting distractions.

Advertising: Outlook Keeps Ads to a Minimum

  • Minimal advertising that uses same-colored tiles.

  • More subtle advertising experience.

  • You can control the ad experience somewhat.

  • Ads can be more distracting and draw your attention.

  • You can manage ad preferences in Gmail to see more relevant ads.

Outlook.com keeps advertising to a minimum. Instead of the contrasting text links found in Gmail, Outlook.com uses same-colored tiles. The visual experience is subtle, but ads in Outlook.com don't draw your attention like the ads in Gmail. Still, you can manage your ad preferences in Gmail if you aren't seeing relevant ads.

Outlook.com ads are served by Microsoft advertising, over which you have some control. Tell Outlook.com that you don't want to see tailored advertising, or tell it which topics and brands you're willing to see. It's an unobtrusive system and has cleaner webmail advertising.

Outlook.com can send and receive email from Hotmail, Microsoft Live, or Outlook.com email addresses. For example, if you still have and use a Hotmail account and try to navigate to Hotmail.com, the website redirects to Outlook.com. The same is true for old Windows Live email addresses. Gmail is Gmail.

Storage and Security: It's a Tie

  • Uses Transport-Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt email in transit.

  • Connect multiple cloud storage services.

  • Each email address comes with 15 gigabytes (GB) of free storage.

  • Encrypts messages in transit using TLS.

  • Supports multiple cloud storage services.

  • Each email address comes with 15 GB of free storage.

Each Outlook.com and Gmail email address comes with 15 GB of storage. With Google, however, that 15 GB is shared across all Google services, including Photos and Google Drive. You can get additional storage for your Gmail account and purchase add-on storage plans from Microsoft, as well.

Both Gmail and Outlook.com connect cloud storage services to your account so that when you send an email with file attachments, you can choose files from your computer and your OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox account.

As far as security, the free versions of Gmail and Outlook.com use TLS to encrypt emails in transit. However, this encryption only works if the person you're emailing uses an email service that also supports TLS. Most major email services use TLS, so this isn't a huge risk.

If you want more encryption and security options, upgrade your free account to a Microsoft 365 Home or Personal account or a Google Workspace account.

Aliases and Shortcuts: Outlook.com Has More Customization

  • Supports email aliases.

  • Support for several keyboard shortcut systems.

  • Supports stealth email addresses.

  • Support for Gmail shortcuts.

Unlike Gmail, which was designed as a consumer email client initially, Outlook.com grew out of Microsoft's enterprise-class email client, Outlook. As such, it excels at email management.

In Gmail, you can append a plus (+) sign to the end of your email address to create an unlimited number of alternative addresses for your account. It's a handy feature if, for example, you want to avoid spam or make multiple accounts on the same website.

Outlook.com takes this functionality further, enabling you to create multiple email aliases that use your same email account as the delivery location. For example, abc@outlook.com might be your primary address, but you can build def@outlook.com as an alias and use it whenever you want as a regular email address. Messages will be delivered to your abc@outlook.com address.

Outlook.com supports keyboard shortcuts, even Gmail shortcuts, which is fantastic for power email users. You can use Outlook keyboard shortcuts or Yahoo Mail keyboard shortcuts, too. If you like to jump around the screen with hotkeys, you'll love this.

Blocking and Sorting: Outlook's Features Are Slick

  • Ban emails from individual senders or entire domains.

  • Banning emails is simple and easy.

  • Easily sort messages to view storage hogs using the Filter function.

  • Ban emails from individual senders or entire domains.

  • Takes a few clicks to ban a particular email.

  • Must use a search operator to sort messages.

The sweeping and blocking features for deleting unwanted emails are slick in Outlook.com. While it takes several clicks to ban a particular kind of message from a Gmail Inbox, it takes a few clicks to sweep those messages from an Outlook.com account.

When the storage space in your email account is limited, it's essential to see which emails take up the most room. Both Gmail and Outlook.com do this, but Outlook.com makes it easier.

When you sort emails by size in Gmail, you're not sorting the messages. Instead, you're using a search operator. For example, search for larger:10m to find all email messages larger than 10 megabytes.

In Outlook.com, select Filter to sort emails by size and auto-categorize messages into sections. For example, when you filter emails by size, you may see a section for messages that are 25 kilobytes (KB) to 100 KB, between 10 KB and 25 KB, and so on. This visualization is more appealing and accessible to grasp than in Gmail.

Folders and Labels: Outlook Makes It Easy by Using Both

  • Uses labels and separate folders.

  • Supports categories for more organization options.

  • Counterintuitive labeling system.

Folders vs. labels are the most significant difference between Outlook.com and Gmail. Unlike Gmail's counterintuitive labeling system, Outlook.com uses both labels and separate folders.

Because Outlook.com uses categories instead of labels, it's possible to tag email messages with multiple categories and save those emails in different folders, which is ideal for searching and retrieving messages later.

Microsoft nailed it with this dual-feature offering. For many users, this is enough for them to switch from Gmail to Outlook.com.

Final Verdict

It isn't easy to pick a clear winner between Outlook.com and Gmail. Both offer the same core functionality of sending and receiving messages, attaching files and images to messages, and email management. Both connect to calendars and store contacts. Best of all, both are free.

In the end, it primarily comes down to aesthetics. With its clean UI and superior email management features, Outlook.com offers enterprise-class email on a budget. But if you're entrenched in the Google ecosystem and prefer its customizability and organization system, Gmail might be the right choice for you.

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