Outlook.com vs. Gmail

Which should you choose?

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

If you're looking for a new email service, you can't go wrong with Outlook.com or Gmail. In the end, which you choose may just come down to your personal preference. We've reviewed both services to help you choose.

Outlook vs Gmail
Lifewire

Overall Findings

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

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

  • The immersive reader helps you focus on one email.

  • Clean user interface (UI).

  • Easily sort messages using both labels and folders.

Gmail
  • Send and receive messages from gmail.com.

  • Full-page compose window, if desired.

  • UI can look cluttered.

  • Labeling system is counterintuitive.

Outlook.com is a free email client that you access 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

Outlook.com
  • Create messages in rich or plain text.

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

  • Integrated photo viewer.

  • The immersive reader helps you focus on one email.

  • Advertising is subtle and can be customized to a certain extent.

Gmail
  • Send messages in rich or plain text.

  • Full-screen compose window.

  • Advertising is distracting and obtrusive.

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

Both Outlook.com and Gmail give you the option to compose email messages in either plain text or rich text. If you choose the latter, you can format your messages with bold, italic, and underlined text. You can pick a font color, insert tables, add hyperlinks, indent text, and even make lists. All of these options appear on a single line in the compose menu.

The UI

Where Outlook.com sets itself apart is 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 keep track of which emails you need to look at again without having to mark them as unread.

Screenshot showing Show in Immersive Reader

In comparison, the Gmail UI can seem cluttered and offers fewer options for customization.

Gmail Inbox

Attachments

If you receive a lot of 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 your OneDrive or other attached cloud storage account.

Focusing on Email

The immersive reader feature in Outlook.com helps you focus on one email—and nothing else. Right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac) a message, and then select Show in immersive reader. The email fills the whole page and blocks out 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.

Outlook.com can send and receive email from Hotmail, Microsoft Live, or Outlook.com email addresses, as well. For example, if you have a Hotmail account and go to Hotmail.com, the website redirects to Outlook.com. The same is true for Windows Live email addresses. To make it even more confusing, the Outlook.com website isn't Outlook.com at all but rather Outlook.Live.com! Gmail is Gmail—period.

Composing Email

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

Screenshot of Outlook compose window

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

Screenshot of Gmail compose window

Advertising

Outlook.com keeps advertising to a minimum. Instead of the distracting, 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.

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 the cleaner webmail advertising.

Storage and Security: It's a Tie

Outlook.com
  • 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

Gmail
  • 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. Both Google and Microsoft have add-on storage plans if you need more space. In addition, both Gmail and Outlook.com connect cloud storage services to your account so that when you send an email with file attachments, you can pick files from not only your computer but from your OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox account.

If you have an Microsoft 365 Home or Microsoft 365 Personal account, you get 1 terabyte of storage.

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

If you want more encryption and security options, you'll need to upgrade your free account to an Microsoft 365 Home or Personal account or a GSuite (formerly Google for Business) account.

Managing Email: Outlook.com Offers More Customization

Outlook.com
  • Supports email aliases.

  • Smart filtering.

  • Support for several keyboard shortcut systems.

  • True categories make search and email management easy.

Gmail
  • Supports stealth email addresses.

  • Email sorting relies on search functionality rather than categories.

  • Support for Gmail shortcuts.

  • Labeling is not user friendly.

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

Aliases and Stealth Email Addresses

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—a handy feature if, for example, you want to avoid spam or make multiple accounts on the same website.

Outlook.com takes this functionality a step further, enabling you to create multiple email aliases that use your same email account as the delivery location. For example, abc@outlook.com may 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.

Block Emails

The "sweeping" and blocking features for getting rid of unwanted emails are slick in Outlook.com. While it takes several clicks to ban a particular kind of message from your Gmail Inbox, it takes just a few clicks to sweep them from your Outlook.com account.

You can ban emails from both individual senders and entire domain names, which is helpful if you like to experimentally join different subscriptions on the web.

Sort Messages by Size

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

When you sort emails by size in Gmail, you're not really sorting them. Rather, you're using a search operator. For example, you would search for larger:10m to find all the email messages that are 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 all the messages that are 25 to 100 kilobytes (KB), between 10 KB and 25 KB, and so on. This visualization is visually more appealing and easier to grasp than it is in Gmail.

Screenshot of Outlook filter button

Keyboard Shortcuts

Outlook.com supports keyboard shortcuts, even Gmail shortcuts, which is splendid for people who are 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.

Folders and Labels

This is perhaps the biggest difference between Outlook.com and Gmail. Unlike the counterintuitive labeling system that Gmail uses, Outlook.com uses both labels and separate folders.

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

Screenshot of Outlook.com category tags

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

Final Verdict

It's difficult to pick a clear winner between Outlook.com and Gmail. After all, they offer the same core functionality of sending and receiving messages, attaching files and images to messages, and email management. They both connect to calendars and store your contacts. Best of all, they're both free.

In the end, it largely comes down to aesthetics. With its clean UI and superior email management features, Outlook.com offers enterprise-class email on a budget.