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Gmail features – Is Gmail the best free email service?

Gmail email account features

The announcement of a free web based email service from Google, christened Gmail, on the 1st of April created ripples across web, especially the cosy office buildings of the competition – Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail. At that time, these popular email services offered only about 2-10MB of storage while free Gmail accounts came with a 1GB of space – more than a hundred fold increase.

It took a long time for Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail to match that! But there was something more in Gmail that set it apart from the rest – its free features.

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Since its inception, the Gmail development team has been adding more features or improving the existing ones. And this I suppose is the greatest hurdle the competition needs to jump over. Gmail, being a relative newcomer, still has a much smaller base than the two leaders – Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail (now Windows Live Hotmail) – refer Gmail usage statistics. However, the service attracts more prospective users than the competition.

The following is the list of some of the important Gmail features that put it a notch above the rest.

  • Storage space: 7.2GB at the time of writing and ever increasing as per the Infinity+ plan.
    Windows Live Hotmail offers 5GB, however, Yahoo! Mail has put an end to all debates and provides unlimited space.
    Obviously, we all know, “unlimited space” does not exist – it’s just smart marketing and yes, sounds good.
  • Email attachment size:: Gmail attachments can be up to 20MB which is double that of Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail.
    This is where the storage space point is actually put to test. If you can offer unlimited storage, why not increase the attachment size to 100MB or more… make that unlimited too!
  • Versions: Gmail has two versions and so does Yahoo! Mail. Actually, I like Yahoo! Mail’s drag-n-drop interface but the ads are a tad annoying.
  • Adverstisements:: Gmail ads are unobtrusive relevant text ads. Both Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail display distracting flash and image banner advertisements.
    Though Hotmail interface is supposed to be free of ads (they are attached only to outgoing email messages at the bottom), I have come across large banners at the top.
  • Email forwarding: You can forward emails from Gmail to any other account. Forwarding is allowed only to other Hotmail.com or live.com accounts on Windows Live Hotmail free accounts. Yahoo! Mail may be allowing forwarding on free email accounts in some countries (I’ve heard about it) but have no personal experience.
  • POP3 access: All free accounts on Gmail come with POP3. This has recently been introduced on free Hotmail accounts as well but only in selected countries – read about Hotmail POP3. You need to pay about $20 a year to get POP3 access on Yahoo! Mail.
  • IMAP access: Yes for Gmail and no for the other two.
  • Account customization: Gmail themes allow you to quickly change the interface. Yes, Hotmail offers themes too but the ones on Gmail win hands down.
  • Email organization using folders:Unfortunately, you cannot created folders on Gmail accounts – you can, however, use labels but they are not the same and need some getting used to.

Between the two Gmail competitors I believe Yahoo! Mail takes its business more seriously and I am not just pointing to the “unlimited storage space” announcement which was definitely a good marketing gimmick. In my opinion, Yahoo! Mail puts in the extra effort to make things a little better for its subscribers – for example, the new and great drag-n-drop interface. I guess, the two players who will remain on the table in the future are Yahoo! Mail and Gmail unless Microsoft does something really great with Hotmail. Time and again, Gmail has proved to its subscribers that it’s probably one of the best, if not the best, email service by continually adding and improving its services and offering features for free – that’s what Yahoo! Mail needs to do.

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