The past few years have shown that email isn't going anywhere. No matter how much your workplace uses Slack, Teams, and other remote work tools, at some point you still have to check and reply to emails, even if it's just in your personal life. And short of radically recalibrating how you approach things, your best bet is probably to use a good email app—or at least one that doesn't actively upset you.
I've used email since 1995 (my dad set up the account for me because I was five years old), and I've worked fully remotely since 2012. I've spent more time tinkering with email than any person should. I've tried nearly every purported fix, system, or solution available (you should see my Gmail labels), and I've long since concluded the best fix is to take a deep breath and accept that email will never be amazing. A good app and a patient attitude are the only way through.
I spent time with all the top email apps on every device, and here are my picks for the eight best desktop and mobile email apps for all the big platforms.
The 8 best email clients
Windows Mail for the best free Windows email app
Mailbird for the best Windows email app
Apple Mail for the best free macOS email app
Airmail for the best macOS email app
Apple Mail for the best iOS email app
Outlook for an alternative to Apple Mail for iOS
Gmail for the best Android email app
Edison Mail for a Gmail alternative for Android
What makes a great email client?
Let me start here: this is an article about the best email clients (a.k.a. email apps), not the best email services. We're looking at the apps that run on your devices and enable you to check your email service. For example, all of the email clients on this list will work with your aol.com email address (AOL is an email service). Some apps on this list, like Outlook and Gmail, are the name of both an email client and an email service, but what I was testing here was the app itself.
This list is also focused on the best email apps for the four most popular platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. Think of it as kind of an email all-stars list. If you like what you see here but want more niche options, like the best email apps for security or customization, check out our platform-specific lists.
This also means we aren't considering any web apps for this list. Really, the web apps for most major email services are, believe it or not, not that bad (the Gmail web app, for example, works well even on mobile web browsers). This means that if you're going to the effort of setting up a dedicated email app for desktop or mobile—and maybe even paying for one—it had better get a few things right. Here's what I wanted the best apps to be and do:
Platform-specific. PCs have different interface and usability conventions than Macs; an iPhone doesn't work the same as an Android phone—and dedicated email apps should respect all that. I was looking for email apps that were explicitly designed to work well with the device they were on, take advantage of platform-specific features, and generally just be nice OS citizens.
Support the big email services. While I can't promise that these email apps will work with every single email service out there (they won't), I made sure they work nicely with the big ones like Gmail and Outlook, and that they enable other accounts through the POP3 or IMAP protocols. In short, if you use a normal email account and not something like HEY or Proton, all these picks should work for you.
Nail the basics. This isn't a list of the eight most interesting email apps. It's more about the eight least interesting ones that completely get out of your way. I didn't want apps that made a song and dance out of checking your inbox or sending emails. All these apps do the basics, and do it well.
Good value. There are a lot of free apps on this list because a lot of free apps do email very well. For a paid app to make this list, it had to offer a solid upgrade over the free apps at a reasonable price. Similarly, there are no ad-supported apps on this list.
Modern and usable. App conventions develop and change over time. I wasn't looking for avant-garde apps that were pushing the boundaries of what's possible with software, but I did want up-to-date apps with modern design sensibilities and features.
Aside from a few additions for the sake of comprehensiveness, I mostly considered apps that had already made one of our other best email apps lists. From those 30+ apps, I excluded any that obviously didn't meet the criteria above, and then I got to testing. I connected my accounts and, over a couple of days, used them to check and send email. Since I was mostly looking for apps that did the basics well, just using them as part of my regular routine was a much better protocol than trying to stress test every corner and break every menu.
From all the apps I tested, I selected eight—two for each platform—that I feel are the best for most people. Here they are.
Best free Windows email client
If you haven't tried Windows Mail in the past decade, your expectations are badly out of line with reality. I was absolutely shocked at how nice and easy the built-in Mail app on Windows 10 and 11 is to use.
Mail is one of the best basic email apps you can use. Doing the most common things are simple and follow decades of email conventions. You have an Inbox for new messages, an Outbox for sent messages, and a good composer. It's all most people need.
But the developers at Windows have also snuck in a few neat features. There's a Focused Inbox that automatically filters out the emails you read most regularly, so messages from friends and family don't get stuck in among all your newsletters. It also comes bundled with a calendar and integrates with Microsoft To Do, so you can use it as part of a more involved productivity system. There are even solid personalization options tucked away in the settings: you can change the theme or colors, configure notifications, and set up auto-responders with a few clicks.
If you use Windows, Mail should be the first app you try. If you need more powerful filters or deeper integrations with other services, you'll have to look elsewhere. But for most people, it does more than enough to be the best free email client for Windows.
Windows Mail pricing: Free
Best Windows email client
If you live in your email inbox, use Windows, and are prepared to pay to have the best experience possible, look no further than Mailbird. It's the best Windows email app you can get, though it will set you back around $40 per year, depending on which plan you subscribe to.
Mailbird has a sleek, modern design (although you can customize it plenty if you want to). While it does the basics of sending and receiving email really well, it's the nice quality-of-life features that make it our top Windows pick here. For example, you have the ability to snooze emails or undo sent ones, and there's a unified inbox, which is useful for people handling higher volumes of email or managing multiple accounts.
With that said, I'd be remiss not to mention one of Mailbird's stand-out non-email features: third-party integrations. Depending on your subscription, you can add personal apps (like WhatsApp and Instagram) and productivity apps (like Slack, Dropbox, and Google Calendar) as their own panes in Mailbird, so you can configure your ultimate productivity setup.
Really, the only other contender for this spot on the list was Outlook, Microsoft's other email app. If you already pay for Microsoft 365, it probably beats Mailbird. But if you don't use Office, want a nicer email experience, and don't mind paying a few dollars per month, Mailbird is the way to go.
Mailbird pricing: Home Standard plan from $39/year; Business Standard and Home Premium plans from $59/year with third-party integrations
Best free email client for Mac
Apple Mail comes installed with macOS, which is reason enough for most people to try it first. And, to be honest, unless you're an email app connoisseur, you really don't need to try anything else. Over the past few years, Apple has updated the app, and it has a nice modern UI as well as a solid feature set.
All your mailboxes, folders, and accounts are available in the left sidebar—either separately or in a unified mailbox combining all your accounts. Emails are automatically grouped into threaded conversations separated by subject.
One feature I love is smart mailboxes, which filter your emails as they arrive based on the rules you set up. It's the kind of thing that's not always included with free apps. To set one up, go to Mailbox > New Smart Mailbox and set a series of rules, like unread messages from a few specific people or emails with attachments that you haven't responded to yet.
Apple Mail also integrates nicely with the rest of Apple's ecosystem. You can send large files using Mail Drop, which uploads them to iCloud to make sharing easier. With Handoff, you can start drafting an email on your Mac then pick up in the exact same place in the Mail app on your iPhone. If you know you aren't looking for some specific set of features that Mail lacks, it's the best email app for most Mac users.
Apple Mail pricing: Free
Best email client for Mac
Airmail is best described as Apple Mail with a few more features. It's just as fast and clean, but for people who spend a lot of time replying to email every day, it might be a better fit. I've used it for years, and as much as anyone can say this about an email app, I love it.
Take shortcuts: by default, Airmail uses the same keyboard shortcuts as Apple Mail, but you can configure most of them to something different if you want. You can also blast through your inbox using your trackpad: swipe left or right with two fingers to archive or trash a message. Like with the keyboard shortcuts, you can also configure your own custom swipe actions, like snoozing or marking an email as read, in Airmail's preferences.
Airmail's Rules are like Apple Mail's Smart Mailboxes but with even more options. Want emails from certain senders to send you a notification, get sent an auto-reply, and then get filed in a special folder? You got it. Or what about automatically bouncing back emails from that one company that won't remove you from their email list so it looks like your account doesn't exist anymore? As easy as a few clicks. Just dig into Airmail's preferences, and go to town.
For all that, Airmail is still fast, clean, and nails the basics.
Airmail pricing: Free for many features; paid plan from $2.99/month
Best email app for iPhone
Like with Windows Mail and Apple Mail on the Mac, the best email app for most iPhone users is the one that comes pre-installed: in this case, Apple Mail again. While hardly a radical suggestion, I'd hope that its inclusion here reassures you that you're not missing out on some magic email fix if you just stick with the default app.
Mail on the iPhone is basic without being too stripped down. It works with all the major email services without any fuss. Really, it's a great app for checking your emails—and replying to the most important ones—when you're out and about. I'd avoid using it to send a long breakup email (with a person or subscription service), but the same is true of any smartphone email app regardless of the platform.
One really nice touch is the VIP inbox. This allows you to turn off notifications for most emails on your phone, while setting a list of contacts whose emails will still come through. It's great if you want your boss or partner to be able to email you when you're away from your computer, without constantly being bombarded by newsletters. If you're waiting for a reply to a specific thread, you can also turn on thread-specific notifications. In your inbox, swipe left on the email you want to be notified about replies to, then tap More > Notify Me.
Without doing anything too fancy, Apple Mail comfortably holds its own as one of the best email apps on iOS.
Apple Mail pricing: Free
Best Apple Mail alternative for iPhone
In a surprise to pretty much everyone, Outlook is one of the best email apps for iPhone users. (In fact, Outlook was in the top three apps for pretty much every category on this list, but somehow, it's at its best on iOS.) It hits a really nice balance between usability and power.
While the desktop version of Outlook is a powerhouse, it can feel a bit overloaded with features. That isn't a problem on iOS. It's a nice, fast, and modern email app with enough extra features to stand out from the crowd. For example, it integrates with OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox, so you can easily manage your files, and there's a built-in calendar for easy scheduling.
By default, Outlook splits your inbox into a Focused Inbox for your most important emails, and an Other Inbox for the rest. It's not perfect out of the gate without a bit of tweaking (tap the three little dots, then Move to Focused Inbox on any message that ends up in the wrong place, and it will get better over time), but it does help you scan your inbox on the go, without getting bogged down.
All in all, Outlook is a super solid option for anyone who feels Apple Mail is just a bit too barebones. And it's free.
Outlook pricing: Free
Best email app for Android
The email app situation on Android is a bit of a mess. Most phones come with two email apps pre-installed: one called Mail or the like from the phone manufacturer, and then Gmail from Google. The manufacturers' default mail apps tend to be basic but functional, so I wouldn't really recommend them. Gmail, on the other hand, is great—and, despite the name, it also works with other major email services. (Though, of course, it plays nicest with Gmail. See why I called it a mess?)
Anyway, the Gmail app will be pretty familiar to anyone who has ever used the Gmail web app. If you use Gmail, it has the same three smart categories—Primary, Social, and Promotions—that automatically sort your incoming emails into separate inboxes. If you use a different service (or don't have the smart categories turned on in your Gmail account), it operates as a more traditional email client with a single Primary inbox. It's still great, but Gmail users are definitely getting the best experience.
Using the Gmail app is fast and easy. Tap an email to open it, or swipe on it to archive it. It's nothing radical, but it's an incredibly functional mobile-focused experience. And, really, that's one of the best things you can say for the Gmail app: it's not a scaled-down web app; rather, it's purpose-built for smartphones.
If you have an Android phone, Gmail should be the first app you check out. (If you use Gmail, it should probably be the app you stick with just for the extra features.) It comes pre-installed, it's fast and modern, and it sets the bar high.
Gmail pricing: Free
Best Gmail alternative for Android
If you don't use Gmail or want an email app that takes automated inbox management to the next level, Edison Mail is what you're after. It's also available on iOS, macOS, and Windows, but it's topping the Android list because of how much nicer to use it is than most of the other Android alternatives.
Like all the apps we've looked at here, Edison is fast, modern, and easy to use. Your inbox is split into a Focused Inbox, which has the emails Edison thinks are important, and Other for all the rest. But it's under Assistant in the sidebar (or by tapping the Assistant button on the top-right of the inbox) where you find the real sorting.
By default, Edison pulls out any subscriptions (which you can unsubscribe from with a single tap), travel confirmations, package tracking emails, bills or receipts, event confirmations, or coupons, so they're easily accessible. Edison will also automatically surface them when they're relevant; for example, it will show you your hotel details before you're due to check in or let you know when a bill is about to come due. It saves you from having to star or sort messages you know you'll have to refer back to.
Edison is free to use, although there's a paid premium tier called Edison Mail+ that adds security-focused features, like automated sender verification that can protect you from phishing attempts. It's a nice feature, but at $14.99 per month, I feel it's not really worth the price unless you're inundated with phishing attempts or use Edison on all your devices and want to support the ongoing development of the app.
Edison Mail pricing: Free; from $14.99/month for Edison Mail+, which adds more security-focused features.
Which is the best email app for you?
If you pick one of the apps on this list, you'll be golden when it comes to managing your inbox. But if you're looking for something more niche, check out those deep dives we linked to above—they'll give you even more options for the best email apps for every device.
This article was originally published in 2018 by Jill Duffy.