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Battle of the Browser-Based Email Services: Gmail Vs.

Battle of the Browser-Based Email Services: Gmail Vs.

Web-based email services -- which are really just a website skin over a cloud-hosted email account -- have become part of everyday life, both in the office and outside it. But is there one clearly superior option, or are most email services created equal?

We decided to put two of the most robust email services to a head-to-head test. The challenge: Have the services perform ten different tasks that make managing and sending email more efficient. See how simple or complicated the user experience is. And let you decide for yourself which email experience you'd like to have.

Why Gmail versus We chose these two because they're both tied into wider productivity platforms that include calendar programs, file storage and office applications. As a bonus, they're both designed for a user to move fluidly and seamlessly between mobile and browser-based  applications.

A quick note: We're looking at more end-user-focused things here, which is why we're concentrating on and Gmail, but not Inbox by Gmail or Office 365.

So how'd they stack up? Read on and see.


WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: Filters can let you quickly and easily find specific senders -- or shunt them to different folders so you can read them at your own leisure.


  1. Select an email recipient.
  2. Then, choose “Filter messages like this” from the drop-down menu.
  3. You can then select additional parameters for these messages, like telling it to skip the Inbox or only adding it to the label if there’s an attachment or certain key words. You can color code the labels so they're easier to find, which also match with how they're displayed in the Gmail mobile app for iOS and Android.

HOW OUTLOOK.COM DOES THIS: You can do this from right inside the message. 

  1. Click on the ellipsis menu on the right side of the main actions menu in the top center of the Outlook Mail window.
  2. On the drop down click on Create rule, set criteria for the specific field you want to use for this rule by clicking the down arrow under When the message arrives, and it matches all of these conditions.
  3. There are multiple email field options available in the drop down box. You can select multiple conditions by clicking the + sign under this drop down box. This will create an and condition which means each condition must be met for the rule to be executed.
  4. Next click the down arrow on the Do the following box to choose the action you want to take on any email that matches the email field you selected.
  5. You can also select multiple actions to be carried out for any emails, like marking an email as read and shifting it to a specific folder. Use the Sweep and Move to menu items to create permanent rules for the specific message that is open.

TWO: Set up canned responses or automatic responses so you don’t have to type the same response again and again.

WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: You may be dealing with a flood of email, you're obligated to respond, but you don't want to have to type or cut-and-paste the same response repeatedly. Or, you might be heading out of the office and you want to turn on an "out of office" message.

HOW GMAIL DOES THIS: Use the vacation responder.

  1. You can select a message that is automatically emailed to contacts who email you in a specific time period.
  2. (Optional) You can choose to only send this reply to those in your contacts list.


  1. Open the Settings menu (it looks like a gear) and select the Automatic replies option to set it up. You will have the option to create the specific time period to send these automatic replies or just turn the option on.
  2. There is an area for you to draft your automatic reply as well.
  3. You can send the reply to only those on your contact list or to anyone who sends you an email while this feature is turned on.

THREE: Set up an email alias for a group of people for quick and easy typing later


WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: Because you will get tired of typing in a lot of people's names or you'll forget one in a long list of names. Also, creating an alias and firing off a fresh email message for different conversations is much kinder to your recipients than tacking on new messages to an ever-lengthening email chain.


  1. Sign in to the Google Apps Admin console. Then, Click Groups.
  2. Select the group you want to add an alias to.
  3. Click Aliases, click Add an alias, specify an alias in the text field.
  4. Click Save changes.


  1. Click on the grid icon in the upper left of the window and select the People tile.
  2. Next to the New menu item select the drop down menu and select Contact List.
  3. Name your list and then search for members in the Add members by typing in the first letters of their alias in your People list.
  4. Once you have them all selected click Save. The contact list will be in your People tile for future use.

FOUR: Integrating email with calendar: Can you easily add meetings/commitments to your calendar from an email message?

WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: A lot of professional email communication centers around scheduling events. It's handy to be able to easily add appointments, meetings, classes or social commitments to the calendar with a click of the keyboard. Since both of these email programs are part of larger productivity suites that also include calendar programs, being able to move appointment information from one to the other is vital.

HOW GMAIL DOES THIS:  If you want to add meetings, you can accept an invite from most calendar programs -- just click accept and it goes into your Google Calendar. If you use Chrome, add the Google Calendar extension. This turns most text that contains a date into a clickable entry. Then add it to the calendar.

Invites are also handled from Google Calendar. The program will auto-suggest names based on your contact list. Calendar events will also appear in your Google Now feed if you’ve enabled the feature.

HOW OUTLOOK.COM DOES THIS: Any event invites that come into your Mail account will have buttons that allow you to Accept make it a tentative appointment or Decline. Also, if an email arrives that is suggesting a meeting on a certain day, date or time that text will be clickable so that you can easily insert it into your calendar.

FIVE: Search: How easy is it to search folders/email archive by: person, subject line, keyword?

WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: Email often acts as an archive for people, with everything from workplace conversations to event confirmations. Users should be able to easily search by keywords, people, subject lines, filters, and message status.

HOW GMAIL DOES THIS:  Google’s search prowess is one of the best reasons to use Gmail. You can specify search topics by person, keyword, subject line, label, or several other different specifications. Additionally, once you create such a search you can turn it into a filter, so future messages are always available according to that criteria. 

HOW OUTLOOK.COM DOES THIS:  Your entire email account can be searched from the main Inbox page. Just click into the search box located directly below the grid in the upper left corner. The results box will will allow you to narrow that search down by folder, sender or date.

SIX: Extensions and add-ons: Does the service have ‘em? What are the most useful ones?

WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: No one email service is perfect, and you may have tools you rely on to manage your email productivity. Can these services support the tools you want?

HOW GMAIL DOES THIS: Gmail has numerous add-ons. If you’re a Dropbox user, you’ll find the official Dropbox extension quite useful as it allows you to click the Dropbox icon and throw in any files that are stored in your cloud. Another essential option is the Offline Gmail web app, which allows you to work on your inbox even if you’re disconnected from the Internet.

HOW OUTLOOK.COM DOES THIS:  Click on the Settings menu and select Manage add-ins to access all of the Add-ins for Outlook. There are add-ins from PayPal, Uber, Yelp, Package Tracker and many others to help you get more done directly inside of your Outlook Mail account.


SEVEN: Can you control the visual and audio alerts that tell you when you have mail?

WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: People respond differently to interruptions. Some people like hearing a ping, others like a bouncing icon, still others get stressed out seeing or hearing anything at all. Being able to control alerts so they don't derail your productivity is vital.


  1. You can enable desktop alerts by going to Settings > Enable desktop notifications.
  2. You have a small amount of customization: you can get alerts for all messages or only those that Gmail deems “important” based on following your usage patterns.


  1. Notifications for mail and calendar events (both visual and audible) are managed by going to the Settings menu and clicking on Options.
  2. To adjust notifications for email click on Mail and then Message Options.
  3. For calendar items click on Calendar and then Reminders to manage those notifications.


EIGHT: Can you customize and personalize the inbox and other aspects of the user experience?

WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: Software and apps are intensely personal. You'll want to be able to tweak interfaces so they're pleasant to use.

HOW GMAIL DOES THIS: There are numerous themes to skin Gmail - some created by Google and others from the user community.

  1. You’re also able to upload your own image to serve as the background.
  2. You can also tweak how tight the interface is: comfortable, cozy, or compact. Turn on the social, promotions, updates, or forums.
  3. Finally, you can also use Inbox by Gmail. It bundles up messages by common type, and lets you snooze them away like Dropbox’s Mailbox app. If you like this style better, you can also use the Inbox app for iOS and Android.

HOW OUTLOOK.COM DOES THIS: You can choose a theme for your Outlook Mail display by clicking on the Settings menu and selecting Change theme. There are also options for choosing the layout of our Outlook Mail interface and where your message list is and the reading pane for your email messages.

NINE: Customization part II.

WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: You're going to want to change the look and feel of the emails you're composing, depending on who you're sending them to or why you're sending them. So it helps to be able to send email templates or different .sig files.

HOW GMAIL DOES THIS: It doesn't, really. You can drop in some cute emojis or make minor changes to the font, but .sig files or substantial template changes aren’t something you’ll find here.

HOW OUTLOOK.COM DOES THIS: Outlook Mail messages can be created in in a full WYSIWYG compose box that allows you to create any unique look or format to your email messages.

TEN: How does this service handle multiple email addresses?

WHY YOU WANT TO DO THIS: You may want to have one app from which you can access all your different accounts -- and you want to make sure that you can easily switch between accounts so you're not sending personal email from your work account or vice-versa.


  1. You’ll need to know the SMTP server, port, and password for any non-Gmail account you're hoping to read in Gmail.
  2. Once you've got these, go to Settings, select Accounts and Import. Then you can set up Gmail to send email from the other account.
  3. Once you’ve done this, you can choose to make this the default account. All your new emails and replies will come from this address.
  4. In order to receive emails, you’ll need to set up auto-forwarding on the other address.

Alternatively, you can retrieve another account via POP3 (sorry, not IMAP). You’ll need your main account details, but it will be much slower, as you’ll have to wait for Gmail to suck in messages from your other account.


  1. Go to the Settings menu and then selecting Connected accounts.
  2. From there you can add connected accounts to have the ability to access other accounts from within Outlook Mail.
  3. You can choose a default From address and also create aliases to use from within this account.
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