iCloud Mail, Fastmail, Gmail: what are the differences? The Email Service Feature Comparison Table

In support of my continued search for Email Dorado ™️…

I recently shared the news that iCloud Mail now had custom domains (in beta).

I was excited by this as I have been seeking escape from the all-your-data-are-belong-to-us tyranny of Google. I could finally see it: the golden-clad email setup of my dreams. The path forward glinted, clear and true. All I had to do was forward my email to iCloud Mail and I was done. (Lots of valuable insight on email forwarding was shared over here: Seeking advice on email forwards and aliases: drawbacks/best practices?).

Alas. We are crabs in a bucket here at the MPU forum. Evil crabs in an evil bucket.

In the iCloud Mail custom domains thread, many of you were quick to point out how great Fastmail was. I didn’t ask about how great Fastmail was! I was happy in my ignorance. Yet, here we are. Now I know you all think I should be using Fastmail.

So, I’ve spent hours over the past week trying to figure out what the hell JMAP does and reviewing the details of contact-syncing via CardDAV. In other words, I’ve been trying to figure out why Fastmail is better—or more concretely, what the real differences between these services were.

Sadly, I couldn’t find any recent, detailed overviews comparing what seem to be the big three email services. There’s lots of blog posts out there, but they seem to be selling something and are rarely well-organized.

So, I thought, why not compel the MPU hive mind to help me put together the best damn overview that could exist?

Here’s a table. It likely contains inaccuracies—but more importantly, it probably doesn’t include the key differentiators between these options. I’m hoping we can work together to make it make sense and to be useful when choosing between the options.

Email Service Feature Comparison Table (last updated Aug 30, 2021)

iCloud Mail Fastmail Gmail Google Workspaces (or whatever it is called this week) Hey Your IMAP mailbox from your hosting provider (hover, namecheap, etc.) Self-hosted mail server ?
Free access comes with… 5gb of storage :heavy_multiplication_x: 15gb storage :heavy_multiplication_x: :heavy_multiplication_x: :heavy_multiplication_x: Depends
Pricing example $1/month for 50GB $5/user/month for 30GB ~$2.50/month for 100GB ~$7/user/month for 30GB $99/year All over the map, typically per-email-address Depends
Your email is used to be scanned for advertising data :heavy_multiplication_x: :heavy_multiplication_x: :heavy_check_mark: :heavy_multiplication_x: :heavy_multiplication_x: Probably depends! Watch your Terms of Service I mean, hopefully not, but I guess it’s up to you
Labels :heavy_multiplication_x: :heavy_multiplication_x: :heavy_check_mark: :heavy_check_mark: :grey_question: :heavy_multiplication_x: Depends
Custom Domains :heavy_check_mark:, in beta :heavy_check_mark: :heavy_multiplication_x: :heavy_check_mark: :heavy_check_mark: (for $10/month, then $12/month for other users on the same domain) I mean, yeah, that’s the point Depends
Protocol IMAP JMAP, but provides IMAP access for non-JMAP compatible clients Proprietary, IMAP-ish Proprietary, IMAP-ish Proprietary Usually IMAP/POP3 Depends
Client app availability Any IMAP client Any IMAP client, has a specific iOS app Native apps plus lots of third party apps exclusive to Gmail’s API Native apps plus lots of third party apps exclusive to Gmail’s API Only Hey’s apps Usually any IMAP/POP3 client Depends
Serverside rules/filtering Mail has good client-side rules; not sure if you can set up serverside rules for iCloud Mail Great support, including both Rules and even more powerful Sieve support Excellent Filters support, filtering email based on search queries with a certain syntax Excellent Filters support, filtering email based on search queries with a certain syntax Neat proprietary workflows built around screening by senders Probably not Depends
Aliases :grey_question: Up to 600 aliases per account :heavy_check_mark: :heavy_check_mark: :heavy_check_mark: (for $10/month, then $12/month for other users on the same domain) Probably not? Depends
Customer Support Apple Support Communities. JK, MPU? Real human customer support Blog posts from six years ago Real human customer support? Real human customer support? Probably? Probably not
Company values I mean, it’s Apple Seems like cool people “”Don’t” “be” “evil”" “”Don’t” “be” “evil”” Basecamp CEO issues apology after ‘no political discussions at work’ edict blows up in his face Depends Usually these are someone’s side project
Spam filtering Historically not great, maybe better now? :grey_question:, might have a false positives problem? Best in class, probably Best in class, probably :grey_question: Depends Can involve a lot of effort to effectively catch spam
Sent email getting recognized as spam Seems fine? :grey_question: Best in class, probably Best in class, probably :grey_question: Depends Probably somewhat at risk of being caught in others’ spam filters
Snoozing Client app-dependent Native snoozing Native snoozing Native snoozing A variety of different snooze-related features Client app-dependent Client app-dependent
Send later Client app-dependent Client app-dependent Native send later Native send later :grey_question: Client app-dependent Depends?

My question for you: Why is gmail better? Why is Fastmail better? What functional features does one have that the others miss? Discuss!

I aim to keep this table updated, informed by your replies. (I will probably fail. I can’t seem to make this a wiki post, but I’m open to it instead, so that others might take up the torch when I inevitably get distracted.)

16 Likes

A couple things.

  1. For the most part JMAP is an implementation detail. The only place Fastmail falls down compared to Gmail/Competitors is if you’re planning to try up and coming email apps many start Gmail only and often take years to support anything else.
  2. Is there a difference between labels and folders?
  3. It’s probably worth having a row for rules capabilities. Though I’m definitely far from an expert on what all the respective services are capable of in this area.

For my pretty limited use of email, Fastmail is king for two reasons:

  1. Privacy preservation is worth the cost
  2. It doesn’t get in the way. It’s just email and it’s always working and there when I need it.
3 Likes

Clicking on any of the “more info” links related to custom domains doesn’t take me to anything that explains it. Found info on another site.

But my question is, who is this good for?
Are there people with domain names and no hosting?
Otherwise, I would think folks would just use their hosting provider.

Yes, me; I have bought a custom domain to own my email address.

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Gmail doesn’t scan your emails for advertising data.

But they scan everything else if you’re logged into your Google account. It would be hard for me to trust G as long as they remain in the advertising business.

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“Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change. This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products.”

This seems very specific, and does not preclude their scanning email for other purposes, such as suggesting YouTube videos, popping up KFC locations in Waze because you mentioned chicken, etc.

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  • Fastmail has excellent support for rules; in particular Sieve scripts.
  • Fastmail offers support by real people (which I don’t think you get with the free services, iCloud and Gmail?); the developers if needed (as posted before: competent people; in particular the developer that is their CEO now)
  • Fastmail operates with four core values that make me favor them: (relationship, privacy, security, contributing to open source community)

1. You are our customer, not our product
2. Your data belongs to you
3. We are good stewards of your data
4. We are good internet citizens

7 Likes

Just about every big tech company (including Apple) is in the advertising business.

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That’s true, but I wonder if there is a difference between a company whose core business is advertising and a company like Apple who sells hardware and engages in advertising to sell that hardware. I’m a customer of Apple; I buy directly from them. Google’s users aren’t their customers; businesses buying ads are.

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Well, Google does sell hardware too.

I have long been a person with domain names and hosting, who is interested in iCloud mail custom domains so I could offload the hosting (which I don’t really need any more) and $ Save $.

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A given file can have multiple labels but can exist in only one folder.

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I don’t see Hover Webmail mentioned. It has worked well for me for many years and their support is great. I pull it down into Apple Mail on my Mac or use the web interface when I’m out and about.

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Fastmail is OK, but comes up short on search and customer support.

@dustinknopoff JMAP sounds cool and all but I for one cannot see the practical benefits of JMAP. Is there any practical benefits of JMAP over IMAP for average users?

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When I’m selecting any new service the first thing I consider is security. Do I trust this company to keep my username, password, name & address, and possibly my credit card data safe? In this case I trust Apple, Fastmail, and Google equally.

Next, does this email service have all the features I need? In my case Apple does not and Google does. I’ve never used Fastmail but from all reports it is an excellent service.

What about privacy? Based on their policy statements, neither Apple, Fastmail , or Google sells information about me to third parties. Apple advertises Apple products on Apple services to Apple users. And Google sells targeted ads that they present to people who use Google services. But they keep what they know about me to themselves. Otherwise advertisers would not need to buy ads from Google.

Do they keep my emails private? Nope, how could they? They only have one copy of my messages. There are multiple other copies of all my messages in servers, personal computers, phones, and tablets, etc. around the world.

So, why do I use Gmail & Google Workspace? Google’s server side rules are excellent as is their spam filter. Their contact list and calendar sync well with Mac & IOS Contacts and Calendar and their IOS mail and calendar apps are reliable and have all the features I need. And their price for Google Workspace is competitive.

5 Likes

I stand corrected then.

Well, JMAP was introduced only a little over two years ago, so it still has a long way to go in my opinion.

Loved your writeup — you pretty much captured why I’m still on Google Workspace for my custom domain. It just works extremely well, and has superior spam filtering. And I’ve never had a problem with my Google-originated e-mails getting through to my work account like Fastmail.

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This. Google has the best spam filtering one can get.

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