What is an Email Client? And Do I Really Need One?

What is an email client

An email client is a program on your computer or an app on your phone that helps you manage your emails. You can use it to send, receive, and organize your emails. Unlike email through a web browser, an email client lets you access and manage your emails even offline. It’s also handy if you have multiple email accounts since it brings all your emails together.  

If you need an email client for work or have a recommendation to use one, dive into the rest of this article to discover what an email client does, how it works, and how it can streamline your digital communication. 

Accessing Email: Webmail vs. Email Client 

Does this scenario sound familiar? You open your browser, type in the Gmail website, and log in to check your emails. This common practice is webmail: accessing email via a web browser. 

But there’s another way to manage your emails — the email client.

Let’s break down the differences between webmail and email clients. 

FeatureWebmailEmail Client
AccessibilityAccessible from any device with a web browser. A program you install on your computer or an app on your phone.
Setup RequirementNo setup required, just your email ID and password.Involves an initial setup where you input your email ID, password, and maybe additional settings.
Email StorageYour emails stay on the email provider’s server.You can download emails on your device and access them offline.
Managing Multiple Email AccountsYou may have to log in to each account separately Each inbox is separate but accessible from the same program.
IntegrationMay integrate with other services offered by the email provider, like Google Drive for Gmail.Can often integrate with various apps and services.
Webmail vs. Email Client

Here’s a scenario: Imagine you have three different email accounts for personal use, work, and your side hustle.

With webmail, you’d probably have one tab open for each email account, going back and forth between them, or keep logging in and out to check each one.

With an email client, all three inboxes live harmoniously in one program, saving you time and the hassle of juggling multiple tabs.

What Is an Example of an Email Client?

You probably already have an email client on at least one of your devices. Windows computers come with Windows Mail, Android devices use the Gmail app, and iOS devices have Apple Mail. 

These free email clients let you send, receive, and organize emails. They offer basic functionality, like folder creation and spam protection.

But if you want more features, there are other options. For Windows, you might like Microsoft Outlook; for Android and iOS, the same Microsoft Outlook app or Spark Email are good choices. These options offer more features, such as advanced search and integrated calendars, but often at a cost. 

We’ll review a few robust email clients and compare their perks in a later section.

Is Gmail an Email Client?

Gmail is a full-fledged email service which also includes an email client. You can think of it as the post office. It has three main components: the server that stores your emails, the client that allows you to interact with them, and the protocol that ensures smooth communication between the client and server. 

Now, Gmail lets you access your emails in two ways: via webmail or the client version on your phone or tablet. The webmail version operates through your web browser, while the client version is an app you download. 

Both versions let you send and receive emails and feature strong spam protection. But the client version comes with a few features that the webmail version lacks. For example, you can manage multiple email accounts from different providers all in one place and access your emails offline. It also syncs with your phone’s contact list. The webmail version can’t do this as seamlessly since it doesn’t have the same access to your device’s functionalities.

Can You Use an Email Client With Any Email Address?

You can use an email client with almost any email service, including Gmail or Yahoo Mail. When you input your email address and server settings into the email client, it connects to your email service’s server. This is possible because email operates using standardized protocols throughout the internet. 

That said, proprietary email clients may have certain restrictions. For example, a company might have its own email system that only works within its network or with a specific email client. In this situation, you can only connect the company’s addresses to your email client. 

Do Email Clients Have Any Downsides? 

While email clients offer plenty of benefits, they’re not without downsides. Here are the most common ones: 

  1. Learning curve: Email clients are slightly different from webmail, especially if you have multiple accounts. Getting the hang of the organization and productivity features will take a while. 
  2. Setup: You’ll need to input server settings and account credentials, unlike webmail, which you can access just by typing in a URL. Although this setup process is a one-time hassle, it’s essential. 
  3. Syncing: If the email client doesn’t sync properly with the email server, your messages, folders, or settings might not update as you’d expect. 
  4. Space: Email clients and the downloaded emails take up space on your device, unlike webmail, which doesn’t use up your local storage.

How Do Email Clients Work?

When you compose a new email and hit the “Send” button, a whole process kicks off behind the scenes to ensure your message reaches its destination. Here’s a brief breakdown of what happens: 

  1. Client to server: Your email client hands over the email to your email server.
  2. Server lookup: Your email server identifies the recipient’s email server using the domain name of the email address (the part after the ‘@’).
  3. Email transmission: Your email server sends the email to the recipient’s email server.
  4. Recipient server acceptance: The recipient’s email server accepts the email and stores it.
  5. Recipient notification: The recipient gets notified that a new email has arrived.
  6. Email access: The recipient opens their email client, which retrieves the email from their server, allowing them to read it.

This process depends on multiple messaging protocols to operate smoothly. These protocols are essentially rulebooks that dictate how email messages get sent, received, and accessed.

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)

SMTP is the protocol for sending emails from your client to your server or between servers. It makes sure your email gets to the recipient’s email server.

It operates by finding the recipient’s email server, initiating a conversation with it, and then transferring the email data. 

However, SMTP only has one job: sending emails; it doesn’t help you retrieve or store them.

Internet Mail Access Protocol (IMAP)

When you open your email client, IMAP fetches the emails from the server. It also keeps track of which emails you’ve read, deleted, or marked as important across all your devices. This way, you’ll have a synchronized email experience.

Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3)

POP3 is an older, simpler version of IMAP that doesn’t provide the same multi-device synchronization. By default, it downloads emails to your device and deletes them from the server. So, you won’t have a multi-device experience with POP3. For example, if you check your email on your phone, those emails won’t be available on your laptop. 

Email Protocols Enable Offline Access

Email clients can access your messages in offline mode using POP3 or IMAP. 

With POP3, since the emails are downloaded to your device, you can access them anytime without an internet connection. 

With IMAP, on the other hand, email clients fetch the email headers first. And if you open an email, they retrieve its body content. So, when you’re offline, you can view your inbox and open the most recent emails. Many clients also let you reply to emails or draft new ones, and once you’re back online, everything syncs with the server.

Are Email Clients Secure? 

Like any piece of software, email clients can have vulnerabilities. But if you stick to applications from reputable companies, you’re on the safe side. These companies are more likely to prioritize security, and if any issues arise, they usually fix them quickly.

Using an email client isn’t inherently more or less secure than checking your email through webmail, but the security concerns can be different. With webmail, your primary concern is picking a strong password. But when picking an email client, you should also consider how it stores and transmits information. 

The client must encrypt information like passwords and messages on your device. Encryption scrambles the information so that if malware somehow lands on your device, it can’t read your emails or steal your passwords.

Using secure transmission protocols is equally important. Without these protocols, attackers can intercept, modify, or reroute your emails. Two such protocols are IMAP TLS and SMTP SSL, which encrypt the communication between your email client and the server. This way, eavesdroppers can’t understand what’s being exchanged even if they manage to intercept it.

Finally, you, the sender, also play a critical role. Follow these tips to make sure you don’t accidentally compromise your email security:

  • Lock your computer whenever you step away from it. 
  • Have an up-to-date antivirus installed on your device. 
  • Set strong passwords for your email client and operating system. 
  • Be wary of suspicious emails; these often have generic greetings, unexpected attachments, or come from unfamiliar senders urging you to click on a link.

Email Clients and Spam Protection 

The best email clients have built-in spam filters that catch unwanted emails and store them in a separate folder away from your main inbox. 

How do these filters work? Here are a few of the most common methods: 

  1. Low reputation domains: Spam filters keep lists of known spam and safe domains and email addresses. Emails from these blacklisted sources go straight to the spam folder.
  2. Email content and structure: Spam filters peek inside the email to find suspicious phrases, like “win the lottery.” Plus, spam emails often have weird formatting or coding. 
  3. Email headers: Every email contains important hidden information called metadata. Email servers use this metadata to authenticate and deliver messages to the right recipients. If an email’s metadata looks suspicious or lacks headers, the spam filter will flag it as spam. 

Advanced spam filters also learn new tricks by looking at what new spam looks like. You can improve these machine learning algorithms by marking unwanted emails as spam. You can even tell your spam filter what you think is spam by setting your own rules. For example, you could set up a rule to send all emails containing the word “lottery” to the spam folder.

At Campaign Refinery, we’re 100 percent against spam. We don’t allow low-reputation senders to use our service and require domain authentication before sending any emails. Plus, our strict policy against cold email requires senders to obtain consent from all individuals on their lists. 

Best Options for Your First Email Client  

If you’ve decided that an email client can be a helpful tool, the next step is finding one that fits your needs. To help you get started, we’ve picked several robust options. And to make things easier, we’ve created a quick snapshot of each email client to help you compare them in a glance. 

*Microsoft OutlookMozilla ThunderbirdApple MailSpark MailCanary Mail
Best ForBusinessOpen sourceApple devicesClutter-free experienceAI productivity  
PricingFree + SubscriptionFreeFreeFree + SubscriptionFree + Subscription
Mobile versionYesNoYesNoYes
Security HighModerateHighModerateHigh
Email Clients

Microsoft Outlook

Best for: Professional and business users

Pricing: Included with Microsoft 365 subscription — starting at $19.99 per year with a free edition

Outlook has been a big name in email since 1997, even before Gmail came around. It’s undergone multiple transformations since then. Today, it comes in two flavors: one that you can install on your device and another web-based one that lets you handle multiple email accounts from your browser, mixing the idea of webmail and email clients together.

You can use Outlook on Windows, Android, and Mac. Besides helping you with emails, it has a to-do list and a calendar you can share with your teammates. It also pairs up nicely with other Microsoft Office apps and Microsoft SharePoint, so sharing documents and working together is a breeze.

If you opt for the paid version, you get access to an AI assistant called Copilot. It can automatically create responses for you to speed up your work and suggest words while you’re typing.

Microsoft Outlook email client
Microsoft Outlook


  • Robust security and spam protection. 
  • Manage your schedule, contacts, and to-dos in one place.
  • Seamless integration with other Microsoft Office programs. 


  • The desktop version is only available with a subscription. 
  • New users might find the extensive features overwhelming. 
  • The mobile version isn’t as feature-packed as the web or desktop versions. 

Mozilla Thunderbird

Best for: Open source enthusiasts

Pricing: Free

Mozilla Thunderbird is a free, open-source email client, meaning it’s not owned by a for-profit company. Instead, a team of volunteers develops and maintains Thunderbird. This is good because you don’t have to pay for it, but the downside is there’s no customer support if you run into issues. 

Thunderbird works on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and if you’re good with tech, it has everything you’d expect from an email app: unified inbox, spam filters, tasks, contacts, and calendars. The team recently redesigned the user interface to make it more friendly for non-technical users. 

What makes Thunderbird stand out is that you can make it your own. You can change how it looks and add a bunch of extra features through an extensive library of add-ons. You’ll find an extension for everything related to email, from filters and calendars to security and even automatic translation. You can also connect Thunderbird to other services, like Dropbox, Google Calendar, and even WhatsApp, through these extensions. 

Mozilla Thunderbird email client
Mozilla Thunderbird


  • Robust security. 
  • Extensive library of add-ons. 
  • Open-source and funded by user donations. 


  • No mobile or web-based version. 
  • Integrations are only available through third-party extensions. 
  • Non-technical users may have a hard time with the initial configuration. 

Apple Mail

Best for: Mac OS users

Pricing: Free with Mac OS

Mail is a basic email client that comes pre-installed on Apple’s operating systems — macOS and iOS. Mail is pretty easy to set up. You’ll get started as soon as you input your email address and password. 

The functionality is somewhat limited, but it covers the basics. It has a unified inbox feature, which lets you see all your emails from different accounts in one place. You can search, sort, and filter your emails to manage your inbox better. Plus, it integrates well with other Apple apps like the calendar, contacts, and reminders. 

The standout part about Apple Mail is its clean look. It has a minimalist design, which makes navigation simple and keeps you free from distractions as you handle your emails.

Another special feature of Apple Mail is its Privacy Protection. When you turn this feature on, it hides your IP address from the people who send you emails. It also sends your emails through a proxy server, which means senders can’t tell whether you’ve opened their emails. This way, your email activity stays protected from prying eyes — and email marketers!

Apple MAIL email client
Apple Mail Dark Mode


  • Minimal setup.
  • Solid spam and junk mail filter. 
  • Seamless integration with other Apple apps and services.


  • Doesn’t have some of the basic features. 
  • Customization options are on the leaner side.

Spark Mail

Best for: Users who want a clutter-free inbox

Pricing: Free — Premium version starting at $4.99 per month

If you’re on the hunt for an email app that cuts out all the fuss, Spark Mail is a solid pick. You can get it on Mac and Windows. Unlike many other email apps, Spark skips on stuff like task management and notes and focuses only on making email easier. 

It has a tidy layout with various view choices, a bunch of keyboard shortcuts for quicker actions, and several ways to sort your emails. The Smart Inbox feature automatically tucks away less important emails, like newsletters and sales deals, into a separate folder. It also detects and blocks spam mail. This way, your main inbox stays less cluttered. Plus, you can set reminders for your email chats and pin important ones to the top of your window, so they’re easy to find.

Spark mail email client
Spark Mail


  • GDPR-compliant — your usage data stays private. 
  • Team collaboration features, including inbox sharing and shared storage. 
  • Built-in AI assistant that helps you compose emails and summarize conversations.


  • Limited calendar integration. 
  • The free version has modest functionality. 

Canary Mail

Best for: AI enthusiasts 

Pricing: Free — Premium version starting at $20 per year

Canary is an AI-focused email client that works on all the major operating systems. The AI assistant drafts your emails and prioritizes your inbox. It’s pretty skilled at detecting promotional and junk emails and lets you trash them in bulk. And if you’re tired of newsletters, you can opt-out with just one click. 

Besides your AI copilot, you get the standard inbox management and organization features available in most clients. You can schedule emails to send later, pin important conversations so they stay at the top, and snooze the less important ones to check later when you’re not busy. 

Canary Mail email client
Canary Mail Dark Mode


  • Built-in AI assistant. 
  • Advanced encryption. 
  • Clutter-free user interface. 


  • Calendar functionality is limited. 
  • Doesn’t offer extensive integration of customization. 

Emails Sent By Campaign Refinery Always Land in the Inbox

Campaign Refinery is an elite email marketing service with a strong focus on deliverability — making sure our customers’ emails go straight to the primary inbox. 

We’re also pretty serious about battling spam. Actually, we had the right spam mechanisms in place before Google’s new standards were announced. So, you can be sure your emails keep reaching their destination in 2024 and beyond.

Want to know more? Feel free to check out our services and apply to join our client family.

We’re also thrilled to share a cool guide we’ve made on ensuring email deliverability.

Our Inbox Formula gives you step-by-step help to make sure your emails get seen, covering domain authentication, warming up your domain, and avoiding spam traps. Following the principles in the guide has helped many of our clients double or even triple their results in a short time.

You can grab your copy of the Inbox Formula right away.

Have fun managing your emails with your email client!

Written by Casper Feeney

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